Lectures / Readings

Policing Movement(s): State Orders, Migrants and Refugees in Southeastern Europe since the 19th Century

Keynote for the conference “Unsettled Europe”, University of Graz, 20-21 January 2017

In 2015, the expression “Balkan Route” became synonymous for the uncontrolled movement of refugees from the war zones of the Middle East to the European Union. By now, the route has been closed because of joint government efforts. This essay reflects on the place of the most recent refugee movement through Southeastern Europe in the miration history of the region. It argues that the wish of the state to control cross-border migration has led to new concepts of statehood and new forms of control. What is particularly evident is the close relationship between the politcs of movement and nation-building since the 19th century. Southeastern Europe offers examples for governments attempting to exploit emigration for nationalist purposes, while at the same time the influx of refugees strengthened processes of ethnic homogenization. Similar social fears and political dispositions can be identified with regard to the politics of emigration and of immigration; and both forms of migration had lasting effects on historical development in Southeastern Europe. This essay especially details the consequences of refugee immigration, showing that Southeastern Europe has also a very peculiar immigration history.


In 2015 Southeastern Europe produced iconic images of refugee movement. When hundreds of thousands of mostly Middle Eastern, but also African refugees and migrants took their arduous journey on the so-called Balkan route, newspapers were full with pictures of groups of refugees walking through Southeast European landscapes, or getting stuck at train stations and border fences.

Migrants in Hungary near the Serbian border. Photo: Gémes Sándor/SzomSzed (2015)
Visit of Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz at the border crossing at Gevgelija (Macedonia). Photo: Dragan Tatic (2015)


These pictures reminded of similar images twenty years ago, when the Yugoslav wars unsettled millions. Then as well, images were wide-spread of large groups of people who moved on foot with the little belongings they managed to take with them. They became so iconic that one, showing Kosovo-Albanian refugees in 1999, was even used for the cover page of the German version of the Encyclopedia of Migration, that is for illustration a reference work not exclusively devoted to forced migration.[2]

However, Southeastern Europe had produced iconic images of refugees already a century ago, in the context of the massive dislocations in the course and aftermath of the two Balkan Wars and World War One. The famous report of the Carnegie foundation on the causes and conduct of the Balkan Wars, for example, contains graphic pictures of the plight of refugees.[1] After the end of World War One, one of the most important photographers of the 20th century, Lewis Hine, was commissioned by the American Red Cross to picture the “The Human Costs of War”.[3] In November and December 1918, he travelled through Serbia and Greece, producing pictures of refugee misery. Some of these pictures were shot at locations which would become nodal points of the Balkan route in 2015, such as Strumica (then in Bulgaria) and Leskovac in southern Serbia.

Hines’ and the recent photographs tell very different narratives. Hine’s photographs mainly show human suffering. In his pictures the individuals nevertheless are attributed dignity and here and there, one sees a smile. Hine’s intention was to create empathy. He called the photograph “a symbol that brings one immediately into close touch with reality.” These pictures were the outcome of international humanitarian concerns at a time when the Balkans was a laboratory for the emerging international refugee protection system. Hine’s photographs were used to rally support and donations for this purpose in America.

In contrast to that, the current style of refugee photographs constructs an image of mainly male masses that cannot be stopped. Whatever the intentions of the photographers and the newspaper editors might have been, these pictures can hardly be said to nourish compassion. They are frightening in the sense that they depict the loss of control by the state.

Another popular form of depicting the influx of refugees from the Middle East and Africa to Europe is to visualize their routes. Such maps also have a de-individualizing quality, as if migrants just take a train to Europe. These maps highlight the – per se legitimate – concerns of European governments about security and border control (and the lack thereof). The border is of course the epitome of the modern state: here its power used to be most clearly manifest. It is at the border where the divergence between the inside and the outside, and the congruence between territory, state people (Staatsvolk) and sovereignty, upon which the idea of the modern state is predicated, are most tangible. Refugees and migrants challenge these premises of the modern state. This is why states go to great length to at least project the idea that they maintain control over entry. Governments are reluctant to publicize the fact that most asylum seekers in Europe, whose applications are rejected, cannot be deported (for example, because of the non-refoulement principle of the Geneva Convention, or because their identity and nationality cannot be established).

Economist, 10/29/2016

What in the eye of governments and fearsome publics is a depiction of threats to sovereignty and security can show opportunities from the perspective of migrants. Maps of (illegal) routes of migration can also aim to guide migrants and show them ways how to pass-by police controls.

Emigration routes to America, advertisement of the Viktor Klaus Emigration Agency (Buchs, Switzerland), around 1910. Source: Croatian State Archive (HDA)

This map was produced by one of the largest emigration agencies at that time, Viktor Klaus, in Switzerland at around 1910. Agencies such as Viktor Klaus were extremely unpopular with the authorities of emigration and transit countries who accused them of human trafficking and flouting the rules for border crossings. Emigration agents served as convenient scapegoats for governments that had failed to improve economic conditions. Public voices claimed that emigration agents would suck the nation of its best members. Indeed, there is no denying, that emigration agents often cheated and mis-used emigrants (like human trafficker do today). However, they also provided essential services for an existing demand; in a way, they contributed to migrant agency. In this process, laws were often broken because the service of emigration agents was most valuable to those, who were legally prohibited from leaving. The map, for example, shows migrant routes to the popular North Atlantic ports that bypass the scrutiny of Prussian and Austrian border controls. The map also stands for the fact that for a long time, worries about migration in Central Europe were related to emigration – and nowadays similar fears about the loss of control and damage to the “national body” are articulated in relation to immigration.[3]

Refugees and migrants

Maps of migration routes do not differentiate between refugees and labor migrants. Indeed, these are overlapping categories. As a matter of fact, the clear distinction between economic migrants and refugees does not exist anymore in the political debate. It is part of the standard rhetoric of the extreme right and of anti-immigrant groups to flatly deny that refugees are really refugees. They often use the word “economic refugee” in order to differentiate between those “genuine” refugees who fled political persecution, and those who left “only” because of poverty. Of course, the former are said to be very few while the later allegedly comprise the bulk of immigrants. This rhetoric is used to undermine as much as possible the clauses of the Geneva Convention for the protection of refugees. The UNHCR is rightly troubled and insists on the clear distinction between refugee and migrant. It writes that

“Refugees are persons fleeing armed conflict or persecution. (…) Refugees are defined and protected in international law. (…) One of the most fundamental principles laid down in international law is that refugees should not be expelled or returned to situations where their life and freedom would be under threat. [In contrast to refugees] Migrants choose to move not because of a direct threat of persecution or death, but mainly to improve their lives by finding work, or in some cases for education, family reunion, or other reasons. Unlike refugees who cannot safely return home, migrants face no such impediment to return. If they choose to return home, they will continue to receive the protection of their government.”[4]

As a political citizen I totally agree with the UNHCR’s warning that, “Blurring the two terms takes attention away from the specific legal protections refugees require.” This is, of course, the goal of those who claim that refugees are actually economic migrants. Yet, in many – and especially scholarly – ways the distinction between refugee and migrant is less clear than the UNHCR insists it to be. The definition of the refugee in the 1951 Geneva Convention was very time-specific, taking account mainly the experiences of World War Two. How closely related the Convention was to the Second World War is made clear by the fact that it originally offered protection only for Europeans who were forced to leave their home country before the signing date of the Convention.[5]

Southeastern Europe provides many empirical examples which can qualify the dichotomy between refugee and migrant. Many acts of migration occur somewhere on the axis in-between forced and voluntary. Obviously, it does make a substantial difference, whether a person is expelled from his or her home at gun-point, having the “choice” only between death and flight; or whether one leaves a decent job because he or she wants to join a partner or get an even more decent job. But where, for example, on this axis should the emigration of Bulgarian Turks to Turkey in 1989 be located? Most of them did not have to fear for their life or property, most also did not directly face political repression. But staying in Bulgaria would mean to accept total assimilation at a time when the communist regime declared that there was no Turkish minority in the country and had forced Turks to take “Bulgarian” names. Another example: was the emigration of tens of thousands of mostly young men from Albania in 1991 really a voluntary act, given the dismal living conditions in Albania? Is leaving out of despair really an act of freedom?

Giorgio Agamben has famously called the refugee the impersonation of the homo sacer in today’s world.[6] But for refugees, at least, there is an international system of protection, however incomplete. Migrants still lack such a protection on the international scale, although the International Organization of Labour already in the interwar period tried to create international accords safeguarding the rights of migrants.

There is much that connects migrants and refugees apart from the fact that their motivations for leaving might overlap. Both forms of migration pose similar challenges to states: they raise the question who is allowed into the state, and who is not (and of course also who is allowed or supposed to leave). Cross-border movement always affects one of the most important tenets of the Westfalian system: a state is sovereign over its territory and the state people (Staatsvolk). Aside from that, refugee and economic migration can engender very similar effects. They often result in similar transnational connections, for example. Bosnia or Kosovo provide examples from Southeastern Europe where economic migrants and refugees from war have blended into each other. The influx of refugees, on the other hand, can create similar consequences like economic immigration. The arrival of millions of German expellees from Eastern Europe in Germany after 1945, or of around 1.5 million Greeks from Asia Minor in 1923, are case in point: their effect on labor and housing markets were similar in principle to those of economic immigrants, with the major difference that they occurred suddenly. Finally, both among refugees and emigrants, many return if conditions “at home” substantially improve.

For these reasons, states often display similar political dispositions in their reactions towards voluntary and forced migration. They consider them as part of the larger question of the management of citizenship and of population control. Governments come also to similar conclusions as for the consequences of refugee and economic migration on state development. Very often, both forms of movement are approached under the perspective of demographic nationalism. In the following, I want to reflect about government strategies of control of cross-border movement in Southeastern Europe and how they connected emigration with immigration. I want to show, first, how emigration (not immigration) was politicized and policed; secondly, I will explore the effects of immigration (and not emigration) on Southeast European societies. Both themes turn conventional patterns of attention upside-down because migration politics is usually debated in relation to in-migration, and Southeastern Europe is more often than not seen as an emigration region only.

Strategies of State Control

The statement that governments in Southeastern Europe used emigration as a tool of nation-building is not a revelation. Not by chance is this the region where the term “ethnic cleansing” was invented (in 1992 by Serbian newspapers to describe events in Bosnia). Since the early 19th century, the creation of new states and their expansion were regularly accompanied by the expulsion (and massacre) of those who did not fit into the nation’s self-image. Justin McCarthy has shown that Muslims were the main victims of forced migration in the course of establishing new states on Ottoman territory in Europe.[7] “Ethnic cleansing” became the hallmark of the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. These wars even provoked an important innovation in international law: the 1995 Dayton peace agreement stipulated the return of refugees as one of its basic principles, thus confirming that nowadays, the exchange of population is not seen any more by the international community as a viable way to solve minority conflicts.

Ethnic cleansing in the Balkans has been widely researched and I will not delve into it in more detail. What is important here is the fact that it was a facet of war. It was carried out during military operations or when state order had collapsed; it was not a peacetime policy – in contrast to what local myths of national victimhood might claim in the Balkans.

My argument, therefore, is – and here I follow Edvin Pezo[8] – that for understanding the attitude of states in Southeastern Europe towards emigration it is more indicative to look at peacetime. In how far did governments use emigration as a tool of their development policies? Since state development in Southeastern Europe typically meant nation-building, one can assume a close connection between the politics of emigration and nationalism. The exploration of emigration policies also helps to understand the salience of ethnic notions of nationhood. As emigration from Southeastern Europe to America intensified in the late 19th century, governments searched for ways to maintain symbolic control over those whom they considered “their” emigrants, that is, to build Diasporas.[9] Since emigrants were outside of the territorially defined political community of the nation state, their belonging to the nation was predicated on descent and “blood”. Nancy Green and François Weil stress that “Defining emigrants was thus part of a larger process of defining citizens (and their obligations), national character, as well as the notion of a cultural nation.”[10]

The natural reflex of the modern state towards cross-border migration is one of anxiety. Charles Tilly commented that modern bureaucracies prefer sedentary populations which can be more easily taxed, recruited, schooled and controlled.[11] Emigration, especially in times of intense nation-building, is often seen as a threat to the nation’s vitality. Today, but also more than one hundred years ago, observers in Southeastern Europe worry about brain drain, about family values and about the psychological effects of parental emigration on the children left at home. Debates about emigration, similar to those about immigration, articulate fears of a society, such as about moral integrity or demographic vitality. These debates revolve around the question what is the place of the emigrants in the prevailing visions of nationhood? Governments might worry about the leaving of those, whom they claim for achieving their political projects. Yet, they might be happy about the emigration of those, for whom they do not see a place in their national vision. This is why governments might produce refugees on the one hand, while on the other hand trying to prevent the emigration of other groups or even inviting specific groups of people to come.

Southeastern Europe provides several examples of governments which in principle objected to emigration but tried to persuade unwanted groups of their population to leave “voluntarily”. National(ist) elites used emigration to achieve their goal of homogenization of the population of their country. This is one reason why it is often so difficult to clearly differentiate between voluntary and forced migration. At what point can state power be called violence of force? The infamous exchanges of population after the Balkan Wars and World War One, which sought to solve “minority issues”, can clearly be positioned on the vector of forced migration. The largest of them, the exchange of population between Greece and Turkey in 1923, directly affected around two million people: 1.5 million Greeks who were forced to leave Turkey and 0.5 million Muslims being expelled from Greece. Other cases in which the level of compulsion to leave was also very high include the emigration of Turks from Bulgaria in the 1930s, 1950s and 1989, and the emigration of Jews and ethnic Germans from socialist Romania, who were literally sold by Ceausescu to Israel and West Germany respectively. In the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in the 1930s, ministries came up with a comprehensive plan to make life so uncomfortable for Albanians and Turks that they would leave “voluntarily.” Many thousands did so.

The country in the region that pioneered emigration policies in the name of nation-building was the Kingdom of Hungary. Hungary experienced massive overseas emigration since the 1880s, that is, at a time of intense national-building (more than 1.5 million citizens went to America). In Hungary as elsewhere the public debate about emigration was often framed in a language of anxiety about the body of the nation. The Hungarian government, which after the 1867 Ausgleich considered Hungary the national state of the Magyars, was quite happy that non-Magyar nationalities left in disproportionate numbers (the economic situation of the regions with a high proportion of non-Magyars, such as Upper Hungary or Transylvania, was particularly desperate). This was one reason why the Hungarian government never really tried to restrict emigration, despite public calls. The Hungarian Law on Emigration of 1903 was less about restriction than establishing state control over the whole process of emigration. This is an important point because it shows that the state wanted to re-gain control over a process that undermine its sovereignty. Long before East Central Europe became agitated about immigration, they were so about emigration.

However, political intentions is one thing, outcomes something quite different. The emigration of “undesired” people created new problems for the nationalizing state. In his impressive 1911 book about emigration from Europe to the United States, the famous Afro-American educator and activist Booker T. Washington provided a vivid description of the activities of emigrants from Hungary in America:

“The Slovak or the Croatian who comes to America does not at once lose his interest in the political and social struggles of his native land. On the contrary, in America, where he has opportunity to read newspapers printed in his own language, and to freely discuss racial policies in the societies and clubs which have been formed by the different nationalities in many parts of the United States, the average Slovak or Croatian in America is likely to take a more intelligent interest in the struggle for national existence of his own people than he took at home. (…) Some indication of the interest which the different immigrant peoples take in the struggles of the members of their own race, in their native land, is given by the work which several of these nationalist societies are doing in America. The National Slavonic Society organizes political meetings, raises funds for Slovak political prisoners in Hungary, and scatters Slovak literature for the purpose of arousing sympathy and interest in the Slovak cause.”[12]

So, while the Hungarian government was happy about so many Slovaks leaving, it was troubled by the transnational consequences of this. The Hungarian authorities tried to counteract, for example by banning the import of Slovak periodicals from the US. In 1902, the government launched the so-called “American Action” through which it provided support to pro-government emigrant organizations, sent loyal priests to serve Hungarian communities in America, and lobbied the U.S. government to ban anti-Hungarian newspapers.[13] When in 1907 Prime Minister Wekerle detailed the “action project for the support of the return of Hungarian emigrants from America and for their resettlement in their home country”, he made it perfectly clear that these measures would address only Hungarian-speaking emigrants. These programs were failures. Nonetheless, they manifested the fact that pre-1914 Hungary was already attempting to extend its nation-building project across the Atlantic, with all its inherent principles of inclusion and exclusion.

Such policies were conducted in an even more systematic way by interwar Yugoslavia, which could build on the experiences of the Kingdom of Croatia and Slavonia, which had been under the Hungarian Crown until 1918. The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes created an elaborate framework for policing emigration, based on the 1921 Law on Emigration and with dedicated institutions. These policies were clearly intended to foster the government’s nation-building goals. Similar to pre-war Hungary, Yugoslavia was conceived as the national state of one nation. This concept determined also its emigration policies. While the law used an ethnically neutral language, the authorities pursued a hidden nationalistic agenda: so called “a-national” elements, such as Germans, Hungarians, Turks and Albanians were encouraged to leave, whereas “national elements” – that is South Slavs – should be prevented from doing so.[14] Non-Slavs should also be barred from repatriation, even if they were citizens of the country, while “national” elements were encouraged to come back. To give just one illustration: in its distribution of emigrant visa to the United States, areas where minorities concentrated received disproportionate allocations.

The management of external emigration was closely linked with internal colonization in interwar Yugoslavia: Slavic families from the poor regions of the country, from where before 1914 many people had left for America, were strongly encouraged to re-settle in areas, which Serbia had only recently acquired (Macedonia, Kosovo, and Vojvodina). The aim was to increase the Slavic population in these lands and put demographic pressure on the minorities there (Albanians and Turks, Hungarians and Germans) so they would leave. It goes almost without saying that non-Slavic landholders in these regions were disfavored by the land reform.

However, these policies created also Catch-22 situations – akin to those faced by the Hungarian government before 1918 vis-v-vis the Slovak emigrants who had become nationally agitated in the United States. In interwar Yugoslavia, emigrants from Macedonia, who left terrible economic conditions and an atmosphere of political violence, created similar problems. Officially, the Slavic population of Macedonia was considered to be Serbian and, thus, not supposed to leave (because it was a “national” element according to the state’s dominant ideology). Yet the government was quite happy if those Macedonians not satisfied with the current state of affairs left. After all, there was vocal and violent opposition against Serb domination in Macedonia, because many of its Slavic inhabitants sympathized with Bulgaria, and Bulgaria also supported violent groups that committed attacks on Serb officials. Many of the emigrants from Macedonia, therefore, joined pro-Bulgarian émigré associations in America which supported the struggle against Serbian oppression. So, Yugoslav officials pondered what was better: to keep these people in Yugoslavia, as the official national ideology dictated, or to let them go. If they remained in Macedonia, they might cause troubles but could at least be suppressed by the police.

To sum up this point: there is a long trajectory of political uses of emigration by national states in Southeastern Europe. The politics of exit were an inseparable part of nationalist ideology and its peculiar population politics: nationalists regarded the population as a garden which required cultivation and had to be weeded. The control and the use of emigration as a tool of social engineering greatly strengthened instrumentalist dispositions and increased the capacity of the state to manage social processes. Similarities can be observed also with regard to the consequences of the influx of people.

The societal effects of refugee immigration in Southeastern Europe

Southeastern Europe is typically seen as a region of perennial emigration. Indeed, since the 19th century masses of people moved from the region to America, to Western Europe and, not to forget, to Turkey. However, modern Southeastern Europe has also an immigration experience. Its specificity is that with some notable exceptions, immigration usually meant the intake of co-ethnic migrants or refugees by presumed kin-states. The most notorious examples were, of course, the compulsory re-settlement agreements in the wake of the Balkans Wars and of World War One. In the first half of the 20th century, Southeastern Europe was a prime site of what the Russian-American sociologist, Eugene M. Kulischer, one of the founding fathers of migration history, in his 1948 book called “Europe on the Move”.[15]

While the influx of “unredeemed” ethnic brethren was officially often welcome by the receiving country, it also posed huge political and socio-economic costs.[16] Problems of integration are not an exclusive property of culturally “alien” immigrants but can also be observed with respect to co-ethnic immigrants. This was a lesson that Greek society learned in the 1920s, when almost 1.5 million Greeks from Turkey had to be incorporated in Greek society – many of whom did not even speak Greek –, whose cultural practices different substantially from those of the mainland Greeks.[17] Caroline Leutloff-Grandits showed similar experiences of cultural difference on the case of Serbs from Croatia who fled to Serbia in 1995.[18] Ethnic solidarity nicely plays in nationalist rhetoric but when it comes down to share something, solidarity might quickly wear thin.

Sometimes “kin-states” also stop the immigration of co-ethnics, such as in the case of Turkey in August 1989, when it was overwhelmed by the wave of Turkish migrants from Bulgaria. Turkey also did not want the Turkish minority in Bulgaria to completely vanish. After all, the presence of a minority can mean political leverage for the self-assigned “mother state”.

So, here we have the first conundrum: all states created in Southeastern Europe since the 19th century considered themselves the political home of a particular nation (or, in the case of socialist Yugoslavia, several nations), yet all faced the question how to deal with compatriots left outside of the state. Different courses of action were taken: occupying territories allegedly inhibited by the “brethren” was one way, “adopting” minorities abroad a second one, and resettling them a third. The fourth option – just ignoring them – was rarely if ever taken, too strong was the nationalist urge to gather the whole nation under one roof. The first option – territorial expansion – has by now become untenable, which is why state policies nowadays oscillate between the second and the third one. Croatia, for example, stands up for the rights of Croatians in the neighboring states but also happily extends its citizenship to ethnic Croats living abroad, thus facilitating their immigration to Croatia (in reality more Croats in Bosnia seem to take a passport with the intention to freely move in the European Union than to settle in Croatia; the same holds true for Moldovans taking a Romanian passport). Bulgaria for some time thought it could solve its demographic problems by inviting Bulgarians from Moldova and the Ukraine to resettle to Bulgaria, while at the same time it was encouraging the emergence of a Bulgarian national minority in Macedonia.

That being said, the historically most important form of immigration in the modern Balkans was the inflow of refugees. Refugee inflows produced significant demographic, political and socio-economic effects. Few examples for these consequences must suffice.

1) Demography

Obviously, forced or voluntary migration of minority members was a central element of the process of ethnic un-mixing that has been going on in Southeastern Europe for the last two hundred years. It does so in two major ways, by reducing or totally dissolving the presence of certain minority populations in a country, while at the same time increasing the share of the nominal majority population in the destination country. Greece is a good example: the country became much more Greek in the 1920s not only because all Muslims, bar the minority in Western Thrace, were forced to leave but also because so many Greeks from Anatolia arrived. The Greekness of the newcomers might have been a different one than that of the domestic population but nevertheless, they were officially considered part of the nation. The government settled them preferentially in areas, which were either left by Muslims or had a large Slavonic presence, such as in Macedonia and Thrace.

Serbia under Milošević tried something similar, when Serbian refugees from Croatia and Bosnia were settled in Kosovo in the 1990s. Many of these refugees were frustrated about the living conditions in Kosovo (similar to the colonists in “Southern Serbia” in the 1920s and 30s) – patriotic enthusiasm for the cause of Greater Serbia goes only so far. It is clear that nationalists considered refugees useful building material for their demographic vision. Nationalism care evidently at least as much about population than about culture.

2) Political Effects

Refugees were not just docile objects of state policies; they also undertook collective action for their interests. Most recently this was manifest in 2015, when refugees practically forced their way from Greece through the Balkan countries and Hungary to Austria, Germany and Sweden. Once settled, refugees can become political citizens especially if they receive citizenship quickly, which usually is the case for co-ethnic immigrants. Interwar Bulgaria is a case in point. Bulgaria had taken in up to 400,000 Macedonians and Bulgarians from Thrace since 1878.[19] These became a veritable political force, especially as some of the most vocal supporters of radical nationalism. In the 1920s, Macedonians in Bulgaria organized their parliamentary group and run a para-state in southwestern Bulgaria, from where they staged raids into Yugoslavia. It was these people who brutally murdered prime-minister Stambolijski, the popular peasant party leader in 1923, because of his signing a friendship treaty with Yugoslavia and his pacifist, anti-revisionist foreign policies. Until the dissolution of the IMRO-led state-in-the-state in 1934, the Macedonian ultra-nationalists were a reliable force in the violent campaigns of the state against the left and sabotaged any rapprochement with Yugoslavia.

There is, of course, no automatism that would push displaced persons into right-wing extremism. Yet, one may speculate that political activists from refugee groups tend to support nationalist causes. This seems only obvious, given their frequent experiences of total loss, alienation and lack of acceptance by their new home society, combined with a longing for the lost homeland. As a 1926 International Labor Office report about Bulgaria stressed, the terrible living conditions under which the many refugees lived “naturally made them easy victims of every kind of subversive propaganda.”[20] In the end, it depends on the integrative capacity of a political and social system whether these groups become radicalized or not.

3) Socio-economic impact

Thirdly, the influx of refugees provided impulses for new kinds of social and economic policies. Eventually, it often strengthened state capacity out of need to respond to such a massive challenge. The management of migration generally tends to increases the presence of the state in daily life.

Greece, obviously, first really struggled with the sudden increase of its population by more than 20 percent in 1923. Yet, relatively soon the measures taken by the government to support the settlement of the refugees stimulated positive economic developments. Many of the refugees were settled in marshlands in northern Greece, which only now were drained and converted into arable land. This increased the size of land under cultivation and helped to eradicate malaria, which had been a perennial problem in Macedonia and Thrace. New, modern rural settlements were built.[21] Refugees also provided cheap labor for the nascent urban industries. The need to take care of more than a million, often ill-fed and sick refugees was an important stimulus for health care reforms in Greece. Experts from the League of Nations and the Rockefeller Foundation advised the liberal Greek government of the 1920s how the abysmally dysfunctional Greek health service could be reformed and modernized.[22] Some refugee settlements were taken as sites for pilot projects. At the end, these reforms were blocked by conservative forces in the 1930s, but they show that the requirements of refugee accommodation could generate new policies.

A significant aspect of refugee accommodation in the interwar years was the substantial support of the League of Nations for countries like Greece and Bulgaria. The League of Nation established the office of the High Commissioner for Refugees under Fridtjof Nansen. Nansen was not only involved in the design of the population exchange between Greece and Turkey in 1923, but also in organizing support and relocation options for the many Russian refugees who had fled the October Revolution and were stranded in the Balkans. Indicatively, Nansen’s office worked in close tandem with the International Labor Office (ILO), which at that time tried to create an international mechanism for the protection of migrants. The ILO produced, for example, valuable recommendations for Bulgaria, which in the early 1920s hosted not only hundreds of thousands of Bulgarian refugees but also around 60,000 fled Russians and Armenians. Southeastern Europe, thus, was one of the laboratories where the emerging international refugee protection scheme was built; the urge to deal with refugee movements inspired new forms of international governmentality, which entered into the design of the post-1945 refugee protection regime.


The refugee as a legal and moral concept has also a geopolitical dimension which is closely associated with developments in Eastern and Southeastern Europe. Tara Zahra, in her new book “The Great Departure”, draws a close link between concepts of freedom and the politics of emigration.[23] During the Cold War the right to leave became an emblematic aspect of freedom, enshrined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The lack of it in the socialist countries was used by the West as a powerful argument against communist repression. Asylum seekers from the Eastern Bloc were gladly accepted in the West – they served a valuable propaganda purpose and their numbers were modest (bar few instances of mass desertion, such as in Hungry 1956 or Poland 1981).

The refugee movement from the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s and the constant stream of emigrants from the Balkans thereafter already shuttered this consensus. European Union states, for example, put pressure on non-member countries in the Western Balkans to prevent people with valid passports to leave to the EU, if they are suspected to intend to migrate there. This is the price that the EU demands for waiving visa requirements from powerless countries.

The 2015 wave of refugees finally seems to result in a tectonic shift in how Western Europe responds to refugees and migration in general. The principle that anyone has the right to leave is not sacred any more. The March 2016 resettlement agreement with Turkey is based on the disregard for the right to leave. What we see also is the outsourcing of border controls – the external border of the EU is to be patrolled by neighboring states vis-à-vis non-neighbors. Interestingly, some of these policies were also pioneered in Southeastern Europe: In 1905, a US consular agent in Fiume/Rijeka suggested to carry out the mandatory health checks of immigrants wanting to enter the US at the port of embarkation, not disembarkation. He was called Fiorella La Guardia and later made a political career as mayor of New York City and Congressman. One of New York’s airports carries his name – which is a proper metaphor how much the modern state cherishes techniques to control and channel movement.



[1] Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: Report of the International Commission into the Causes and Conduct of the Balkan Wars. London: (Printed by Francis & Co.), 1914.

[2] Detlef Brandes, Holm Sundhaussen, and Stefan Troebst, eds. Lexikon der Vertreibungen: Deportation, Zwangsaussiedlung und ethnische Säuberung im Europa des 20. Jahrhunderts. Vienna, Cologne, Weimar: Böhlau, 2010.

[3] Abbeville Press: Lewis Hine in Europe: The Lost Photographs. New York: Abbeville Press, 1988.

[4] UNHCR: “UNHCR viewpoint: ‘Refugee’ or ‘migrant’ – Which is right?“, http://www.unhcr.org/news/latest/2016/7/55df0e556/unhcr-viewpoint-refugee-migrant-right.html.

[5] Convention text at http://www.unhcr.org/protect/PROTECTION/3b66c2aa10.pdf.

[6] Cf. Marc Schuilenburg: “The Refugee as Homo Sacer. A Short Introduction to Agamben’s ‘Beyond Human Rights’”, https://www.onlineopen.org/download.php?id=205.

[7] Justin McCarthy: Death and Exile: The Ethnic Cleansing of Ottoman Muslims, 1821-1922. Princeton, N.J.: Darwin Press, 1995.

[8] Edvin Pezo: Zwangsmigration in Friedenszeiten? Jugoslawische Migrationspolitik und die Auswanderung von Muslimen in die Türkei (1918 bis 1966). Südosteuropäische Arbeiten 146. Munich : Oldenbourg, 2013.

[9] Ulf Brunnbauer: Globalizing Southeastern Europe: Emigrants America and the State since the Late Nineteenth Century. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2016, esp. chapter 5.

[10] Nancy L. Green, François Weil: “Introduction.” In Citizenship and Those Who Leave: The Politics of Emigration and Repatriation. Edited by Nancy L. Green and François Weil. Urbana, Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2007, 1–12.

[11] Charles Tilly: “Migration in Modern European History.” In Human migration. Patterns and policies: [papers presented at a conference … held in New Harmony, Ind., Apr. 1976]. Edited by William H. McNeill and Ruth S. Adams. Bloomington, Ind: Indiana Univ. Press, 1978 , 48–72

[12] Booker T. Washington: The Man Farthest Down. A record of observation and study in Europe. Garden City NY: Doubleday Page & company, 1912, 225-6.

[13] Monika Glettler: Pittsburgh – Wien – Budapest: Programm und Praxis der Nationalitätenpolitik bei der Auswanderung der ungarischen Slowaken nach Amerika um 1900. Studien zur Geschichte der österreichisch-ungarischen Monarchie 19. Vienna: Verl. der Österr. Akademie der Wiss, 1980.

[14] Aleksandar R. Miletić: Journey under surveillance: The overseas emigration policy of the kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes in global context, 1918-1928. Berlin]: Lit, 2012.

[15] Eugene M. Kulischer: Europe on the move: War and population changes 1917-47. New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1948.

[16] See Jasna Čapo Žmegač, Christian Voß; Klaus Roth, eds.: Co-Ethnic Migrations Compared. Central and Eastern European Contexts. Munich, Berlin: Sagner, 2010.

[17] Renée Hirschon: Heirs of the Greek catastrophe: The social life of Asia Minor refugees in Piraeus. New York: Berghahn Books, 1998.

[18] Carolin Leutloff-Grandits. “Die schwierige Rückkehr serbischer Kriegsflüchtlinge nach Kroatien (1995–2005).” In Definitionsmacht, Utopie, Vergeltung. “Ethnische Säuberungen” im östlichen Europa  des 20. Jahrhunderts. Edited by Ulf Brunnbauer, Michael G. Esch and Holm Sundhaussen. Münster: LIT Verlag, 2006, 187–212.

[19] Refugees and labour conditions in Bulgaria. Studies and reports, Series B 15. Geneva: International Labour Office, 1926.

[20] Refugees and labour conditions in Bulgaria. Studies and reports, Series B 15. Geneva: International Labour Office, 1926.

[21] Elisabeth Kontogiorgi: Population exchange in Greek Macedonia: The rural settlement of refugees 1922-1930. Oxford, New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press; Clarendon Press, 2006.

[22] Vassiliki Theodorou, Despina Karakatsani: “Health policy in interwar Greece: the intervention by the League of Nations Health Organization.” Dynamis 28 (2008): 53–75.

[23] Tara Zahra: The great departure: Mass migration from Eastern Europe and the making of the free world. First edition. New York, London: W.W. Norton & Company, 2016.

OpenEdition schlägt Ihnen vor, diesen Beitrag wie folgt zu zitieren:
Ulf Brunnbauer (23. März 2017). Policing Movement(s): State Orders, Migrants and Refugees in Southeastern Europe since the 19th Century. ostBLOG. Abgerufen am 20. Juli 2024 von https://doi.org/10.58079/sle9

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