J. Schönhagen u.a. (Hrsg.): Migration und Migrationspolitik in Europa 1945–2020

Migration und Migrationspolitik in Europa 1945–2020.

Schönhagen, Jakob; Herbert, Ulrich
Göttingen 2023: Wallstein Verlag
Anzahl Seiten
421 S.
€ 42,00
Rezensiert für H-Soz-Kult von
Pertti Ahonen, Department of History and Ethnology, University of Jyväskylä

One exciting development in the recent historiography of contemporary Europe has been the growing attention that scholars have begun to pay to the history of migrations. Within the last two decades, migration history has gone increasingly mainstream – from a vibrant but somewhat isolated subfield to an integral strand of the recent European past, particularly for the post-1945 period. A pre-eminent champion of such historiographical integration, Peter Gatrell, underscored this point with particular force in a recent monograph, in which he contended – and convincingly demonstrated – that “every major development in postwar Europe is connected to migration”.1

Following in these footsteps, the edited volume “Migration und Migrationspolitik in Europa 1945–2020” makes a significant contribution to the ongoing endeavor of centering migrations within contemporary European history. In their lucid and convincing introductory chapter, the editors highlight the broad significance of the topic in a fashion similar to Gatrell’s magnum opus. Jakob Schönhagen and Ulrich Herbert, representing two different generations of historiography, stress that mass migrations have been one of the “essential features of European history over the last eighty years” (p. 8). They also argue that, as a consequence, the “widely shared assumption of ethnic homogeneity” as the “state of normality in European societies” is false, all populist-nationalist claims to the contrary notwithstanding (ibid.). Instead, in a post-WWII historical perspective, “migration and mixing are the European normality”, whereas “ethnic homogeneity is an exception” (Sonderfall, ibid.). According to the editors, their volume aims to substantiate these claims by describing and analyzing migration processes and policies from the perspectives of both individual countries and select “supranational institutions”, with the ultimate objective of identifying “similarities, parallels and differences”, thereby advancing the transnational and comparative study of migrations and migration policies in Europe (pp. 7–8).

The volume comprises fifteen chapters, and the introduction is followed by two contributions on supranational actors: the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the European Union. After that, the bulk of the book consists of individual country studies, grouped along politico-geographical lines into clusters around Northwestern (France, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Germany), Southern (Italy, Spain, Greece), and Eastern Europe (Yugoslavia, Poland, Hungary, and the Soviet Union/Russia). The final chapter, in turn, provides concluding thoughts and further observations about migrations in post-1945 Europe and the ways in which they should be studied historically.

At 421 pages, this is a weighty volume, certainly quantitatively but equally qualitatively. The contributions are uniformly well-researched and packed with useful information about national trends and wider international and transnational developments. They are also of a high order analytically, consistently combining chronological and thematic coverage in a readable fashion. Almost all the chapters bring the story very close to the present day, even beyond the cut-off point of 2020 indicated in the volume’s title. The comprehensive geographical coverage is another asset: unlike most studies of post-1945 migratory trends in Europe, this collection does not over-emphasize Western Europe but gives extensive attention to Southern and Eastern parts of the continent as well. In addition, most of the chapters offer comparative observations that help place the case studies in a wider transnational context, highlighting national peculiarities and cross-border commonalities.

There is no weak chapter among the fifteen – each is a solid and substantial contribution to the field. However, a few stand out as particularly rewarding and stimulating. Jakob Schönhagen’s survey of the development of international refugee policies from the aftermath of the First World War to the start of the 2020s, which is told primarily from the perspective of the UNHCR, is a model of concise transnational analysis.2 It also does an excellent job of locating the UNHCR’s present-day challenges – expanding duties impeded by increasingly precarious finances – in a longer-term historical perspective that contemporary discussions often lack. Olga Sparschuh’s chapter on Italy is another gem. She traces Italy’s ambivalent and protracted post-1945 transition from a country of exceptionally voluminous emigration to one of rapidly growing immigration deftly and fluently, stressing the reactive and frequently ill-considered character of the accompanying policy adjustments in Rome. Along the way, she also places Italy in a comparative European framework in an illuminative fashion.

The intellectually most stimulating contribution comes in the concluding chapter, in which Peter Gatrell offers far-ranging reflections on migration and migration policies in Europe since 1945. As could be expected, Gatrell emphasizes, once again, the importance of embedding the history of migrations firmly within the overarching narrative of recent European history. He also accentuates a key factor often missing from analyses of migration regimes: the agency of migrants. To be sure, the level of agency that different types of migrants can exert varies and is based on multiple factors, and the most vulnerable among them, such as refugees, typically have quite limited room to maneuver. Nevertheless, as Gatrell points out, the efforts and activities of migrants deserve extensive scholarly attention. In another refreshing comment, Gatrell proposes alternative analytical frameworks for the historical study of migratory processes, looking past nation-states and international institutions to focus on “regions, cities or villages” (p. 410). Through several concrete examples, he illustrates how such local-level approaches can cast new light on particular histories of migration – micro or meso perspectives that also open up promising vistas for further comparative and transnational work in this field.

Although it would be hard to find obvious weaknesses in this timely and exceptionally coherent edited volume, a few quibbles do come to mind. One concerns the countries featured in the individual chapters. The selection is logical – and commendably diverse in its coverage of Northwestern, Eastern, and Southern Europe, as already mentioned – but certain omissions stand out. Britain is probably the most notable absence, but Austria, Switzerland, and Belgium would also have offered insightful and interesting case studies. The same can be said of Turkey, a country on the margins of Europe, to be sure, but a hugely significant entity in the continent’s recent migration history and policies. To be fair, including several additional chapters may not have been feasible, but a way around that could have been fewer country-specific chapters and additional comparative or transnational ones. Then again, this volume, with its largely nationally oriented focus, has hopefully helped to pave the way for further efforts along those kinds of lines. Nonetheless, “Migration und Migrationspolitik in Europa 1945–2020” remains a significant and timely contribution to post-1945 European history, a book that helps to historicize urgent contemporary issues and deserves a wide readership in academia and beyond.

1 Peter Gatrell, The Unsettling of Europe. How Migration Reshaped a Continent, New York 2019, p. 3.
2 See also his recently published dissertation: Jakob Schönhagen, Geschichte der internationalen Flüchtlingspolitik 1945–1975, Göttingen 2023.