H-Diplo Article Review 1031- "Waging the Cold War"

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H-Diplo Article Review 1031

23 April 2021

Emmanuel Comte.  “Waging the Cold War: The Origins and Launch of Western Cooperation to Absorb Migrants from Eastern Europe, 1948–57.”  Cold War History (May 2020).  DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/14682745.2020.1756781.

https://hdiplo.org/to/AR1031
Editor: Diane Labrosse | Commissioning Editor: Seth Offenbach | Production Editor: George Fujii

Review by Jan Musekamp, University of Pittsburgh

Emmanuel Comte’s article focuses on migration management among Western government organizations in the early years of the Cold War.  At this time, political crises in the German Democratic Republic (GDR), Czechoslovakia, and Hungary led an increasing number of emigrants from these countries to leave for Western Europe.  Comte argues that collaboration in accommodating migrants’ needs was a high priority in Western cooperation for two reasons: to stabilize the war-torn countries to the West of the ‘Iron Curtain,’ and to destabilize the emerging Communist regimes to the East of the ‘Iron Curtain.’ Comte consulted an impressive array of primary and secondary sources in France, Germany, and the United States.  He successfully positions his article within the broader field of Cold War studies and, somewhat less effectively, in migration studies.[1]

The author begins with an overview of population movements between newly erected Communist regimes and their Western neighbors in the late 1940s and early 1950s, focusing on East and West Germany.  Whether most people left the Eastern part of Germany for economic or for ideological reasons has been discussed by scholars for a long time.  Based on the work of Volker Ackermann, the author holds that just one percent of East Germans left for ideological reasons.  This figure is doubtful since Ackermann was merely citing an opinion in West German politicians’ contemporary discussion.[2] In any case, when looking at emigration reasons, it is usually impossible to differentiate between economic and political factors; both are typically intertwined.[3]

In the next part of the article, Comte focuses on the main reason for a coordinated response to migration among the Western powers, which was the political stability of “western border countries” such as Italy, Greece, and West Germany during the early Cold War period.  Comte correctly points at the pressure that the high influx of people was already putting on the West German labor market in the late 1940s (4-5), leading to the electoral success of the Bloc of Expellees and Dispossessed Persons (BHE) and right-wing extremist parties.  Not surprisingly, times of economic downturns and high unemployment are always particularly challenging for potential immigrants who seek admission to another country.  However, it is worth mentioning that by the mid-1950s, unemployment was no longer an important issue in West Germany – from the early 1950s, the rate decreased rapidly.  As a result, a severe labor shortage developed, which was filled until 1961 by immigrants from East Germany and subsequently by so-called guest-workers.[4]

Comte then describes how Western countries actively attracted and allocated a high-skilled workforce from the East in order to destabilize countries that were aligned with the USSR economically. To achieve this goal, enhanced western cooperation was needed.  Comte mentions various U.S. initiatives, which ultimately led to the establishment of the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration (ICEM).  The analysis of the ICEM’s efforts in tackling migration movements across three continents is the most innovative part of this article.  Built-up in 1951 out of the lessons learned from earlier surges in East-West migration, ICEM coordinated Western efforts to manage the migration from the East in both a more active and a more political way.  It also utilized a more collaborative approach than previous organizations like the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Refugee Organisation (IRO).  As Peter Gatrell has pointed out, the ICEM did not necessarily arrange for transportation itself.  Still, it assisted NGOs in their efforts – a scheme that recently has been researched in great detail by Dimitris Parsanoglou and Yannis Papadopoulos.[5] As a result, the ICEM elaborated detailed relocation plans. For instance, under a 1952 scheme, some 230,000 Germans emigrated from West Germany to Australia (p. 15).[6] At the same time, Western European countries were among the first to sign the United Nations Geneva Convention on refugees’ status – a legal framework that was subsequently applied primarily to refugees from Communist countries.[7]

Comte closes the article with a discussion of Hungarian emigrants’ resettlement after they left their home country because of the Soviet crackdown on the 1956 Revolution.  At this point, the Geneva Convention’s legal framework and the ICEM’s logistical framework allowed for swift global resettlement of an estimated 200,000 refugees.

While Comte presents the ICEM’s political and economic role during the first years of the Cold War in a convincing way, the positioning of the topic into the broader field of Migration Studies is less successful.  Comte deals with a significant but relatively small group of people who were absorbed by Western countries (less than one half million people).  While this is not an issue in itself, it is worth mentioning the millions of people who were on the move in the decade preceding 1948/49. The author notes the experiences of both West and East Germany in absorbing ethnic German refugees from Central and Eastern European countries (or expellees, “Vertriebene”) as West German politicians called them).  However, he does not mention this movement’s scope, which R.M. Douglas has put at 12-14 million people (1945-1948).[8] Displaced persons (DPs) were another significant group, outnumbering the more recent emigrants from East-Central Europe.  Their numbers decreased from over one million to roughly 650,000 in 1949 – a group that at this point mostly refused repatriation.[9]

From this perspective, it is difficult to agree with Comte’s statement that “from 1948 onwards, immigration from the East increased in Europe” (3).  This was in fact when European mass migration movements were smaller in scale and thus more manageable than they had been in the previous decade – particularly in light of the experiences of the early postwar years. The article also contains some overly dramatic and simplifying statements.  One such example is the idea that the Berlin Wall “broke under the pressure of the outflow of people from Eastern Europe” (1).  In reality, a complex set of factors led to its breakdown – an important one arguably being East Germans’ migration (and not East Europeans’) to the West in the summer of 1989. In the late 1980s, for people from Poland and Hungary, the infamous Wall was no longer a significant barrier since they already had more liberal travel regimes in place.  The article also at times implies an overly sharp dichotomy between Eastern and Western Europe.  This point of departure might make sense in Cold War Studies, from a political science perspective, and when using the term “Eastern Bloc” vs. the “Western Bloc.” However, it is questionable in light of migration history more broadly. In the historiography, the GDR aside, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary are all considered part of Central or East-Central Europe.  People from the region did not welcome the idea of being positioned in Eastern Europe.  In fact, political refugees regarded their countries as part of the Western World, which had been “kidnapped” by the Soviet Union.[10]

Despite these issues, the present article is an essential contribution to early Cold War migration history.  It is part of an ongoing scholarly discussion, stimulated by scholars such as Peter Gatrell, Dimitris Parsanoglou, Yannis Papadopoulos, and others.

 

Jan Musekamp is DAAD Visiting Associate Professor at the University of Pittsburgh.  His main research interests are Central and Eastern Europe, mobility, and migration history.  Dr. Musekamp is currently working on a book manuscript entitled From Paris to St. Petersburg and from Kaunas to New York.  A History of Transnational Mobility in East-Central Europe.

 


Notes

[1] Concerning migration movements from Eastern Europe from a historical perspective, Comte refers to Tara Zahra, The Great Departure: Mass Migration from Eastern Europe and the Making of the Free World (New York: W.W. Norton, 2016); regarding Cold War Studies, the author references John Lewis Gaddis, We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997); as for the intersection of Cold War and migration, Comte draws from Kim Salomon, Refugees in the Cold War: Toward a New International Refugee Regime in the Early Postwar Era (Lund: Lund University Press, 1991).

[2] Volker Ackermann, “Politische Flüchtlinge oder unpolitische Zuwanderer aus der DDR? Die Debatte um den echten Flüchtling in Westdeutschland von 1945 bis 1961,” in Jan Motte, Rainer Ohliger, and Anne von Oswald, eds., 50 Jahre Bundesrepublik – 50 Jahre Einwanderung: Nachkriegsgeschichte als Migrationsgeschichte, (Frankfurt am Main: Campus, 1999), 85. Corey Ross references a share of 20% of emigrants from the GDR who were granted the status of political refugees: Corey Ross, “Before the Wall: East Germans, Communist Authority, and the Mass Exodus to the West,” The Historical Journal 45:2 (June 2002), 468.

[3] On the pitfalls of making clear distinctions between different types of migration refer to Jan Lucassen, and Leo Lucassen, “Migration, Migration History, History: Old Paradigms and New Perspectives.” In Migration, Migration History, History: Old Paradigms and New Perspectives, ed. Jan Lucassen, and Leo Lucassen (Bern: Peter Lang, 1997), 10-17.

[5] Peter Gatrell, Free World?  The Campaign to Save the World’s Refugees, 1956-1963 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 22; Dimitris Parsanoglou and Yannis Papadopoulos, “Regulating Human Mobility through Networking and Outsourcing: ICEM, IOs and NGOs during the 1950s,” Journal of Migration History 5 (2019): 332-352.

[6] It seems like the primary source cited does not reveal the original geographic origin of these people.  For the most part, they were refugees from the German Democratic Republic or ethnic Germans from farther East.

[7] It is not clear why the author explicitly mentions Colombia as the only Western European country that was not among the first group of signatory states.

[8] R.M. Douglas, Orderly and Humane.  The Expulsion of the Germans after the Second World War (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2012), 1.

[9] Peter Gatrell, The Making of the Modern Refugee (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 97.

[10] See the English version of the programmatic essay by Milan Kundera, “The Tragedy of Central Europe,” The New York Review of Books, 26 April 1984, 33-38; on the long-lasting effect of the “invention of Eastern Europe” as a region juxtaposed to Western Europe, see Larry Wolff, Inventing Eastern Europe.  The Map of Civilization on the Mind of the Enlightenment (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1994).

Author’s Response to the H-Diplo Article Review by Jan Musekamp of Emmanuel Comte.  “Waging the Cold War: The Origins and Launch of Western Cooperation to Absorb Migrants from Eastern Europe, 1948–57.”  Cold War History (May 2020).  DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/14682745.2020.1756781.

 

https://hdiplo.org/to/AR1031

 

Response by Emmanuel Comte, Ph.D., Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy

 

I am pleased that H-Diplo published a review of my article “Waging the Cold War: The Origins and Launch of Western Cooperation to Absorb Migrants from Eastern Europe, 1948–57” (Cold War History, May 2020). In this article, I reconstruct the gradual process that led the Western powers to cooperate to absorb migrants from Eastern Europe at the beginning of the Cold War – a major component of Western Cold War strategy, I argue. Jan Musekamp’s review presents the two objectives of cooperation that the article highlights: “to stabilize the war-torn countries to the West of the ‘Iron Curtain,’ and to destabilize the emerging Communist regimes to the East of the ‘Iron Curtain’.” The reviewer argues that the article precisely analyses the efforts of the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration – which was set up among the Western powers – in tackling migration movements across three continents. I am gratified that Musekamp considers that this analysis “is the most innovative part of this article.”

 

In response to a few other comments in the review, I have a few points to make.

 

First, the review contains some errors. Based on my argument, the reviewer notes that “some 230,000 Germans emigrated from West Germany to Australia (15)” but argues with respect to the citation for these number in footnote 6 that “it seems like the primary source cited does not reveal the original geographic origin of these people.”

 

The article does not in fact refer to a primary source in footnote 6, but to a secondary source, which is a collective book edited by Lina Venturas.[1] Ioannis Limnios-Sekeris’s chapter on “Australia and the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration” reports that “Australia signed a bilateral agreement with the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) in 1952; as a result, Australia welcomed more than 230,000 German migrants.”[2]

 

Relatedly, Musekamp writes that “it is not clear why the author explicitly mentions Colombia as the only Western European country that was not among the first group of signatory states.”

 

In fact, I mention Colombia as the only country among the first group of signatory states that was, obviously, not a West European country: “the first signatories of the Convention were all West European governments, Colombia excepted” (17).

 

Second, Musekamp finds that the article is well positioned in the field of Cold War studies but finds that there are gaps as far as the field of migration studies is concerned. He writes that “[Comte] positions his article ... less effectively ... in migration studies. ... The positioning of the topic into the broader field of Migration Studies is less successful. … Millions of people ... were on the move in the decade preceding 1948/49. The author ...  does not mention this movement’s scope .... Displaced persons (DPs) were another significant group …. … It is difficult to agree with Comte’s statement that ‘from 1948 onwards, immigration from the East increased in Europe’ (3).”

 

This article is about the Cold War, which started in 1947. Migration flows included in this article are therefore those in Europe that occurred during the Cold War, were the product of the Cold War or were relevant to the Cold War. It was out of the scope of this article to describe flows that occurred in 1944, 1945 or even 1946. My point that the reviewer quotes at the end simply refers to an increase in Cold War East-West flows as early as 1948. The previous flows the reviewer mentions did not occur during the Cold War, were not a product of the Cold War, and were not relevant to it when they occurred. They were not East-West flows under the definitions in this article.

 

Nevertheless, the article does not ignore those earlier migrants. It refers extensively to them, to the results of their movements, and to the predicament they created in Western border countries, but within the period covered in the article. Relevant figures appear to quantify the problem. I refer in various sections of the article to the predicament around those migrants in Germany and include them in the general categories of “Germans from the East” or “immigrants from the East” (bottom of page 3, top of pate 4). The article refers to Displaced Persons (DPs) in the same manner.

 

Last, the article leans on many cited historiographical works that do not deal with the Cold War but with relevant migration questions, including the transportation of migrants overseas, the migration policies of destination countries, or migration patterns.[3]

 

In addition, Musekamp argues that “the article … contains some overly dramatic and simplifying statements. One such example is the idea that the Berlin Wall ‘broke under the pressure of the outflow of people from Eastern Europe’ (1).”

 

I cannot speak to the proposed “dramatic and simplifying statements” because the review includes only one example. And for that example the reviewer does not put forward a different explanation. My sentence quoted here does not imply that the pressure of the outflow of people from Eastern Europe was the only factor in the breaking of the Berlin Wall. It only implies it was the trigger. The reviewer refers to that same factor, presenting it “arguably” as “an important one”. Furthermore, in the following sentence, the reviewer refers to the existence of other routes to exit the East: this is, however, yet another reason for considering that the outflow of people from the East made the Wall increasingly precarious. Note that East Germans belonged to the broader group of East Europeans, which introduces the last comment, about definitions.

 

Musekamp considers that the article “implies an overly sharp dichotomy between Eastern and Western Europe” and argues that “people from the region did not welcome the idea of being positioned in Eastern Europe. In fact, political refugees regarded their countries as part of the Western World, which had been ‘kidnapped’ by the Soviet Union.”

 

The second sentence makes some sense but it is not convincing to argue that historians should not consider that Europe was then divided in two parts. The fact that some people welcomed something or not is not a sufficient criterion to construct groupings of countries. With the Red Army, the Soviet Union had de facto integrated the region in the eastern part of Europe that the Soviet Union dominated during the Cold War. The fact some people moved, mostly from East to West, did not dilute the distinction between the two regions then. Only when people were able to translate their aspirations into political change and migration became more intense and complex did the regional structure change. I define both Western and Eastern Europe accordingly in Footnote 1 of the article.

 

These definitions are consistent not only with the evidence I report in the article, but also with the understanding of contemporaries and of historians. From the late 1940s to the mid 1960s, “Eastern Europe” became a dominant geographical concept, overpassing competing concepts such as “Central Europe” for instance.[4] In his recent book, From Peoples Into Nations, John Connelly presents a “History of Eastern Europe” that is not limited to the Cold War years but encompasses a much longer time frame.[5] Putting forward “Eastern Europe” as a basic geographical concept, especially during the years covered by this article, is therefore appropriate.

 

 

Emmanuel Comte is a senior research fellow at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP) in Athens and a professorial lecturer at the Vienna School of International Studies (Diplomatische Akademie Wien). He has held other academic and research positions at the European University Institute in Florence, the University of California, Berkeley, and the Barcelona Centre for International Affairs (CIDOB). He is a graduate of the École normale supérieure in Paris and holds a Ph.D. in the History of Europe and International Relations from Sorbonne University. He is the author of The History of the European Migration Regime: Germany’s Strategic Hegemony (Routledge, 2018) and of many scholarly articles in English, French or Spanish published in The International Spectator, Afers Internacionals, Cold War History, Labor History, Le Mouvement social, Relations internationales, and the Journal of European Integration History.

 

[1] Lina Venturas, ed., International ‘Migration Management’ in the Early Cold War: The Inter-Governmental Committee for European Migration (Corinth: University of the Peloponnese, 2015).

[2] Ioannis Limnios-Sekeris, “Australia and the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration,” in Venturas, ed., International ‘Migration Management’ in the Early Cold War: 191-216, here, 194.

[3] Typically: Matthew Frank and Jessica Reinisch, eds., Refugees in Europe, 1919–1959: A Forty Years’ Crisis? (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2017). See also those other works cited throughout the article: Rainer Schulze, “The Refugee Population in Western Germany after World War 2: The Case of Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen),” in The Uprooted: Forced Migration as an International Problem in the Post-War Era, ed. Göran Rystad (Lund: Lund University Press, 1990). Volker Ackermann, “Migration in Deutschland 1945–55,” in Rückkehr aus der Emigration nach 1945, ed. Wolfgang Blaschke, Karola Fings, and Cordula Lissner (Cologne: Verein EL-DE-Haus Köln, 1997). Volker Ackermann, “Politische Flüchtlinge oder unpolitische Zuwanderer aus der DDR? Die Debatte um den echten Flüchtling in Westdeutschland von 1945 bis 1961,” in 50 Jahre Bundesrepublik – 50 Jahre Einwanderung: Nachkriegsgeschichte als Migrationsgeschichte, ed. Jan Motte, Rainer Ohliger, and Anne von Oswald (Frankfurt am Main: Campus, 1999). Patrick Major, “Going West: The Open Border and the Problem of Republikflucht,” in The Workers’ and Peasants’ State: Communism and Society in East Germany under Ulbricht, 1945–71, ed. Patrick Major and Jonathan Osmond (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002). Ian Connor, Refugees and Expellees in Post-War Germany (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2007). Gerard Daniel Cohen, In War’s Wake: Europe’s Displaced Persons in the Postwar Order (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).

[5] John Connelly, From Peoples Into Nations: A History of Eastern Europe (Princeton & Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2020).