Greek-Turkish populations transfer after 1923
Yalta Agreement, February 1945 @ Bildarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz
Poland before and after the Second World War
Potsdam Agreement, 1945
@ Bildarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz
German and Polish expulsion and population transfer 1944–1948
Bosnian refugees (Croats)
© UNHCR /August 1995
Dayton Agreement, 1995
A radical answer to the “nationality question” is the expulsion of minorities by the majority in order for them to create a state intended to be a “nation-state”. Such forced migrations took place in south east Europe and, in particular, the Balkans, at the beginning and at the end of the last century. During and after World War II; these expulsions were concentrated in Central and Eastern Europe. At the end of the century, however, forced migrations happened in the Balkans and the Caucasus.
As early as the 19th century, the Muslim minorities who lived in the Balkans’ new nation-states were affected by discrimination and persecution, so that many of them left their homes. Finally, during the Balkan Wars (1912–13), ten thousands of people had to flee their homelands because they were members of ethnic or religious minorities. This policy was officially sanctioned afterwards by a treaty between Bulgaria and Turkey, which provided for an exchange of population in the border zone. Ethnic harmonization of the state was also the goal stated by the new Turkish nationalists who ruled the Ottoman Empire from 1908 onwards and who proceeded with the deportation of the Armenian minority from 1909. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians fell victim to violence, pogroms, and hunger.
After the Greco-Turkish war of 1921–22, which was accompanied by expulsions and escape, forced relocations were politics' answer to the “nationality question”. Nearly two million people were affected by the population exchange laid down in the Treaty of Lausanne (1923). According to estimates, in many countries in the east and south east of Europe, up to six million members of ethnic minorities had to leave their homes under duress or due to pressure in the years after World War I. During that time, shifting populations was often seen as a legitimate, even sometimes the only, means politics had to solve “nationality problems” and to safeguard peace. The great European powers also agreed to the Treaty of Lausanne. These ideas were also espoused by scientists. The Swiss ethnologist Georges Montandon, for instance, developed a concept which provided for the “massive” resettlement of people in order to create nation-states with “natural” borders and without any minorities.
The next phase during which massive forced relocations of the population took place were the years of and around World War II. This period is covered in greater detail in other articles, therefore only a brief overview will be given here. This period began with the Jewish population’s emigration from Germany after the National Socialists’ takeover of power and the beginning of discrimination and persecution in 1933. After the Munich Agreement of 1938, several hundreds of thousands of people left their hereditary place of residence in what was, until then, Czechoslovakia, due to actual or feared violence. At the same time, National Socialist Germany signed treaties with a number of states, amongst them Italy and the Soviet Union, according to which the members of the German minority were to be relocated “home into the Reich”, not least in occupied territories such as the Bohemian countries or Poland. Thus, this policy was part of the aggressive, expansionist overall strategy displayed by the National Socialists.
The time of World War II was marked by the deportation and mass murder of Jews in particular, but also of other groups such as the Sinti and Roma, living under German rule. Especially from the east of Europe, millions of forced laborers were transported to Germany.
In the Soviet Union, members of a number of ethnic minorities (Germans, Caucasians, Balts, Poles, Crimean Tatars, and others) accused of harboring sympathies for the enemy were deported to the Central Asian Republics. In these cases, the dissolution of social structures and the safeguarding of Stalinist rule was the most important rationale behind the relocations, which on the whole probably affected more than three million people.
Finally, there were huge migratory movements in Europe after the end of the war. Millions of former prisoners of war, forced laborers and concentration camp inmates (displaced persons) were sent back to their countries of origin. Many surviving Jews left Europe altogether and resettled in the newly founded state of Israel or in the United States. With the consent of the Allies, a number of probably far more than ten million ethnic Germans had to leave their settlement areas in the east of Europe and relocate to Germany or Austria. In East and South East Europe, numerous resettlement activities also took place, which affected, amongst others, Magyars, Ukranians, Byelorussians, Finns, and Italians. The largest group were the more than two million Poles taken from the former eastern part of Poland, which now was annexed to the Soviet Union, to the western part of the country, which formerly had been part of Germany. Most of the forced migrations executed or tolerated by the state were explicitly justified by stating that territorial claims on settlement areas made by ethnic minorities were to be ruled out in the future.
During the Cold War, the trend to ethnic homogenization continued, but mostly was the result of individual decisions to emigrate and only in exceptional cases was an official state policy goal, as in Bulgaria. German “late emigrants”, Jews, Turks, other Muslims, Hungarians, Armenians, Greeks, and other ethnicities emigrated from many countries of East and South East Europe.
After the collapse of the “Iron Curtain”, which was accompanied by improved possibilities to travel, this trend continued and even increased. The former Soviet Union also saw the beginning of new migratory movements, mostly driven by members of the Russian diaspora relocating to Russia from the newly independent states.
New wars and armed conflicts also brought the phenomenon of expulsions back to Europe and its fringes. The expulsions took place against the backdrop of the most recent wave of nation-state creation, which dissolved the last of the large European multinational empires, the Soviet Union, which until then had held together by means of the autoritarian system of rule. Smaller multi-ethnic states such as Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia split up into smaller states. Unlike most previous nation-state foundations, however, it is quite remarkable that a relatively large number of them was created without any war – historically speaking, this had been the very rare exception until that point.
The conflicts in Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Chechnya resulted in the flight of hundreds of thousands of people. During the civil wars which raged in the former Yugoslavia (Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Kosovo) between 1992 and 1999, mass flight, expulsions, and massacres took place right on the European Union’s “doorstep”. The cynical term “ethnic cleansing”, which, however, precisely conveys the concept behind the phenomenon, was widely used in media coverage. Once more, the historic context was the formation of new nation-states, motivated by an ethnically defined nationalism. Depending on the military situation, Croats, Serbs, Albanians, Roma, and Muslims were affected – with the latter, their religion was used as a means to determine their “ethnic identity”, the only characteristic which distinguished them from the Catholic Croats and the Orthodox Serbs. According to estimates, more than two million people were affected.
The civil wars, expulsions and particularly the prospect of having to accommodate more refugees led to military NATO intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo. In this context, it should be noted that, on the one hand, such interventions are problematic and controversial under international law, but on the other hand that, as opposed to earlier decades, forced migrations are not considered a means to conflict solving which are promoted or even tolerated any longer, but meet with repudiation and resistance – at least in Europe.