Armenia & Poland & Russia & The Middle East

In Peter Gatrell’s article, Displacing and Re-Placing Population in the Two World Wars: Armenia and Russia, he argues that the two ethnic groups sought protection both Post-World War I and II in order to establish the legitimacy of their state; however, the Armenians supported Russian “protection” while the Poles chose to abandon their homeland because of ideological differences. Gatrell is a Professor of Economic History at the University of Manchester in the U.K. His specialty is analyzing the economic influence of refugees and their movement after both World Wars.

What Gatrell keyed in on in the article but did not specifically mention is larger state’s influence on the movement of refugee and migrant groups based on ethnicity. The Soviet influence on both states is critical to understanding how well each ethnic group functioned within its own nation-state: Poland dealing with a complex egalitarian relationship, while Armenia relied on Russia for the creation and establishment of their “republic”. The implications that Gatrell’s piece has for modern day politics is astonishing to me. How do we deal with the refugee crisis in regards to international politics, because like the article states, while each group had their “state”, there were many issues that they struggled with because of their benefactor’s own political agendas.

The issue of millions of refugees

Peter Gatrell is a professor of economic history at the University of Manchester. In his work Introduction: World Wars and Population Displacement In Europe in the Twentieth Century, he speaks about the World Wars as well as the Russian Revolution. He spends much of the work talking about how there millions of refugees after the Russian Revolution, World War I, and World War II. While the number of people who were displaced after the wars is not agreed upon, all of the potential numbers were in the millions. [1] Gatrell mentions that after some time, sociologist Edward Shils wrote about “a widespread psychological regression, i.e. a collapse of adult norms and standards in speech, behavior and attitude, and a reversion to less mature patterns.”[2] He says that this was due to a loss of “original community and family connections.”[3] Gatrell talks about how in postwar Europe, relief workers thought that showing compassion towards the refugees was critical in restoring “moral order” for the displaced people.

We see a large number of refugees today due to events like the war in Syria, as well as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are still millions of refugees and displaced people all over the world. While the problem was more obvious after the World Wars and the Russian Revolution, it is still a major problem in the world today. Do you agree that a loss of community and family connections could cause the phenomenon that Edward Shils wrote about? Do you believe that the relief workers had the right idea when thinking that compassion is the key to restoring “moral order” for refugees? Or do you think that they were wrong in thinking this?

[1] “Introduction: World Wars and Population Displacement in Europe in the Twentieth Century,” Peter Gatrell, 419.

[2] Ibid, 421.

[3] Ibid.

Flocking to Success – Immigration

For me, this essay brings up an enduring question throughout much of history: “What to do with immigrants or newcomers?” It also leads to the follow up question: “Who should be doing these actions?” The fact is that when a country starts becoming successful, like Germany in the late twentieth century and like the United States in the second half of the nineteenth century, people will flock to that nation. For them, it represents the possibility of opportunity or escape from a potentially bad homeland (refugee). The same thing will happen domestically: if a city starts to boom, and create more job opportunity, people will generally flock to that city. According to this article, Germany is having to face these questions now. As the nation furthers itself as an economic powerhouse, more will want to join in on the bandwagon. In some cases, a newly booming economy needs this flocking in order to keep the momentum going. Germany is not too far from Eastern Europe, and therefore, a large percentage of mixed ethnic populations. For a nation with such a troubled racial past, it can be challenging for them to determine what to do. In the not too distant future, leaders in Germany will have to decide whether they want to assimilate immigrants, allow immigrants to stay but retain their culture, or simply disallow immigration into Germany. The difficult thing is, all answers to the question have their merits; it’s a moral dilemma.

It was a problem for nineteenth-century U.S., and now it is a problem for Germany. Are there any other parts in history that may experience this problem? Perhaps Irish immigration into Britain? Or perhaps North African immigration into Spain?

Post-Cold War Consumerism; Mary Elise Sarotte

Mary Elise Sarotte’s book, The Struggle to Create Post-Cold War Europe, aptly depicts the status of West/East Germany and how it was the centerpiece for the recreation of Europe after the Cold War.  Sarotte begins the book by discussing five major changes that occurred in the summer of 1989 which opened up the Berlin Wall. 1) The failure of events like Tiananmen to transfer over to a European context; 2) the choice of the American government to remove itself from the issue; 3) East Germans taking on the status quo; 4) an increase in East German self-confidence; and 5) the impact of television at this pivotal moment.  I will not go into detail for each of these, as Sarotte does so in the book, however number 5 did provoke some questions from me.  For instance, how is a media snafu like one such as this not caught or fixed before being released to the public?  Is it possible that this fumble of information was intended?

To focus on a more relevant topic of which we have been discussing, in the second chapter of Sarotte’s book, she talks about consumer goods.  The lack of consumer goods in East Germany posed a large problem for stores in West Germany as refugees settled in the West.  Stores had a difficult time managing the extreme increase in demand resulting from new consumers entering the market.  East German citizens were fleeing not only from the poor living standards but more specifically the poor economic status that contributed to it.  They were experiencing a massive demand deficit in East Germany thanks to low wages and high priced goods.  Refugees placed a large stress on the economic system of the West which could have had unpredictable effects on reunification of Germany.

Sovietization of Spanish Niños

During the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939, Stalin decided to test the influence of the Soviet state by providing some “assistance” to the warring nation. He did this in several military and political ways, but the focus of our class reading this week was on the nearly 3,000 Spanish children that the Soviet Union took in as refugees from the war.

There was an ulterior motive, however, that wasn’t too surprising given the Stalin’s history. While promoting Communist ideals in Spain itself via propaganda, Stalin saw these child refugees as tools. The state would educate them in Soviet ways and make them into the perfect hybrid of Spanish-Soviet culture. The children’s acceptance of communist ideology would prove its universal appeal while symbolizing the selfless and altruistic nature of Soviet society. It was a win-win.

The niños were taught camaraderie, respect for authority, independence and discipline in addition to their academic undertakings. This was done by adult role models that perfectly embodied Soviet ideals. If the designated teachers were later deemed “politically illiterate,” meaning they did not embody and teach Soviet values with enough conviction, they were removed from their posts (usually under the guise of some other complaint against them.) Although these subpar instructors were not labeled “political enemies” of the Soviet state, the process did help identify them as weaker members of Soviet society and the government preferred to keep tabs on such citizens.

The refugee program for the Spanish children is yet another example of the creative and guileful policies of the Soviet Union. You would be hard-pressed to find a political leader as detail-oriented, goal-driven and determined as Stalin. His desire to transform the Soviet Union into the perfect communist state knew no bounds.