The Limits of Migration Control

What We Can Learn from Polish Communists (now that they are gone)

Thanks to a historically unprecedented system of police control, transnational mobility from European communist states is probably the best documented social phenomenon of its kind and a unique experiment in the limits of the state control of mobility. This lecture presented some of the conclusions of Stola’s research project on migrations from communist Poland. These migrations underwent a marked evolution, from the movement of millions of people in the 1940s; to almost nil under the non-exit policy of the early 1950s; to the reemergence and gradual expansion of transnational mobility, especially within the Soviet bloc, between 1956 and 1980; to mass population flows in the late 1980s. Each trip outside the bloc, and indeed each trip abroad for most of the duration of communist rule, required applying for a permit from the Security Service. This procedure resulted in an archival collection of passport files that fills some 60 kilometers of shelf space. Despite the constraints, more than two million people eventually left Poland for good, and temporary movements occurred on a mass scale, pioneering forms of mobility that continued well after 1989. This lecture shed light on the key factors and currents of migration in communist Poland, as well as the evolution of the migration regime, from early imitation of the Soviet model to its eventual implosion.

Dariusz Stola is Professor of History at the Institute of Political Studies of the Polish Academy of Sciences and Former Director of the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews.

Ranabir Samaddar, Distinguished Chair in Migration and Forced Migration Studies, Calcutta Research Group, Kolkata, India, provided the comment.

Ivan Vejvoda, Acting Rector and Permanent Fellow of the IWM in Vienna, moderated the evening.

Watch the recording here: