The project aims to write refugees back into the history of East-Central Europe in the 20th century. In this “age of refugees”, the region became a destination of large refugee migrations, forcing civil societies and governments to negotiate difficult decisions about protection for those fleeing the war and persecution. Yet, at the same time, East-Central Europe does not enjoy the reputation as a welcoming place for people persecuted for political persuasion, for their “racial”, ethnic identity or any other reason. It would appear that the histories of ethnic conflict and violence, political oppression and economic underdevelopment make it a place to leave behind rather than to search for as a safe harbour.
Studies about specific groups and instances notwithstanding, historical research remains highly unsatisfactory, failing to address refugee protection in a systematic comparative way and transcending national master narratives. Worse than this, historical writing about refugees in the “East” often re-inscribes the very (ethnic, political) categories which lead to the production of refugees in the first place.
Comparative research spanning across a longer period and a wider territory promises therefore not only major insights about the “East” as a refuge, but also a significant contribution to the emerging field of global refugee history. In this project, an international research team led by the PI will, using comparative historical research combined with multi-disciplinary approaches, probe the multifaceted entanglements with refugees in countries created in 1918 on the ruins of the Habsburg Monarchy (Poland, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary, Yugoslavia) over the 20th century. By doing so, it wishes to return the discussion of protection of refugees into the region’s history and to contribute – from a scholarly perspective – to the cultivation of current and future public debate about this divisive subject.