Down and Out in Warsaw and Budapest: Eastern Europe and East-West Migration

by F. Stephen Larrabee

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In the last few years the issue of migration flows in Europe has emerged as a significant political problem. While in the early postwar period the free movement of people had generally been considered to be a positive development and a spur to economic growth, this attitude began to change as economies in Western Europe began to contract and the need for cheap labor declined. During this period Europe also changed from net emigration to an area of net immigration due to two factors: (1) economic growth in Western Europe made it an attractive area to many in developing countries; and (2) traditional markets of unskilled labor began to contract. The collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union has given the question of East-West migration an entirely new dimension. In the 1970s and the early 1980s, outflows of people from Warsaw Pact states numbered only about 100,000 annually. This changed dramatically in 1989 when 1.2 million people left former Warsaw Pact states. The passage of the new passport law in the former Soviet Union, and economic restructuring and privatization there and in Eastern Europe will create further pressures for out-migration. To date, little scholarly work has been devoted to the implications and policy dilemmas posed by these potential migrations. This article seeks to help fill this void. It discusses five issues: (1) the pattern and possible dimensions of migration from the former Soviet Union; (2) the problem posed for Eastern Europe by increased migration from the former Soviet Union and the efforts undertaken by these countries to cope with this increase; (3) the problem of migration within Eastern Europe itself, that is, from one East European country to another; (4) the impact of migration from the East to the Federal Republic of Germany (the main recipient of emigrants from the East); and (5) the policy dilemmas that this migration poses. A final section focuses on the future policy agenda and the ways in which East and West might cooperate to control and manage the population outflows.

Originally published in: International Security, v. 16, no. 4, 1992, pp. 5-33.

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