The 1989 East German migration west: representations of migrant identities and migration narratives in Czech, Polish, and English language press

Michalovska, Beatrice (2024) The 1989 East German migration west: representations of migrant identities and migration narratives in Czech, Polish, and English language press. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This interdisciplinary, multilingual, and comparative thesis reconsiders the revolutionary year of 1989 in Europe as a year of migrations which precipitated its dramatic political changes. Instead of falling walls and collapsing state-socialist regimes, it focuses on the neglected topic of the East German migration from the German Democratic Republic (GDR) to the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) via Czechoslovakia and Poland which lasted for six months before it forced the iconic opening of the Berlin Wall. This migration became one of the biggest news stories of 1989, and yet it is a marginal topic in the English, Czech, and Polish language Cold War studies. More specifically, studies on the Czechoslovak and Polish perceptions of migrants’ identities and experiences while transiting through these countries on their way west remain a rare academic pursuit. Contrary to the existing scholarship which considered this migration a diplomatic crisis, this study argues that the 1989 East German migration, as any other cross-border movement of individuals, was a multilingual and transnationally narrated news story of various encounters with people, spaces, and state borders. This view criticises the Cold War “superpower” diplomacy and politics as primary analytical lenses in understanding cross-border travel. Instead, insights from historical, migration, and media studies were joined in this comparative analysis of the identity representations of migrating East Germans and the construction of their migration narratives which imbued them with meaning in the selected Czech, Polish, and English language press of that time. Journalistic discussions about migration environments formed the coverage of this process: for various effects, reporters paid attention to the migrant aesthetics, their places of shelter, local practices of hospitality and hostility, functioning of the state borders they crossed, as well as political and ideological pathways socialist reform-minded and hardline states they transited through adopted in attempting to manage this process. Thus, this research reveals three dominant news narratives of the East German migration – it was understood as a (un)desirable step towards the German reunification, as a part of socialist reforms and perestroika, and an act of (un/welcome) resistance and dissent against the state-socialist East German regime. These narratives provided meanings to the shifting East German migrant identity representations as “citizens of the GDR”, “escapees”, “refugees”, “newcomers”, and “traitors”, among others. Selective interpretations of the past both Czechoslovak and Polish societies had with various iterations of the German state and related reflections on the mutual future in a “common European home” were employed to structure those narratives and identity representations. Therefore, this thesis sheds light on the contentious relationships of two central European states in focus with migrations at the time of major ruptures and transitions they themselves were undergoing or were soon engulfed by. It prods the past strategies of migration knowledge formation and offers alternative lenses for understanding not only the end of the Cold War in Europe but also complexities inherent in notions as belonging, protest, and change which contemporary societies continue to navigate with difficulty today.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General)
D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D839 Post-war History, 1945 on
D History General and Old World > DD Germany
D History General and Old World > DJ Netherlands (Holland) > DJK Eastern Europe
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts & Humanities > School of Modern Languages and Cultures > Slavonic Studies
Supervisor's Name: Šolić, Dr. Mirna, Čulík, Dr. Jan and Grossman, Dr. Elwira
Date of Award: 2024
Depositing User: Theses Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2024-84379
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 20 Jun 2024 14:15
Last Modified: 20 Jun 2024 14:15
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.84379

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