The Unsettling of Europe by Peter Gatrell review – the great migration, 1945 to the present
A detailed, sensitive guide to the violent uprootings and unremarkable journeys that shaped a continent
What shines out brightest from Peter Gatrell’s panoramic history of migration in Europe since 1945 is that this is a story of comings and goings, not just arrival. Ideas about home and belonging are constantly shaped by the forces of state power, capital and everyday human interaction. You can feel it most strongly in the accounts of individual experience that Gatrell has woven into his narrative. There are the “starved, frightened, suspicious, stupefied” ethnic Germans expelled from eastern Europe at the end of the war, who arrive in a country most have never set foot in before; or the returning British colonial settlers who decide in the 1960s that they prefer Portugal’s Algarve to Blighty, because the cheap booze, servants and warm weather remind them of the Raj. Western European officials are surprised when the “guest workers” from Turkey, north Africa and elsewhere they invited in to help rebuild their economies in the 1950s and 60s don’t want to return when recession sets in – but don’t entirely want to give up their connections to the old countries either.
It is also a story of sharp contrasts, of both violent uprootings and unremarkable journeys that continue today. Affluent “Eurostars” – bankers and IT specialists who live in one EU country and work in another – jostle with “illegal” immigrants such as Shahram Khosravi, an anthropologist from Iran who turned the lens on his own clandestine journey to Sweden, or Ukrainian migrant workers who complain that the fall of communism has merely replaced the iron curtain with the “velvet drape” of border control. In teasing out these differences, Gatrell – a professor of history at the University of Manchester who has written widely on migration and refugee rights – wants to add what he sees as the context missing from today’s fractious political debates on immigration, in particular the response to Europe’s “migrant crisis” of 2015-16.Continue reading...