Sunday, February 23, 2020

European Emigration, 1880-1914

These days European politics have been turned upside down by immigration, but a century ago the continent had the opposite problem. Consider that Germany has been convulsed by Angela Merkel's commitment to take in a million immigrants, a number dwarfed by the flow out of Europe around 1900. Below are the numbers of emigrants to the United States from selected nations, 1880-1914:

Italy:                       4,033,000
Ireland:                   1,591,000
Scandinavia:          1,789,000
German Empire:    2,527,000
Austria-Hungary:  4,005,000
Russia:                    3,241,000
Greece:                   358,000

Remember this is only part of the total flow, since many emigrants went to other parts of the New World.

Some of these people came back, but probably only one out of ten; the rest never returned. Not only are these numbers enormous, they came primarily from certain districts. Much of the total for the German Empire, Austria Hungary, and Russia was made up by 3,800,000 Poles, and most Italian emigrants came from the south. The impact on those districts was profound:
Emigration to the New World sometimes had a dramatic effect on Europe itself and bizarre political hopes were fostered by the links that grew out of it. During the 1930s officials in the Polish foreign ministry fantasized about the prospect that emigrants from their country might found a colony in Latin America, while in 1945 some Sicilians proposed that their island might become a part of the United States. More seriously, central European nationalism was cultivated. During the First World War, a legion of Polish volunteers was raised among emigrants in the United States, and the influence of emigrants on eastern European politics was to persist for the whole of the twentieth century. In 1990, Franja Tudjman's campaign to become president of Croatia was said to have raised around $5 million from emigre supporters. In the same year, Stanislaw Tyminski, who had made his fortune in Canada, returned to Poland to run for president.

Emigration had less obvious effects on parts of Europe. It increased literacy, because families needed to keep in contact by letter. It also created imbalances of gender and age as young men left: between 1905 and 1916, 4.86 million Italian men emigrated, but only 1.14 million women accompanied them; in early twentieth-century Calabria, there were three young women for every two young men. Sexual imbalance may have produced a self-perpetuating cycle. Carlo Levi suggested that extra-marital sexual relations in parts of the Italian south were common because there were not enough men to provide all women with husbands. Illegitimate children in turn were particular prone to emigrate – in one well-studied village, three quarters of them did so.

Migration increased prosperity in home countries as money was sent back or as emigrants returned to buy cherished plots of land. The economic impact of emigration was particularly great in Italy, where links between emigrants and their places of origin remained close – it was said that Italy gained $100 million from emigrants who returned between 1897 and 1902. An enquiry of 1931 showed showed that 2 million hectares of land were bought by Italians returning from America. . . .

Emigration was often linked to political conservatism. Generally the areas that sent emigrants abroad during the early twentieth century remained on the political right for the rest of the century.
– Richard Vinen, A History in Fragments: Europe in the Twentieth Century (2000), pp. 17, 20.

According to Vinen's numbers, Italy lost 6 million emigrants in eleven years, from a population of around 32 million. According to wikipedia the total outflow of people from Europe over the period 1810 to 1932 was at least 60 million, and most of that happened after 1880.

1 comment:

G. Verloren said...

The question no one asks is this: what if all those millions were forced to remain in countries where they had no future?

People don't gamble their entire lives on moving to a foreign country where they don't even speak the language out of selfishness or spite. They are fleeing poverty, oppression, and frequently death.

If we turn away refugees and immigrants, what are we honestly expecting to happen? That those millions will just go about their business in their countries of origin, and the status quo will magically persist?

Four million Italians came to the United States between 1880 and 1915, but overall they had 13 million emigrants. That's literally twenty times the number of Italians killed throughout World War I.

Put another way, for thirty five years in a row, Italy lost nearly three times as many people annually to emigration than were killed each year in the subsequent war.

What would Italy have looked like if all those emmigrants had somehow been forced to stay? How much of a strain would they put on the nation as a whole, politically, economically, socially, etc? How different would the course of European or even global history be? How much bleaker might things have gotten, particularly in the poorest areas that these people of were fleeing from? How many more millions would be dead of starvation, violence, or worse?

Consider how radical political movements like Anarchism or Fascism might have taken firmer root in an Italy with 13 million more mouths to feed going into World War I. Consider the spillover effects this might have had on all the surrounding regions.

So very much ripples out in massive waves of disruption from such a change.