Communist Regime, State Territory, Social Space: Transnational Migrations from Poland

Dariusz Stola (U Warsaw)


Before Stalin died in March 1953, the communist government of Poland introduced an effective system of international mobility control and highly restrictive policies of isolation from the West. However, from the mid-1950s onwards, these restrictions softened. Gradually, the scale of international mobility, personal contacts and flows of information across the borders grew, both within and outside the Soviet Bloc (a few waves of mass migration were permitted, mostly to West Germany). These transnational phenomena produced expanding social spaces that transcended state borders, the Cold War division of Europe and the framework of the communist regime. This talk will present two cases of such spaces: one produced by the networks of Silesian families living in Poland and West Germany, the other by the mobility of labour migrants and petty traders. The first penetrated the territory of the Polish nation state and caused some 1.2 million people to gradually opt for German citizenship and to resettle abroad. The second subverted and eroded the basis of the communist regime: its command economy. Migrants found ways to profit from the inconsistencies in the communist economy by means of access to market economies, and contributed to the expansion of the informal “coloured markets” in Poland and the Soviet Bloc. By late 1980s millions of Poles took part in the informal economy, becoming agents of the “invisible hand” of the market, partially withdrawing from the formal economy and emancipating themselves from the communist party.

Biographical Note

Prof. Dariusz Stola (University of Warsaw, Poland)
Dariusz Stola is an historian, the director of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews and a professor at the Polish Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Political Science. He has published ten books and more than 100 articles on the history of Polish Jewish relations, the communist regime in Poland and on international migrations in the twentieth century, including: Nadzieja i zag?ada (1995), Kampania antysyjonistyczna w Polsce 1967–1968 (2000), Patterns of Migration in Central Europe (2001, with C. Wallace) and Kraj bez wyj?cia? Migracje z Polski 1948–1989 (2010).