Politics of Migration in European Minority Regions

by Davit Gasparyan

On Tuesday, December 3, the IES was pleased to welcome Christina Isabel Zuber, Assistant Professor of German Politics at the University of Konstanz, for a lecture titled “Past Incentives, Present Choices: Ideational Legacies and the Politics of Migration in European Minority Regions.” Focusing specifically on the regions of Catalonia and South Tyrol, Zuber discussed differing attitudes towards immigration in minority regions and argued that these ideas connect the past with the present outcomes--that historical legacy creates incentives that connect the past with today’s politics of migration. 

Discussing the differing stances minority regions can take on immigration, Zuber demonstrated how regions such as Bavaria and South Tyrol have come to adopt stricter policies with regard to immigration, whereas regions such as Catalonia and Scotland continue to embrace immigration. She then focused on the regions of Catalonia and South Tyrol to specifically address the reasons behind these contrasts. In the case of Catalonia, a long history of integration has led to the idea that being Catalan is a matter of contribution and willingness, linking to the positive consensus on immigration today. In contrast, South Tyrol historically viewed integration as a duty, leading to a more ethnic conception of shared identity, and the region’s present-day contestation of immigration.

These differences in chain effects, as Zuber calls them, started with the internal migration into the regions by the majority populations of Italians into South Tyrol and Spanish into Catalonia during industrialization. Minority groups experienced different socioeconomic statuses as a result of the internal migration: Catalans were the industrial and urban elite, while the South Tyrolean population suffered more and perceived immigration as a threat to its status, despite later successes. Thus, Zuber concluded, these differing views solidified throughout history and are reflected in today’s politics in both regions.

 The insightful Q&A considered the influx of migrant workers into Eastern Germany following the Second World War, which Zuber examined as another case in which the dominant conception of immigration in the past is reiterated in politics today. Zuber also addressed the role of annexation of South Tyrol, which created nuances in the population’s self-perception and differentiation. A final question revolved around issues of center-periphery relations and their impact on differing attitudes towards immigration.