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2-3 / VI / jaro-léto 2004 / spring-summer 2004Èlánky / ArticlesTisk / PrintDownload

Neglected sons of nationalism

”Repatriated refugees” in Greece and in Germany

Nikos Marantzidis, Georgia Mavrodi


”Repatriated refugees”{1} , people forced to leave their region of residence for another country, which they believe to be their ”homeland”, offer a unique theoretical perspective within the wider framework of the study of nationalism. Being both refugees and repatriated, these populations can be seen as a product of the interaction between the imaginary character of nationalism and historical developments resulting in forced migration of population groups. Having suffered on the grounds of their belonging to the nation and contrary to their expectations and national myths of ”brotherhood”, their social, economic and political incorporation in the ”homeland” does not happen automatically, thus generating social and political dynamics that result in the refugees’ self-organisation and the expression of a special refugee identity vis-à-vis the ”homeland” society and state. However, it is the very myth of belonging to the ”homeland”-nation that finally facilitates integration and shapes the ”homeland” identity in the long term.


The aim of this article is to develop a framework for the analysis of the phenomenon of ”repatriated refugees”, people forced to leave their region of residence for another country, which they believe to be their ”homeland”. Clearly, the term presupposes the existence of a ”homeland” prior to flight and/or expulsion. Due to their two-sided character - being both refugees and repatriated - these populations offer a unique theoretical perspective within the wider framework of the study of nationalism: they can be seen as a product of the interaction between the imaginary, mythical character of nationalism and particular historical developments resulting in forced migration of population groups.

The relation between ”repatriated refugees” and the ”homeland” state and society becomes the key factor. Perceived, by both themselves and the international community, as belonging to a particular nation while residing outside of the borders of their ”affiliated” nation-state (the ”homeland”), ”repatriated refugees” become the tragic victims of flight and expulsion from their places of residence to their imaginary ”homeland”. Yet the tragedy proves twofold. Having already suffered on the grounds of their belonging to the nation, and contrary to their expectations and national myths of ”brotherhood”, their social, economic and political incorporation in the ”homeland” does not happen automatically. On the contrary, the problems of integration pose a great challenge to the importance and strength of the previously perceived common ethnic and cultural bond. This development generates social and political dynamics that result in the refugees’ self-organisation and the expression of a special refugee identity vis-à-vis the ”homeland” as a society and state. In this context, the formation of refugee associations, pressure groups and even political parties constitutes an area of great interest.

However, we argue that it is the very myth of belonging to the ”homeland”-nation, the same that is put under test immediately after the refugee arrival in the ”homeland”, that facilitates integration in the long term. The fact that ”repatriated refugees” are perceived and treated as co-nationals by the legal ”homeland-state” apparatus, and thus granted full citizenship rights, becomes their main tool for representing their interests, improving their living conditions and achieving full integration in the ”homeland” society.

Addressing the need for a comparative framework of analysis that is long overdue in international literature, we concentrate on two case studies: Greece in the 1920s and the Federal Republic of Germany in the aftermath of the Second World War. These countries provide for an interesting comparison not only due to their experiences of receiving large refugee populations but also because the ethno-genealogical and cultural dimension has been strongly emphasised in their national identities while the civic and territorial features of the nation have been downplayed. The acceptance and integration of co-ethnic refugees in both Greece and Germany was a challenge precisely because it confronted the national myth of unredeemed brethren with a harsh socio-economic reality and everyday experience of cultural alienation among presumed fellow nationals.

The defeat in the Greek-Turkish War 1919-1922 and the Treaty Concerning the Exchange of Greek and Turkish Populations signed in Lausanne on 30 January 1923 caused the massive arrival of almost 1,500,000 refugees into the confines of the Greek State (Ladas, 1932; Pentzopoulos, 1962). On the basis of the time and way of arrival we can distinguish among three categories of refugee population: a) those who arrived in Greece before 1922 (a clear minority among the refugees) either due to pressures or because they had foreseen the events to follow, b) those who followed the retreat of the Greek army from Anatolia in 1922, and c) those who were forced to abandon their place of residence after the 1923 Lausanne Treaty. However, by referring not only to the refugees who arrived from the Ottoman territories but also to those who came from Russia, Bulgaria or elsewhere at about the same period, the term ”refugee” acquires a rather ”loose” meaning. Actually, as Voutira notes, during the inter-war years in Greece ”the term [refugees] has primarily economic currency, largely referring to the international assistance programme rather than to newcomers’ stateless or alien status” (Voutira, 1997: 119).

Table 1. Greek refugees by origin (1928)

Country and Region

Before 1922

After 1922






Asia Minor




Eastern Thrace




































Source: Census of 1928. Mavrogordatos 1983: 187.

The need to define ”refugees” is imminent also in the West German case. By the end of 1950, when the expulsion of ethnic Germans agreed at Potsdam had been completed, 7.900.000 out of the total of 12.450.000 German refugees and expellees were resident in the Federal Republic and 4.550.000 in the German Democratic Republic (GDR). Additionally, 1.037.000 Germans had left the Soviet occupation zone (later GDR) and sought refuge in western Germany (Reichling 1987: 46).

Table 2 : German refugees by origin

Countries and regions (territorial status of 31 December 1937)

Ethnic German population present at the end of the Second World War (in thousands, including reset?lers during the war)

Ethnic Germans who found refuge in West Germany until 1950

German Eastern Territories

9 075

4 520

Free City of Danzig [Gdansk]




2 370



3 496

1 935

Baltic States













16 910

7 900

Source: Reichling 1986 : 26

In West Germany, there were two terms{2} referring to the German population displaced during and in the aftermath of the 2nd World War:

* Fluechtling (refugee), referring to those Germans who left their lands that were either part of the Reich prior to 1939 or occupied territories after 1939, fleeing due to the advance of the Allied armed forces and the disastrous consequences of the war, and
* Vertriebene (expellee), referring to ethnic Germans who were forced to leave their place of residence after the Treaties of Potsdam (Hackett 1992){3}. For the purposes of our analysis, the term ”refugee” is used as a synonym for both refugees and expellees.

Nevertheless, understanding the mechanisms which formed the refugee identity requires a focus on the position of the refugees within their respective receiving societies rather than on their places of origin. The refugee issue is thus connected to three basic dimensions: 1) the conditions to be confronted on arrival, 2) the economic deprivation and downward social mobility, and 3) their status deprivation, segregation and discrimination (Mavrogordatos 1983: 186). These dimensions can be best analysed by looking at the relations between natives and refugees; the relation between refugees and the ”homeland” state; and refugee self-organisation and political participation.

Natives vs. Refugees

The arrival and the conditions of first settlement were traumatic experiences that catalytically influenced the formation of refugee identity, both in Greece and in West Germany. The almost simultaneous arrival of hundreds of thousands of people in Greece created tremendous problems: ”Hundreds died in hospitals; dysentery and typhus were rampant. During the winter of 1923, exanthematic typhus infected almost all the ports and many towns in Greece, and it was only by miracle that the Health Service was able to stamp it out after several months. Churches, schools, public buildings, cinemas, theatres, ware-houses and sheds - everything was requisitioned to shelter the new arrivals [...] even the beautiful National Opera House in Athens was filled with refugees, each of its velvet-lined boxes becoming the home of a whole family, while scores more slept upon the floor of the auditorium and on the stairways. [...] Two years later the railway stations were still encumbered with refugee encampments, and after four years there are still refugees sheltered in tents both summer and winter”. (Morgenthau 1929: 49). Death rates among the refugee population were tragically high. In 1923 there were three deaths for every birth while in Central Macedonia one fifth died within the first two years after their arrival in Greece (League of Nations, 1997: 80). The memories of the expulsion and arrival in a rather unknown country, in contrast to the - up to that moment - widely spread myth of ”return”, constituted a decisive element in shaping the refugees’ collective consciousness.

Apart from the difficult economic conditions, however, the refugees also faced the scorn and - many times - the open hostility of the native population. The contact between refugees and natives caused a traumatic cultural shock (Mavrogordatos, 1983: 193), since it was often the case that even linguistic communication was impossible{4}. Furthermore, many natives thought that they and their needs were neglected by the Greek state to the advantage of refugees. In a country that could offer very little to its citizens after ten years of fighting devastating wars, competition over scarce resources can explain the conflicts between natives and refugees: it sharpened cultural differences and, to a certain degree, contributed to their politicisation.

Similar to the Greek case, the arrival of refugees in Germany’s western occupation zones added social, economic and political problems to an already heavily destroyed country. Unemployment among the native population was very high and the social infrastructure was severely damaged. Under these conditions, refugees were seen as ”invaders” by natives, especially during the first post-war years, and were rather treated as undesired costs accompanying the general crisis following the war (Kleinert 1990: 55). Lack of jobs, insufficient housing, linguistic, cultural and religious differences between natives and refugees were worsening the situation (Lehmann 1987: 114). The involuntary cohabitation of refugees and natives and the fact that the former were often materially dependent on the latter generated reactions of isolation and rejection against the refugee population (Schaefer 1987; Kleinert 1990: 58).

However, the intensity of these tensions was diversified. In urban, industrial areas refugee integration problems were soon reduced to lack of housing and jobs (Lehmann 1993: 39) : having been used to a certain degree of economic, social and cultural diversification and suffering from heavy bombardments and city evacuations during the war, the local population generally showed sympathy and acceptance towards the refugees, thus making their integration easier (Schulze 1990: 81; Holtmann 2000: 198). On the contrary, refugees were often met with anger and hostility in the closed, traditional communities of the rural areas, where most of them arrived{5} (Lehmann 1993: 48-49). Not only were matters of distribution of goods and state assistance involved; refugees were seen, treated and rejected as ”strangers” and a potential danger for the natives’ culture and identity (Schulze 1990). Some even argued that refugees posed a bigger danger for ”the nation” than the Allied occupation: ”The occupation is not dangerous, the refugee issue is much more dangerous for the nation […] It’s the big question whether we will be completely ”over-foreignised” or it is good for us to receive fresh blood from the refugees. Whether this blood is pure is a big question […]” (quoted in Schulze 1990: 85). At the same time, the importance of cultural diversification and local identities (existing below the national level since the establishment of the united German Reich) was reinforced among the native population after the collapse of the Nazi-German nationalism, also supported by the policy of the western Allies to re-build Germany on a federal basis (Krauss 2000: 30){6}.

How did natives explain their tensions with refugees and vice versa? An opinion poll of March 1949 conducted simultaneously in both the American and British occupation zones showed that 60 % of those natives claiming that ”relations between natives and refugees were bad” believed that the causes were to be found in the characteristics of the refugee population: apart from being ”arrogant”, ”indifferent” and ”backward”, refugees were ”a different people with different way of living and thinking, and of a different confession”. On the contrary, only 2 % of the refugees held basic differences in convictions and ways of living responsible for the situation. 96 % claimed that natives were ”selfish, heartless, greedy, hostile, they did not show any understanding”, they ”put refugees aside”, ”treated them as an inferior class of people” and ”saw them as invaders” (Schulze 1990: 92).

It then seems that, in terms of identity and descent, German refugees overwhelmingly perceived themselves to be the same people with natives{7}, a conviction not shared to the same degree by the latter. However, it is possible that natives and refugees had different points of identification with ”the people”. Whereas natives experienced the collapse of Nazi-German nationalism and the occupation and division of the German nation-state, the German nation continued to be the refugees’ main point of reference; after the War, refugees were still arriving Heim ins Reich, ”at home in the Reich”{8}, while natives were rather identifying themselves anew with the local and the regional level. In this context, it can be argued that German nationalism, refugees’ main point of identification, failed to play the integrative role that refugees hoped for at the societal level.

Refugees vs. the ”homeland” state

The Greek state paid efforts to tackle the issue of refugee integration by mobilising forces and resources at the national and international level. In co-operation with the League of Nations, Greece moved on to materialise what many scholars consider an ”epic enterprise” (Pentzopoulos 1962: 92; Skran 1995: 46). Apart from state support as such, a Refugee Settlement Commission was founded, an autonomous organisation responsible for the refugees’ economic and social settlement. The extensive bank loans provided to the Greek state with the support of the League of Nations played a very important role. By 1926, 622,865 refugees, about half of their total number had been settled and had become economically self-supporting (Pentzopoulos, 1962: 92). These were mainly refugees who settled in rural areas and were provided with pieces of land (often previously belonged to Turks who had been forced to leave the country), loans and tools. This of course did not mean that their life was easy. In many areas, refugees long lived in tents or barracks, cultivating infertile or swampy lands, where malaria was widespread and no one among the natives wished to settle (Marantzidis 2001a: 89). In urban areas, the vast majority of refugees continued to live in misery and suffer from high unemployment for many years (Mavrogordatos, 1983: 191).

The Greek state saw the refugees’ arrival as both an advantage and a disaster: an advantage, because it became possible to settle a large number of Greeks in border areas, where minority issues were at hand. Greece has followed this policy since 1914. The majority of the refugees (52 %) settled in the regions of Macedonia and Thrace, where the Greek populations were a minority. Prime Minister Colonel Gonatas (1922-23) was very clear: ”We settled the rural refugees near the borders of the state in order to consolidate the frontier populations so that they could defend themselves against irregular aggressions” (Gonatas 1958:256). As Voutira notes (1997: 119), ”the refugees were assumed to play the role of buffer populations on the international borders of the ‘New Lands […] their national task was to consolidate the Greek state’s territorial boundaries and ‘to guard its borders’ in Macedonia and Thrace”.

Table 3. Ethnological composition of the population in Greek Macedonia before and after the arrival of refugees{9}





513.000 (42 %)

1.341.000 (88,8 %)

Muslims (Turks)

475.000 (39,4 %)

2.000 (0,1 %)


119.000 (9,9 %)

77.000 (5,1 %)


98.000 (8,1 %)

91.000 (6,0 %)




Source: Lampsidis 1992: 111.

At the same time, the refugees constituted a potential serious social problem for the state, not only because vast amounts of resources were needed in order to meet their basic needs but also because the refugees’ feelings of indignation against the Greek authorities might have been transformed into social agitation and radicalism. The fear that the newly established Communist Party could find an important source of new recruitments among refugees was by no means hypothetical (Burks 1961: 57-60).

Similar concerns existed in West Germany, where, additionally, refugees were also seen as prone to national-socialist doctrines and separate political participation. Consequently, immediate and irreversible integration became a principal objective of the Allies (Holtmann 2000: 187). State authorities{10}, especially at the local and regional level, sought to meet the refugees’ basic needs, including requisition of food supplies, land and residences, and worked intensively for their rapid economic integration (Steinert 1990: 62). Additionally, governments in Laender with high concentration of refugees (”the refugee Laender”) sought to resettle them in other western German regions (Schaefer 1987: 17). Following the establishment of the Federal Republic, a Refugee Ministry co-ordinated integration policies and burden-sharing, equality, and civil, social and political rights became legally guaranteed (Lastenausgleichgesetz 1952; Bundesvertriebenengesetz 1953).

Refugee self-organisation and political participation

Where the Greek and the German case mostly differ is perhaps the way refugee self-organisation and their relations to the political elite shaped their political participation and identity. The way the Greek political elite treated the refugee population was by no means identical; rather, the positions of the two biggest inter-war political parties were diametrically opposed. On the one hand, the Liberals (Venizelists), who hold power from 1910 until 1920, had integrated the issue of refugee population in their policy. Aiming at incorporating in the Greek state an important part of the Ottoman territories, where Greeks of the Asia Minor were resident, the foreign policy of the Liberals had been successful up until the Treaty of Sevres and the disembarkation of the Greek army forces at Smyrna. On the other hand, the Royalist, anti-Venizelist party was opposed to that policy and propagandised the end of the war and the withdrawal of the Greek army from the Asia Minor front. The unfortunate development for the anti-Venizelists was that it was them who were holding power (1920-1922) when the front collapsed and the Greek army experienced one of the biggest defeats in its history. Due to these events, the anger of the Greek population of Asia Minor for the defeat and expulsion was directed against the King and his supporters.

Immediately after the end of the war, a coup d’etat brought the Venizelists back to power and whole policy of refugee integration was developed. Characteristically, the protection of the refugees was specifically included in the notorious 1924 decree for the safeguard of the Republic (Katochyritikon) (Mavrogordatos, 1983: 201). Therefore, as Mavrogordatos (1983: 202) noted, the refugees saw the Venizelist regime as ”their” regime and the Liberal party in particular as ”their” party. The integration of refugees in the Liberal party lines resulted in the anti-Venizelists (the Royalists) perceiving them (at least at the beginning) as a threat. The arrival of refugees changed the facts in Greek political life, since the Liberal party would have continuously been in the opposition if it were not for the refugee vote. Moreover, the anti-Venizelists understood the extensive refugee settlement at the outskirts of Athens as a kind of encircling move that enabled the Venizelists to mobilise a large number of enraged and miserable people every time they felt threatened (Pentzopoulos, 1962: 182). The Venizelists’ success in integrating the refugees was also to be seen at the parliamentary level. In the 1926 elections, 36 refugees were elected deputies (out of 286 MPs). Of the 31 who declared a party affiliation, 28 belonged to the Venizelist camp and only three to the anti-Venizelists. In 1928 elections, out of the 30 refugee deputies (250 MPs) 28 belonged to the Liberal Party (Pentzopoulos 1962).

However, the refugee political attachment to the Venizelist camp did not occur without conflicts and pressures. The refugees experienced the various political, economic and social conditions primarily as refugees and only secondarily as Venizelists or anti-Royalists. It is on this basis that the existence of a vast amount of refugee associations - by far exceeding 100 at the end of the 1920s - should be understood. Refugee organisations had two tasks: a) the preservation of a common culture and b) the promotion of refugees’ requests. Accordingly, these organisations were of two different kinds: those formed according to places of origin and those expressing the refugee condition as such{11}. Their organisation and function took place at the local level but their activities were co-ordinated through a variety of organisational procedures, including the edition of newspapers and other printed material and congress convocations. Up until 1928 three Pan-Hellenic and many tens of regional congresses had taken place (Pelayidis, 1997: 406).

Many of the refugee associations were politically connected to the Liberal Party or to specific political personalities of the Venizelist camp. Among the various channels of refugee representation, the figure of the so-called ”refugee father” was risen: without necessarily being refugees themselves, these persons fought for refugee votes and support, usually through populist and demagogic refugee-friendly positions, which refugees were especially favourable to (Mavrogordatos, 1983: 208). Refugee newspapers also contributed to the phenomenon by ensuring the cultivation of refugee consciousness and often identifying injustice with the refugee condition. Prosfygikos Kosmos for instance, a newspaper first published in 1927, declared already in its first edition that its aim was ”to fight for the interests and rights of the class of injured and oppressed refugees” (Pentzopoulos 1962, 184).

The identification of the refugees with the Liberal Party and the Venizelist camp as well as the patronising networks that incorporated a big part of refugee demands in the everyday practice of parliamentary political parties caused any refugee party to fail. The only serious attempt was that of the National Refugee Party (Ethnikon Prosfigikon Komma) in the 1926 elections, which obtained 13,798 votes (1.4 %), elected four deputies but failed to express the refugee political identity (Pelayidis, 1997: 404). Apart from their complaints and dissatisfaction concerning the slow progress in the solution of their everyday problems, the refugees perceived the Venizelists as their only hope and unquestionably supported the Liberal Party for at least fifteen years. Refugee associations, on the other hand, maintained their importance for several decades. Although only those of cultural and ethnic character continue to exist nowadays, they constitute pressure groups within the patronising networks of all political parties.

In contrast, refugee political participation in Germany followed a different pattern, resulting in the formation and initial success of a Refugee Party. Although refugees were almost immediately granted full political rights, their organisations (with some exceptions) were banned in the American and British zones of control in 1946, mainly because refugee participation was desired within the framework of the established German political parties and separate refugee political organisations were seen as a threat to the process towards democratisation (Steinert 1990: 67). The ban was lifted in the aftermath of the 1949 first Bundestag elections, although after 1947 a plenty of economic, social and cultural organisations had been allowed to function more or less undisturbed.

Organisations were of two kinds, clearly reflecting the refugee identity dichotomy between the ”old” and the ”new” homeland: a) those whose members shared a common origin and descent (Landmannschaften), preserving a sense of common culture and aiming at keeping chances open for a ”return to the old homeland”, and b) those that based their membership on the place of settlement in West Germany (Landesverbaende), aiming at facilitating refugee integration by expressing and representing refugee interests to the state authorities of their respective Laender{12}. Contrary to the Greek case, all organisations bound themselves to political neutrality. Nevertheless, prominent members of refugee organisations sought to occupy key positions in political parties, whereas the latter competed among themselves in ”penetrating” refugee organisations and their ”clientele”{13}. At the same time, organisations were bargaining, mainly with the SPD and the CDU, for the inclusion of refugee candidates in the party electoral lists at all levels. As a result of refugee elite political activity, 61 members (15,2 %) of the first Bundestag (1949-1953) were refugees, while refugees amounted to 15,8 % of the total population of the FRG{14}

Despite the ban on refugee political organisations, the established parties scored only minor successes in attracting refugee voters: although special internal party committees were organised, the number of the actively participating refugees was generally very low (Steinert 1998: 68). In general, the latter were dissatisfied with the existing parties and many saw them as ”political agencies for the natives” (Holtmann 2000: 193). Complaints included low refugee representation rates and lack of adequate support for refugee interests. Discrimination against refugees made the latter idealise the ”old homeland” and believe, especially during the first post-war years, that the solution to their problems was their return to their places of origin rather than their integration in Germany. Up to the mid-1960s, governmental officials and politicians also played a role by assuring refugees of their eventual return (Lehmann 1987:114-115). Not only the CDU/CSU governments and their foreign policy offered grounds for refugee revisionist claims; the SPD had also endorsed the notion of the refugees’ ”right to the homeland” and refused to recognise the Oder-Neisse line up to the end of the 1960s. Consequently, the change of the SPD-Ostpolitik under Willy Brandt caused feelings of resignation and betrayal among the refugee population and led to a ”divorce” between refugee organisations and the SPD (Lehmann 1987: 110-111).

It is interesting to note the contrast between the Greek and the German refugee cases in this regard. In Greece in 1922, refugees overwhelmingly accused a certain political camp - the Royalists - for betrayal and their wholehearted support for the Venizelists led to their direct integration in the politics of the ”homeland”. In Germany, by contrast, refugees and their elites sought to project themselves as victims of the nationalist Nazi-policy and their expulsion as a product of the policy of the Allies at Potsdam (Charta der deutschen Heimatvertriebenen 1950; Bund der Vertriebenen 1990; Salzborn 2001: 22). The collapse of the Nazi regime and its (external) replacement by the occupation order – and later, the Federal Republic – did not offer grounds for German refugee accusations against the West German state or a particular West German political party. In a way, both the ”homeland” and the refugees were seen as victims of the Nazi regime and of external powers. Consequently, the sense of betrayal that was felt in the end of the ‘60s did not refer to the period of the expulsion but to the end of the hope to return. However, the impact of this development on the politics of the ”homeland” was minimal, since, by that time, economic, social and political integration of the German refugee population had been more or less completed.

Thus, the immediate post-war period did not offer to refugees a distinct and strong point of identification with and special support by the existing political parties. On the contrary, in Laender such as Bavaria and Schleswig-Holstein, dissatisfaction had led to refugee support for independent lists of candidates in communal, local (1948) and federal elections (1949). Their success proved to refugee elites that a big part of the refugee population would potentially vote for a ”refugee party” (Schaefer 1987: 28){15}. Indeed, the BHE (Federation of Expellees and Victims of Injustice) was established in Schleswig-Holstein in 1950. Thanks to personal involvement in and close co-operation with the refugee associations, the founding members of the BHE rapidly managed to organise the party and attract thousands of members, both among politically inactive refugees and those who had been participating in the established parties (Neumann 1968: 285). Refugee associations retained their official political neutrality but the BHE advertised its special relations with them and projected its role as one of representing refugee associations’ economic and social interests in the political arena (Schaefer 1987: 32). The party’s electoral success in the 1950 Landtag elections in Schleswig-Holstein{16} turned it into a ”coalition-regulator” in the Land and boosted its establishment in other Laender with high refugee concentration (Bavaria, Lower-Saxony, Hessen, Nordrhein-Westfalen). On January 27th, 1951 the party was established at the federal level{17}.

The BHE was an interest group that turned into a political party. In 1953 and 1956, 95 % and 96 % of BHE supporters were refugees, respectively ; and 85 % of BHE voters in 1953 and 1957 said that the BHE support for refugee interests was the reason to vote for it (Neumann 1968: 292, 304). The BHE was also a ”member-party” (Mitgliederpartei), in the sense that the proportion of its members among its voters was the highest among all west-German parties. However, in no Land did the majority of refugees become BHE members, with the exception of Schleswig-Holstein (73 % in 1953) (Neumann 1968: 292-293). The BHE also failed to attract the majority of refugee voters in the federal elections: in 1953, only 28 % of refugees nationwide voted for the BHE (in the ”refugee Laender” rates were somewhat higher) (Neumann 1968: 305).

Finally, the BHE was a coalition party. Excepting Bremen in 1951 and Schleswig Holstein in 1958 the party participated in government coalitions in all Laender, where its candidates had been elected in the local parliaments. After entering the Bundestag in 1953 by winning 27 seats, the BHE also became a partner to the CDU/CSU federal government (1953-1955){18}. By forming coalitions, the party sought to occupy the ministerial offices and administrative posts relevant to refugee interests and especially to social policies (Neumann 1968: 317). In the Laender, no special preferences were made concerning coalition partners{19}: coalition governments were the result of negotiations and bargaining and not of ideological or other affinity{20}.

In pursuing this strategy, the BHE aimed at supporting refugee integration. After the mid-50s and somehow ironically, successful refugee integration became the reason behind the decline of BHE power and influence. The argument that the party’s successes were inversely analogous to the grade of refugee integration is not only based on the fact that the ”refugee Laender” were its electoral strongholds; it is also supported by the BHE’s failure to establish itself in Nordrhein-Westfalen, a Land with high refugee concentration but rapid economic development, and in the city-states (Bremen and Hamburg) (Neumann 1968: 298-300). At the federal level, the BHE failed to re-enter the Bundestag after the 1957 elections, in an era when the results of the post-war ”economic miracle” and of subsequent refugee economic integration were becoming obvious in the Federal Republic{21}.

The significance of the establishment and the performance of the BHE party in Germany lies on the fact that, contrary to the Greek experience, the political system in the Federal Republic in the aftermath of the war was not able to accommodate the interests and identity of ”repatriated refugees”. German ”repatriated refugees” initially lacked successful representation through the existing political parties and the BHE became the vehicle for them and their identity entering German politics ”from outside”. In Greece, on the other hand, refugees were immediately incorporated into the country’s political life by filling the ranks of one of the two major political parties, thus directly integrating their identity into Greek mainstream politics and decisively re-shaping Greek national identity in the long run. In both cases, however, refugee participation in the political life of the ”homeland”, the vehicle for their representation and long-term integration, was made possible because of their use of the windows of opportunity offered to them by the ”homeland” granting them full political rights. The latter, in turn, was a product of the national myth of belonging, endorsed by the ”homeland” state and the refugees themselves, whereas the difficulties of integration and the tensions between refugees and natives was putting into question the same myth at the societal level in both countries.


The establishment and function of the BHE resulted from the need to express the refugee social and political identity and achieve the effective representation of refugee interests vis-à-vis the native population and the state. In this regard, the BHE was a product of the initial failure of the German ”homeland” society and politics to accept and treat the ”repatriated” German refugees as an organic part of the west-German nation-state. In Greece, by contrast, direct representation of refugee interests by one of the two major established political parties led to their rapid - almost immediate - political integration and rendered unsuccessful any attempt to express refugee identity through refugee parties. This is not to say that socio-economic integration of refugees in Greece happened automatically. As in the German case, the national myth of ties and belonging to the ”homeland” underwent a difficult test after the refugees’ arrival concerning their relations both to the native population and the ”homeland”-state.

Nevertheless, and somehow ironically, it has been the same myth that has facilitated quick integration of millions of ”repatriated refugees” in both Greece and Germany, an achievement not to be observed in the case of other population groups such as economic migrants and political refugees. Economic, social and political integration did not happen automatically and refugee populations responded to the ”homeland” society and state’s initial exclusionary behaviour by establishing their own associations and organisations and, in the case of West Germany, a refugee party to promote and achieve their integration. This refugee institutional response was founded on and derived its success from the very idea that refugees were actually part of the nation of the ”homeland”, an idea endorsed and supported by the ”homeland” state, the international community and, most importantly, by the refugees themselves. In this regard, refugee organisations and the BHE can be understood as a kind of ”overvalue” derived from the refugees’ national identity, which, in connection to their great numerical significance, raised their importance for the political system and eventually facilitated their acceptance by and their integration in the ”homeland”. Thus, the myth of national belonging in the case of the ”repatriated refugees” has not only functioned as a bond of common origin, common culture and solidarity. It has also constituted a rational strategy for their survival and integration in the ”homeland” state and society.

Within this framework, the notion of ”refugee” has even acquired a positive meaning: refugees of the second and third generation in Greece now declare that they are proud of their origin (Marantzidis 2001b). Refugee associations have played a decisive role in bringing about this change, by making sure to cultivate a myth of refugee integration that is best expressed in the following words: ”I want to place before you and to resolve with you a primary question which I consider fundamental: Should we or should we not continue to designate ourselves as refugees? Is [such policy] in the interest of the Nation or is it not? There are many – even among us- who say: what does ‘refugee’ mean? We are all Greeks. And there are others who assert that ‘35 years after the catastrophe the characterisation of refugees no longer makes any sense’. I have continually maintained that we have always been Greeks and exactly because we were the purest Greeks we become refugees […] We will never cease being aware that we are refugees and will never stop transmitting [this sentiment] to our children and to the children of our children”{22}.

Poznámky / Notes

{1}For the purposes of this article, we use the term ”repatriated refugees” differently than its current and usual meaning. We do not refer to refugees having left their country of origin due to a crisis, such as a war conflict, and being repatriated usually after the crisis is over. Instead, our use of the term refers to populations forced to leave their region or country of permanent residence for another country with the population of which, it is believed, they share the same ethnic origin.
{2}Refugees were also called those fleeing from the Soviet occupation zone (later GDR) to western occupation zones (later the Federal Republic) as political refugees. In the Soviet occupation zone and in the GDR, only the term Umsiedler (resettler) was used, collectively referring to both refugee and expellee populations.
{3} In the Federal Expellee Law (Bundesvertriebenengesetz) of 1953, Vertriebene were defined as those ”German citizens or ethnic Germans, who had had their place of residence in the eastern German territories under foreign administration or in the territories outside of the German Reich and lost them in relation to the events of the 2nd World War as a result of expulsion, especially due to deportation or flight” (Reichling 1987: 50).
{4} Some refugees spoke Turkish, while many others spoke local dialects (Pontiac, for instance) that were incomprehensible for the rest of the Greek population.
{5} Most notably in Schleswig-Holstein, Lower-Saxony and Bavaria. Rural regions were considered more suitable for the immediate coverage of the refugee’s elementary needs because they had remained almost intact during the war (Schulze 1990: 82).
{6} In the case of Bavaria, traditional prejudices against people ”from the East”, strongly reinforced by the national-socialist ideology against the Slavic ”Untermensch”, contributed extensively to anxieties for the impact of refugees on their identity (Schulze 1990: 89). In Schleswig-Holstein, natives considered refugees (also characterised as ”foreigners”) to be ”strangers from the eastern territories”, who threatened to erase the traditional Nordic character of the local population and posed the greatest danger ever that ”their nation” would become ”Prussians” (Jessen-Klingenberg quoted in: Krauss 2000: 30-31).
{7} This conviction was also embodied in a variety of documents. See, for instance, the Charta of the German Expellees (Bund der Vertriebenen 1990: 13-14).
{8} Moreover, the way refugees experienced their expulsion and the prejudice, with which they were met by the native population, blocked their readiness to deal with the national-socialistic past (Lehmann 1987: 115).
{9} The numbers in Table 3 (especially those of 1912) provide for a general picture only and in no way should they be regarded as accurate.
{10} For the purposes of our analysis, both Allied (until 1949) and west German administration (after 1949) are considered as state authorities.
{11} The first category was comprised of associations such as the Association of Constantinopolians, the Thracian Centre and the Committee of Pontiac Studies. Under the second category one can list the Refugee Confederation of Macedonia and Thrace, the Union of Exchanged Populations, etc.
{12} In 1949, both groups of organisations formed their own representative umbrella organisation at the federal level : the VOL (Vereinigte Ostdeutsche Landsmannschaften, United East German Homeland Associations) ; VdL (Verband der Landsmannschaften, Union of the Landsmannschaften) and the ZvD (Zentralverband der vertriebenen Deutschen, Central Union of German Expellees), later BvD (Bund der vertriebenen Deutschen, Federation of expelled Germans). It was only in 1957 that all organisations agreed to be represented by one and only umbrella organisation, the BdV (Bund der Vertriebenen, Federation of Expellees) ( Schoenberg 1970 ; Salzborn 2001 : 17-19).
{13} It seems that refugee organisations chose to project political neutrality in order to achieve maximum gains from the political activities of their members in all political parties and to safeguard their internal cohesion. In 1950 in Nordrhein-Westfalen it was estimated that at least 25 % of the members of the local Landesverband were favouring either the SPD or the CDU and many of its prominent members were participating in those parties. Aiming at its internal cohesion, the organisation declared its political neutrality in the 1950 local elections (Holtmann 2000: 196-197).
{14} Der Spiegel 3/7/1950
{15} Socio-economic problems resulting from high concentration of refugee population and its lack of integration were striking: out of 2,6 million residents, 1,2 were refugees, of whom 41 % lived under inhuman conditions (Schaefer 1987: 16-17; Der Spiegel 3/7/1950). Both natives and refugees suffered from high unemployment but unemployment rates were far higher among the latter (Der Spiegel 29/6/1950; Schaefer 1987: 18-19). Additionally, Schleswig-Holstein was one of the poorest Laender of the FRG.
{16} The BHE attracted 23,4 % of the votes and won 15 out of 69 seats (Schaefer 1987: 51-52).
{17} The party leadership sought to enlarge its appeal to non-refugee population groups but with no real success. Throughout the period 1950-1960, the party strongholds were Bavaria, Lower-Saxony, Schleswig-Holstein and Nordrhein-Westfalen, scoring the highest rates of refugee population and BHE-votes (Neumann 1968: 298). The number of party members was high in the period 1953-1956, reaching its peak in 1954 but after 1956 the decline in membership became rapid (Neumann 1968: 288).
{18} In July 1955, nine BHE delegates in the Bundestag withdrew from the party and joined the CDU. Consequently, the party was left with 18 Bundestag delegates and became an opposition party until the 1957 Bundestag elections (Treue 1975 : 233).
{19} Throughout the 1950s, the BHE participated in nine coalitions with the CDU/CSU, FDP and DP; three ”all-party-governments” with the CDU/CSU, SPD and FDP; one ”big coalition” with the CDU/CSU and SPD; five government coalitions with the SPD, the FDP and the parties of the political centre; and one coalition with the SPD and FDP (Neumann 1968: 345 cited in Treue 1975: 233-234).
{20} Treue (1975 : 234) comments that the only consequent ideological element of the BHE was anti-communism.
{21} In a number of Laender (Lower Saxony, Bavaria, Schleswig-Holstein, Hessen and Baden-Wuerttemberg) the party continued to score a weakening presence in their local parliaments up to the beginning of 1960s (Neumann 1968 : 503-506).
{22} Speech of M. Kyrkos in Salonica, in the Seventh Pan-Refugee Congress, 1956 (Pentzopoulos 1962: 203-205).

Literatura / Bibliography

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