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New Directions in European History Study Group

"Condemned to Rootlessness and Unable to Budge”: Roma, Migration Panics, and Internment in the Late Habsburg Empire

October 6, 2016
4:15pm - 6:00pm
Goldman Room, Adolphus Busch Hall
October 6, 2016
4:15pm - 6:00pm
Goldman Room, Adolphus Busch Hall

In 2015, Europe faced a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the
Second World War, as more than a million individuals arrived on the
continent. The contemporary refugee crisis has brought barbed wire
fences, internment camps, and “no-man’s lands” back to the European
landscape. We are not only in the midst of a “migration crisis,”
however. The situation in Europe should also be understood as what
Zygmunt Bauman has called a “migration panic.” A “migration panic,” like
a “moral panic,” reflects and magnifies an alleged threat to a society.
Mass migration has been reshaping European societies for at least 150
years, but it has not always induced the same responses.


What then, are the causes of migration panics, and what outcomes have
they produced? This talk will turn to the history of Roma in the
Habsburg Empire, a group long stigmatized for its allegedly intractable
mobility, to reflect on these questions. We don’t typically analyze the
history of refugees and Roma together, although both groups have been
fodder for migration panics and objects of state efforts to govern
migration. It is striking that before Europeans began to panic about
refugees, Roma were the most visible targets for anxieties about freedom
of mobility in the expanding European Union.

Throughout the twentieth century, states and international organizations
repeatedly turned toward camps – refugee camps, internment camps, and
concentration camps- in response to the perceived problem of
disruptively mobile, unwanted, or stateless populations. The purposes of
these camps has varied greatly but all sought to contain human mobility
as a strategy for managing populations. In the years leading up to the
First World War in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a chorus of voices began
to call for the forcible internment of individuals labeled “Gypsies.”
This represented a shift from earlier strategies for governing Roma,
which typically entailed either policies of forcible sedentarization or
deportation. The history of Roma in the Habsburg Empire may shed light
on the origins of statelessness and internment more broadly in Modern