Randy McDonald (rfmcdpei) wrote,
Randy McDonald

[BRIEF NOTE] The Slavs are coming! The Slavs are coming!

Not too long ago, Expatica carried the news that Slovaks were moving in large numbers to Austria. These Slovaks aren't the typical (or rather, stereotypical) migrants to rich western Europe, however.

When the Iron Curtain between the then Czechoslovakia and Austria tumbled 18 years ago, residents of the grey, run-down and impoverished Bratislava crossed the nearby border, just 7 kilometres away, in search of jobs and western goods in better-off Austria.

Now the Slovaks are scouting Austria's border region in search of land or houses, which are substantially cheaper here than in booming Bratislava.

Three years ago Miriam's Slovak-Canadian husband Daniel Soska, 39, a regional sales director in a telecoms company, was one of them.

"If we wanted to have the same land 7 kilometres from downtown Bratislava on the Slovak side we would have to pay at least four times more per square metre," he said.

[. . .]

The expansion of the borderless Schengen area on December 21 will bring Wolfsthal even closer to the Slovak capital than it has been for 90 years - since the time when Bratislava, known then in German as Pressburg, belonged to the Habsburg Austro-Hungarian Monarchy.

The village's population has been shrinking since the monarchy disintegrated into nation states after World War I and a border between Austria and the nascent Czechoslovakia emerged in its backyard.

In the years after World War II, the Iron Curtain came and a once-busy imperial tram line between Bratislava and Vienna, which passed through Wolfsthal, finally ceased to run. The village faded from a stop on a busy artery into a declining station in the middle of nowhere.

"This used to be the end of the world," said the 45-year-old Schoedinger, a former policeman whose entire life has been linked to the border. "I've witnessed everything that happened here," he added.

[. . .]

The village of 250 weekend inhabitants and 800 permanent residents, 40 per cent of whom are now under the age of 30, saw a rise in its population for the first time in 2001, the mayor said.

Schoedinger has been in talks with Bratislava's public-transport authorities so a regular bus line could start running between the city and his hometown as soon as the border controls disappear.

"Now we have a future," the beaming mayor said. "We live in a region between Bratislava and Vienna. That's what is important, not which passport we carry."

This migration is an interesting revisiting of the last years of Austria-Hungary, where German nationalists were concerned about the influx of Czechs into Vienna and surrounding regions. That the regions making up Vienna had long been destinations for migrants really didn't enter into the minds of these people, and the later experiences of the Cold War helped efface the memories of this movements across the Austrian state frontier.

Much the same can be true about the immigration of Poles to eastern Germany, which is picking up again in the same unexpected way as on the Austrian-Slovak frontier.

When Daniel Sosin was looking to buy a house for his family in the north-western Polish city of Szczecin he was aghast at how little he would get for his money. So he went looking across the nearby border with Germany, buying a 150-year-old house in the village of Penkun for about the same price as a bachelor flat in Szczecin.

"Poland is an unkempt country and I don't want to live like that," says Mr Sosin, an architect, sitting in his house overlooking a cobbled street in the heart of the village. "I want to live in a beautiful area. It will take Poland generations to get to the same level as here."

Mr Sosin is part of a wider trend as people from the new EU member states, often flush with cash from real estate booms in their home countries, are beginning to buy properties in nearby "old" EU states to the west. Penkun is in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, one of Germany's most economically depressed areas. Thousands of young people have left for better prospects in the west, leaving behind empty houses and apartments that are being snapped up by Poles.

"We have a few dozen calls a day," says Mariola Dadun, owner of the A do Z real estate agency in Szczecin. "There are three reasons people are interested in Germany: prices, prices, prices."

[. . .]

In eastern Germany prices are also rising thanks to the arrival of the Poles. "Before Poland's entry into the EU there was depopulation here - a lot of houses were abandoned and there was no real estate market at all. The early pioneers who bought a few years ago were able to pick up houses for very little but prices have risen since then," says Jan Rybski, a property developer in Löcknitz, a German village 25km from Szczecin. "But even if land prices are becoming similar, you still get a lot better quality and infrastructure in Germany than in Poland."

Lothar Meistring, Löcknitz's mayor, is upbeat about the new Polish residents. Over 200 Poles live in the village and a further 400 in the immediate region. He says many have bought and renovated old properties or purchased land to build houses. "In many neighbouring areas they have to pull down houses because they are disused, as people move away. Here, it's the opposite - we are building new places."

Polish migration to Germany can be said to have begun in the late 19th century with the Ostflucht, the movement of Poles but especially Germans from the eastern provinces of Prussia to other regions of Germany and to overseas destinations. This co-existed with a long-standing migration of Poles deeper into Germany, whether from Prussian, Austrian, or Russian Poland, as industrial or agricultural labourers, most famously as the Ruhr Poles. In the April 2001 Sarmatian review, Malgorzata Warchol-Schlottmann described ("Polonia in Germany") a complicated Polish-origin community in Germany, with the descendants of pre-Second World War migrants from Poland mixing with economic migrants and with Polish emigrants possessing self-identified German ancestry. This latest migration, of well-heeled Poles looking for cheap real estate on the German side of the border, is as unprecedented as the Slovak migration to adjacent villages in Austria.

The change, however, is only to be expected. Eurostat's 2002 survey of regional GDP per capita suggests that Bratislava, at 112% of the EU25 average, more than holds its own against poorer areas in eastern and southern Austria. Western Poland is still behind most of eastern Germany, but the gap isn't that big and--given the relatively higher growth rates in Poland--might close still further. In the meantime, the absolutely larger number of Poles ensures that at least a few Poles will be in a position to take advantage of cheap East German land.

It's a bit heartwarming to see that cross-border life in the east of the European Union is taking on the character of cross-border life elsewhere in the European Union, in a way akin to the community that once existed wholly intact on the Canadian-American border until recently. It's also interesting to note the ways in which these patterns of cross-border life have shifted, ever not so subtly, from pre-Cold War patterns.
Tags: austria, east germany, europe, germany, migration, poland, slovakia
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