Demography Is Destiny: Some Argue Wave of Migrants Could ‘Save’ Depopulated Europe


From Ishaan Tharoor at the Washington Post comes an argument that Europeans resisting the wave of migrants from Middle Eastern hell-holes have got it all wrong. The new arrivals will actually save Europe, by repopulating it with someone other than Europeans.

In Serbia, one of the countries that has become a major pathway for thousands of mostly Middle Eastern migrants, including many refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war, a top government official has suggested allowing hundreds to settle in the country’s underpopulated villages.

According to Reuters, Serbia’s population has dropped more than 5 percent since 2002, a consequence of a low birth rate and emigration of young workers to more prosperous nations. Some population projections anticipate further dramatic dips in Eastern Europe’s population over the coming decades.

Unlike Hungary, Serbia is not inside the European Union and its Schengen zone, which permits passport-free travel within its borders. Around 100,000 migrants have so far crossed into Serbia this year — the vast majority hoping to journey further west.

“We should consider offering them to stay in the parts of Serbia that are empty,” Brankica Jankovic, Serbia’s Commissioner for Protection of Equality, told a local TV station on Tuesday. She suggested that “a selection [of refugees] should be made,” who would be put under “a detailed security screening.”

This is compared to using Latino immigrants to the United States, and other migrant populations to Italy, to repopulate “ghost towns” largely abandoned by native populations. “Similar abandoned communities exist over other stretches of southern and eastern Europe, where birth rates are in sharpest decline—and economic stagnation most acute,” Tharoor writes. One proposal floated in the U.S. involves giving the ruined city of Detroit to the Syrians.

That’s a fairly pure expression of the very same “demography is destiny” idea that conservative writers like Mark Steyn were absolutely excoriated for expressing years ago. Steyn was denounced as a crypto-racist alarmist for expressing sentiments such as, “The future belongs to those who show up to claim it,” and warning that demographic death spirals in various populations were existential threats to their societies.

Now we have aggressive policy prescriptions based on the same reasoning, expressed not as a warning, but a sweet release we’re supposed to embrace. If you’re not using part of your country, you have no right to withhold it from people who want to live there. As always, the opinions of the peons who actually have to live alongside these resettlement areas will not be solicited, or appreciated if offered voluntarily. The social and economic stresses of a mass influx of migrants will be brushed aside as the exclusive concern of xenophobic nativists.

Tharoor, to his credit, gives the critics some space in his column to say their piece without belittling them. It might be taken as mildly dismissive to say that apprehension about mass Muslim migration is “populist,” since that term tends to describe silly red meat thrown to crowds who don’t know any better, but if we take populism as the opposite of elitismit’s fair enough:

Of course, such suggestions run counter to the dominant narrative on the continent, which is in part animated by populist fears over Muslim immigration and grumbling from some nations — particularly governments in Eastern Europe — over having to cope with a crisis not of their own making.

Jankovic’s proposal was met with skepticism by some.

“Settling migrants in empty areas, even with their consent, is ridiculous,” a Belgrade-based analyst told Reuters. “How would they integrate into society living in the parts of the country with no economy and no people?”

I can’t say that Serbia leaps to mind as the ideal location to set up a multi-cultural pressure cooker—wasn’t there a bit of ethnic and religious friction there, some years back?—but if the Serbian people are game, it should be their decision to make. The right of nations to set their own immigration and citizenship policies must be respected, even as opinions about the wisdom of various policies are candidly advanced. If Serbia wants to repopulate itself with Syrians, so be it; if Serbia wants to admit zero Syrians, that decision must be accepted as well. Of course, we all know it wouldn’t be. The immigration debate is always a matter of false choices, hypothetical democracy, and “choices” the people aren’t really allowed to make, self-government be damned.

What Serbia’s Commissioner for Protection of Equality is talking about sounds more like immigration than migration. A “selection of refugees” put under “detailed security screening” is not what migration advocates have in mind for the rest of Europe, or the United States for that matter. Honestly arguing for a high level of legal immigration, passing such policies through the legislature, and implementing them in a controlled manner across a secure border is very different from waving hundreds of thousands of people across in a mad dash. Open-borders advocates are fond of glibly promising the kind of security that only rational immigration policies can actually provide.

The current refugee wave in Europe doesn’t seem inclined to settle in Serbia and repopulate their ghost towns, not if they think they can push on to the greener welfare-state pastures and busier economies of northern Europe. In those quarters, the talk of giving unused real estate to non-citizens is a bit more—aggressive. The aforementioned Mr. Steyn happens to have a bit of news on his blog on Thursday about the Green Party mayor of a German city threatening to seize vacant properties and hand them over to refugees, if the owners won’t rent or sell them at prices he feels like paying.

One does not “save” a society by swapping its members out for a different one. Mass migration is always sold as an economic boon, a mighty influx of workers eager to do jobs the natives won’t do  What actually happens is generally much less encouraging. It takes time to assimilate immigrants, both culturally and economically. Creating a special new class of quasi-citizenship for them, so they can rapidly pour into the host country, never works out well. Europe’s agonizing social and crime problems were caused by previous attempts to shore up depopulated economies with imported workforces.

It’s a strategy that would be difficult to pull off with even highly similar populations that don’t have to worry about language, cultural, or ideological barriers. All of those factors lengthen the time required for successful, productive assimilation.

It’s not nativist or xenophobic to accept this reality, and insist on a more gradual, controlled immigration experience. It’s wishful thinking to assume that anyone can immigrate anywhere, given enough time to settle in—the human race isn’t wired that way—but let us stipulate that with sufficient time, careful screening, and a robust economy providing ample opportunity, a healthy society should be able to manage a generous level of immigration from a variety of sources.

Rapidly dropping a huge number of people from a single source—especially arguably hostile societies that are in very rough shape at the moment—creates massive problems, rather than solving them. If the citizens of the host country want to try it, fair enough, but it’s a decision they should make carefully with eyes wide open, not an inescapable fate they’re prodded and bullied into because they have some mystical “duty” to transnational ideology.

Were the citizens of Western nations warned, generations ago, that if they didn’t keep their birthrates up, they would lose the right to control the land, economy, or politics of their own countries? I don’t recall any such advisories. On the contrary, I recall decades of angry tirades from environmentalists about “overpopulation,” plus sexual-revolution politics that portrayed pregnancy as a curse and family as slavery. Now they tell us, “whoops, too bad, you listened to us and avoided those buzzkill squaresville ‘family values,’ so we’re giving your jobs and territory to people with a bit more energy.”

How did both Europeans and Americans end up with a combination of collapsing workforces, unsustainable entitlement states, and a sudden need to import workers at both the low and high ends of the skill spectrum, in numbers so vast that rational immigration policies can’t keep up with the necessary flow of bodies?


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