Laura Robson explains to Ozan Ozavci how international refugee policies of the early 1920s put the “enterprise” in “humanitarian enterprise.”

Laura is Oliver-McCourntey Professor of History at Penn State University.

Humanitarian and capitalist motives were entangled during the development and implementation of international refugee policies in the 1920s. In this discussion, Laura Robson considers how Fridtjof Nansen came to deploy practices he developed while repatriating POWs in the different context of displaced Russians, shaping the League of Nations’ policy as it carved out a role for itself around refugees. Bonds issued by the Bank of England and Greek State to fund settlement of those Ottoman Greeks displaced under the terms of the Lausanne population exchange established the principle that private capital had a part to play in this project, understood as “making displaced people into productive workers”.

In the mandatory states of the Middle East, displaced people were deployed as soldiers and agriculturalists. Even as the Lausanne population exchange was hailed as a “success”, behind the scenes officials recognized its many shortcomings, including the ways in which that logic which held that ethnic nation-states were the only basis for a stable polity within a global economic order was deployed in ways which challenged mandatory regimes – notably in Palestine, where some Zionists embraced Lausanne-style forced displacement as a solution to a “Palestinian Problem”. Recorded on 10 May 2023, the interview draws on an essay entitled “A Capitalist Peace? Money, Labor, and Refugee Resettlement,” which appeared in the TLP volume They All Made Peace – What is Peace? The 1923 Treaty of Lausanne and the New Imperial Order.

Episode 33 – A Capitalist Peace?

Podcasts are published by TLP for the purpose of encouraging informed debate on the legacies of the events surrounding the Lausanne Conference. The views expressed by participants do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of TLP, its partners, convenors or members.