A Document of No Good: The Modern Passport System and the Administration of the Undesired in Europe between the World Wars

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    • Presentation speakers
      • Yaron Jean, University of Haifa, Israel


    Conceived as a legal compromise between international and domestic law the modern passport system was firstly appeared in Europe after World War I. Its official purpose at the time was to streamline the traffic of “man and goods” across domestic and international borders. On the ground however national passports soon revealed to be a whole different story. With its ability to document individual identities and to ascribe them to a definite territorial sovereignty passports turned to be a powerful instrument for restricting the freedom of movement of individuals on the principle of collective sameness. In practice, it created an impossible situation in which those who were excluded from the political community neither could stay in their countries of residence nor to find new homes. Paradoxically, the political use of passports as a weapon of choice for excluding the undesired could largely be realized by relying on the principle of international reciprocity and equality as promoted by the League of Nations and its satellite international organizations. As a result the passport system turned to be the missing link for bringing together the power of documents with the power of mass exclusion. Based on primary sources and new findings concerning the political use of travel documents for excluding undesired populations the paper examine the story of modern passports system in Europe between the wars. It will explore its far reaching impacts of state issued documentation on the restriction of the freedom of movement in Europe between wars as well as its implicit influence on setting the stage for migration management after 1945.