Constantin Christoph Eckner

Contact Details

Thesis Title: Rhetorics of Asylum in Germany and Europe, 1982-1998
Supervisor: Professor Riccardo Bavaj


Constantin Christoph Eckner holds an MA in History from the University of Goettingen and an MLitt in Modern History from the University of St Andrews. His PhD project is funded by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation and the German History Society. His academic research interests centre on populism, political rhetoric, and migration policy.

He is a fellow at the Human Security Centre, a London-based think tank with a focus on security and human rights policy. He has also worked as a news agency journalist for the German press agency dpa and as a television journalist for ARD, the largest public broadcaster in Germany. His articles have been published in English, German, French, Russian, Arabic, and Japanese.


Research Project

The ‘refugee crisis’ has kept Germany and Europe in suspense since the summer of 2015. Controversial arguments about potential legislative reactions to a vast influx of asylum seekers have dominated the political debate, led to a strengthening of right-wing players, and influenced the outcome of elections. The phenomenon of the past few years is not a novelty, however. Germany already experienced a political polarisation caused by what was then called Asyldebatte (asylum debate) during the 1980s and 1990s. Just like today, political actors ramped up their rhetoric and drifted into radical territory. The dispute almost paralysed German politics for a while, and it took years to resolve the issue with a legislative compromise tightening the constitutional right to asylum. Lawmakers in neighbouring countries such as France and the Netherlands reacted quite similarly.

One of the main objectives of this PhD project is to prove that the asylum debate during the era of Chancellor Helmut Kohl was marked by the bipolarity between those who argued in favour of national interests and the preservation of national identity and wealth and those who argued on the basis of morality and human rights standards. That bipolarity is also represented in other political debates but nowhere as distinct as in those about immigration and asylum policy.


Germany’s heated asylum debate has dark parallels to events 30 years ago,

Conference Papers

Russkij Berlin, Russkij Parizh: Russian Emigration in Berlin and Paris after the First World War, presented at the Early Modern and Modern History Forum at the University of St Andrews, April 2017.

The Finger on the Pulse of Politics: How History of Migration Can Contribute to the ‘Refugee Debate’, presented at the 4th Annual Conference of the International Federation for Public History at the Università di Bologna - Campus di Ravenna, June 2017.

Rhetorics of Asylum: A Conceptual and Comparative History of Asylum Debates in Europe, presented at the 4th Annual CES Graduate Student Workshop on Comparative Research on Europe at the University of Glasgow, July 2017.

Schicksale und Schlagzeilen: Westdeutsche Medien als Erzähler und Akteure der Migrationsgeschichte(n), presented at the International Conference on ‘Représentation et mémoire de la migration’ at the Université de Nantes, May 2018.

Disaster and Defiance: The Delicate Commemoration of Past Migration to Germany and Italy, presented at the Seconda Conferenza Italiana di Public History at the Università di Pisa, June 2018.

The Fate of the Refugee: How German Politicians and the Media Used the Stories of Asylum Seekers from the Middle East, presented at the World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies at the Universidad de Sevilla, July 2018.

The Two German ‘Asylum Debates’: Lessons on How to Deal with Populism, presented at the International Conference entitled ‘1918–1938–2018: Dawn of an Authoritarian Century?’ at Schloss Eckartsau in Austria, September 2018.

Book Reviews

Jason Coy, Jared Poley, and Alexander Schunka, eds., Migration in the German Lands, 1500-2000 (New York, 2016), Review in German History, Volume 35, Issue 4, November 2017, Pages 643-645.”