Demographic Change in the Alps / Ethnic Minorities and Refugees

Current Demographic Changes in the European Alps
Effects on the Autochthonous Linguistic Minorities

FWF-Project Nr. P25315.March 2013 - February 2016


Project leader: Dr. Ernst Steinicke
Colleagues:Mag. Michael Beismann
Mag. Roland Löffler
Mag. Judith Walder
Mag. Wolfgang Warmuth

Research Concept

Within the last century, large parts of the Alps have been affected by mountain depopulation. Even today, there are regions, distributed throughout the Alpine arc, that still suffer from its consequences. Especially the Italian Alps have been characterized by a very intense and long-lasting exodus. However, research within the framework of our FWF-project in the Italian Alps (2008-2011) showed a demographic reversal in this region: many communities and valleys earlier afflicted by depopulation have become in-migration areas since the 1990s. Furthermore, we noticed indications of similar transformations in most parts of the French and Slovenian Alps and in demographic problem areas of the Swiss, Austrian, and German Alps. This new process has not been scrutinized so far, and therefore the proposed research seeks to analyze, evaluate, and explain the trend for the entire Alpine space.

Migration balance in the Alps 2002-2012

The objective is not only to highlight the new and surprising influx, but also to study the origins and motivations of the "new highlanders” and especially their effects on the socio-economic, demographic, and cultural structures of the Alpine communities. This becomes important first and foremost where old and persistent structures have been preserved to the present day: the study areas - demographic problem areas in the Alps - are mainly remote regions that represent final retreat enclaves for linguistic minorities. The main focus of our research is on new developments in these particularly sensitive regions, caused by a population gain due to the influx of newcomers with a different cultural and linguistic background. The proposed project can build on significant research results to this issue presented by the applicant and his research team in the last decade: The findings of the three-year FWF Project (P 16155-G04) "Counterurbanization in the Californian Sierra Nevada" prove that there are various parallels between the demographic and socio-economic structures in the Sierra Nevada and the Alps (cf. Hofmann, Steinicke 2004; Löffler, Steinicke 2004; 2006; 2007): similarly in parts of the Alps we can find in-migration not only in some major valleys and tourism-intensive areas, but also and specifically in remote, high-altitude regions. This particular migration leads to permanent, seasonal as well as intermittent population gains and is the main reason for the recovery and extension of communities in these peripheral areas. Furthermore, the applicant’s three-year FWF Project (P 20954-G03) "The Impact of Current Demographic Transformation on Ethno-Linguistic Minorities in the Italian Alps" (Steinicke et al. 2010; 2011a; 2011b; Walder et al. 2010) referred to above shows that there is considerable in-migration in peripheral regions in the Italian Alps that is responsible for the revitalization of settlements and of some economic branches in these areas. The impact of the newcomers, mostly amenity migrants, upon the ethno-linguistic minorities is evident but not as unfavorable for their preservation as expected; instead the new residents are aware of the minority culture and even engage themselves in cultural issues. These ongoing demographic processes and their spatially different characteristics should now be scrutinized in the entire Alpine arc. Moreover, the research results of the FWF-Project (P16664-G03) "The Threat to Ethnic Diversity in the Valcanale (Italy)" are applicable to the ethnic dimensions of this project (cf. Vavti 2005; Vavti, Steinicke 2005).


Literature of project members

Field trip photos

Angello | Canal del Ferro | Casso | Dordolla | Erto | French Alps | Julian Alps | Ostana | Piemonte | Queyras | Riolade | Sauris | Tarentaise | Thures | Trentino | Val Chisone

Cartographic illustrations & own models



Peter Cede, Institut für Geographie und Raumforschung, Karl-Franzens-Universität Graz

Igor Jelen, Dipartimento di Scienze Politiche e Sociali, Università degli Studi di Trieste

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