Who was Gunther Beyer

As a tribute to one of the founding fathers of EAPS, the Council awards the so called Gunther Beyer Award for the best paper by a young scholar at each European Population Conference.

Why was this Award named after Gunther Beyer?

A man with an indomitable spirit and of great personal charm, that was Gunther Beyer (1904-1983). He also had boundless energy, was an incessant talker, even during meetings, and was great company at late night dinners. He had the unshakable belief that Europe's unity lay in its diversity. For a great many years after the Second World War, he worked tirelessly to further the cause of population organisation in Europe. He and his wife, Charlotte Beyer-Waterman, generously offered hospitality in their house at the Pauwenlaan in The Hague (Netherlands) to poor academics wanting to establish contacts, or in search of books and other research materials. Since, at the time, many European currencies were not convertible, they never expected more than a simple Christmas card in return. Beyer probably hoped that one would later assist in furthering scientific communication and good contacts between European demographers and in keeping European initiatives going. But that was all.

If anyone deserves to be characterized as the Grandfather of the European Association for Population Studies, it is Gunther Beyer. He was born in Berlin on 13 January 1904. His father died in the year the First World War ended. As a result he had to leave school to start work as a metalworker. In 1926 he was fired for having organised a strike. Unemployed, and active in a workers youth organisation, he started studying again. In 1930 he passed the examination which made university entry possible. He started courses in social economics but could not complete his study in Berlin. He became chairman of the Wehrgruppe of a student organisation which tried to combat nazi ideology, and in 1933, he and his young wife from the Netherlands had to flee to save their lives. He was advised that he could best continue his studies with Professor Edgar Salin in Basel. He completed a dissertation there, but in 1935 was again forced to leave. He and his family then settled in The Hague, but later were planning to leave for the United States. However, they acted too late and were lucky to survive the war. It is fair to say that the no-enemy declaration granted to him by the allies and the Netherlands authorities immediately after the war, had been earned with great personal sacrifice. On 17 June 1949 he became a naturalized Dutchman.

After the war, Gunther Beyer became actively involved in the German refugee problem. In turn this led to an interest in migration studies, a field in which he published extensively (e.g.: Characteristics of Overseas Migrants, The Hague, 1961; Rural Migrants in Urban Setting, The Hague, 1963). When on 11 February 1952 the Research Group for European Migration Problems (REMP) was established, Gunther Beyer played an active role. He became the Editor of the REMP-bulletin, which ten years later merged with Migration, to constitute the new journal International Migration. A further European initiative was taken in Paris in 1953. Alfred Sauvy then proposed to found the Centre Europeen d' Etudes de Population. This Centre obtained consultative status with the Council of Europe in 1954, but did not have a very lively existence until 1969. During the IUSSP conference held in London in that year, Beyer convened a meeting aimed at revitalizing the Centre by opening it up to individuals. He became secretary / treasurer, sought and obtained the support of colleagues such as Federici, Hofsten, Macura, Rosset, Szabady and Wander, and began publishing the European Demographic Information Bulletin (EDIB).

Gunther Beyer died on 7 January 1983. Only a few months later a new generation of European demographers decided that Gunther's initiatives should be continued. EAPS was established as a direct successor to the Centre, with Charlotte Hoehn, Dirk van de Kaa, Andras Klinger, Zdenek Pavli­k and Guillaume Wunsch forming the first Council. The EDIB was replaced by the European Journal of Population / Revue Europeenne de Demographie.

I cannot think of a better tribute to Gunther Beyer, than that decided upon by the EAPS Council: to award a prize for the best paper by a young scholar at every official general EAPS conference. It is also very fitting that the first conference at which this award was granted, was a conference in Poland. For it was in Karpacz, also in Poland, that in 1974 the revitalized Centre held its first, Beyer-inspired seminar.

(Dirk J. van de Kaa, September 1997)