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This Judith Meyer's summarizing translation of:
Verschuuren, Stan et al. Nationalisme in Europa en de Sovjetunie: emancipatie of onderdrukking in een
nieuw gewaad. Van Gennep, 1991.
Pages 9-58: Nationalisme in Europa. Een theoretisch-historische inleiding.
Nationalism is a relatively new phenomenon, ca. 300 years old. It seems so obvious nowadays that all
people have or aim to have their own nation, their own territory, their own leaders. However, this is not
true everywhere (see e. g. Frisians as a counter-example) and the entire idea is surprisingly recent.
For thousands of years, the borders between cultures (traditions, customs, languages) in Europe were
much more fluid than today. People felt allegiance to their family and their village, but not to larger
cultural units or the multi-ethnic empires they lived in, with monarchs who had inherited / conquered /
married into their territories and who usually did not speak the people's languages. This was not a big
problem, because most of the administration was local, in the hands of feudal lords.
Political Nationalism was first seen in Napoleon's times. It could not have come up without:
Concentration of power in the nation-state through centralization of administration and removal
of feudal privileges
The rise of states whose cultures were internally homogenized and externally distinguished
from others, esp. through book-printing, the increasing use of standardized national languages,
Herder's Volksgeist and the promotion of national narratives (expressed in museums,
monuments, national holidays)
The Enlightenment ideas of government with the consent of the governed, self-determination
and self-development, later applied to cultures rather than individuals.
German philosopher Fichte was the originator of the idea that Nationalism is an organic and natural
development that each people was entitled to and that ideally would lead to the creation of a sovereign
nation-state for each culture.
The rise of nationalism in various countries/areas and eras can be explained in very many ways, but the
only theory covering all cases is the one where nationalism is a tool used to legitimize political policies.
There are three basic forms:
1. State Nationalism. The state is a given and the rulers will invent a nationalist narrative in order
to unite a heterogeneous population as one people, with the goal of justifying their own power.
2. Emancipating Nationalism. A disadvantaged group of people, usually in the periphery, claims
that cultural differences are the reason for them being disadvantaged and clamors for the right
for that culture to have its own state. By promoting nationalism, they are able to mobilize a
following that is much bigger than the original disadvantaged group.
3. Integral Nationalism. A group promotes the idea that the cultural and political unity of their
nation-state is endangered by 'culturally-foreign elements', such as Jews, foreigners or
Communists. This is used as a justification for greater state power.
Examples provided in grey throughout the text: Scottish independence movement, Belgian revolution
for independence 1830, 19th century Polish revolts, Habsburg Empire, unification of Italy, unification of
Germany, fragmentation of the Ottoman Empire, lack of nationalist unrest in Britain and France,
Norway, Ireland, Balkan wars, World War I, Ireland, Nazi Germany, (European Union and regional
movements as part of the main text), German reunification.
Highlighted in blue on the last two pages: several paragraphs describing Europe in the 70s and 80s that
are again very relevant today.
Summarizing translation: (17 A4 pages instead of 50 A5 pages)
Nationalism has always existed (Asterix' village)
One people in its own territory with its own nation and its own leaders
Nationalism forms nations
Nationalism is a strong movement
Nationalism is a relatively new phenomenon (ca. 300 years)
Many peoples live in mixed areas, don't have a nation and don't want one (e. g. Frisians), share a nation
with others (e. g. Russia), are governed by outsiders
There are only 193 nations in the UN, but there are many more peoples
Not nationalism but Prussia's dreams of power led to German unity 1871, nationalism is weak in
Europe nowadays compared to the time the Soviet Union fell apart
Different approaches to studying nationalism:
- Distinction by intensity, methods, makeup of followers, goals
- Distinction between separatism, unification movements, irredentism, state nationalism,
- Supposed reasons: the upcoming of industrial capitalism, urbanization, increasing state influence,
democratization, increasing mobility, conscription, mass media, education
- Unifying elements: especially language, but (considering Switzerland) also skin color, common
history, common territory, cultural and religious commonalities
- Supposed purposes for the development of nationalism at times when traditional society gives way to
an industrial one: taking the place of reduced religiosity, sweetening the necessary sacrifices in going
from an agrarian to an industrial society, giving people a feeling of belonging as the warm village
communities give room to cool, impersonal societies.
- Or: nationalism as a conflict, e. g. conflict between the center of a country and the periphery (also
colonies), fight against political oppression, fight against economic exploitation, new classes of
intellectuals, bourgeois and workers fighting against the existing order.
All these theories claim to be all-encompassing but apply only to individual cases. The allencompassing theory of nationalism is one where nationalism is used to legitimise political
The Idea and Goal of Nationalism
At the end of the 18th century, German intellectuals started to believe that Europe's population consisted
of different peoples, each with their own culture. Actually, that wasn't yet true, the cultures weren't
clearly separate but slowly morphed into each other as you traveled further. However, the idea caught
on. This was cultural nationalism, inspired by German Romanticism, and stood in opposition to the
universalist ideas of the French Enlightenment. Cultural nationalism does not always lead to political
nationalism (e. g. Frisians) and can be free of chauvinism and patriotism. This book is not about
cultural nationalism but only political nationalism.
Political nationalism came into being at the beginning of the 19th century. Political nationalism is
cultural nationalism mixed with the Enlightenment ideas of self-determination and self-development,
which the French Enlightenment had initially only applied to individuals.
The link between cultural nationalism and self-determination was the idea of the people's sovereignty:
the idea that the state's power must come from the people and that the people's interests must come first
in the exercise of state power. This created a first thought-link from a people's territory to the rule of
that territory and to the origin of the rulers. The new ideal was the nation-state: a state that combines
political unity with cultural unity, with the rulers coming from among the people; it was thought that
foreign rulers might harm the unique character of a people.
Political nationalism moves between two poles, that might both be called 'nation': in a political sense
it's 'state' and in a cultural sense it's 'people'.
On the one end of the spectrum, in State Nationalism, the state is a given and the rulers will try to
unite a heterogeneous population as one people in order to justify their own power – usually they
oppress those who refuse to integrate themselves into the national culture. Rulers may also try to
glorify the people's past in order to legitimize their policies and create unity, often as a countermovement to supposed force from the outside.
On the other end of the spectrum, in Emancipating Nationalism, the emphasis is on a people who
believes to have a right to its own state in order to be able to fully develop itself. Emancipating
nationalism comes into being when a group of people feels disadvantaged and draws on existing
cultural nationalism in order to explain that cultural differences (e. g. language, religion, skin colour)
cause the disadvantage. This allows them to mobilize a following that is much bigger than the group
that is actually disadvantaged. Emancipating Nationalism grows better in areas that are geographically
further from the center of power, since the likelihood of cultural differences is higher and also the
opposition in the periphery finds it more difficult to influence the center of power. Whether
emancipating nationalists will demand autonomy or independence will depend on how disadvantaged
Great Britain gives a good example: until recently, only Catholic Irishmen had led a nationalist
struggle against the center of power. They felt socially, economically and politically disadvantaged
by the Protestant minority. Scottish people and Welsh people however had representation in the
center of power and a significant amount of autonomy and shared in the wealth of the British
Empire. They only had cultural nationalism. However, as the British Empire broke up, economic
advantages disappeared and even smaller peoples received their independence, so political
nationalism appeared, especially in Scotland, which is economically less dependent on England
than Wales is. Finding oil in the North Sea strengthened the process. In fighting with the center of
power, the Scottish Nationalist Party is claiming Scottish-English cultural differences that aren't
real. There is no Scottish people. The Scots living near the coast have more in common with
English culture than with the Celtic culture of the Highlands or with the Scandinavian culture of
the Shetland islands.
The third form of political nationalism is between State Nationalism and Emancipating Nationalism
and is called Integral Nationalism. It appeared at the end of the 19th century. For integral nationalists,
the cultural and political unity of their nation-state seem to be endangered by 'culturally-foreign
elements', such as Jews, foreigners or Communists. That is why they call for more state power.
Sometimes they attack the government, but mostly the 'culturally-foreign' elements. The glorification
of their own state, people, history and culture is now taken to its extremes: hatred, expulsion or
destruction of everything that is not 'their own'.
By understanding nationalism as a rational way of doing politics in a situation where cultural
differences play a role, almost all mentioned causes of nationalism can be placed: in opposing the
underlying reasons of discontent, politicians use nationalism in order to get the greatest possible
support for their cause. The local situation then determines which classes feel disadvantaged and which
form of nationalism they will choose. The many faces of nationalism can be explained this way, too: a
political movement will give itself an identity that is diametrically opposed to the (supposed) opponent.
Nationalists under a dictatorship will often call for democracy.
Intellectuals are very important for the nationalist ideology. They can raise awareness, verbalize
ideology and justify nationalism through their interpretation of the past and through their view of
history as actions of peoples.
The History of Nationalism
End of the 15th century – Middle of the 17th century
As mentioned in the introduction, three elements are necessary for nationalism: states, peoples and
people's sovereignty. The first signs of these three elements can be found at the end of the 15th century
until the middle of the 17th century:
The secularization of thought and the centralization of administration gave impulses to the
creation of modern states and a new international order.
Through the invention of book-printing, greater cultural unities were formed, which could be
interpreted as peoples.
The Reformation encouraged people to think for themselves, rather than depend on priests. It
also increased cultural differences in Europe.
It was wide-spread policy to use marriages to acquire new territories. Because of this, European states
were patchwork. At the same time, political power within these states was disputed. The feudal lords
considered themselves masters of their little area, while the princes and kings laid claim to absolute
power, as guaranteed by their inherited title. At the end of the Middle Ages, some European princes
tried to consolidate their power through the centralization of administration. In that, they were secular,
they no longer let themselves be guided by God's will but by political necessity, for example the
Catholic king of France supported Protestant feudal lords in Germany in order to weaken the German
Emperor. The move towards centralization of administration was supported by the leaders of the cities,
who were well ready to pay extra in order to put an end to constant strife in the interior of the country.
This enabled the new monarchs to hire armies and try to control the feudal lords, who refused to give
up their power. In many places, the religious wars after the Reformation were feudal rebellions against
With the Peace of Westphalia (1648), tranquility returned to Europe. At the same time, this peace
created a new order of (theoretically) equal states. The principle “cuius regio, eius religio” (all subjects
have to have the same religion as their king) ensured greater state sovereignty: domestic affairs could
no longer be used as a reason for war. Nationalists would build on this.
[The new monarchs could not break the medieval power constellation everywhere, especially not in
areas where sovereignty was not inherited, for example in the Holy Roman Empire, where emperors
were elected, and in a great number of states in Central Europe and Italy. In South-Eastern Europe,
there was even less centralization. The area was ruled by the Muslim Ottoman Empire. As Islamic
thought does not make a distinction between religious power and worldly power, the various Christian
churches within the Ottoman Empire had the responsibility for their believers. As non-Muslims they
had great autonomy but little political rights or economic possibilities.]
In the Middle Ages, there may have been great cultural differences, but all Europeans belonged
foremost to the Christian culture and Latin was the language of administration. Now, through
centralisation and the accompanying expansion of bureaucracy and reformation, European cultures
began to differentiate more. In part this was a deliberate effort by the new monarchs: by choosing a
new language of administration, they ensured that officials could no longer hope to find work by going
abroad or in case their region changed allegiance. Networking and exchanges within each country were
encouraged and the best administrative jobs could only be found in the capital, strengthening political
cohesion within the countries.
Book-printing was essential in the development of dominant (administrative) languages. When printers
started to print books in spoken languages rather than just Latin, they could not afford to print in all
regional languages, so only a small number of languages were chosen and standardized, these became
the administrative languages.
Middle of the 17th through middle of the 18th century: John Locke and the Enlightenment
John Locke's ideas, namely those of the Social Contract and government with the consent of the
governed, transformed subjects into citizens. The philosophers of the Enlightenment took his ideas and
went even further. Where Locke had considered some religiosity as positive, these philosophers
insisted that humans should focus on the here and now. In their eyes, everyone is equal and has an
equal right to autonomy and self-development in a manner that is consistent with his personality. They
saw the state as the instrument to realize this improvement.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau also made an important contribution. Where Locke had given his Social
Contract an individual political meaning, Rousseau gave it a societal and social interpretation. In
contrast to other philosophers of the Enlightenment, Rousseau did not see society as being made of the
politically-active part of the population but rather the common people, which still had natural virtues.
Every member of a community signs himself and his rights over to the community. This way, the
community becomes a collective body guided by a General Will. The General Will is sovereign:
citizens, leaders and officials all have to obey it. According to Rousseau, the General Will would not be
determined by majority vote, instead leaders should be guided by the common good. If Locke's ideas
laid the basis for democracy, Rousseau's laid the basis for totalitarianism.
Enlightened despots such as Maria Theresia, Joseph II of Austria or Catherine the Great of Russia no
longer claimed to rule by God's will but rather claimed the social utility of their leadership. The
philosophers of the Enlightenment, with their new ideas of people's sovereignty and good leadership,
also inspired the English colonists in America and the French revolutionaries, which in turn gave
impulses to other rebellions against the existing order in the rest of Europe. In all cases, these rebellions
were about the realization of the supremacy of the citizen. This was not nationalism, because there is no
talk of cultural differences. The French Revolution spoke of the “nation”, meaning “the people”, but
they only used political norms as a basis: the “French people” were all people living in France who
shared the same political ideas.
However, cultural elements entered the field soon after. Mastering the French language became an
important requirement for being a member of the French nation and the authorities started to increase
instruction in French in order to strengthen national integration. Additionally, there was a rudimentary
form of State Nationalism: the creation of museums and monuments, as well as the recognition of
national holidays, had to increase loyalty towards the state. Nation-building in France was still
subordinate to political goals. People were persecuted for political and not cultural reasons.
In the introduction, four elements were named that enabled the creation of Political Nationalism: the
existence of sovereign states, the Enlightenment ideas of autonomy and people's sovereignty and the
existence of Cultural Nationalism. Only this last element hasn't been found yet. For this, we have to
look to developments in Germany.
German Romanticism and the development of Cultural Nationalism
After 1648, with the Holy Roman Empire in patchwork, the German elite was mostly oriented towards
Europe and was apolitical. People imitated French manners and French became the language of
administration. The German language was looked down upon. Accordingly, the French ideas of
Enlightenment found great resonance in Germany. Immanuel Kant subscribed to the idea of autonomy
and added that people have to be free of foreign influences in order to be able to take the right
decisions. Later, Romanticism formed in Germany as a counter-movement, placing emphasis on
intuition rather than reason. While in France, philosophers were convinced of the same-ness of all
things, German philosophers emphasised the differences. In the context of humans, they emphasised
that humans had equal rights but were not at all equal, due to different characters.
The German cultural philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803) applied the theory of
underlying differences onto European peoples. Where Rousseau had emphasised the political character
of a community, Herder, seeing the lack of German political unity, emphasised the inner ideas, the
culture of a people. According to him, all peoples are completely different from each other. As every
human has his own character, formed by his past and his environment, so each people has its own
culture and mentality, the Volksgeist, formed by its past, its environment and its livelihood. For Herder,
language was the most important exponent of culture: language forms thought and can only be learned
in a community. Language is therefore essential for the unity and continuity of a people. Because of its
Volksgeist, each people has its own path to take towards progress.
Through his ideas and the coining of the term Volksgeist, Herder is the father of Cultural Nationalism,
but not Political Nationalism. He came from the apolitical tradition in Germany and was not driven by
a political idea, he only wanted to formulate universal laws in the spirit of the philosophers of the
Enlightenment. However, his ideas of the Volksgeist and the central place that language holds in it had
great influence, especially in Central and Eastern Europe. Intellectuals everywhere went in search of
their own people (whose language most of them didn't speak). The ruling class, which had been looking
down on the people's languages, now initiated research into them.
Brothers Grimm's collection of German folk tales, grammars and dictionaries of Romanian
and Hungarian, the first Greek newspaper in 1784, a 6-part grammar of Russian appeared between
1789-1794, there was an explosion of research into Slavic languages in the first half of the 19th
century, and the birth of comparative linguistics
Studying history also became important, as it offered the possibility of giving the existence of a people
a historic basis. All necessary elements for the development of Political Nationalism were in place. The
actual development is due to the French conquests at the time of Napoleon.
Napoleon and the development of Political Nationalism, Germany
After conquering Europe, Napoleon had a greater part in Europe's modernization and the centralization
of its administration than any ruler before him. He reduced the number of German states from a few
hundred to just 38. He ended the medieval privileges everywhere and decreed equality before the law
for all citizens. As a child of the Enlightenment, Napoleon assumed that rights were universal and could
be introduced everywhere without adjustments to the local situation or Volksgeist. However, there was
no sovereignty/autonomy for conquered regions.
Initially, the French reforms were greeted with enthusiasm, but soon the sentiment turned: the greater
state power enabled greater taxation and easier recruitment of soldiers for the war against England.
Occupied areas had to bear the brunt of the war effort. The resistance movements sought to counter
1. They countered French autocracy with the idea of self-government, derived from the idea of the
2. They countered French universalism with the fear of losing one's own cultural identity.
Political Nationalism was born.
The strongest nationalist movement developed in Germany, where also the theoretical basis for
Nationalism was laid. German philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814) was initially a fan of
the French Republic but quickly turned into Germany's greatest nationalist ideologue at the time of the
French occupation. Just like Herder, Fichte saw each nation as an organism with its own identity,
developed through interplay with its environment, history and livelihood. Rousseau's thinking was also
clearly present, only Fichte replaced the Common Good with the National Good. According to Fichte,
each nation stands above its individual members and the members have common characteristics
because of Volksgeist, distinguishing themselves from members of other nations. Just like Kant, Fichte
was convinced that a nation could only develop itself when its language and administration are free of
Fichte thought that national awareness lay slumbering in the unconsciousness of its members but
eventually had to come to the front. After becoming aware, each nation has the ability, through its
national will, to decide its destiny by way of political struggle. The highest goal for a nation was the
formation of a sovereign nation-state. Fichte's philosophy created the picture of Nationalism as an
organic and natural development that each people was entitled to. This became the justification of all
later nationalist movements.
The German nationalists were intellectuals, philosophers, philologists and historians, for whom the
unification of the German people was the solution of all problems. They became obsessed by
unification. However, the influence of the nationalists did not reach far. They were active on a
theoretical level and assembled in shooting clubs, athletics clubs and student associations without
political influence. The only politically active German nationalists were in East Prussia, but the reforms
of the Prussian state only created a Prussian and not a German national awareness.
Emancipating Nationalism (1815-1878)
After 1815, most monarchs undid the reforms based on the idea of people's sovereignty, while keeping
centralization. The liberal ideals of political representation and ministerial responsibility could not be
as easily removed. Most of the resistance against the monarchs came from the liberal bourgeois elite in
Western Europe, who claimed political control on the basis of education or economic power. Further
east and further from the centers of power, where people could draw on Cultural Nationalism, not the
bourgeois elite but the clergy played a big role in the resistance. This was a result of the socialeconomic deficit in those areas, where agriculture continued to play an overwhelmingly big role and
trade and industry, and thereby a bourgeois elite, lagged behind.
Nationalists were initially too small in number and too scattered in order to be an important political
factor, that is why their demands were not heard in 1815. The peace talks only had the goal of recreating a political equilibrium. Entire areas were therefore handed from one state to another without
regard to cultures, e. g. Russia kept Finland that it had occupied during the war, Austria kept Polish
Galicia and received North Italy in addition. Germany was culturally unified but politically divided.
Most monarchs considered nationalists to be dangerous revolutionaries, when really most were
bourgeois, intellectuals and members of the middle class who did not think of revolutions. Afraid of
social unrest, they did also did not want to involve the lower classes in their struggle.
Increasing prosperity and an increased need for officials (greater bureaucracy as a result of
centralisation) resulted in a slow but steady spread of the bourgeois elite. In the periphery, the spread of
education made people more aware of their own culture, which appeared to be increasingly oppressed
through the new centralisation. This expressed itself in several uprisings.
(Grey section details the various uprisings, main plot continues afterwards in black)
Belgian independence from the Netherlands: The Belgian revolution of 1830 was mostly a matter
of the South's liberal demands against the autocratic rule of Dutch monarch Willem I. The South
had strong Cultural Nationalism: the French-oriented elite looked down upon the North. Willem I's
attempts to Dutchify the entire population through the education system met with great resistance.
Additionally, the Catholic Belgian elite were dissatisfied with Willem I being a Protestant and with
the lack of representation of Belgians in parliament despite their great share in the kingdom's
economic development. When the economic crisis of 1830 saw a dramatic increase in
unemployment, unrest spread to the lower classes. The revolution was unexpected. Initially
Belgians only wanted autonomy within the kingdom of the Netherlands, but because of the rigid
stance of Willem I radicalized the movement and led to the creation of an own nation-state.
Poland: Not having central administration, Poland had been unable to defend against being divided
between Prussia, Austria and Russia three times between 1772-1795. The situation did not change
after 1815. Polish Nationalism was not supported by the most influential members of the Polish
nobility, because they kept their positions of power in exchange for support of the new rulers. Only
the lower nobility resisted, in order to restore their old positions of power. There was hardly any
resistance in Posen and Galicia, which were under direct Prussian and Austrian administration.
Resistance occurred mostly in Congress-Poland, which had a great deal of autonomy and had a
clear political structure that allowed politicians to coordinate their nationalist performance. A revolt
had been long in the making and was hastened by the general unrest in Europe in 1830. Russians
were initially driven out but managed to defeat the Poles in the end, because the latter were
divided. Now Congress-Poland became part of the Russian empire and only kept a very small
amount of autonomy. Polish nationalists understood that they did not have sufficient power to unite
Poland. The most radical among them obtained the support of liberals by promising reforms.
Polish nationalists could also count on the support of the Catholic church, which resisted the rule
of the non-Catholic Russians. When the new tzar Alexander II wanted to introduce liberal reforms
in Congress-Poland after the Crimean War in 1863, radical nationalists seized the chance to force a
revolt – which was suppressed again by the Russians. In the aftermath, Congress-Poland was
placed under direct Russian administration and the power of the nobility was broken through land
reforms and the abolition of serfdom. Nobody talked about Nationalism in Poland anymore for a
The Habsburg Empire:
This was a mosaic of language groups, which sometimes occurred in clusters and sometimes ran
zigzag through each other. The biggest communities were the Germans in Austria, Bohemians in
parts of Hungary and Hungarians in Hungary. In the East, there were Slavic peoples that both
Germans and Hungarians looked down upon: Czechs, Croats, Serbs, Poles, Slovenes, Slovaks and
Dalmatians. In the South, Habsburg possessed a big area with an Italian-speaking population,
related to the Romanian speakers in the East. Already at the time of Joseph II (1765-1790), the
Hungarian elite felt threatened from two sides: from Slavs, because social reforms had
strengthened the position of the Slavic farmers, and from Germans because of the introduction of
German as the language of administration, religion and education.
In 1830, rebellions had taken place outside of Austria-Hungary, so the Habsburg emperor could
fight revolutionaries in Germany and Italy as part of the Holy Alliance. In 1848 however, revolts
occurred everywhere. In Vienna, liberal demands were central, elsewhere nationalist demands were
predominant, such as in Hungary, Moravia, Galicia, Dalmatia, Bohemia and Transsylvania. Most
people did not yet think of separatism: they saw the Habsburg Empire as a fortress against the
expansion of Germans and Russians and only demanded autonomous regions. The first Pan-Slavic
Congress took place in Prague. Austria was lucky that the army remained loyal: the troops were
recruited from a farmer population without any nationalist sentiment, while the officers belonged
to the old nobility disgusted by modernism. The various nationalist movements also did not have
good relationships among themselves. In Bohemia, Slavs and Germans fought each other. In
Hungary there was a civil war. The (Protestant) higher nobility was content with autonomy and
economic progress, while the (Catholic) lower nobility, backed by the bourgeois, wanted to
strengthen their position of power at the expense of the higher nobility in an independent Hungary.
Both groups had no plans to give ethnic minorities any rights and intended to force their own
language upon them as language of administration. Therefore, Germans, Slovaks, Croats,
Romanians and Serbs revolted. With Russian help, Austria managed to restore order in 1849.
Subsequently Habsburg tried to suppress all forms of Liberalism and Nationalism in order to turn
the Habsburg Empire into a homogenous state. Even Hungary lost its autonomy. This was not
tenable after the Crimean war and in 1860 the emperor suggested a federal constitution.
Hungarians resisted it because it would have meant a fragmentation of the historic Hungary, which
was now the basis of Hungarian Nationalism. Austria needed its hands free in order to handle PanSlavism and Prussia's political aspirations, so they formed a compromise with Hungarians in 1867.
The Habsburg Empire became a personal union of two autonomous parts, Austria and Hungary.
Both were set up to be national states for Germans and Hungarians, even though Germans did not
form the majority of the population in their part and Hungarians hardly the majority in theirs.
Language could not yet be a basis of nationalism in Italy: not even 3% of Italians spoke Standard
Italian. Hence, it is not surprising that the Italian philosophy of Nationalism steered clear of the
objective criteria of German philosophers. Giuseppe Mazzini (1805-1872) added a subjective aspect to
Political Nationalism: people had to feel connected to each other, otherwise they might fulfill any
amount of criteria and yet not become one people.
Italy: Napoleon's centralization had reduced the number of Italian states to 10, each ruled
autocratically. The Austrian emperor tried to keep liberal and nationalist developments in check, so
nationalist movements developed in the underground, as radical, Republican-minded, secret
brotherhoods. In 1832, Austria prevented a nationalist conspiracy in Naples. In 1846, it occupied
the Papal States after the liberal Antonio Ghislieri had been chosen as Pope, whom some
nationalists saw as the future leader of a united Italy. The Austrian intervention led to a revolt in
1848, but the Austrians could not be expelled – firstly because the Pope refused to support the
revolt and secondly because France helped Austria by occupying the Papal States. Through
Austria's actions, nationalist sentiment grew in Italy, but nationalists couldn't achieve anything
because Italy was fragmented and they did not have political support. The latter changed when
Camillo di Cavour became prime minister of the kingdom of Piedmont in 1852. He wanted to
solidify Piedmont's position of power and gladly used the nationalist sentiment among the Italian
bourgeois. Except for Venice, which was in the hands of Austria, the monarchs in the Northern
Italian states were driven out and the states merged with Piedmont. The number of Italian states
was thus brought down to four: Venice, Piedmont, the kingdom of Naples and the Papal States.
Cavour didn't think that the South could be convinced to join, but a Republican radical from
Piedmont, Giuseppe Garibaldi, wanted to try. He entered Naples with over a thousand followers
and convinced many revolutionaries to join him. Cavour then visited the Papal States and Naples
himself, in order not to lose the initiative. After a plebiscite, both Naples and the Papal States
(except Rome) joined Piedmont. So the kingdom of Italy was declared in 1866, missing only
Venice and Rome. Venice was integrated in 1866 and Rome in 1870. Afterward, Italy looked
towards areas outside of Italy where a vast majority of the population spoke Italian: Tirol, the area
around Trieste and some Dalmatian islands.
The situation in Germany was almost identical to the one in Italy with many fragmented states,
except that they were organized in the German Confederation. After the fall of Napoleon, German
Nationalism had returned to being a topic for intellectuals only; it was powerless due to the lack of
support from politicians. This changed when one politician wanted to strengthen the position of his
own state: Otto von Bismarck, chancellor of Prussia. Just as in Italy, his most important rival was
the emperor of Austria, which was weakened by the Crimean War.
In the 1830 unrest, the focus was still on liberal demands, though the Hambach Festival 1832 saw
some 25,000 nationalists, which were quickly repressed. Nationalism got a new impulse because of
France's attempts to annex the Rhineland. This became clear during the revolts, which happened in
Germany in 1848 and brought liberal governments to power everywhere except in Prussia, where
the king was quick to make concessions. A national assembly in Frankfurt tried to unite Germany,
however the representatives were split on the question of monarchy or republic, Small Germany
(without Austria) or Great Germany (including Austria and even Czechs and Bohemians). In the
end, it remained an academic question. Austria and Czechs refused to join a Great German nation
and even the Small German solution did not work out because the Prussian king refused to receive
the emperor's crown from the hands of subjects: a king had divine rights.
Most German rulers managed to re-solidify their position of power quickly, supported by liberals
who had been shocked by the popular revolts they had caused. In 1850, the autocratic German
Confederation was restored. Economically, Prussia was king, having done everything to spread its
economic influence in Germany, for example by turning all of Northern Germany into one big
economic union, the Zollverein. Economic integration increased the mobility of the population and
undermined the power of the local rulers in the long term. Bismarck tried to take political
advantage of that. He became the personification of Realpolitik. First he incited a war against
Austria and the rest of the German Confederation in 1866, in which Prussia scored a great victory
and expanded its territory. Same against France in 1870 – France was worried about the growing
German unity and Bismarck was convinced that the Southern German states would join Prussia in
case of war. That's what happened.
Even before France had been beaten in the French-German War, the German Empire was declared
on January 18, 1871 in Versailles. Other than in Italy, the different German states did not dissolve
into a centralized state but became a federation with significant sovereignty for the participating
states – without Austria by the way, to Bismarck's full satisfaction.
Within the German Empire, Prussia had three quarters of the territory and the population, giving it
great power. The emperor was responsible for foreign affairs and the military was only sworn to
him. The position of the nobility was also strengthened because of the failed revolutions of 1848.
While nobility turned bourgeois in the rest of Western Europe after 1848, the German bourgeoisie
started to imitate the nobility. The result was a militaristic, authoritarian society where democratic
reforms had no chance to succeed.
The Ottoman Empire:
In the Ottoman Empire, Cultural Nationalism affected only a very small elite. Most nationalists
were Christian priests resisting the Muslim rulers. Even though they had no access to the political
structure, a few minorities managed to obtain their own state in the period 1830-1880, because of
the intervention of Russia, which used nationalism as a justification for political interference.
Russia hoped to undermine the power of the Ottoman Empire in order to bring South East Europe
into its own sphere of influence. That's why Russia regularly attacked the Ottoman Empire and
helped Slavic peoples resist, while the rest of Europe tried to maintain order. Already in 1768
Greeks had revolted this way and Serbs in 1804 and 1815, without result.
In 1821, Greeks used a revolt in Wallachia as a cause to revolt themselves, with the goal of
rebuilding the old Byzantine Empire. Initially it did not look well, since England and France
convinced the tzar that it was dangerous to support any revolutions, no matter against who.
However, the new tzar Nicolas I decided to put Russian interests ahead of European interests and
support the Greeks. Then, the English and the French could not remain inactive, especially as the
brutal suppression of the Greek revolt had moved public opinion. It's only through Prussia's
mediation that the Ottoman Empire was not smashed (and European power dynamics remained
intact). The peace of 1830 made Greece independent; Serbia, Wallachia and Moldova became
autonomous states within the Ottoman Empire.
After the Crimean war, the autonomy of Serbia and Romania (merged Wallachia and Moldova)
was affirmed, while reforms tried to strengthen the country by creating greater uniformity and
equality of citizens. Non-Muslims were allowed access to the bureaucracy and the military.
Freedom of the press was introduced. The economy was stimulated. However, 20 years later the
conservatives took back power and undid all the modernizations. This was unpalatable for the nonTurkish groups of the population. Nationalism grew among Armenians, Bulgarians, Macedonians
and Cretans and young revolutionaries made plans to take power. The European powers, especially
Russia, could hardly wait to distribute the loot. In order to justify its expansion drive, Russia now
embraced Pan-Slavism, which was popular among intellectuals. The Slavic peoples in the Ottoman
Empire were also ready to embrace Pan-Slavism if it gave them independence. In 1875/1876,
revolution broke out in Bosnia and Bulgaria. Russians came to their help and managed to penetrate
up to Constantinople, but were again halted by the English, just as during the Crimean War. In
order to prevent a European war, Bismarck organized the Congress of Berlin 1878, which
prevented the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire, but it wasn't far short of the mark. Russia
received the entire Eastern coast of the Black Sea. Serbia, Romania and Montenegro became
independent. Bulgarian was divided into three autonomous parts within the Ottoman Empire.
Bosnia and Herzegovina came under Austro-Hungarian rule as compensation for the Russian
influence on the Balkans. The English got Cyprus.
State Nationalism (1878-1914)
As a reaction to Emancipating Nationalism, all of Europe strove for greater national integration
following the Congress of Berlin. Many leaders of dynastic states tried to legitimize their rule by
turning the population into one people, as the Habsburg Empire and the Ottoman Empire had tried
before. Eyes turned to Western Europe, which hardly seemed to know nationalist unrest.
In Great Britain, two things were essential:
1. The continued existence of medieval power institutions. The political center of power remained
open to representatives from far-away areas, which might have otherwise used the weapon of
Emancipating Nationalism. That only happened in Catholic Ireland, where the population had been
placed under the direct administration of Protestants following the 1796-1798 revolt, they had few
rights and were in a bad social-economic situation.
2. Industrialization. Centralization had created an ever larger group of officials whose careers
depended on one state. Industrialization meant that even the lower social classes were affected by this
process, as the industry needed a growing number of educated workers. The state took care of their
education and a pyramid-shaped education system developed, whose base coincided with the state
borders. This limited the population's careers to that state: one usually could not get by with the
language of instruction in other states. National integration, as a result of the uniformity of language
and levels of instruction, was further strengthened through the postal services and the army. People
began to identify with the culture, instead of the village or the family, because the culture offered them
income and protection. It's only through this that something could develop that looked like a people.
In France, the situation was a bit different. Napoleon had removed the medieval power institutions and
national integration had not yet reached the same stage as in England. The French Emperor Napoleon
III tried to on the one hand secure his position through rigorous centralization and on the other hand to
lesson social unrest through quick industrialization and material welfare. National integration in France
progressed, but slowly.
Many heads of state in Eastern Europe tried to introduce the Western European model. This meant
modernization of the economy, more centralization and efficiency in administration, some liberal
reforms and striving for national integration. National holidays, museums and songs were created to
glorify the nation's past. The authorities strove for one dominant culture for the whole state. Whoever
refused to adapt was persecuted, killed or expelled. This is when State Nationalism first showed what
excesses are possible when it is taken to extremes. In Russia, all members of faiths other than the
Russian-Orthodox one were persecuted. In the Ottoman Empire, half a million Armenians were killed.
Since language was in many cases the starting point for national integration, reforms of the education
system played a big role.
Austria tried to impose the German language on the Slavic minorities. Hungary imposed
Hungarian on the Slovaks, Croats, Germans and Romanians. Prussia tried to Germanize the Polish
population in Poznan (66%) and the Danes in Schleswig-Holstein. In Great Britain, the Irish had to
learn English. The Russian tzar tried to Russify the population in the border provinces (Poles,
Finns, Baltic peoples, Ukrainians).
Whoever did not master the dominant culture, and namely its language, hardly had any opportunities in
the bureaucracy, in trade and in the industry. As modernization and industrialization spread from the
centers to the peripheries, more and more people experienced discrimination. A reaction was inevitable.
Emancipating Nationalism (1878-1919)
Because of the oppression, new nationalist movements developed in Finland, Armenia, Georgia,
Albania, Croatia, Macedonia and the Baltic areas. Their cultural identities gave them the strength to
resist. Since most minorities, led by intellectuals, did not have access to politics, their situation did not
change much. Emancipating Nationalism initially only had success in Western Europe.
Norway: In Norway, which was part of the Danish Kingdom, there had been talk of a cultural
uprising leading to some sort of self-government since the end of the 18th century (as elsewhere in
Europe). When Norway was handed over to Sweden in 1814, the national consciousness of
Norwegians was already so well-developed that the merger received the form of a personal union.
Almost a century later, economic growth and cultural bloom had increased the self-confidence of
Norwegians so much that they conflicted with Sweden over the representation of Norway abroad.
The Swedish parliament, which was ruled by liberals who had no interest in oppression, accepted
the state of affairs and recognized Norwegian independence in 1905.
Ireland: the Irish struggle for autonomy was supported by the farmers, the clergy and the many
Irish emigrants in America. From 1870, English governments tried to improve the economic and
legal position of Irish farmers, but the resistance to English domination remained. England was
however not ready to give in completely. Between 1886 and 1913, three laws for self-governance
were proposed in parliament, with the biggest stumbling-block being the position of the Protestant
minority in the North (Ulster). Finally, the third law was accepted but then immediately shelved
because of the outbreak of World War I.
The First World War and Emancipating Nationalism:
The formation of new states based on the idea of the nation-state created much unrest in the Balkans:
some countries claimed territories from other countries because compatriots lived there, in other
countries minorities sought to join the mother country.
Greece was continually in conflict with Turkey over Crete, Thessaly, a part of Epirus, South
Albania and islands in the Aegean Sea. The Slavic minorities in Austria and Hungary understood
that they would never be granted equal rights and strove for a unification with Serbia. Serbia itself
wanted to own Bosnia and Herzegovina and made war against Bulgaria. Bulgaria desired
Macedonia and thereby came into conflict with Romania and Greece. The chaos was complete
when Russia, following its defeat in the Russian-Japanese War (1905), focused its attention on its
eternal rival, the Ottoman Empire. The first two Balkan wars of 1912 and 1913 were restricted to
local conflicts, but the third crisis in 1914 touched major European powers and escalated into
World War I.
Since so many people believed in self-determination, Emancipating Nationalism could be used as a tool
of war, to undermine the power of the opponent.
Germany did so in Ireland, Belgium (Flemish areas), Ukraine and Poland. Germany managed to
draw Bulgaria into the Central Powers by promising it Macedonia, as well as parts of Romania and
Greece in case those joined the Allies. As a reaction, Serbia joined the Allies after being promised
Bosnia and Herzegovina and access to the Adriatic Sea.
Finally, following the Russian Revolution of 1917, the defeat of Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman
Empire in 1918, independence was declared in Poland, Ukraine, the Baltic states, Finland,
Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia (Serbia enriched with
Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Slovenia, Montenegro and Macedonia), Romania and Hungry.
Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Ukraine did not know how to handle independence. In
1921, Albania also became independent, but part of it, Kosovo, fell to Yugoslavia.
The formation of the multi-national states Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia was remarkable. Serbia
and Czechia had better contacts to the West and were better developed than the other regions, this
also meant stronger nationalist movements. The leaders of the other nationalist movements let
themselves be convinced to join them because of the idea at the time that only big political units
are economically viable.
With the end of WWI, it seemed that the nation-state had become the basis of international politics, but
the European Allies had only wanted to limit Germany's power and prevent the fragmentation of the
Balkans. They only applied the right to self-determination to the losers, not to their allies or their own
possessions, such as the colonies. However, the American president Woodrow Wilson pressured the
allies to accept the right to self-determination and he succeeded in giving the impression that the right
to self-determination and people's sovereignty were the key ideas in the peace talks. The impression
was strengthened through the use of referendums in determining borders, but it was all about selfinterest, referendums were only held when it was probable that the area would remain with the state.
For Alsace-Lothringen, France used a referendum from the year 1871, despite great demographic
changes since then. Self-determination remained secondary to strategic, economic and geographic
The problem of minorities was also not solved. There were minorities in every country. Of 94.5 million
citizens in Central Europe, a quarter did not live in the 'mother country'. Despite that, we have had the
idea since WWI that there is nothing more natural than a nation-state. Everything seemed to point to it.
International sports events started up – the first international soccer came was Austria vs. Hungary.
Royal families forgot their dynastic background, declared a nationality and became symbols of national
unity, glorified in the media, which contributed a lot to national integration.
Integral Nationalism (1919-1945)
Ireland continued its struggle for self-determination during and after WWI. In 1920, the English
government was finally ready to recognize it in order to restore calm. In order to solve the problem
of Protestants in Ulster, Ireland was split into two parts, each with its own parliament and its own
delegation to the British parliament. For Irish nationalists, this was not enough and they continued
their struggle. In the end, Ireland received dominion status as the Irish Free State in 1922. In 1923,
it became a member of the League of Nations. The relationship with England remained strained
because of claiming Ulster.
At the time of the interbellum, Integral Nationalism was most important. Integral Nationalism
originated already in the 19th century. The nation-state seemed to have been given a definite form, but
according to some, the continued existence of the glorified nation-state was in danger. In England and
France, Integral Nationalists saw a threat from abroad, as had become clear in the French defeat in the
French-German War of 1870 and the moral defeat of England in the Peasants' War (1899-1902).
Additionally, people in England were worried about the increasing power of the German fleet. In the
interior of the country, people suspiciously eyed the formation of Communist and Socialist movements.
Integral Nationalist movements remained mostly fringe phenomena, except in countries where the
unity of the state was actually in danger. This was the case
- in young states like Italy and Romania, where national integration was slow to start;
- in Germany, with its economic crisis and the imminent rise of Socialists and Communists;
- in Spain, where the central authority could not end political fragmentation, a legacy of the Middle
The goal of Integral Nationalism was to spread state power in order to ensure the continued existence
of the nation.
In these countries, Integral Nationalism was able to become a mass movement, all the more since
democracy meant that politics (and therefore nationalism) was no longer left to the elite, as before. The
adherents of Integral Nationalism were among the lower middle class, who felt threatened by both
higher classes and workers. With democracy having only recently been introduced, the leaders of the
lower middle class mostly hadn't yet been integrated into the party system of parliamentary democracy,
so that they could easily be reached by parties playing to their dissatisfaction.
Integral Nationalists were initially against their state's rulers, who did not seem able to solve the
political, economic and social crises and to curb the supposed threat of Communism. Soon however,
'culturally foreign' elements were made responsible for the supposed threats and real xenophobia
Wherever Integral Nationalists got power, State Nationalism arose in its most perverse form. The state
no longer served the needs of the individual, but the individual was subordinated to the nation. The
goal was a society without classes, without the distinction of public and private, and cleansed of
'foreign stains'. The idea of racial purity was justified by Social Darwinism, which believed in survival
of the fittest and therefore justified free aggression between peers as the best way to guarantee good
genes for the species. It also justified war between races and states and genocide, such as against the
Jews, Poles and gypsies in Germany.
Nazi Germany: In particular, Adolf Hitler made use of militarism, the discontent with Treaty of
Versailles of 1918, the social-economic crisis and the fear of Communism in Germany. He
managed to excellently justify his aggressive foreign policy by referring to the universallyrespected struggle for self-determination and the creation of a nation-state. After all, 10-12 million
Germans were still living outside of Germany. Certainly most Austrians still regretted the failure of
the Great German idea. The integral nationalist state nationalism of the Nazis even got a coating of
emancipating nationalism. As such, annexing the Rhineland in 1936 and Austria and
Czechoslovakia in 1938 did not meet with serious resistance from England and France, who
wanted to avoid the outbreak of another war at all cost. They also saw in Hitler an ally against the
Western Europe 1945-1990
After World War II, nationalism seemed to have disappeared from Europe. Nationalism was seen as
unrealistic now that the borders seemed frozen in the Cold War, also the atrocities of the war had put a
taboo on it. This was even true in Germany, even though desperation there was greater than after WWI
and the country lost its sovereignty for a while. There was no political unrest because the power of the
nobility and of Prussia had been broken, which allowed democratization to take shape, and because
prosperity, as a result of an economic upturn after the Marshall Plan, was not limited to the higher
classes. The increasing industrialization promoted national integration in all Western European
countries. Through radio and the advent of television, the dominant culture entered every house.
The process of national integration in Western Europe was paired with growing international
collaboration, prompted by the supposed need to militarily defend against the red menace and by a
wish to promote economic growth. The result was the development of a very European-oriented top
layer of society, first the officials and later intellectuals and entrepreneurs. Some saw the beginning of a
top-down European integration in this, along the same lines as what had taken place after the Middle
To much amazement, nationalism experienced a revival at the beginning of the 70s. The reasons were
the disappearance of the red menace, a political crisis and an economic crisis with high unemployment.
Unemployment made people feel threatened in their livelihood, which they blamed on immigrants.
They had arrived in great numbers at the time of the economic upturn in order to keep the economy
running. They did the lowest and hardest jobs, that the locals looked down upon, and were the first to
be laid off. Still, they were accused of stealing jobs and being advantaged by the authorities. It was
bluntly xenophobic Integral Nationalism, which was mostly limited to splinter parties. Only in France,
Integral Nationalist Le Pen attracted a large following. The question is whether it will remain such, if
the problem of economic refugees from Eastern Europe and the countries south of Europe will assume
the proportions that many are so afraid of.
Because of the economic crisis, the periphery in the various countries suffered the most and its standard
of living fell. This caused resistance against national and regional politicians. The resistance was led by
the group that saw its position threatened, that is the economic middle class supported by the
intellectuals. Wherever possible, the regional opposition drew on its own cultural awareness, in order to
put the center of power under pressure and mobilize more followers, consistent with feelings of
dissatisfaction with the great uniformity following national integration.
Thus Emancipating Nationalism, in the form of regional nationalism, could again rear its head in Great
Britain (Scotland, Wales and Ireland), France (Brittany, Provence, Corsica), Spain (Catalonia, Basque
country, Galicia, Andalusia), Belgium (Flemish and Walloon) and Italy (Tirol and recently Northern
Italy). With a few exceptions, such as Scotland and the Basque country, this regional nationalism did
not strive for independence but for greater autonomy within a federation. In its struggle against the
established order, regional nationalism often adopted leftist elements, and in Fascist Spain it was
directly linked to the democratic opposition.
At the end of the 70s and the beginning of the 80s, regional nationalists celebrated many successes. The
Basque country, Catalonia, Galicia, Andalusia and Corsica received autonomy and Belgium became a
federation. The success is thanks to the Social Democrat parties in power then, who were busy
centralizing the economy and did not hold onto the status quo as desperately as right-wing parties.
After that success, it became harder to keep the political followers, especially when autonomy seemed
more of a cosmetic change and did not bring real change. There was a power struggle within the
regional parties between the moderates and the radicals, who wanted independence. Finally, the
radicals seemed to be stronger and they tried to reach their goal through attacks and terror, even though
they lost more and more followers that way.
The parliamentary branch of regional nationalism became more and more isolated in the 80s through
the changed climate in Europe. The struggle of the (leftist) regional parties blended into national
struggle of the leftists against the Neo-Liberals, which had gained power everywhere through the
persistent economic crisis and high unemployment. Neo-Liberals wanted to drastically limit the
influence of the authorities and the authorities' spending. The introduction of new state structures was
therefore never mentioned again.
Regional problems continued to exist, all the more since the free market mechanism was declared to be
the highest good, an even regional distribution of the economy became a utopia. Therefore, many
regional nationalists supported the economic unification of Europe, hoping that that would lead to more
political and economic opportunities for their region.
German Reunification: the German reunification is a completely different story. Capitalist,
democratic West Germany saw itself as the true German fatherland and tried to justify the idea of
continuity by referring to history (the Weimar Republic). By contrast, the East German authorities
justified the existence of the GDR as a continuation of the German tradition of resistance, such as
during the time of Napoleon. Then, the GDR tried to create an awareness of East Germans as a
people. However, the population of both states continued to feel as one people, also because of the
(cut) family ties. The reunification came to be because of the political developments in the Soviet
Union. The reason that the GDR merged into the Federal Republic is that the GDR had lower
standards of living and had continued the pre-war political structure (with the autocratic nobility
replaced by an autocratic Communist party), which undermined the legitimacy of the rulers.
What can we expect from Europe in the future? [Keep in mind this essay was written in 1991]
a) A revival of nationalism, because of the lack of consensus in decision-making and because states will
be in the same position as regions earlier, wanting to strengthen their position by emphasizing their
b) More regional autonomy, now that national integration is no longer as necessary because of the
formation of a supranational economic structure?
c) A fusion of European cultures, as can already be witnessed among the highly educated?
I don't think the latter will happen, even if the European Community is turns from an economic into a
political community. There is no doubt that that will happen, as first steps by Kohl and Mitterrand have
shown. The amount of resistance to that process shall be closely linked to the amount of economic
prosperity going along with it.
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