HIST 202: European Civilization, 1648-1945
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European Civilization, 1648-1945
HIST 202 - Lecture 13 - Nationalism
Chapter 1. The “Imagined Communities” of Nationalism: The Macedonian Example [00:00:00]
Professor John Merriman: It’s kind of a complicated lecture today. I want to talk about nationalism and I do so with a skepticism that you’ll quickly pick up on. Aggressive nationalism helped unleash the demons of the twentieth century, beginning with World War I, which unleashed even more dangerous demons after that. I want to talk about nationalism and particularly in — a little bit of France, but in places that one doesn’t usually consider. I’ll end up drawing on my friend Tim Snyder’s work to talk a little bit about Lithuania and Belarus, and why their nationalism were very different and, in the second case, didn’t really exist at all in the nineteenth century. And I’m going to give a counter example, which I treat in the book but is the Austria-Hungarian Empire.
It’s funny, because one couldn’t have imagined in the 1970s, looking nostalgically back on the Austria-Hungarian Empire, this polyglot Habsburg regime. But the horrors of the Balkans really made lots of historians and other social scientists look back and try to figure out how it was that — instead of asking why it was the Austria-Hungarian Empire collapsed during World War I, or really at the end of World War I, turning the question around and saying, “How did it hold together so long?” So, the Austria-Hungarian Empire is sort of a counter example to these nationalisms. One of the things that brought the empire down, along with the war, was competing national claims from ethnic minorities within those vast domains.
I want to start with a story. It’s a book I read maybe five or six years ago. Histories have their histories, so I’m going to tell the history of this particular book. You’ll see kind of what I’m getting at. By the way, I sent out — one of you had a great idea, emailed me saying, “Why don’t you send out the terms before the lecture?” That was a great idea. I’d never thought of that. I did it last night, though I didn’t put this particular book on it. Anyway, the book is Anastasia Karakasidou’s, Fields of Wheat, Hills of Blood: Passages to Nationhood in Greek Macedonia, 1870-1990. When I say that histories have their own history, what I mean is the following.
In this book, this anthropologist, who is from both Turkish and Greek extraction on either side of her family, is writing a book about a small part of Macedonia. Macedonia, of course, was heavily contested for centuries. A trade route went through it. In Macedonia there were Turks, and there were Serbs, and there were Bulgarians, and Macedonians, and Greeks. For centuries they had all basically gotten along as that part of the Balkans, as you know, in the past was under the Ottoman Empire and then through a whole series of arrangements, of wars, the Balkan wars before World War I, passed back and forth.
Essentially, that is one of the points of the book, is that basically people got along very well, but that gradually what happened is that among competing national claims that part of Macedonia became seen by Greeks as part of greater Greece. Whenever you hear the term “greater Greece,” or “greater Serbia,” or “greater Germany,” or greater anything, look out. What that means is that in the imaginary, in the view of nationalists, particularly aggressive nationalists, parts of the territories that have large percentages of a certain ethnic group or even in some cases only minorities, but in other cases majorities, should be included, come what may, in the greater state of that particular ethnic group. If you take the example of Kosovo, and Kosovo has about eighty-five percent of the population is made up of Albanian Muslims. Kosovo was part of Serbia. When Milosevic was talking about “greater Serbia,” greater Serbia for him could not exist unless Kosovo, with its eighty-five percent of people who weren’t Serb, was included in that. Anyway, that’s another story.
What happened with this particular book is that when this book was in manuscript, arguing that basically the idea that Macedonia was Greek was a construction, was an invention, an invented identity by Greek nationalists, the press, the university press, I guess since this is being recorded I shouldn’t say which one that was, chickened out and decided not to publish the book. At one point they got a bomb threat from Greek nationalists saying that, “If you publish this book, we will blow up your offices in Europe.” So, they chickened out. In an example of just utter, craven cowardice refused to publish the book. They sent this author, whom I don’t know — I’ve read the book. It’s a really terrific book — and said, “Sorry. We’re not going to publish your book. Too bad, contract or no contract.” So, University of Chicago Press published the book, and when the book came out this particular author received a lot of hate mail. She received a picture of herself with a picture of a Greek flag stuck through where her heart would be. These are fairly serious threats.
The point of that is not to jump on Greek nationalists or on Serb nationalists, though certainly the Serb ultranationalists have done just an incredible amount of damage in the Balkans over the past decades, but merely to underline the point that national identities are constructed. They’re invented. They’re, in a way, imaginary. One of the most interesting sort of historical things you could do as an historian is to try to figure out, from where do these identities come? Language plays a lot of it. Maybe if I have time, because I’ve got to do a lot today, but this is more of a conversation than a lecture. If I have time I might talk a little bit about language in the case of France. But, in doing so, like most people talking about nationalism, I’m drawing on some of the thinking of Benedict Anderson, and his concept that nationalism and the construction of national self-identity represents “imagined communities.”
Basically, if you consider yourself a member of X nationality, you are creating links or you are agreeing to links with people whom you don’t know, people that live in Portland, Oregon, or people that live in Albuquerque, New Mexico, or people that live in New Jersey, even though we are sitting here in Connecticut. One of the useful aspects of Anderson’s account is yet again to look back at the construction of nationalism to see that here we have that old story. It’s states and large-scale economic change that are the two driving forces in the construction of national identities.
Chapter 2. The Construction of National Identities in the Nineteenth Century: Language and Consciousness [00:08:24]
I’ve gone on, at least in two lectures and part of another one talking about British national identity — and I’m certainly not going to go through that again, except to say that it was precociously early, the sense of being British. I also argued along the lines that we can now, at least for elites, say that French national identity began to be constructed in at least by the middle of the eighteenth century. When you think of the real hotspots, the real trouble spots of the twentieth century, when you think of the origins of World War I, which we will be doing and thinking out loud together over the next couple weeks, we will be considering Eastern Europe, Central Europe, and the Balkans.
What’s important to understand, and this is a reasonably decent transition from the initial discussion of this anthropologist’s excellent book, is that in most of those places there was no sense of national identity, of being Slovene, of being Czech, of being Croat, of being Bulgarian, of being Ukrainian or Ruthenian — the two are essentially the same — until quite late in the nineteenth century. Part of what’s going on in Europe between the 1880s and 1914 is this is an incredible “advancement,” if you want to call it that, in thinking with the emergence of ethnic national identities competing and demanding their own states in that part of the world.
When, in late June 1914, a sixteen-year-old heavily-armed guy, Serb nationalist — I once put my feet, which no longer — my feet still exist, but the steps in Sarajevo no longer exist because of all the bombing, in the place where Princip shot Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the assassination that led, because of this sort of entangling diplomatic alliances, to World War I. He was someone who practically could not have existed in the middle of the nineteenth century, even though among Serb elites there was a national sense. I’m going to give you some examples taken from Anderson of even the publication of the very first dictionaries in languages that now are quite common for us to identify with ethnic national states. In fact, some of these languages did not even have their own written dictionaries until the middle of the nineteenth century. That’s not so long ago. Nationalism has to be constructed. A sense of self-identity has to be constructed. That’s what I want to talk about.
Let me say something at the beginning. Because of the French Revolution and because of the development in Europe and in other places of parliamentary regimes and democracies, it’s fairly common to think, “National self-consciousness equals a desire for national states and you can’t have that with a monarchy.” That’s not really true at all. That’s influenced, for example, by the experience of the United States. In the United States, the thirteen colonies, English was overwhelmingly the language of the thirteen colonies. They are rebelling in 1776 and all of that against other English-speaking people who happened to have a monarchy. So, “no taxation without representation” really became also a kind of an anti-monarchist sentiment.
If you think of the Spanish, the rebellions in Latin America against Spain, there, too, the rebellions, though there were millions of indigenous peoples who did not speak Spanish, but basically it was a rebellion of Spanish speakers against a monarch that was Spanish, speaking in the case of Spain. If you think about really extreme ethnic nationalism at the end of the nineteenth century, you think of two states which helped kind of push the world to the catastrophe that was World War I, one has to point the finger at both Russia and Germany, which had autocracies. This is jumping ahead a little bit, but I’m providing you an overview. For example, the campaign — this is jumping ahead a little bit — the campaign of Russiafication that was undertaken by the Russian czars, a brutal campaign against non-Russian minorities, was, in part, a response to rebellions within the Russian empire by Poles, for example, who rise up in 1831 and in 1863 and are crushed like grapes. In 1863, Bismarck, the chancellor of Germany, congratulates the czar for stomping on the Polish insurgents. But the campaign of Russiaficiation was part of the re-invention of Russian national identity.
When I talked about Peter the Great, I talked about how he saw himself as this great Russian patriot. Well, aggressive Russian nationalism picks its targets rather systematically in the campaigns of Russiaficiation. The big pogroms, the massacres of Jews in Odessa, in Crimea, and in other places, are cheered on by the Russian czar, by Nicholas II, whom I will talk about when I get to the Russian Revolution, who saw this as a healthy thing, that the Jews are being beaten to death by real Russians. This was part of his campaign of Russiafication.
In the case of Germany you’ve got this madcap loser, Wilhelm II, cracking bottles of champagne, or not of champagne, but of Riesling, as I said, over big speedy battleships and all of that. Nobody was a more aggressive nationalist than Wilhelm II, the Kaiser, who kept saying rather disingenuously that he was “the number one German” and all of that. We can get rid of the idea that strong national identity necessarily has a parliamentary outcome. In the case of Britain, we’re not going to talk about Britain too much, but the case of Britain is pretty interesting, too. But there you have a monarch without real power. Victoria represents in the imaginary of the British citizens the stability and the constitutional settlement of the British Empire. Yet, a couple of points need to be made.
Language is important in all of this, though not always. Maybe if I have time I’ll give a Swiss example later on. Basically, in the case of Russian and German nationalism, and French nationalism and even Spanish nationalism, because of the dominance of Castille, one looks back to the time when national languages, which already existed, are used and become identified with this self-identity of national people. Now, Latin was the language. Latin was the language of science, of diplomacy, of everything. Part of what’s intriguing and important about the scientific revolution is that vernacular languages begin to be used as a way of communicating scientific discoveries. There’s a little bit in that chapter that you read about that. Certainly, language is closely tied to national self-identity.
One of the ways when nationalism is most aggressive and most vulgar is when very ordinary people who are whipped up, egged on or in some ways urged on by elites began identifying people who don’t speak the same language is somehow not part of this imagined community. An obvious example would be all the Hungarians who, after the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 and the subsequent treaties named after Paris suburbs, are included in Romania and are treated as outsiders. This is very important even in the origins of the 1989 revolution that brought down the dreadful Ceausescu dictators in Romania. Anyway, the vernacular develops.
If you exclude the cases of Latin America rebelling against Spain and the Americans rebelling against the British, development of these languages, and the use of the languages and their identity with this imagined community is obviously a very important part of this as well. With the development is the concept of being a citizen. This is one of the many reasons the French Revolution is so important. You were no longer the subject of the king, you were a citoyen, or if you’re a female you’re a citoyenne. Citizenship takes on this kind of linguistic aspect as well. During the French Revolution, there was a revolutionary priest called the Abbé Grégoire. I think I mention him in the book. He thought that all of these regional languages should be squished like grapes, because somehow they stood in the way of a true French national identity.
Language is so terribly complicated. In the case of Italy, which is in some ways a counter example, I think I said before but it’s true. At the time of the Italian unification, only about four or five percent of the population of Italy, of the whole boot and Sicily, spoke what is now considered to be Italian. The case of France, which I know more about, is equally fascinating because of the time of the French Revolution half the French population did not speak French. There was a lot of bilingualism, but they did not speak French. If you imagine a map of France, and I think I went through this very quickly before, but if you imagine a map of France and if you start at the top, they spoke Dutch in Dunkirk and places like that. If you move over to Alsace and much of Lorraine, they spoke a German dialect there. That would be a majority language until well after World War I.
How the French tried to get rid of the German is another story, a sort of national aggression, even in the context of Germany’s defeat after World War I. If you move further south, as you go to Savoy, don’t write this down, but Savoy was annexed to France in 1860. People spoke essentially Piedmontese, which is the language spoken in northern Italy in the strongest state of Italy, Piedmont Sardinia. Then you go further down and they spoke what? They spoke Provencal. Provencal, as in Jean de Florette, and Manon des Sources and these Provencal poets setting up at a place called Les Baux and freezing in the winds of the mistral and reading each other Provençal poetry. Then you go to Languedoc and they spoke Occitan, which is a language of Oc. It’s a southern French language. It’s a written language. You go to Catalonia and they spoke Catalan. No surprise there. You go into the Basque country and they spoke Basque, which is only remotely connected to Finnish and Magyar. Those are the three hardest languages in Europe. How they got there is another whole story. We don’t really know. If you go north, they spoke Gascon. If you go into Brittany, they spoke Breton, which has nothing to do with French at all.
Even in places that didn’t have languages there were patois. Patois is a sort of a denigrating term. “Well, they speak patois.” In other words, they don’t speak really French. In central France they spoke one patois. In the Limousin they spoke another patois that was related to that one. Even in the Loire Valley people spoke patois. This did not condemn them to eternal backwardness. One might say that in the construction of French national identity, there was an argument a long time ago by my late friend Eugen Weber that said that all French national identity had to be constructed between 1880 and 1910, because of railroads, military conscription, and education. Railroads, military conscription, and education. It’s easy to see how that would work. In fact, he missed one of the complexities of this glorious country, which is that lots of Breton soldiers didn’t learn French until they were in the trenches, if they were lucky enough to survive in World War I, and they still spoke Breton in the 1920s and 1930s. There are still old ladies in Brittany that still speak Breton and their command of French is a bit problematic.
In Corsica they still have many people who speak Corsican. They may or may not feel like they’re French. Bilingualism, just as a little aside, in the village where I’ve spent half my life almost, in the last twenty-five years or so, people spoke patois and not French through the 1930s. That really sort of disappeared. Now older friends of ours understand patois, but they don’t speak it. I had something from a book that I needed someone to look at to make sure that what I’d written in patois was correct. Not that I wrote it, but I took it from something. My friend, my boule partner, Lulu, his parents spoke that as their main language, but he couldn’t correct it.
Those languages are disappearing. The point of all this is that now the more we know about national self-identity, it’s possible to have more than one identity. It’s also just a leap of faith to say, “Who are you?” You ask who they are. That they’re going to say, “Well, I’m German,” or “I’m French” is going to be the first thing that they’re going to say. They may say, “I’m from this village,” or “I’m from this family,” or “I’m from this region,” or “I’m Catholic,” or Protestant, or Jewish, or Muslim, some response like that. But yet when we think of nationalism, we think of these languages as being motors for elites, first, and then ordinary people to demand that the borders of states be drawn in a way that reflects their ethnicity.
After World War I in the Treaty of Versailles, you’ve gone to war over the whole damn question of nationalism. All these millions of people get killed, dying in terrible ways — gas and everything else, flamethrowers and machine guns and all this stuff that we’ll talk about. And, so, they say, “If we draw the lines around these people and give everybody a state, that will be cool. Then we won’t have wars anymore.” So, they get all these big maps and these mapmakers and they try to draw these state boundaries after the collapse of the four empires. It doesn’t work. You can’t do it. You’ve got winners and you’ve got losers. If you’re going to punish the losers, like Hungary, then you leave Hungary this small country with much of its population living on the other side of borders, and either imagining that that should still be part of Hungary, or wanting themselves to live back in Hungary where there would be nothing for them at all.
Chapter 3. The Development of Nationalism in Eastern Europe: Lithuania and Belarus [00:25:45]
Yet, the period we’re talking about and the period I began with, you’ve got this mobilization of elites saying, “Holy cow! We need our own state.” Remember a line I already gave you a lecture or two ago, all these Czechs sitting in 1848 in a room like this, not quite as nice. They say, “If the ceiling falls in, that’s the end of the Czech national movement.” Between 1848, the springtime of the peoples, and 1914, you have millions of people who, a couple decades before that, had absolutely no sense or very little sense of being Slovene, or Slovak, or Croat, or whatever, who are suddenly making national demands and wanting to have a separate state within the context — or to be independent from the Austria-Hungarian Empire. One of those people was the sixteen-year-old boy, Princip, who blows the brains out of Franz Ferdinand and his wife when this car backs up the wrong street in Sarajevo, although some of his friends were out there trying to get him, too. That’s just a way of kind of thinking about that stuff.
Let me give you a couple of examples here I wrote down. Ukraine is a huge country, a huge important country, very contested relationship with Russia now because of having gotten Crimea, and Russia wants to have Crimea and all of this. It’s a highly contested relationship because of the number of Russians who live in Ukraine and all of that. For Ukrainians, the sense that Ukraine always existed is always taken as a given. The first Ukrainian grammar book, and this is not dissing Ukrainians or anybody, but I’m just saying that the reality is that the first Ukrainian grammar book was published not in 1311 or in 1511, but in 1819 is the very first one. The first Czech-German dictionary — if you’re going to have a national identity you’ve got to have a dictionary so you can translate things between German and Czech. It’s a long publication process. It’s published in 1935 to 1939, A to Z. The first Czech national organization, the one I just described, starts in 1846. That’s pretty recent.
The first Norwegian grammar book, which distinguished Norwegian as a separate language and a separate identity from say Swedish and Danish, is not until 1848. The first dictionary that is making a distinction between Norwegian and Danish isn’t until 1850. That’s what I mean about the construction of national identity. You have to have a sense that you are part of this imagined community. Having said that, before I talk about a counter example, let me do this like that. Why not? Let me give you a couple examples that I hope make the point. These I’m drawing from Timothy Snyder. Let’s look at why at the end of the nineteenth century Lithuanian nationalism develops.
You know Lithuania, capital is Vilnius, big tall basketball players like Sabonis, who played in the NBA. Why Lithuanian nationalism rapidly develops, but only at the end of the nineteenth century, and Belarusian nationalism doesn’t develop at all until way in — it’s even pushing it to say in the 1920s and 1930s. Now there’s this huge Belarus — I was in Poland. The various times I’ve been to Poland. There was a huge dinner with all these Belarusians who most of them were dissidents and are there to discuss the history of Belarus, but none of them would be claiming that Belarus had a self-identity before the 1930s. But Lithuania existed. Lithuania was part of the Polish-Lithuania commonwealth, which exists basically until the last partition of Poland in 1795, when Poland gets munched, bouffé, by the great powers.
Who do these people think they were? They think they’re Polish. They consider themselves Polish. Poles already had a basis for nationalism. They had a written language. They have heroes, Chopin. Chopin didn’t go to Paris as a refugee from Russian repression. He went there to further his musical career. But anyway, he wrote lots that had to do with Polish national themes, folklore and all of that. There have been dukes of Lithuania, grand dukes, but they didn’t accept Lithuanian as a language. If they wanted to get anywhere, they tried to pass themselves off as Poles. Pilsudski, a name you will come back to who destroyed the Polish republic, as one after another of European states goes authoritarian in the 1920s and 1930s. Pilsudski, who was the hero of the miracle of the Vistula River when the Polish army turns back the Red Army at the end of World War I in just sort of an amazing moment. Pilsudski himself was Lithuanian. But he considered himself Polish. He was absolutely a Lithuanian. Yet there was a Lithuanian language, but it was not spoken by the elites.
Who spoke the Lithuanian language? It was spoken by the peasants. At the end of the nineteenth century, you’ve suddenly got all these Lithuanian intellectuals and grand dukes and priests and various people saying, “Wait a minute. We are Lithuanians and happily, the Lithuanian peasantry has saved our language.” The last Lithuanian duke who spoke Lithuanian died before Columbus discovered America, Tim Snyder informed me. Some may say, “These Lithuanian peasants, we won’t treat them anymore as the scum of the earth. They have preserved our language for us.” Suddenly, you have poets writing in Lithuanian. It’s no longer a disgrace to be seen as a Lithuanian. One of these poets, a guy called Kudirka, who died in 1899, he recalled when he was in school as a smart Lithuanian kid, he said, “My self preservation instinct told me not to speak in Lithuanian and to make sure that no one noticed that my father wore a rough peasant’s coat and could only speak Lithuanian. I did my best to speak Polish, even though I spoke it badly.”
Polish is a terribly difficult language. There’s all these sort of squiggly things. Things don’t pronounce like you think they’re supposed to. I don’t do very well at picking up Polish. “When my father and other relatives visited me, I stayed away from them when I could see that fellow students or gentlemen were watching.” He was embarrassed to be basically Lithuanian and the son of a Lithuanian peasant. “I only spoke with them at ease when we were alone or outside. I saw myself as a Pole and thus as a gentleman. I had imbibed the Polish spirit.” By the end of the century he sees himself as a Lithuanian. He is one of these people who are pushing Lithuanian nationalism and it is embraced. How does this physically happen? You don’t wake up and say, “I was Polish yesterday and a subject of the czar, because Poland is divided between Prussia, Austria-Hungary, and Russia. But if you were in the Russian part of what they called Congress Poland, then suddenly today I’m Lithuanian. How does that happen? Because Lithuania is next to Germany. This is also something that will make you again think of what I said about the Enlightenment.
Lots of literature is smuggled into Lithuania in Lithuanian. Therefore, there’s this wild profusion of Lithuanian literature that comes into Lithuania, which of course as you know was not independent. It was part of the Russian Empire. So, there’s another reason, too, which is for the Russian imperial secret police, the ones that they’re really worried about. They’re worried about the Poles, because the Poles have risen up in 1831 and in 1863. So they’re on the lookout for people that are saying, “Hey, I’m Polish. We want a Polish state.” They don’t pay much attention. They don’t really care about these Lithuanians who are discovering their own self-identity, who are constructing their self-identity. Why doesn’t it happen in Belarus? I don’t have time to tell you very much about this, but the main thing is that Belarus is a long way away from anywhere at the time.
There isn’t any kind of elite in Belarus that embraces Belarussian anything. The language has not seen part of a national self-identity that basically does not exist and would not exist until at least after World War I. Now Lithuanians will look back on their country as if Lithuania had always had this sort of self-identity. Part of the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth, that was more basically a Polish operation and it was a territorial thing more than any kind of construction of two peoples participating in this thing. Furthermore, Belarussians were not allowed to publish in their own language. Whereas Lithuanian priests began giving sermons in Lithuanian and you’ve got all this written material coming in the vernacular. Nobody read Belarussian in church. There were no priests to say that “this is our language.” Belarussians who were literate could read Polish or Russian or both, but in many cases not what would become Belarussian at all.
By the end of the nineteenth century when you’ve got these other people insisting that “we’re Slovenes” and “we’re this and that,” Belarussian speakers called themselves Russian if they were Orthodox religion. They called themselves Polish if they were Roman Catholic. If they were simply looking out for themselves, they just called themselves local. They said, “We live in the Russian empire and that’s who we are.” There was no sense of being Belarussian. There are different outcomes in all of this stuff. Having said that, we’re going to get there. Let me give you another example. I want to find this date that will make you at least realize that you can have a national identity and have more than one language. It’s very complex. I guess the most interesting case now would be Belgium, which I don’t have a lot of time to talk about.
Chapter 4. Complex Identities: Multiple Languages in Belgium and Switzerland [00:37:53]
In Belgium, I have friend who works in the Belgian Ministry of Culture in Brussels. About seven years ago I asked him, “Do you think Belgium will exist in ten years?” He said, “I hope not.” This guy works for the Belgian Ministry of Culture. This reflects the sharp antagonism between the Flemish, who basically live in the north and east, but above all the northern parts of Belgium, and who are more prosperous and who are more numerous, about say fifty-five percent of the population. Their tensions with the Walloons, that is the French speakers, Liège, and Arlon and all those places, and also in Brussels, which is technically part of the Flemish zone. Because of the bureaucracy and because Brussels is the most important city, it has become this sort of third place hotly contested by the Flemish and real serious tensions there.
If you ask in French what time the train is to Bruges, they’re not going to reply. They know perfectly well. They just simply won’t reply. Not all of them, but those are serious tensions that are compounded also by the fact that there’s going to be, not everybody, but the far right is really tied to Flemish self-identity. The Walloons, that is the French, many of the French speakers want to be attached to France, see their lives as very different. Also, the Walloon part of Belgium is basically the rust belt and the Flemish part is very prosperous in comparison. Yet Belgium, which didn’t exist legally until 1831, the revolution of 1830 and 1831 is still there. By the way, there’s also five percent tacked on after Versailles around a town called Eupen who speak German. Anyway, there we go. But Belgium is still there.
When I’m in Belgium, which I am frequently, I think, “Now this is really Europe,” because of the complexity of it. You can have a national identity without having a single dominant language, if the two sides are tolerant. Let me give you another quick example, and then we’ve got to rock and roll onto the A-H Empire, a shortcut now. Not Austria-Hungary. I’ve got to save time, so “A-H” Empire. What about Switzerland? Here you’ve got Switzerland. If I remember correctly, the statistics, I think the French speaking population is twenty-two percent. German speaking or Swiss Deutsch speaking population is about maybe seventy-one percent, or something like that. You’ve got an Italian speaking population of about five percent. And you also have another language called Romansch, which is spoken only by a few hundred thousand people. That’s three languages already, plus English, because of the international role of Geneva, is the fourth major or recognized language in Switzerland.
Switzerland now is so prosperous, and full of chocolate, and full of banks, and full of watches, and all of that. You think of everybody yodeling and cows running around and everybody’s very happy and eating perch out of the lakes. But the Swiss have to create this sense that they have always been a nation. But they haven’t. The decentralized, federalist nature of Switzerland was always there. During the Reformation, to say somebody was turning Swiss meant that they were rejecting the demands of their lords, and rejecting the religion imposed by their lords and turning to Protestantism, if they were in a Catholic area or to Catholicism if they were in a Protestant area. The Swiss were big time mercenaries and big time farmers. But Switzerland fought its last war early in the nineteenth century and has been neutral. It’s a very complicated story, what happened in Switzerland during World War II. It’s very tragic.
The Swiss turned so many Jews back at the frontier and sent them back to Germany, and laundering Nazi money, and all that. I’m not dumping on the Swiss, but it’s a complicated story in the case of their neutrality. They decided in 1891, on the 600th anniversary of the Swiss confederation that Switzerland began in 1291. That a bunch of people got together between all the cows and eating chocolate and all that stuff, and they announced that they were Switzerland. Here’s again what Anderson means about this sort of imagined community, that you’re inventing a kind of date that you said, “We’ve been like that since then and that’s all there is to it.” But if you’ve got all these different languages and the languages are not as far apart as French and Dutch, well in a way they are because Dutch is really, although the Dutch would not see it that way, but is a German dialect. Nonetheless, the Swiss are a lot better at learning each other’s language than the French speakers certainly are at learning Dutch, which they view as impossible and don’t like their kids having to learning it in school and all that. It’s terribly complicated. So, they imagine this community, but it exists.
Switzerland exists. People have a sense of being Swiss, despite these different languages. There are not the economic disparities. Well, there are between urban and rural life, but nothing like the disparity between the Flemish parts of Belgium and the French parts of Belgium, if you exclude Brussels and all that.
Chapter 5. The Balancing Act of the Austria-Hungarian Empire: Factors of Stability [00:44:00]
Let me end in the last five minutes and seven seconds that is allotted to me. Let me end with a counter example, which you can read about. I said at the beginning, inspired by the sheer horror of the Balkans, and some of you aren’t old enough to remember, certainly not, my god, I am, all the stuff that happened in the late 1990s. You can probably remember all the massacres and stuff like that.
I said at the very beginning of the hour or the beginning of the fifty minutes that people now tend to look longingly back. They say, “The Austria-Hungarian Empire, it sure lasted a long time.” You had fifteen major nationalities. It was kind of a balancing act. It becomes the dual monarchy in 1867, where the Hungarians have, more or less, equal rights. You’ve got Austria and you’ve got Hungary. But you’ve got another thirteen peoples, at least thirteen peoples living within the empire. You’ve got the Croats, who have their nobility. They’re kind of given favorable status. This whole thing is sort of balanced. How does the place stay together? How does Austria-Hungary stay together? I end one of those chapters, that chapter with this very famous scene from the parliament in Vienna where you’ve got these different ethnic groups playing drums and singing songs and trying to disrupt the speeches by people from the other nationalities. You’ve got all these problems with the south Slavs wanting at least minimal representation as sort of this “third state” along with Austria and Hungary.
How does the thing stay together? Basically, in this way. I’m just telling you briefly about things that you can read about, but I just wanted to make some sense of it. First of all, the language of the empire is German. To get somewhere in the Austria-Hungarian Empire, you need to know German. So, learning German becomes kind of a social mobility, the way that learning French becomes for somebody from Gascony a form of social mobility. You can get a job in the bureaucracy. If you’re going to have a humongous empire going all the way to the rugged terrain of Bosnia-Herzevogina, you’ve got to have officials and their little hats and their little desks who are going to be running all this stuff. You’ve got to have a language. The language of the empire is German. This does not mean that people feel that they’re German. After all, they’re not German. They’re German speakers within the Austria-Hungarian empire. It gives them an allegiance to this apparatus.
Secondly, the middle class. The middle class is German, largely, except in Budapest where it’s Hungarian. Still, many Germans live in Budapest as well. One of the things I wish I had time to talk about, but you can’t talk about everything, is that what you’ve got in these cities, and I mentioned this in reference the other day. Cities of all of Eastern Europe and central Europe, you have kind of an ethnicization of these cities. All of the cities, whether you’re talking about Budapest or you’re talking about Warsaw, or anywhere you’re talking about, even Vilnius, you have large German populations and also large Jewish populations. In the course of the last decades of the nineteenth century, you have this sort of rival of Estonian peasants into Talin, of Czech peasants into Prague, of Hungarian peasants into Budapest, of Lithuanian peasants into Vilnius, etc., etc. But you’ve still got, in the Austria-Hungarian case, you still have, even in Budapest, you still have a large middle class that is fundamentally German and believes in the empire.
Next, you’ve got dynastic loyalty. You’ve got this old dude, Franz Joseph, who had been there since 1848. He lives until 1916, the same guy. That makes Victoria seem like she had a short reign. People have an allegiance to this dynasty. The Habsburg Dynasty had been dominant in central Europe until they contest the Prussians and lose out in the War of 1966. So you’ve got this Franz Joseph. Also you’ve got the Catholic Church. There are lots of Protestants. For example in the Czech lands in Bohemia, where Slovakia is almost overwhelmingly Catholic in what would become Czechoslovakia and then divorce, amicably enough, in 1993. Croatia is overwhelming Catholic, aggressively so.
Despite the fact you have these huge Muslim enclaves in the old what had been the Ottoman empire, you still have this church as a unifying force, not for everybody and certainly not for the Jews, not for the gypsies, of whom are the Roma, who are very many there, and not for protestants and not for orthodox Serbs, which is part of the tensions there as well. They saw Russia as being their protector. You can read more about that, but that’s another thing. Finally, you’ve got the army. The army is a form of social promotion as well. The army doesn’t have the bad reputation that the French army did for shooting down young girls, young women protesting in strikes. It doesn’t have the reputation that the brutal Garda Civila did in Spain. The army is seen as a useful way of representing the empire. It has a good reputation. German, the language, is the language of command. These soldiers and soldiers are drawn from all of these nationalities, they at least have that in common.
To conclude, the most important question to ask about this empire, particularly in reference to what I’ve been saying about this whole hour is to not look at why it came apart, but to look at how it held together so long. Given the horrors perpetuated on Europe by aggressive nationalism from then, and even before, as during the French Revolution to this very day, sometimes, and I never thought I’d ever say this about me looking nostalgically back to an empire, but it is interesting and at least food for thought. On that note, bon appétit and see you on Wednesday.
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