Pieter M. Judson, Marsha L. Rozenblit, eds. Constructing Nationalities in East Central Europe. Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2005. Austrian History, Culture, and Society. xx + 293 pp. $27.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-57181-175-2; $27.95 (paper), ISBN 978-1-57181-176-9.
Reviewed by Catherine Albrecht (Division of Legal, Ethical, and Historical Studies, University of Baltimore)
Published on H-German (February, 2009)
Commissioned by Susan R. Boettcher
Honoring István Deák
This edited collection grew out of a conference held in 2000 to honor distinguished historian and inspiring teacher István Deák. The essays, written by his former students, reflect the creativity and sophistication that characterize Deák's work as well. Covering east central European history from the late eighteenth to the mid twentieth centuries, the authors address the complex issue of how and under which circumstances national identities and loyalties prevail (or fail to prevail) over other forms of social, political, or cultural identification. Since the majority of authors represented in this volume have published book-length studies that amplify the conclusions of their research, the book is valuable in providing a succinct, engaging overview of early twenty-first-century research on the creation of national identities in east central Europe.
Pieter M. Judson's introduction to the volume sets out the themes that unite most of the articles. The authors seek to analyze the contingency and diversity of national identity, the precise conditions under which national identity emerged, and its complex relationship with other forms of self-identification. The collection demonstrates that the sphere within which individuals could deploy non-national identities narrowed as states promoted nationalizing projects (particularly after 1918) and as domestic and international conflict sharpened. Shifting definitions of who was part of the nation complicated the work of nationalizing institutions and entrepreneurs. Elites confronted many challenges in convincing populations to embrace a national identity, not least their own inability to control the meaning or reception of national symbols and endeavors.
The articles make clear that efforts to define national identities and fix the content of national cultures faced significant challenges. One of these was the continued existence of other loyalties. Michael K. Silber analyzes the origins of patriotism among Habsburg Jews during the late eighteenth century, when Jews were recruited into military service, leading to a new "perception that Jews were equal citizens with rights and obligations" (p. 20). Marsha L. Rozenblit expands on this theme in her article on the state patriotism of Jews during World War I, when many Jews viewed the Habsburg state as the institution that could best protect their interests, even when their attitudes toward Jewish nationalism varied considerably. Daniel Unowsky examines loyalty to the Habsburg dynasty in his essay on celebrations of Emperor Franz Josef's jubilee. Despite competing loyalties, dynastic celebrations resonated deeply among the monarchy's diverse population, even if the state was unable to control how popular audiences assimilated dynastic symbols. Besides dynastic loyalty and state patriotism, other social networks such as social class, family, local patriotism, or membership in voluntary associations competed with national affiliation.
Another problem faced by nationalizing individuals and institutions was the superficial, inconsistent quality of their efforts to fix the content of national culture; such attempts were often motivated by short-term political aims developed in a particular historical context. This was the case in interwar Hungary when, as David Frey demonstrates, efforts to create a Hungarian national cinema foundered on inconsistent, superficial understanding of what might constitute a national film industry as well as on misapprehension of the preferences of film audiences. In her study of Neoslavism in the Czech gymnastics organization, Sokol, Claire E. Nolte shows that a superficial understanding of the priorities of other Slavic groups, combined with Czech arrogance toward less-developed Slavic partners, were apparent in the all-Slavic gymnastics festival held in Prague in 1912.
Elites adopted nationalist rhetoric for their own benefit as well. Eagle Glassheim shows that Bohemian nobles chose to affiliate with either Czech or German national movements in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in an effort to remain relevant and to retain some of their status. Daniel A. McMillan examines the two competing threads of nationalist and political thought in German gymnastic societies in the mid nineteenth century. The more populist, egalitarian, and politically engaged thread associated with the movement's founder, Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, was displaced by an ideology that emphasized the need to strengthen and purify individuals through physical activity. The biological discourse associated with the latter thread emphasized deference to notables and political quiescence.
An ongoing challenge for scholars of nationalism is how to evaluate the impact of nationalizing projects on target populations. As Pieter Judson makes clear in his study of efforts to promote tourism in Horitz/Hořice in southwestern Bohemia, neither the audiences for nor the actors in the local passion play assimilated the German nationalist agenda of the sponsors. Most viewers were impressed more by the rural than the national character of the play, and actors were imbued with local pride. Even though nationalists worked hard to build a sense of national affiliation among target populations, they often met with paltry success on the ground (at least before these efforts were reinforced by nationalizing states and war in the twentieth century).
Efforts to establish national symbols and political cultures also foundered on domestic contestation. Looking at Hungary in 1848-49, Robert Nemes examines the ways in which elites and the broader population embraced common symbols that could have multiple meanings as well as conflicts between radicals and the broader population. He shows the continued potency of revolutionary and national symbols despite state efforts to suppress them after 1849. Moving to the interwar era, efforts to consolidate nation-states led to the creation of new symbolic representations of the meaning of history, which were in turn hotly contested. For example, the 1918 demolition of the Marian column in Prague and the erection of the Hus memorial there in 1915, examined by Cynthia Paces and Nancy M. Wingfield, were embraced by secular Czech nationalists but condemned by Czech Catholics. Efforts to define the nation as Christian elicited conflict between Catholics and Calvinists in interwar Hungary, as Paul Hanebrink demonstrates. His essay illustrates the difficulty of establishing a stable definition of national identity as the basic outlines of national character and history were contested. During World War II, antisemitic bodies such as the Hungarian Institute for Research into the Jewish Question, the topic of Patricia von Papen-Bodek's essay, took the exclusion of Jews from the realm of ideas to the realm of policy.
Alon Rachamimov and Benjamin Frommer examine official efforts to evaluate the loyalty of citizens during wartime. Rachamimov's study of Austro-Hungarian censorship of letters written by prisoners of war held in Russia during World War I shows that official suspicion of disloyalty was based on the expectation that national sentiments predominated over state or dynastic patriotism. This attitude assumed that POWs could not hold multiple, complex loyalties and led Habsburg officials to adopt practices that alienated the POWs, thereby undermining the state. Frommer looks at efforts to prosecute individuals who had dishonored the Czech nation during the National Socialist occupation of World War II. Retaliation against disloyal Czechs assumed that national loyalty should have taken precedence over other loyalty to other social units, including the family. Frommer's article also makes it clear that the definition of membership in a nation often was influenced more by pragmatic considerations than by consistent ideology, particularly during periods of crisis. In his article on the Sonderdienst in the General Government of Poland, Peter Black shows that efforts to recruit ethnic Germans into the security forces required compromises with ideological views about who could be a full-fledged member of the German Volk.
The essays in this volume are well framed theoretically; as a matter of equal importance, they are based on in-depth archival research, which gives texture, nuance, and authority to their conclusions. The book is recommended particularly for those who wish an introduction to the work of a dynamic group of scholars who have amply demonstrated the contingent, historically grounded, and diverse nature of nationalism.
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Catherine Albrecht. Review of Judson, Pieter M.; Rozenblit, Marsha L., eds., Constructing Nationalities in East Central Europe.
H-German, H-Net Reviews.
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