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Regionalism, Democracy and National Self-Determination in Central Europe


The end of the Cold War and the accompanying easing of archival restrictions in former communist countries have created a veritable renaissance in historical literature on the region in the last two decades. The fall of the Iron Curtain has subsequently thrown into doubt the historiographical salience of a strict East–West divide and prompted the resurgence of analytic concepts such as Central Europe or East Central Europe. The former term, defined famously but imprecisely in the 1980s by Milan Kundera as those lands ‘culturally in the West and politically in the East’, has grown no easier to delimit with the march of European integration and democratic stability across most of the ‘central’ part of the continent. The latter term is, in some senses, less problematic, since the ‘East’ in East Central Europe is generally understood to exclude those areas in current-day Germany or Austria. Yet the region's eastern and southern borders are still much disputed.

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1 Milan Kundera, ‘The Tragedy of Central Europe’, New York Review of Books, 26 Apr. 1984, 33–8.

2 Applegate, Celia, ‘A Europe of Regions: Reflections on the Historiography of Sub-National Places in Modern Times’, The American Historical Review, 104, 4 (1999), 1179.

3 Cohen, Gary, The Politics of Ethnic Survival: Germans in Prague, 1861–1914 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1981). Jeremy King calls the continued assumption that nations developed from mutually exclusive ethnic stock ‘ethnicism’. King, Jeremy, ‘The Nationalization of East Central Europe: Ethnicism, Ethnicity, and Beyond’, in Bucur, Maria and Wingfield, Nancy M., eds, Staging the Past: The Politics of Commemoration in Habsburg Central Europe, 1848 to the Present (West Lafayette, Indiana: Purdue University Press, 2001), 112152.

4 Anderson, Benedict, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 1983), Gellner, Ernest, Nations and Nationalism (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1983). These two authors have been among the most influential in what is now a huge literature on the ‘modern’ origin of nations that is too large to survey.

5 Gellner, Nations and Nationalism, 40.

6 In addition to the works under review, see Unowsky, Daniel, The Pomp and Politics of Patriotism: Imperial Celebrations in Habsburg Austria, 1848–1916 (West Lafayette, Ind.: Purdue University Press, 2005); Cohen, Gary, ‘Nationalist Politics and the Dynamics of State and Civil Society in the Habsburg Monarchy, 1867–1914,’ Central European History, 40, 2 (2007), 241–78.

7 In addition to the above-mentioned works, see King, Jeremy, Budweisers into Czechs and Germans: A Local History of Bohemian Politics, 1848–1948 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2002); Glassheim, Eagle, Noble Nationalists: The Transformation of the Bohemian Aristocracy (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005); Judson, Pieter, Exclusive Revolutionaries: Liberal Politics, Social Experience, and National Identity in the Austrian Empire, 1848–1914 (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1997); Wood, Nathaniel, Becoming Metropolitan: Urban Selfhood and the Making of Modern Cracow (Dekalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press, 2010); Snyder, Timothy, The Red Prince: The Secret Lives of a Habsburg Archduke (New York: Basic Books, 2008).

8 The theory of ‘working towards the Führer’ stresses the desire of Nazi functionaries within polycratic state and party structures to pursue policies that anticipated and advanced Hitler's perceived goals without the leader's direct intervention. See Kershaw, Ian, ‘“Working towards the Führer”: Reflections on the Nature of the Hitler Dictatorship,’ Contemporary European History, 2, 2 (1993), 103–18.

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Contemporary European History
  • ISSN: 0960-7773
  • EISSN: 1469-2171
  • URL: /core/journals/contemporary-european-history
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