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Pan-Germanism ( ) was a political movement of the 19th century aiming for unity of the German-speaking populations of Europe, identified as Volksdeutsche ("ethnic Germans").


Pan-Germanism's origins began in the early 1800s following the Napoleonic Wars. The wars launched a massive new movement that was born in France itself during the French Revolution, Nationalism. Nationalism during the 1800s threatened the old aristocratic regimes. Many ethnic groups of Central and Eastern Europe had been divided for centuries, ruled over by the old Monarchies of the Romanovs and the Habsburgs. Germans, for the most part, had been a loose and disunited people since the Reformation when the Holy Roman Empire was shattered into a patchwork of states. The new German nationalists, mostly young reformers such as Johann Tillmann of East Prussia, sought to unite all the German-speaking and ethnic-German (Volksdeutsche) people.

Prussia, Austria and Nationalism

By the 1860s the Kingdom of Prussiamarker and the Austrian Empiremarker were the two most powerful nations dominated by German-speaking elites. Both sought to expand their influence and territory. The Austrian Empire — like the German Empire — was a multi-ethnic state, but German-speaking people there didn't have an absolute numerical majority; the creation of the Austro-Hungarian Empire was one result of the growing nationalism of other ethnicities such as the Czechs, Slovaks, and Magyars. Prussia under Otto von Bismarck would ride on the coat-tails of nationalism to unite all of modern-day Germany. The German Empiremarker ("Second Reich") was created in 1871 following the proclamation of Wilhelm I as head of a union of German-speaking states, while disregarding millions of its non-German subjects who desired self-determination from German rule. German-speakers living outside the new Empire preferred living under its rule or in an ethnically homogeneous environment, but this wish clashed with the opposing wishes of other ethnicities. Regions like Austria and Bohemia witnessed nationalistic controversies for decades.

Even some Austrians themselves began to resent their own diverse Empire. Identifying themselves as descendants of the Bavarians, who had conquered and expanded into the region, many Western Austrians supported a separation from the Habsburg Empire and unity with the new German Empire.

Post WWI developments

Following the defeat in World War I, influence of German-speaking elites over Central and Eastern Europe was greatly limited. At the treaty of Versailles Germany was substantially reduced in size. Austria-Hungary was split up. Rump-Austria, which to a certain extent corresponded to the German-speaking areas of Austria-Hungary (a complete split into language groups was impossible due to multi-lingual areas and language-exclaves) adopted the name "German-Austria" (Deutschösterreich) and voted by an overwhelming majority for the unification with Germany. Both the name German-Austria and the unification with Germany were forbidden by the victorious powers of World War I. Volga Germans living in the Soviet Unionmarker were interned in gulags or forcibly relocated during the Great Patriotic War.

The Heim ins Reich initiative (German: literally Home into the Empire, meaning Back to Reich, see Reich) was a policy pursued by Nazi Germany which attempted to convince people of German descent living outside of Germany (such as Sudetenland) that they should strive to bring these regions "home" into a greater Germany.

Post WWII and Decline of Pan-Germanism

World War II brought about the decline of Pan-Germanism, much as World War I had led to the demise of Pan-Slavism. The Germans in Central and Eastern Europe were expelled, parts of Germany itself were devastated, and the country was divided, firstly into Russianmarker, Frenchmarker, Americanmarker, and Britishmarker zones and then into West Germanymarker and East Germanymarker. The scale of the Germans' defeat was unprecedented. Nationalism and Pan-Germanism became almost taboo because they had been used so destructively by the Nazis. However, the reunification of Germany in 1990 revived the old debates. The fear of nationalistic misuse of Pan-Germanism nevertheless remains strong. It is for this reason that many Germans themselves fear the idea of a united "Volksdeutsche". Today, there are still sizable populations of German-speakers outside Germany in Austriamarker, Switzerlandmarker, Liechtensteinmarker, Belgiummarker, Denmarkmarker, Francemarker, Italymarker, Luxembourgmarker, Central Europe, and the former Soviet Unionmarker. For economic reasons many German-speakers from Central and Eastern Europe acquired German citizenship after the collapse of the Communist bloc. Still today, the idea of a unified Germany and Austria strikes memories of Nazism. The very fact that ethnic German unity would stir fearful memories that most people on both sides would rather not recall forestalls the possibility of any such union in the foreseeable future.

Austrian identity today

In Austria, only the extreme right still clings to Pan-Germanism. During most of the Second Republicmarker, this part was represented mostly by the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) (founded in 1955 and led by the internationally-known populist politician Jörg Haider from 1986-2000).

Even though the party ranks of the FPÖ are largely made up of members of Pan-German Studentenverbindungen, the old Pan-German wing is in a minority. At the very least, Pan-Germanism is not part of its official program or a seriously proposed policy, as it is not popular with the Austrian electorate today. Jörg Haider attempted to refashion the party more into Austrian patriotism. Especially, instead of the usual definition of "Austrian" to refer to all Austrian citizens, independent of their mother-tongue, he fostered the historically unfounded definition of "Austrian" referring only to German-speaking Austrians.

Likewise, the Alliance for the Future of Austriamarker (BZÖ) party created by Haider in April 2005 does not promote pan-Germanism, although some of its prominent members (such as Herbert Haupt) have been known to participate in activities by right-wing Studentenverbindungen which can, at the very least, be called nostalgic towards Pan-Germanism.

Since the end of the War, and with the growth of newer generations, the self-image of Austrians has changed considerably. After the War, most still did not have any confidence in an independent Austriamarker. With the passing of time and the consolidation of the state and the passing of new generations this attitude has changed to a more independent viewpoint. This change in attitude has been reflected in the way Austrian history is viewed. The rule of the Babenberg and Habsburg are seen as times from which the country and its people can forge and build their identity.

See also


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