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Revanchism (from French revanche, "revenge") is a term used since the 1870s to describe a political manifestation of the will to reverse territorial losses incurred by a country, often following a war. Revanchism draws its strength from patriotic and retributionist thought and is often motivated by economic or geo-political factors. Extreme revanchist ideologues often represent a hawkish stance, suggesting that desired objectives can be achieved through the positive outcome of another war.

Revanchism is linked with irredentism, the conception that a part of the cultural and ethnic nation remains "unredeemed" outside the borders of its appropriate nation-state. Revanchist politics often rely on the identification of a nation with a nation-state, often mobilizing deep-rooted sentiments of ethnic nationalism, claiming territories outside of the state where members of the ethnic group live, while using heavy-handed nationalism to mobilize support for these aims. Revanchist justifications are often presented as based on ancient or even autochthonous occupation of a territory known by the German term Urrecht, meaning a nation's claim to territory that has been inhabited since "time immemorial", an assertion that is usually inextricably involved in revanchism and irredentism, justifying them in the eyes of their proponents.


Motivations of territorial aggression and counter aggression are as old as tribal societies, but the instance of revanchism that gave these furious groundswells of opinion their modern name lies in the strong desire during the French Third Republic to regain the mainly German-speaking Alsace-Lorrainemarker after the humiliating defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71. Emperor Napoleon III had declared and lost the war, and, in the Treaty of Frankfurt, France lost Alsace-Lorraine, previously annexed by King Louis XIV in the 17th century.

Georges Clemenceau, of the Radical Republicans, opposed participation in the scramble for Africa and other adventures that would divert the Republic from objectives related to the "blue line of the Vosgesmarker" in Alsace-Lorraine. After the governments of Jules Ferry had pursued a number of colonies in the early 1880s, Clemenceau lent his support to Georges Ernest Boulanger, a popular figure, nicknamed Général Revanche, who it was felt might overthrow the Republic in 1889. This ultra-nationalist tradition influenced French politics up to 1921 and was one of the major reasons France went to great pains to woo Russiamarker, resulting in the Franco-Russian Alliance of 1894 and, after more accords, the Triple Entente of the three great Allied powers of World War I: France, Great Britain, and Russia.

French revanchism was the main force behind the Treaty of Versailles, which regained Alsace-Lorraine for France, pinned the blame of the World War on Germany and extracted huge reparations from the defeated powers. The conference was not only opened on the anniversary of the proclamation of the Second Reichmarker, the treaty had also to be signed by the new German government in the same room, the Hall of Mirrorsmarker.

A German revanchist movement responded to the losses of World War I. Pangermanists within the Weimar Republicmarker called for the reclamation of territories considered to be the "rightful" property of a German state due to pre-war borders or because of the territory's historical relation to Germanic peoples. The movement called for the re-incorporation of Alsace-Lorraine, the Polish Corridor and the formerly Austrian Sudetenland (see Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia). This irredentism had also been characteristic of the Völkisch movement in general and of the Alldeutsche Verband (Pan-Germanic League), which had been a motivating factor behind German unification in 1871.

Other examples

There are a number of historical examples, past and present, which can be interpreted in part to revanchism. Revanchist sentiments earlier in the 19th-century, for example, may have galvanized nationalist emotions leading to two wars between the Kingdom of Prussiamarker and Denmarkmarker over Schleswig and Holstein, the First war of Schleswig 1848-1851 and the Second war of Schleswig in 1864.

In the 20th century, similar sentiments prevailed in post-World War I Hungarymarker, which called for a revision of the borders set up by the Treaty of Trianon, especially regarding Transylvania, awarded to Romaniamarker, and south Slovakia, which has a Hungarian majority.

Modern revanchist politics often center around certain areas of historic competition and claims of ownership, as in the cases of Carpathian Rutheniamarker, Kosovomarker, with its Albanian majority, the Republic of Macedoniamarker, in the South-central Asian region of Kashmirmarker, with its Muslim majority, and Israelmarker/Palestine.

As part of the recurring immigration debates in the United States, anti-illegal immigration groups have raised the specter of a "reconquista" (reconquest) of the American Southwest by Mexicans and Mexican-Americans. Much of the Southwest was originally part of Mexicomarker, prior to being annexed by the United States in the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. There has never been a significant movement among Mexicans or Mexican-Americans to return the conquered lands to Mexico, although anti-illegal immigration groups have argued that there is an erasure of the borders between these two countries due to massive illegal immigration and alleged separatist sentiments held by the illegal immigrants.

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