Nationalism in Europe

The Revolutionaries

After the events of 1815, many liberal nationalists went underground for the fear of repression.

Giuseppe Mazzini was an Italian revolutionary. He was born in 1807. He became a member of the secret society of the Carbonari. When he was 24 years old, he was sent into exile in 1831 for attempting a revolution in Liguria. After that, he founded two more underground societies; first Young Italy in Marseilles and then Young Europe in Berne. Mazzini believed that God had intended nations to be the natural units of mankind. So Italy had to be forged into a single unified republic instead of being a patchwork of small state kingdoms. Following in the footsteps of Mazzini, many secret societies were set up Germany, France, Switzerland and Poland. The Conservatives feared Mazzini.

While the conservative regimes were trying to consolidate their power, the liberals and nationalists continued to spread the idea of revolution. These people belonged to the educated middle-class elite; like professors, school teachers, clerks and members of the commercial middle classes.

The first upheaval took place in France in July 1830. The Bourbon kings were overthrown by liberal revolutionaries. A constitutional monarchy was installed with Louis Philippe at its head. The July Revolution sparked an uprising in Brussels which resulted in Belgium breaking away from the United Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Independence of Greece:

The Greek war of independence mobilized the nationalist feelings among the educated elite across Europe. The struggle for independence among the Greeks began in 1821. The nationalists in Greece got support from many Greeks who were living in exile. Moreover, they also got support from many West Europeans who sympathized with the ancient Greek culture. Poets and artists mobilized public opinion to support this struggle against the Muslim empire. It is important to note that Greece had been a part of the Ottoman Empire. Finally, the Treaty of Constantinople of 1832 recognized Greece as an independent nation.

The Romantic Imagination and National Feeling

Romanticism was a cultural movement which sought to develop a particular form of nationalist sentiment. Romantic artists usually criticized the glorification of reason and science. They focused on emotions, intuition and mystical feelings. They tried to create a sense of collective heritage, a common cultural past, as the basis of a nation.

Other Romantics, like the German philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder (1744 – 1803), claimed that the true German culture could be discovered among the common people; das volk. These Romantics used folk songs, folk poetry and folk dances to popularize the true spirit of the nation (volksgeist). The emphasis on vernacular language was also important to take the nationalist message to a large number of people who were mostly illiterate. Karol Kurpinski celebrated the national struggle through his operas and music in Poland. He turned folk dances; like polonaise and mazurka into nationalist symbols.

Language also played an important role in developing nationalist sentiments. After Russian occupation, the Polish language was forced out of schools and the Russian language was imposed everywhere. An armed rebellion took place against Russian rule in 1831 but this was ultimately crushed. But after this, many members of the clergy in Poland began to use language as a weapon of national resistance. In all Church gatherings and in all religious instructions, Polish was used. The Russian authorities put a large number of priests and bishops in jail or sent them to Siberia as punishment for their refusal to preach in Russian. The use of Polish thus became a symbol of the struggle against Russian dominance.

Hunger, Hardship and Popular Revolt

The 1830s were years of great economic hardship in Europe. There was huge growth in population in the first half of the nineteenth century. Number of unemployed had increased manifold. There was large scale migration from rural areas to urban areas. Such migrants lived in overcrowded slums in the cities. At that time, the industrialization in England was more advanced than in other parts of Europe. Hence, cheap machine-made goods from England gave stiff competition to small producers in the towns of the other European countries. In some regions of Europe, aristocracy was still powerful and the peasants were under the burden of feudal dues and obligations. A year of bad harvest; coupled with price rise in food led to pauperism in town and country.

Pauperism is a condition in which people live in abject poverty.

The year 1848 was one such bad year. Because of shortage of food and high level of unemployment, the people of Paris came out on the roads. The protest was at such a large scale that Louis Philippe had to flee. A National Assembly proclaimed a republic. It granted suffrage to all adult males above 21. It guaranteed the right to work. National workshops were set up to provide employment.

The Revolution of the Liberals

When the revolts of the poor took place in 1848, another revolution was being led by the educated middle classes. In some other parts of Europe, independent nation-states did not yet exist, e.g. Germany, Italy, Poland and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Men and women of the liberal middle classes from these parts raised demands for national unification and a constitution. They demanded the creation of a nation-state on parliamentary principles. They wanted a constitution, freedom of press and freedom of association.

Frankfurt Parliament: In German regions, there were a large number of political associations whose members were middle class professionals, businessmen and prosperous artisans. They came together in the city of Frankfurt and decided to vote for an all-German National Assembly. On18 May 1848, 831 elected representatives took out a festive procession to take part in the Frankfurt parliament which was convened in the Church of St. Paul. They drafted a constitution for a German nation. This German nation was to be headed by a monarchy subject to a parliament. Friedrich Wilhelm IV, King of Prussia was offered the crown on these terms. But he rejected the offer and joined other monarchs to oppose the elected assembly.

The opposition of the aristocracy and military to the parliament grew stronger. Meanwhile, the social base of the parliament eroded because it was dominated by the middle classes. The middle class resisted the demands of workers and artisans and thus lost their support. Finally, troops were called in and the assembly was forced to disband.

Women also participated in large numbers in the liberal movement. In spite of that, they were denied the voting rights during the election of the Assembly. When the Frankfurt parliament convened in the Church of St Paul, women were allowed only as observers to stand in the visitors’ gallery.

Although the liberal movements were suppressed by the conservative forces but the old order could not be restored. In the years after 1848, the monarchs began to realize that granting concessions to the liberal-nationalist revolutionaries was the only way to end the cycle of revolution and repression. Hence, the monarchies of Central and Eastern Europe began to introduce changes which had already taken place in Western Europe before 1815.

Serfdom and bonded labour was abolished both in the Habsburg dominions and in Russia. The Habsburg rulers granted more autonomy to the Hungarians in 1867.

Germany: Can the Army be the Architect of a Nation?

After 1848, nationalism in Europe moved away from its association with democracy and revolution. The conservatives now fanned nationalist sentiments to promote state power and to achieve political dominance over Europe.

The liberal movement of the middle-classes in Germany had earlier been repressed by the combined forces of the monarchy and the military. This repression was also supported by the large landowners (called junkers) of Prussia. After that, Prussia took on the leadership of the movement for national unification.

Otto von Bismarck: Otto von Bismarck; the chief minister of Prussia, was the architect of this process. He took the help of the Prussian army and bureaucracy in his endeavour. Three wars were fought over seven years; with Austria, Denmark and France. The wars ended in Prussian victory and completed the process of unification. The Prussian king, William I was proclaimed the German Emperor in a ceremony held at Versailles in January 1871.

The new state placed a strong emphasis on modernizing the currency, banking, legal and judicial systems in Germany. Prussian measures and practices often became a model for the rest of Germany.

Copyright © excellup 2014