Creating the Other: Ethnic Conflict and Nationalism in Habsburg Central Europe

Creating the Other: Ethnic Conflict and Nationalism in Habsburg Central Europe

Creating the Other: Ethnic Conflict and Nationalism in Habsburg Central Europe

Creating the Other: Ethnic Conflict and Nationalism in Habsburg Central Europe

Synopsis

The historic myths of a people/nation usually play an important role in the creation and consolidation of the basic concepts from which the self-image of that nation derives. These concepts include not only images of the nation itself, but also images of other peoples. Although the construction of ethnic stereotypes during the "long" nineteenth century initially had other functions than simply the homogenization of the particular culture and the exclusion of "others" from the public sphere, the evaluation of peoples according to criteria that included "level of civilization" yielded "rankings" of ethnic groups within the Habsburg Monarchy. That provided the basis for later, more divisive ethnic characterizations of exclusive nationalism, as addressed in this volume that examines the roots and results of ethnic, nationalist, and racial conflict in the region from a variety of historical and theoretical perspectives.

Excerpt

Gary B. Cohen

The essays in this volume are the fruit of a sea change in research on ethnic and national identification that has occurred in the past two decades. Since the late nineteenth century, ethnic and national conflicts and the rise of nationalist political movements have been major concerns for students of modern Central and East-Central Europe. Until the 1980s, however, most historians and political scientists tended to assume that nationalist politics in Europe rested on preexisting cultures and identities of ethnic groups. To a great extent scholars tended to study the dynamics of modern nationalism from within the boundaries of nationalist perspectives. Perceptive contemporary observers during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries recognized that popular loyalties and identities were constructed and transformed in the context of ongoing political and social development, but before the 1980s few scholars analyzed the creation and transformation of popular ethnic and national identities in Central and East-Central Europe as dynamic cultural phenomena.

In the last two decades scholars interested in the Habsburg Monarchy and the Tsarist and Ottoman empires and their successor states have begun to examine modern ethnic and national loyalties as dynamic, socially constructed artifacts, using concepts and methods drawn from cultural anthropology, political sociology, postmodernist discourse analysis, and cultural studies. As the essays in this volume vividly illustrate, these researchers have begun to reinvent studies of modern nationalism, nationality conflicts, and national political movements in Central and East-Central Europe. In the process they are developing a sophisticated new understanding of the cultural meaning and social dynamics of ethnic and national identification in everyday life. For most ethnic and national loyalties in modern societies, the creation of a group identity included, and indeed usually required, defining the Other or Others who stood outside the ethnic or national group. As these essays remind us, establishing what characteristics and qualities defined one's own group, who belonged and who did not, and what were the chief economic and political needs of the group typically required as a . . .

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