An Outline of European History from 1789 to 1989

An Outline of European History from 1789 to 1989

An Outline of European History from 1789 to 1989

An Outline of European History from 1789 to 1989


In the wake of the revival of European nationalism in 1989 and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Romano's essay explores the origin of the idea of the modern nation state between 1789 and 1848 when the citizen and the plebiscite replaced the subject as the legitimizing mechanism for national and multinational associations, and its subsequent evolution. He then traces its development to its zenith in 1919, its death in 1945, and its resurrection in 1989. Viewed through the political necessities of the nation state, the tumultuous events of the twentieth century and the recent rekindling of sentiments at the heart of those events take on a fresh perspective.

Historian, diplomat, and journalist, Sergio Romano was Director of Italian Cultural Relations,Ambassador to NATO, and Ambassador to the Soviet Union. He retired from the diplomaticservice in 1989 and became a regular columnist for La Stampa. He is the author of twobiographies of major political figures, Giolitti and Gentile, as well as two studies of Russianpolitical life. Romano has been visiting professor at the University of California at Berkeley and Harvard University.


The events of 1989, from the Soviet elections in March to the revolutions of Berlin and Prague in November, reminded many people of 1848. To my mind, a more apt comparison would be 1919, the year in which three multinational empires were dissolved and the map of Europe was altered as never before.

This first reaction to the events of 1989 gave way over the following months to calm reflection on European history. Working backward in time, I asked myself why the Europe of the Treaty of Versailles ended tragically in the Second World War, and why the First World War brought about the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and whether one shouldn't look for the cause of such events in the revolution of 1848 or, even, that of 1789.

Returning to more recent events, I wondered finally if one shouldn't interpret the division of Europe following the Second World War into two major ideological "empires" as the logical reaction to the nongovemability of nations and their inability to live together in reasonable harmony. But if that were the case -- and here my reflections led me back to the events of 1989 -- then why today does one part of Europe appear to be returning to the very nationalism that was twice the cause of its own destruction?

None of my queries is particularly original, but rarely does a historian ask innovative questions. Rather, the historian's contribution lies in his or her particular vision of events and the way in which contemporary experience continually demands reopening and rereading the book of the past.

Even if I have relegated them to the final pages of my volume, the national revolutions of 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 are the real protagonists of this book. It outlines the history of the European nation-state from its birth between 1789 and 1848 to its zenith in 1919, its death in 1945, and its resurrection in 1989.

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