THE NINETEENTH CENTURY added a vital new factor to the history of Eastern Europe: nationalism. Although there had been some national consciousness and even some national conflicts in earlier times, nationalism in its new form was a purer and more powerful phenomenon. In the past, dynastic questions (e.g., Poland), religious differences (e.g., Czechs and Germans), or the simple desire to overthrow a burdensome ruler or system (e.g., the Balkan peoples and the Turks) had always been the dominant factors. National feelings, where they existed, were always vague and secondary. After 1800, however, the situation was reversed, and nationalism became the key element; other issues were ancillary to this main theme. Because of nationalism's extreme importance in contemporary as well as historical Eastern Europe, it is appropriate to spend some time discussing the nature of the phenomenon together with the manner of its impact.
There are many definitions of nationalism, some of them quite complex, but all have a basic goal and a fundamental definition at their core. The goal is the fusion of a people and a state in a nation-state. Nationality is narrowly defined; it is more than a cultural group--it is a linguistic group. Thus, although a number of people may have a nearly identical history and culture, they are not a part of the same nationality if they speak different languages (or different mother tongues in the case of those who speak more than one language). The fusion of nationality and state in a nation-state--the goal of nationalism--is then simply the idea that people of certain nationality should have more or less complete control over the land that they inhabit. While the principle is fairly clear and straightforward, the further assumptions made by nationalists are many and diverse, and in specific cases, particularly in Eastern Europe, conflicting.