Archive for September, 2007

The Politics of Commemoration

Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

Beth Gryczewski

Bucur, Maria, and Wingfield, Nancy M., eds. Staging the Past: The Politics of Commemoration in Habsburg Central Europe, 1848 to the Present. Indiana: Purdue University Press, 2001.

Bucur and Wingfield have compiled a series of essays on a common theme of nationalism via commemoration. The book is an interesting compilation of essays that describes different means of commemoration that somehow attempt to legitimate (or do actually legitimate) a country’s nationhood. The commemoration involves everything from rituals or ceremonies/celebrations to memorial statues in city centers or cemeteries. Of all the essays in the compilation, the two that are most interesting to me are “The Nationalization of East Central Europe” by Jeremy King and “Reasserting Empire” by Daniel Unowsky.

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Brubaker Revisited

Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

Kraman: Reading Response #4, September 27, 2007

Maria Bucur and Nancy M. Wingfield, eds. Staging the Past: The Politics of Commemoration in Habsburg Central Europe, 1848 to the Present, West La Fayette, IN: University of Purdue Press, 2001.

Jeremy King, “The Nationalization of East Central Europe: Ethnicism, Ethnicity, and Beyond.” and

Cynthia J. Paces, “Religious Heroes for a Secular State: Commemorating Jan Hus and Saint Wenceslaus in 1920s Czechoslovakia.”

Jeremy King concludes his article with a quote from a recent Rogers Brubaker article to the effect that the search for a single theory of nationalism is misguided because the theoretical and political problems associated with nationhood and nationalism are multiform and varied.

Cynthia J. Paces concludes her article with surprise and disappointment that the secular, rational, and elite Czech nationalists – particularly Tomáš Masaryk – used the somewhat mythical Bohemian heroes, Jan Hus, a rebellious Roman Catholic priest and martyr, and good King Wenceslaus, an orthodox Roman Catholic martyr as key elements in the Brubakian nationalizing process for the Czech people in the 1920s. (more…)

Matt Hobbs – Bucur & Wingfield’s “Staging the Past”

Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

Staging the Past: The Politics of Commemoration in Habsburg Central Europe, 1848 to the Present, edited by Maria Bucur and Nancy Wingfield, grew out of a panel discussion at the 1997 convention of the American Historical Association. The history of acts of commemoration is a relatively recent arrival to the field of cultural history, focused on the historical significance, meaning, and symbology of various acts of remembrance. The study of memory, in reference to our field of history, the researcher must ask two central questions: what is being remembered, and who is doing the remembering? (more…)

Staging the Past

Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

Staging the Past by Maria Bucur and Nancy Wingfield is a collection of essays about the ineffectual efforts on the part of the Hapsburg monarchy to re-establish their legitimacy in the wake of the 1848-49 revolutions through the final dissolution of the Monarchy in 1918. Throughout 1848-49, there were uprisings throughout the empire that threatened the legitimacy and called into questions the sanctity of the monarchy. In an effort to re-legitimize their rule, Bucur and Wingfield note that the monarchy employed “state-organized commemorative rituals to generate stable meaning around specific dates, places, individuals or events.” It was assumed that the person of the emperor and the Roman Catholic Church, representing tradition and security, would serve as the common denominator that would unite the disparate peoples within the empire and inspire loyalty to the crown. However, this strategy ignored and subordinated the array of ethnic and religious identities that were clamoring for recognition and a voice in the political realm. It was provincial commemorative practices, as opposed to the state-organized commemorations, that resonated more with people, and ultimately created a greater sense of belonging within localized communities, based upon a common past.

At the local level, there were marked differences in the way in which citizens interpreted symbols such as historical figures, and anniversaries, based on ethnicity, class, and religious affiliation. The essays illustrate both the disconnect between the monarchy and the people as a whole, as well as the disconnect between people within specific regions based on differences in class, religious affiliation and ethnicity. This raises the question as to how it is possible for disparate groups to unite for the common good. One could cite unequal access to wealth or other public goods such as healthcare or education as being a divisive force. But the monarchy had made considerable efforts to improve access to public services within the empire. The Hapsburg monarchy did not support the freedom of association, however, and I wonder if the underlying reason for the ultimate dissolution of the monarchy had to do with limits on the ability of individuals and groups to freely associate and express their political, ethnic and/or religious views. The monarchy was a neoabsolutist regime that employed strong arm tactics to suppress political expression in the territories. The German language was selected as the official language within the administration, indicating a strong preference for German speaking peoples (although a case can be made for this decision given that the majority of people within the empire spoke German). Roman Catholicism was the religion of the state. I am going to go out on a limb and suggest that this reality created an imperative for those on the periphery due to ethnicity, religion or political beliefs, to challenge the monarchy politically in order to move from “subject” to partners in the creation of their own political destiny.

Collective Memory-Cement or Salve?

Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

The collection of essays in Staging the Past revolve around the ways in which the generation, reinforcement and institutionalization of collective memory is transubstantiated into nationalist ideology or more accurately, a community-building identity. With the Habsburg Empire and the successor states serving as focal points for analysis, the authors illustrate this process as both a top-down, politically and institutionally generated phenomenon fostered by a cadre of elites and nationalism as a popular manifestation, a precipitate of commemorative practices at a local level. In doing so, we gain a clear picture of the fundamental strengths and weaknesses of this facet nation building in these two contexts. (more…)

Maria Bucur and Nancy M. Wingfield, Staging the Past.

Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

Lessia Shatalin
The collection of essays focuses on the commemorative rituals around specific dates, places, individuals and events that play an important role in the understanding of a national past for Eastern and Central European people. Nationalism is analyzed from the perspective of collective memory and cultural practices this approach gives importance to commemorations in the process of building national identity.
In the essay The Nationalization of East Central Europe, Jeremy King looks at a statue of Shipmaster Vojtech/Adalbert Lanna and the man the statue represented. What is interesting about the statue is that it was meaningful at various times to both Germans and Czechs. Why was it meaningful to both ethnic groups is because the town it was in was populated by both and also the answer lies in the persona of Lanna himself. Lanna was a wealthy resident of Budejovice/Budweis who was loved by the people for his charity work. He perceived himself in non-national terms and thought of himself as a person from that specific town and not belonging to a specific nation.
The second part of King’s essay focuses on “ethnicism”. He examines historiography on the subject of nationalism in East Central Europe and writings on this subject by non-historians and in analyzing works from both groups he finds a common thread of “ethnicism”. He defines “ethnicism” as a “vague, largely implicit framework that holds the nations of East Central Europe to have sprung primarily from a specific set of mass, mutually exclusive ethnic groups defined by inherited cultural and linguistic patterns” (p. 123). King when describing the history of the statue does not however, explain why people needed a certain statue to represent them in a certain way? Why ethnic groups look to the past to find defining moments, places, people, and myths that unite them into nations? This question is answered by Keely Stauter-Hualsted in Rural Myth and the Modern Nation.
The author focuses on Polish peasants and their desire to participate in various commemorations. By participating in these events peasants and their leaders were looking to advance their political rights and their rights to be included in the nation. The vision of the nation that peasants constructed conflicted with the vision constructed by gentry and intelligentsia. Both King and Stauter-Halsted recognize that nationalism and nation-building are both modern phenomena; however, in both cases ethnic groups looked to the past to find their heroes and myths, though not exclusively.

Patriotic Celebrations in Late-Nineteenth-and Early-Twentieth-Century Tirol by Laurence Cole And The Cult of March 15: Sustaining the Hungarian Myth of Revolution, 1849-1999 by Alice Freifeld

Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

Kateryna Duncan
Both of the authors, Laurence Cole and Alice Freifeld, discuss the use of celebrations, in the first case, it was suppose to show hegemony of the Catholic-German speaking population in the region; in the second case, march 15, became a national holiday used at different times by different regimes in order to promote different goals, but at the end what was unifying is the fact that the holiday was celebrated and is still celebrated today.
What is clear from both articles is that people came together on theses occasions. In the Tirol region, both Germans and Italians, peasants and city residents, came to the city of Innsbruck to take part in the celebration. “On this day, the day that commemorated the old unity displayed in the year nine [1809], the unity of Tirol saw the light of day once again”(p.104). At first the author shows how the region was divided, both along the religious lines and the political lines, but towards the end Laurence Cole shows that despite their differences, what the celebration of 1909 came to symbolize is the ability of these different groups to cooperate. It does not matter, in the long run, why they came to Innsbruck, what matters is that they came.
Alice Freifeld shows that no matter by whom, and why the day of the Revolution was celebrated for over one hundred and fifty years, what is important is that, it was a day of national birth and it was not forgotten. The revolution was defeated, but it was the fact of defeat that made this day so powerful. Depending on popular resonance March 15 became a holiday when the failed revolution was exploited for political gain. “The tactic of turning failed revolutions to the national advantage as a means to achieve political concessions became the backbone of Hungarian political ideology” (p.260).
In the end, both articles represent the importance of collective memory in building of nationalism. In celebrating certain historical figures, or events a group of people is united and this unity of one and separation from the other is the important aspect of building national consciousness.

Staging the Past and Collective Identity

Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

In Staging the Past: The Politics of Commemoration in Habsburg Central Europe, 1848 to the Present, Maria Bucur and Nancy Wingfield present a collection of essays centered on the role of nationalism and cultural identity during and after the Hapsburg Empire’s reign. These essays focus on three things: 1) efforts by the Hapsburgs to create a common cultural identity and shared national memory; 2) the cultural fluidity and ambiguity of national symbolism at the state level, with interesting commentary on the co-opting of “national” symbols for various political purposes; 3) the examination of the cultural leftovers of the previous periods, and how they were used for the ends of communist governments. (more…)

Did the Professor plan this?

Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

Did the Professor know that as I walked into class on the very first day that I brought with me a very broad and might I say naïve, global view of nationalism? Were the last two week’s reading intended to shake this view and make me think of nationalism in a way that I hadn’t before? As Brubaker has said, “The search for ‘a’ or ‘the’ theory of nationalism…is misguided; for the theoretical problems associated with nationhood and nationalism, like the practical political problems, are multiform and varied, and not susceptible of resolution through a single theoretical (or practical) approach.”

Okay, okay. I’m the first to admit that last week I just didn’t get “it”. Read my review of Healy’s book Vienna and the Fall of the Habsburg Empire and it’s painfully obvious that I didn’t get “it”. Until our class discussion last week, I was expecting the single theoretical explanation for the fall of the Habsburg Empire that has influenced the Balkans (my beloved interest) in recent history. When Healy didn’t provide it–instead opting for (what I considered at the time) a peripheral narrative of a grand propaganda campaign, women, their politicization, and the gender roles in Vienna during the First World War–I was openly disappointed. My disappointed was a result of my expectations after reading Cohen’s article. Misguided best describes my interpretation of Cohen’s “Neither Absolutism nor Anarchy” article. I believed he was challenging historians to find proof that the Habsburg Empire indeed comprised popular social action and political activities which may have sustained change and responded to Austrian popular opinion in the early years of the 20th century–a “modern constitutional, representative government” instead of the lethargic, ineffectual, and collapsing monarchy that most historians postulate. (more…)

All Politics Are Local – State vs Local Identities

Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

Bucur and Wingfield’s Staging the Past explores the issues and challenges that the Hapsburg dynasty faced after 1848 in re-establishing their authority while assessing the reasons behind their recurring failures to create a national identity, culminating in the break up of the dual dynasty in 1918. Through ten essays, the authors implement an interpretative framework based on cultural history to address the attempts in Hapsburg Central European to create national histories using commemoration and trying to establish collective memories. The actors used various methods, sometimes promoting myths, presenting liberal interpretations, or just plain rewriting history based on desired story versus facts, all in an effort to create nationalism in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious environment.

The battle to create a common culture, an shared identity, was not only contested between the national level and the local level, but also between competing local groups or ethnicities. I found myself asking the question whether a common process or formula for creating nationalism existed, or was believed to have existed, or were the state and local entities merely mimicking tactics of the “other?” The tactics typically included the following ingredients: establishing commonality in culture, usually with a predominant language; using history and myth, or some combination thereof; creating for the community a set of collective memories through public communication mediums, such as festivals, parades, art, symbols, and holidays, as described in Unowksy and Beller’s articles, with the ultimate goal of defining characteristics of the “self” and “other.” Most of the articles either directly or indirectly illuminated the conflict between national and local interests. Many times, the local or regional entities within the Hapsburg empire would invoke their versions of history, myths, and public events to further ideologies at their level which inhibited or extinguished the state’s ability create a national identity, hence, the local identity could overcome the nation-state identity.

Although Bucur and Wingfield’s collection of essays seeks to address the lacunae of research on the development of national identity in the Hapsburg Monarchy (3), one can see the linkage between the intentional and unintentional actions taken by European nation-states and the inter- and intra-nation conflicts that became the catalyst for both World Wars. The problems Francis Joseph faced were a microcosm of the problems faced by most if not all of Europe, but are these problems with national identity and nation building specific to
Europe? Finally, are differences in language, ethnicity and local customs the common obstruction factors for the state? Can a multi-ethnic nation with religious pluralism exist and survive for more than a brief time or beyond one influential leader?