The New Europe/Volume 1/Pangermanism and the Zone of Small Nations

Pangermanism and the Zone of Small Nations

The present conflict in which the Pangermans are out to crush the Slavs is simply the final expression of the traditional designs of the Germans in the East. If the geographical significance of the catchword Drang nach Osten be extended so as to include the South-east and South as well as the East proper, it becomes a true summary of German ambition. From the very beginning of her history the main trend of Germany's expansion has been towards the South-east. The lines of that expansion first crystallised with the foundation of the Empire by Charles the Great, and an early manifestation of it was the establishment of Austria, or "Ost-Reich," which was followed later on by the foundation, in the North-east of Germany, of the Marches out of which grew Prussia.

In the West, Germany has long been in conflict with the French, and the controversy is still unsettled. The point at issue is, however, of a far different order from that in the East. In the former case Germany disputes the possession of a small strip of territory west of the Rhine; in the latter, as Treitschke points out, she regards the entire territory of every nation as a field for colonisation. In the West, moreover, Germany has been faced by the highly-civilised French nation, which obviously could not be colonised, whereas, in the East, in addition to the Slavs, there were the Huns, Avars and Magyars: in this case Germany secured the support of the Church by instituting a process of Christianisation side by side with that of Germanisation.

From the 8th to the 14th century the Germans persistently pressed Eastward. The German Hanseatic League and the knightly orders spread German dominion as far East as Petrograd to-day. From the 14th century onwards, however, that pressure was stemmed, not only by the attacks of the Turks, but also by the increasing power of Poland, Bohemia and Hungary. Since that time the German Drang nach Osten has been attempted in two directions and by two different kinds of tactics. While the Habsburgs built up their Empire under the direct pressure of the Turks, by forming a confederation of the Eastern States (Austria, Bohemia, Hungary), the Hohenzollerns evolved in the North a project of colonisation and conquest at the expense of Poland. The present war is merely a phase of that long historical process, representing, as it does, the synthesis of the Habsburg and Hohenzollern tactics.

The significance of the German Drang nach Osten is explained to a great extent by the ethnographic formation of the zone which divides the West of Europe from the East.

Ethnographically and politically there are three divisions in Europe: the Western, the Eastern (Russia), and the Central. Our interest is here drawn chiefly to the central part, which consists of a peculiar zone of small nations, extending from the North Cape to Cape Matapan. Side by side we here find the Laplanders, Swedes, Norwegians and Danes, Finns, Esthonians, Letts, Lithuanians, Poles, Lusatians, Czechs and Slovaks, Magyars, Serbo-Croats and Slovenes, Roumanians, Bulgars, Albanians, Turks and Greeks. The largest of these nations are the Poles; next to them come the Czechs and Slovaks, Serbo-Croats, Roumanians, and Magyars; the others are smaller. If the Little-Russians (Ruthenes, Ukrainians) were considered a separate nation, as distinct from the Great-Russians, they would be the largest nation of this zone.

To the West of this zone we find the bigger nations (German, English, French, Italian, Spanish), and only two smaller ones (Dutch and Portuguese); besides these there are the so-called "fragments" of nations (Basques, Bretons, Welsh, Irish, Gaels). In the East there are the Russians, a big, indeed the biggest, nation of Europe. It is a peculiar circumstance that the outskirts of this nation are non-Russian: on its West side there are some small nations of the Central Zone, while in the North, in the Caucasus and on its Asiatic frontiers, there are also several small nations and fragments of nations.

If we compare the political frontiers of Europe with the ethnographical, that is, if we distinguish the states from the nations, we find that in the majority of cases the state is made up of a mixture of nationalities, and that as yet no nation has formed a state of its own. We have in Europe twenty-eight states (or fifty-three if we count the component states of Germany and reckon Hungary as a separate state) and about sixty-two nations; the states are, for the most part, polyglot.[1]

Up till now states have been formed regardless of national frontiers. It was not until modern times, not until the end of the 18th century, that the national idea became a powerful political motive. At that time, however, it acquired a constructive influence. In the name of nationality the nations demanded their consolidation. The Germans, Italians, Slavs, Roumanians, Greeks and the rest, all demanded national unity and independence; and, indeed, in the course of the 19th and 20th centuries the frontiers of the states were modified in accordance with the national principle. Several subject nations have attained to various degrees of national independence, new states have come into existence, old frontiers have changed, and in some of the polyglot states various degrees and kinds of national autonomy have been introduced.

Although the national principle is not as yet recognised as paramount, and its influence is not yet decisive, it nevertheless has taken its place among the great political factors. According to Herder the nations of the New Age become the natural organs of the human race, while states are relegated to a subordinate position, as mere artificial organisations. The applicability of the terms "natural" and "artificial" in this new order of things may be questioned, but it cannot be doubted that since the 18th century nationality has been ranged side by side with the Church and the State as one of the decisive political forces.

There is no need for a more minute classification of states from the nationalist point of view. It will be enough to indicate the remarkable difference between the East and West of Europe in the relationship between state and nationality. In the West we have a greater number of states, the majority of which, as regards the extent of their territory, and the number of their population, belong to the category of the bigger states. We find in them a certain proportion of national minorities, most of which have no political claims. If, however, we turn towards the East, we find that the states become more and more mixed in the national sense; Germany (Prussia), and more especially Austria (and to go still further East, Turkey), show a great difference in this respect from France, or Italy, or Spain; while Russia, the easternmost state in Europe, is a type apart. It must not be forgotten, however, that whereas Russia constitutes the whole of the East, the rest of Europe, though smaller than Russia in extent, is divided into twenty-seven political organisations.[2]

In Germany, and especially in Prussia, we find the ethnographic differentiation as between East and West already apparent. There are non-German minorities consisting of French, Danish, Polish, Lusatian, Lithuanian (and Lettish) and Bohemian. The Polish minority is fairly numerous, especially as compared with the population of Prussia, and with the exception of the Reichsland Alsace-Lorraine, all the above-mentioned minorities are in Prussia, although part of the Lusatians are also to be found in Saxony. To the north-east, and, farther south, to the west of the Elbe, the development of Germany was only achieved by the Germanisation of the Slavs. The Germanised character of Prussia as the easternmost state of Germany is still discernible to-day.

Ethnologically, Austria-Hungary is unique. It comprises ten nationalities—Germans, Czechs with Slovaks, Poles, Ruthenes, Roumanians, Magyars, Italians, Serbo-Croats, Slovenes, as well as fragments of Rhaeto-Romans. None of these constitute by themselves a decisive majority. Austria is therefore an entirely artificial state, and, indeed, it was once thus described by the German leader Plener. Turkey, too, has always been, and still is, an entirely unnational state.

The foregoing facts explain the significance of the Central Zone of nations for the German Drang nach Osten. The smaller nations and states have not been able so far to offer an effective resistance to the greater states either economically or by force of arms. While in the West the Germans have always been faced by one nation only, a nation, moreover, which up to the 19th century was numerically stronger than Germany, in the East they have had several neighbours. They therefore took advantage of the weakness of the nations and states of the Central Zone. Early in history Charles the Great had already founded the Eastern and Pannonian March, while later on the marches of the Prussia of to-day were organised. The Holy Roman Empire was supplanted by the modern scheme of "Central Europe"; the German Empire pressed against the smaller nations in the East; Prussia in the north and Austria in the south assumed the rôle of the German conquerors and Germanisers. The tactics of Horatius Cocles and the principle of "divide et impera" rendered great services to the Germans.

It is not difficult to understand why the Germans have found allies among the small nations—the fear of a strong nation and the hope of a reward for services rendered brought the Magyars, the Bulgars, and the Turks to their side. The territories defended or occupied by the Central Powers, extending from Riga viâ Warsaw, Budapest and Belgrade to Salonika-Kavala-Constantinople, represent, in fact, the greater part of the Central Zone of the smaller nations.

It is none the less true that the nations of the Central Zone have resisted and still resist German, Austrian, Magyar and Turkish expansion, and they are fighting for their liberty. All these nations (with the exception of the Lapps) have their political aspirations, which are of two kinds. Some of the smaller among them would be content with national autonomy within a bigger state; this applies especially to the small nations of Russia. The Esthonians, Letts, Lithuanians, have not as yet demanded their independence, although the latter have adopted during the war a more radical policy, which has been partly fostered by the Germans. Even the Finns do not desire to be separated from Russia, for they know that they would only succumb again to the influence of Sweden, from which they are at present protected. Russia, indeed, has only one serious nationalist question—namely, Poland. On the other hand, the subject-nations of Austria-Hungary and Prussia do demand their independence.

In the Central Zone of nations we find that the Magyars, Finns, Roumanians, Bulgars, part of the Serbians (those of the kingdom of Serbia and of Montenegro), the Greeks, Albanians, Turks, are already free, and in their case the only question that remains is how to render their liberty inviolable and how to consolidate the whole of each separate nation. There are three nations, however, which have not yet attained their freedom: the Poles, Czecho-Slovaks, and the Southern Slavs of Austria-Hungary. All these three nations have for a long time been making efforts to attain freedom and unity. They are, indeed, the biggest nations of the Central Zone; all three were free and independent in the past, all three possess a remarkable history, all three have done much towards the development of the civilisation of Europe. The general level of education of the Southern Slavs and Poles is progressing rapidly in spite of unfavourable conditions, while the Czechs yield in no respect to the Germans as regards general education; and. lastly, all three nations would be economically self-sufficient. Why then should they not be free? Why should even the Albanians, who are devoid as yet of any European culture, be free before them?

The peculiar internal interdependence of these three Slav nations results from their geographical position and political constellation. All three are fighting against their common enemy, and therefore their respective fates are naturally connected. We have already seen, in the past, that the crippling of Bohemia by Austria was closely followed by the downfall of Poland; while the fall of the Southern Slavs under the attacks of Turkey was a fundamental cause for the formation of an alliance between Bohemia, Austria, and Hungary. In modern times all these three nations have often advanced hand in hand. I need only mention the Slavonic Congress at Prague in 1848, in which the Poles (even the Poles of Posnania) and the Southern Slavs unanimously took part; while in the Austrian Parliament the Czechs moved in accord with the Southern Slavs, and, indeed, with the Poles also, in spite of the attempt of Vienna to separate these three nationalities by granting them various concessions.

A more exhaustive treatise would involve an historical analysis not only of these three Slav nations, but of all the other nations of the Central Zone; each of those nations presents a peculiar and interesting problem. For the present the important thing is to grasp clearly the significance of the Central Zone in its bearing upon the war. Ever since the time of the Bohemian Reformation, which began in the 14th century, during the reign of Charles IV., Bohemia has been of great importance to Europe, both politically and culturally. At the same time Poland became a nation of European importance, as did also Serbia and the Southern-Slavs.

In the 16th century, as the result of a union with Bohemia and Hungary, Austria became a new power in Europe and she adopted a policy of opposition to Turkey; very soon after that Prussia began to expand, to the detriment of Poland and Bohemia (Prussian Silesia, it should be remembered, belonged to Bohemia). Russia, pressing towards the West, also began, with the advent of the 16th century, to play a more important part in the history of Europe, and so the relations between Russia and Turkey, Austria and Prussia, quite naturally assumed greater importance.

The centre of gravity of European history was, step by step, shifted eastward. This historical process can be summed up in the watchword of the Oriental question in the 19th century. That question came to be focussed on the relationship of Prussian Germany and Austria-Hungary with Russia. Russia stood up against Turkey and aspired to Constantinople, and that changed the relations of Austria-Hungary and Prussia with Turkey. The two Powers became her protectors against Russia. The Slav problem simply means that Russia and the Slavs stood in the way of Germany and her allies of the Central Zone in their projected expansion to the Persian Gulf.

Considering that the war broke out in the Central Zone on account of Serbia, no thinking person can be left in doubt that it is here that lies the centre of gravity of European history and of European politics. This Zone is the centre of political unrest; the wars of recent decades, not to say centuries, have had their fundamental causes in the inorganic conditions of this part of Europe. The German Drang nach Osten, the Pangerman plan of "Berlin-Bagdad," forces not only upon the Slavs, but upon the whole of Europe the imperative necessity of solving once for all the question of the Central Zone, the Oriental question.

  1. This number is only approximately correct—it is significant of the neglect with which this branch of sociology has hitherto been treated that there are as yet no exact statistics nor differential maps of nations and states.
  2. The division of East from West is naturally indefinite; both those terms have a cultural as well as a geographical and ethnological connotation. The term "Central Europe," which is often used, is also vague; it must be borne in mind that we here distinguish between Central Europe and the Central Zone.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1927.

The author died in 1937, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 80 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.