Nationalism, Irredentism and Imperialism – University of Copenhagen

Nationalism, Irredentism and Imperialism

The trajectory of the nation-state in Europe as the dominating mode of political and social organization is intimately connected to the period during the wars of religion in the sixteenth and seventeenth century and to the process after the Peace of Westphalia (1648), which weakened the idea of the Empire as the ultimate source of authority and increased the acceptance of sovereign states as legitimate entities. It was an uneven process involving wars of succession and the employment of new means of creating legitimacy and identity. It was not until after the American and French revolutions that idea of the nation or the people as the ultimate source of authority began to gain strength and increasing acceptance.

The expertise of the scholar responsible for this theme (Mogens Pelt) lies in the period from around the French Revolution onwards and in the lands of the former Ottoman Empire, in south-east Europe and the Levant. Here, nationalism was opposed to Empire and to the official criteria of community based on confession, but unconnected to territory. The markers of belonging customarily used by nationalism like common language, ethnicity or history played no practical role.

The making of nation-states involved secession from the Ottoman Empire, transformation of identities and the utilization of the idea of the nation as a means of mobilization and as an object of inculcation; it involved war, great power intervention, population policy and social engineering, including ethnic-cleansing, forced exchange of populations and genocide. Because of the territorial dispersion of the potential future citizens, the making of nation-states in these areas also involved irredentism.

While the process of the making of the nation-state shares fundamental similarities with the rest of Europe, its recent date means that its results are still contested. This concerns issues like the following:

  • the imperial past; the existing borders; the status of the concept of the nation as the only legitimate state identity and source of authority; in- and out groups; political culture: consensus versus zero-sum games; the role and status of the great powers in the understanding of national liberation; the issue of foreign domination and imperialism; counter-memories

Though the interaction between empire and nation(alism) importantly concerns the former regions of the Ottoman Empire, especially as regards the current state of Turkish politics, poised between authoritarian populism, religiosity and unfulfilled fantasies of greatness, the theme is of generic importance to eg the EU, and irredentism is present also in Russia, India and China.

Suggested PhD/postdoc project

Nationalism, Globalization and the Supranational Community

Since its appearance nationalism has become the dominating mode of legitimizing state sovereignty and the community which the state claims to represent. At the same time its precise content and aims have constantly been changing, dependent on the temporal and international context. The aim of the Ph.D./postdoc project is to focus on nationalism and the nation-state in relation to globalization and the supranational community since the financial crisis of 2008. It should establish its case based on one or more of the numerous movements and parties that are professing that the existing nation state is threatened by globalization and the creation of a supranational community, while examining the interaction of economic, cultural and political arguments. It should further consider the extent to which selected movements and parties rely on historical models for thinking about citizenship, sovereignty and identity, and how far they can be said to represent novel approaches to the issues. Projects that focus on Europe and/or the USA will be prioritized. 

Responsible researcher

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Associate professor Mogens Pelt is responsible for this theme. He has done extensive research on Greece and Turkey from the late Ottoman Empire to the present day and on the interplay between local and global factors in South-east Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean, between politics and economy and between national and great power interests. His current project, In the Service of the Sultan and the Greek State, uses the life-story of the Ottoman Greek businessman, Bodosakis-Athanasiades, as a prism to unfold the bottom-up experience of transition from Empire to nation-state.