By Luisa Hulsrøj
“The national state . . . must set race in the center of all life,” Hitler declared in Mein Kampf, exemplifying his movement’s exaltation not only of the nation but also of its ostensible basis in race. This pernicious ideology encountered challenges, recent scholarship has found, when it met with populations in East-Central Europe that had difficult-to-distinguish ethnic backgrounds and no, or at least no stable, national identities. Such so-called national indifference is difficult to imagine, for today we take nationality for granted as universal and timeless. Yet nations did not emerge in their modern form as the model for state organization until the 19th century. Even then they had to be actively constructed. Compulsory public schooling, for example, was widely introduced to teach standardized national languages and national history in an attempt to make citizens into members of nations. The course of nationalization did not, however, run smooth. Well into the 20th century national indifference persisted, not just in backwaters like the early Soviet Union’s rural Western frontier but also in some of Europe’s industrialized heartlands, such as Bohemia and Upper Silesia. During the Second World War, Nazi occupation authorities in such areas adopted racist rhetoric. However, acknowledging ethnic ambiguity internally, they also instituted policies designed to recruit the nationally indifferent for the German nation.
Cambridge PhD students Bethan Johnson and George Severs (@GeorgeSevers10) talk to Doing History in Public about their recent Festival of Ideas panel Forms of Extreme Protest in the Post-War West.
Can you tell us a bit about your research?
George: My PhD researches the history of HIV/AIDS activism in England from 1982, the year of the first AIDS-related death in the UK, to 1997, the year after the introduction of highly active antiretroviral therapy which transformed a diagnosis with the virus from a terminal to a chronic one. 1997 also saw the end of 18 years of Conservative government with the election of Tony Blair’s Labour government.
Bethan: My research analyses a particular form of nationalism in North America and Europe between 1965 and 1975. I call this type of nationalism ‘militant separatism’ as it is characterised by a commitment to separation from the governing state through extremely violent methods. I study the role of ‘organic intellectuals’ – influential but not formally trained thinkers – in the activism of ten separatist groups, across five countries.
By Mobeen Hussain (@amhuss27)
Vladimir Putin was unsurprisingly victorious in this month’s presidential elections on the 18th of March. As with all political campaigns, candidates routinely utilise powerful self-branding images. In Putin’s case, historic forms of Russian exceptionalism were re-imagined to run on a distinct platform based on anti-Americanism, similar to his previous campaigns. Michael Bohm, in a 2013 article, suggested that Putin was determined to turn Russia into the only leading world power that can hold its own against the U.S. This anti-American branding of Russian exceptionalism alongside long held notions of Russian Orthodoxy and Holy Russia were harnessed to amass public support throughout the election. His conservative stance on gay rights and support of the Russian Orthodox church are indicative of this. Read more