Dublin Conference and Seminars 2023
Nationalism, Nation-Building, and the Decline of Empires
Dublin, Ireland

Nationalism, Nation-building, and the Decline of Empires

International Conference

May 25-27, 2023



The burden of imperial decline on nationalism in Europe


Robert Gerwarth – The Long Shadow of 1918: How the Break-Up of Europe’s Land Empires Shapes our Present

The First World War ended with the military collapse and disappearance from the map of three vast and centuries-old land empires: the Ottoman, Habsburg and Romanov empires. A fourth, the Hohenzollern Empire, which had become a major land empire in the last year of the war when it occupied enormous territories in East-Central Europe, was significantly reduced in size, stripped of its overseas colonies, and transformed into a parliamentary democracy with what Germans across the political spectrum referred to as a “bleeding frontier” towards the East.

The origins of many of the conflicts we witness today – from Ukraine to the Middle East – lie in this period and the lecture will explore how the past and the present are connected.


Constatin IordachiLiberalism, Nationalism and Minorities: The Making of Nation-State Citizenship in Post-Ottoman Balkans.

The presentation will provide a historically grounded comparative analysis of the emergence, evolution and main features of nation-state citizenship in the late Ottoman and post-Ottoman Balkans. The analysis focuses on the emergence of new nation-states on the political and demographic background of the late Ottoman Empire, on techniques employed for ascribing state citizenship, and on practices of naturalization of aliens. Another major line of research will be the legal status of ethnic, religious, and gender minorities and the emergence of an international regime of minority protection in the Balkans.


The “Sick Man of Europe” and neo-Ottoman ambitions


Cengiz Aktar Observations on the illiberal outcome in the post-imperial successor state Turkey

The Turkish nation-State was the last to emerge from the imperial nestle. The natural foundation of the future nation, Turkishness was entirely diluted within the imperial cosmopolitanism and was rather superseded by the religious identity. Thus, the invention and institution of a “Turkish nation” was highly problematic and complicated. At the end it was built upon the most inclusive available foundation, Islam. Once posed as the basis of the new nation-to-be, Islam, obviously, disqualified the non-Muslim populations of the ailing Empire from the composition of the nation. They were violently suppressed. The annihilation targeted one out of five citizens of the post-imperial Turkey. These state-sponsored crimes went totally unaccounted, unaddressed and their instigators were covered by immunity coupled with amnesia. In the following hundred years, the polity, largely shaped by these unaccounted crimes, steadily shifted towards an illiberal position in which the rule of law and the sense of justice are systemically depreciated. The end result is present day’s Turkey with its institutions in ruins and its majoritarian constituency proudly antidemocratic.


Salim Cevik – From Empire to Nation: Religious and Ethnic Pluralism in the Ottoman Empire and Turkey

Empire is a political system that is hierarchical, non-uniform in its ruling mechanisms and structures, and open to diversity with its cosmopolitan multi-ethnic and

multi-religious nature. These features are in stark contrast to the nation-states’ egalitarianism, direct and uniform means of rule, their tendency to homogenize, and “one nation one state” principle. While empires are almost by definition heterogeneous and plural, the ideology of the nation-state strives for homogenization and unity.

However management of this plurality, in its ethnic, linguistic and religious forms becomes a challenge as the empires go through a process of administrative modernization and centralization. Depending on their unique circumstances, different empires followed different approaches and models. While Habsburgs were more in favour of a federal plurality, the Romanovs pushed for centralization and assimilation. Throughout the 19th century, the Ottomans vaccilated between these two alternative paths. This vacillation is most evident in their approach to millet system which simultaneously followed the contradictory policies of undermining millet boundaries in order to promote a sense of unity across the multi-faith society and policies of promoting and safeguarding the privileges and group specific rights of non-Muslim communities. Understandably, the peripheral powers opted for a more plural form of Ottomanism a la Habsburg while the central bureaucracy and particularly the Turkish element within the army inclined towards a more centralized system.

However, through the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, Ottoman nationalism moved from a Habsburg model of plurality and became more narrowed down to a Romanov model of homogenizing nationalism. This is also the process of transition from an empire to a nation state. However, in this process of homogenization, religious and ethnic plurality was dealt with by different methods of homogenization; religious exclusion and ethnic-linguistic assimilation. This dual process of homogenization was inherited by the new Turkish state and shaped its official policy of nationalism ever since its foundation. Kurdish question, as today’s most salient political problem in Turkey is also a result of these policies.


Russian Nationalism and the “Russian World”


Riccardo Mario Cucciolla Unintentional divorces and forced marriages. The national discourses in Uzbekistan and Armenia toward the “Russian world”

The Soviet collapse was a complex process that showed some of the republican elites exaggerating nationalist claims and separatist issues while others had more cautious and reluctant attitudes toward the independence of their republics. In 1991, they all had to develop new political discourses to reaffirm a post-Soviet national identity and reconfigure relations with the former imperial center. This paper confronts two opposing attitudes in two former Soviet peripheries. In Uzbekistan, the ruling class found itself unprepared to manage a transition to independence and constructed a victimizing post-colonial discourse to justify a break with a world that had given a modern form to the republic and for which there was still a deep nostalgia. In Armenia, national identity and the independence cause were solid in 1991, but the republic remained hostage to its geopolitical condition and was forced to remain in a political, economic, and military cooperation system dominated by Moscow. Both positions would be further exacerbated in the aftermath of the post-2014 world. Critical anti-colonial discourse remained strong in Mirziyoyev’s Uzbekistan where diplomacy opened new cooperation opportunities with Moscow and other regional partners. Conversely, in Armenia, the 2020 Second Karabakh War and the Russian failure to intervene against Azerbaijani incursions revealed the limits of Moscow’s influence and a political discourse hostage to a revanchist nationalism and tired of the historical ally.


Mark KramerPutin and Putinism: Autocratic and Imperial Ambitions

On the final day of the 20th century, Vladimir Putin became the acting president of Russia, and he has ruled the country ever since.  Even during the four years when Putin served as prime minister instead of president (May 2008 to May 2012), no one in Russia had any doubt that he was the dominant leader in the country.   Putin’s lengthy reign in Moscow has occurred in the 21st century, but he is very much a product of the 20th century, specifically the Soviet era, when he served for a decade in the KGB’s repressive internal security apparatus in Leningrad and then, for five years, as a mid-level KGB foreign intelligence officer assigned to East Germany.  He has repeatedly expressed pride at having worked in the KGB and has emphasized his dismay that the breakup of the Soviet Union resulted in the loss of the Kremlin’s “great power” status.  One of the hallmarks of Putin’s time in office has been his effort to consolidate Russian hegemony in Eurasia and to make his country a global rival of the United States.  To this end, he has kept Russia almost constantly at war against various foes.  Starting in 1999, even before he became president, he embarked on a brutal counterinsurgency war in Chechnya that caused immense bloodshed and destruction.  In the 23 years since then, he has relied on Russian troops and Russian mercenaries to conduct military operations in Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova, Lebanon, Libya, and sub-Saharan Africa.

Putin’s maintenance of Russia in a near-permanent state of war has coincided with a ruthless internal clampdown.  The tenuous movement toward democratization in Russia in the early 1990s has long since been eradicated, and the country has become a personalistic dictatorship.  Over the past 15 months, in particular, internal repression and censorship in Russia have been drastically tightened, returning to levels reminiscent of the late Stalin era in the USSR.  The invasion of Ukraine has marked the death knell for any hopes there might have been that Russia could become a freer and less stifling country.

My presentation will cover both the domestic and the foreign aspects of Putin’s reign.  The severe crackdown on any hint of political opposition has gone hand-in-hand with imperialist expansion, and Putinism has to be understood as a program combining these phenomena.


The Soviet Legacy


Anna Colin Lebedev Memory and amnesia of the Soviet past in the Ukraine war

History and memory are central to the narrative with which the Russian state justifies its armed aggression against Ukraine. In order to give meaning to the war and to win the support of the population, the Kremlin relies on the way in which the Soviet past is remembered in Russian society, but also on what is forgotten, concealed, not transmitted. The meaning given to the war is also anchored today, for Ukrainians, in a reshaped long history. The memory of the Soviet past, which was plural and complex in Ukraine since its independence, is being redrawn and homogenized by the war.


Andrea GraziosiStalin’s and Soviet Theory of Nationality and Nationalism: Intellectual Roots and Political Legacy

The paper will investigate Stalin’s ideas and concepts of the “manipulability” of nationalities by reconstructing its theoretical and political background from Mazzini and Marx through Kautsky, Bauer, and Lenin. Special attention will be paid to the discovery of a positive correlation between economic development and the growth of nationalism among “backward” peoples, which went against the grain of previous socialist beliefs, and to the appearance of a theory according to which socialism would naturally produce a perfect national-popular society. After investigating the evolution of these ideas and concepts, their practical applications, and the reaction they generated up to 1953, I will focus on the Soviet post-Stalinist theories and practices, and their results, by also taking into consideration the parallel development, in Soviet times, of new, hybrid variants of Russian nationalism, as well as of Eurasian trends.


Yaroslav Hrytsak – The Third Ukraine: A Case of Civic Nationalism

Post-Soviet Ukraine has been considered as a classic case of a “cleft country” torn between the agrarian Ukrainian-speaking West and the industrial Russian-speaking East. The Russian-Ukrainian war has revealed that despite strong regional divisions, Ukraine proved to be a very resilient political community. Apart from the “rally around the flag” effect, there are historical factors at work. The latters led to the emergence of “the third Ukraine.” It is a Ukraine of neither the West nor the East, but of the Center, meant both in regional and political terms. It  displays a strong civic identity, and Volodymyr Zelensky may be regarded as its central symbol.


Habsburg: The conflict between identity and integration


Marco BrescianiFascist Ideas, Practices, and Networks of “Empire”: Interwar Italy as Post-Habsburg History

Interwar Italy has been long seen within a nationally-focused or Western-European perspective, and the Fascist idea of Empire has been considered part of the Roman myth of the Mediterranean Sea as mare nostrum. This paper aims to shift the focus eastwards, and to connect post-1918 Italy to the breakdown of the continental Empires and the ensuing conflicts, with special attention to the collapse of the Habsburg Empire and the ascent of the successor states in East Central Europe. This paper intends to rethink in many ways the history of interwar Italy and Fascism from the Trieste’s vantage point, with regard to projects, practices, and networks of “Empire” in the Adriatic Sea, in Mitteleuropa and in the Balkans between 1918 and 1941.

The analysis will focus on three connected, but hitherto quite neglected aspects. Firstly, the northern Adriatic borderlands were the first setting of the ascent of Fascist squadrismo, a model of violent action against “enemies within” (labelled as “Austrophiles”, “Bolsheviks” and “Slavs”) and a ruthless driver for fascistisation, then replicated elsewhere (first Istria, then Emilia etc.). Secondly, an older repertoire of nationalism and imperialism took a newer shape in the post-Habsburg power vacuum, and projects of customs unions and confederations, based on the prominence of Fascist Italy, aimed to reconfigure the post-Habsburg economic space and to reconnect the Adriatic with Central and Balkan Europe as well as with the global routes of trade. Thirdly, Italian-speaking nationalist (then Fascist) political and economic networks from Trieste played a critical role, by boosting processes of empire-building rather than nation-building and by defending (at least, until 1938) the independence of German Austria vis-à-vis the increasingly aggressive prospects of Anschluss to Weimar and then Nazi Germany. In all these cases, the Habsburg collapse and ensuing legacies kept on shaping in contradictory ways the dynamics of Italianisation and fascistisation in northern Adriatic and on feeding the search for Italy’s informal Empire in Central and South-eastern Europe, ultimately paving the way to the outbreak of the Second World War.


Clemens Ruthner Bosnia-Herzegovina: (colonial and imperial) Lessons to be learned from the Habsburg Monarchy

My talk will analyze the last (and lethal) territorial expansion of Austria-Hungary 1878-1918 through the lens of Postcolonial and Imperial Studies.


Pieter Judson Prison of Peoples? Conflict Management in Habsburg Central Europe, 1848-1925

In this talk I make two critical arguments about the development of political nationalism and its relationship to empire in what I call “Habsburg Central Europe.” First, I explore the ways that popular nationalism and Imperial ideologies shaped each other and often worked in tandem, especially in the Austrian half of the Habsburg Monarchy. Second, from the point of view of everyday life, I locate the many ways that local, regional, and imperial administrators sought to manage and diffuse political nationalist conflict through the application of developing constitutional law and administrative practice on nationhood. From these perspectives I conclude that it was more likely the post-1918 successor states, not the Austrian Empire, that became prisons of peoples. Their selective adoption and adaptation of practices first formulated within the Habsburg Monarchy drove the successor states to practice policies that could become lethal in the context of 20th– and 21st-century Europe.



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