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Becoming National against the State: Popular discontent and adherence to minority nationalisms in late nineteenth-century Eastern Europe (BENASTA)

February, 2024 - January, 2029
EU Horizon Europe - ERC Grants
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Based on transnational comparisons, our project probes into non-elite adherence to minority nationalisms in rural Eastern Europe between the 1870s and the First World War. We compare six case studies. We focus on state agency as a driving factor, to offer a corrective to the currently predominant, one-sided emphasis on the nexus between nationalist activists and the people. In the broader Eastern Europe, most national movements defined their constituencies in disregard of existing borders. We try to demonstrate that the states structures in which these populations lived inadvertently conspired with national movements to constitute minorities disaffected with them. They did so on two levels. First, by expanding their infrastructural reach, they inflicted harm especially on rural people and made themselves an easier target for economic and social grievances. Second, they reinterpreted certain populations as foreign, a problem and a threat to the security and integrity of the state. They implemented special policies to assimilate or contain them and proactively framed their dissatisfaction as a sign of nationalist yearnings. By retrieving voices from below, we propose to clarify how far these processes aided successful national mobilization in minority. Some of our more specific research questions are the following. What hopes did rural people attach to national movements? Were they interested in modern public services from a state controlled by their coethnics – or rather, did they expect national movements to shield them from any kind of state interference? What state policies did they react against, and how did these differ from the ones that the elites of national movements resented? Did popular voices about the state administration and policies echo elite framings? Finally, did popular understandings shape more democratic, twentieth-century (right or left-wing) brands of nationalism?

Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Research Council Executive Agency. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.