Europe East and West: the Seipel Line

Coby Lubliner

The entrance of ten new member states into the European Union on May 1, 2004, was almost universally interpreted, at least in the American media, as the Union’s expansion into Eastern Europe. But with the exception of Cyprus there is in reality very little that is “eastern” about these countries – the Baltic republics, Malta, Poland and assorted pieces of the old Habsburg Empire. Their traditional religion is Western Christianity (Latin-rite Catholic and Protestant). Their languages are written in the Latin alphabet. Their architecture is pretty much what you find in Western Europe, ranging from Gothic through Renaissance, Baroque and Neoclassical to Art Nouveau and modern. Their folklore – music, dance, costume – is not greatly different from the West’s either, except for Hungary, and even there the exoticism isn’t any greater than that of Spain. Only Cyprus is there to enhance the “eastern” touch that was already being provided by Greece, with its non-Latin script, its Byzantine churches and monasteries, and its mosques and hammams.

There is one respect, however, in which all the new states (except Malta) are eastern: they lie east of the Seipel Line.

* * *

Ignaz Seipel (1876-1932) was an Austrian churchman, political scientist and statesman who in the 1920s served two terms as chancellor of the newly formed Austrian republic. In a speech to the League of Nations in 1928 he asserted that

Europe is divided by a line which separates two entirely different conceptions of the idea of the “Nation.” On one side of the line are the peoples for whom the state is everything, and who also understand national sentiment as a great enthusiasm for the state to which they, of their own free will, belong. On the other side of that line of demarcation, the sentiment of civilization, of a common tongue and a common origin, preponderates.

The first of the two conceptions, which scholars have given such names as “state nation” (F. Meinecke), “political nation” (C. A. Macartney, from whose book “National States and National Minorities” the Seipel quote is taken), and “territorial or civic nation” (A. D. Smith), is, as Smith (in his book “The Ethnic Origin of Nations”) puts it, “a peculiarly Western conception of the nation.” That is, it originated in Western Europe and was propagated thence, by force or otherwise, to the Western Hemisphere and wherever else Western values might have taken hold.

The “Eastern” conception, which we may call, following Smith, the “ethnic” nation (Meinecke and Macartney called it “cultural” and “personal,” respectively), is clearly the outgrowth of tribal identity, and may well be regarded as the primordial or even “natural” one. Even in Western Europe, from what we know about its pre-Roman situation (for example, from Caesar and Tacitus), the population was organized in tribes, which at times might form strategic alliances, as in other territories in a pre-imperial situation; but there was nothing comparable to a modern state.

What Seipel calls “the sentiment of civilization, of a common tongue and a common origin” is what we nowadays know as ethnicity. The strongest criteria defining an ethnic nation are language and religion; “the sentiment of common origin,” unless it’s borne out by physical appearance, is usually based on some subsequent myth. Many a historic nation was formed from an alliance of tribes speaking similar languages and practicing similar religions; the Israelites, the Hellenes, the Germans, and the Anglo-Saxons are obvious examples. And when language and religion coincide, the maintenance of an ethnic distinction between two neighboring groups becomes difficult; a recent example of this difficulty is the failure of Montenegrin nationalists to separate their people from the Serbs.

Language, furthermore, is not necessarily the dialect one speaks – which, in the case of an ethnic nation that has been dispersed or subjugated, may vary among subgroups – but the language that the nation has enshrined as its national language, the medium of the literature (written and oral) that it regards as its national patrimony, its myths and hymns and epics. (Sanskrit, for example, plays this role for the Hindu nation of India, united by religion only.) It is to reflect this fact that Meinecke, in defining a “cultural nation,” included literature as a basic characteristic.

On the other hand, religious unity is not always a necessary condition for ethnic nationhood. While Serbocroat-speakers are divided into three ethnic nations based on religion, their Albanian-speaking neighbors belong to the Albanian nation whether they are Catholic, Orthodox or Muslim.

* * *

The history of the Western concept of nation, culminating in the nation-state (in French État-nation) – a state in which citizenship in the state is equivalent to membership in the nation – has long been the subject of debate. Its formal establishment is usually – and, I believe, correctly – attributed to the French Revolution; in 1789 the Abbé Sieyès defined the nation as “a legal entity (personne juridique) constituted by all the individuals constituting the state,” and the Comte de Clermont-Tonnerre articulated the rejection of any other concept of nation by proclaiming that “it is repugnant for there to be a society of non-citizens within the state, and a nation within the nation.”

But there are great differences among historians when it comes to tracing its prior evolution. My sense is that its origin can be found in the weakening of tribal identity in the Western Roman Empire, a process which took place in several ways: all of the Empire’s inhabitants became Roman citizens, and could call themselves Romans; whatever dialect one spoke, Latin was the only language that mattered; and Roman Catholicism was the universal religion. When the territory was later invaded by Germanic tribes (Goths, Burgundians, Franks, Normans), these quickly lost their tribal identities as well (converting from paganism or Arianism to Catholicism if necessary) and simply became the ruling castes of their realms. In some cases the rulers kept their tribal titles (king of the Franks, duke of the Normans), but in due time these were replaced by territorial ones (king of France, duke of Normandy).

The feudal system that grew up in the later Carolingian Empire accentuated the loss of tribal feeling by making fealty to one’s suzerain the primary badge of identity, transcending ethnicity. So it was that many feudal principalities of various kinds grew up astride language boundaries: Scotland, Schleswig, Brittany, Brabant, Luxembourg, Lorraine, Navarre, Carinthia and others.

In a modern nation-state, different languages that may be spoken by its citizens may enjoy varying degrees of official recognition, from grudging tolerance to full equality, but in no way do users of minority languages constitute “national minorities”; that concept is strictly Eastern. Now, not all Western nations share the French repugnance for nations within the nation. For example, the constituents of the United Kingdom (England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland) are for some purposes regarded as nations (within the British nation!), but on a purely territorial and not ethnic basis (thus a Scot is simply a citizen of Scotland, whether he or she speaks English, Scottish or Gaelic). Indeed, football and cricket matches among these nations are the origin of international sports competition. And while Wales has a National University, Edinburgh houses the Scottish National Museum, and so on, other “national” institutions – such as the National Health Service, the Royal National Theatre, and the National Trust– may pertain to all of Great Britain or the whole UK, and London has had, at various times, both a British National Opera and an English National Opera.

The typical “Eastern” state is, on the other hand, not a nation-state but a national state (German Nationalstaat), though the terms are often confused, even by specialists. A national state is the “national homeland” (or one of several such homelands) of an ethnic nation, whose members usually form a majority but not the totality of the state’s citizens; the remainder belong to one or more national minorities (or minority nationalities), each of which may, in turn, be a part of an ethnic nation having its homeland elsewhere. Of course, not every ethnic nation has a homeland that is an independent state. For some, the homeland may be an autonomous portion of a larger state (as the various autonomous territories in China or the Russian Federation). For others, it may be a geographic region that is not politically defined (such as Kurdistan in its broadest sense). Yet others may have no homeland at all (the Gypsies).

It is also possible, in principle, for a state to be multinational, that is, to serve simultaneously as a homeland for more than one ethnic nation on a supposedly equal footing. The success rate for such states is not impressive; witness the USSR, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia. I have discussed the last-named case in my essay Why Slovakia?, and I would like to add here that the inability of two peoples as close as the Czechs and the Slovaks to stay together in a binational state might serve as a lesson for those who advocate such a state in Israel-Palestine.

It is precisely in the national-state sense that Israel is a Jewish state (in the words of the Balfour Declaration, “a national home for the Jewish people”), that the Arab states (several of which have “Arab” as part of their official name, though they may contain non-Arab minorities such as Copts, Kurds or Berbers) are Arab, and, for that matter, that Poland is Polish, and so on.

* * *

The issue is, for me, a personal one. I was born in Poland, and my first language was Polish. But from the earliest time that I can recall being aware of a national identity, I never considered myself a Pole. In the community into which I was born the primary identification was with the Jewish people (or nation) – ’Am Yisrael – and the fact that we were citizens of Poland was an accident of history; a generation earlier we might have been citizens of Russia, or Austria-Hungary, or Germany. We might thus speak – depending on the circumstances of one’s upbringing – Yiddish (our traditional language) or Polish or Russian or German, but our national language was Hebrew. “Poles” were ethnic Poles: they spoke only Polish, and they were Catholic. (In my native city there were also numerous ethnic Germans – Volksdeutsche – and they, too, were regarded not as Poles but as Germans.) There were, to be sure, some Jews who considered themselves to be Poles (“of the Mosaic persuasion”), but they were disdained by the rest of us as “assimilationists.”

If Jews were qualified specifically as Polish it was not necessarily in contrast to Jews from other countries but also to those who might be called Galician (galitsyaner) or Lithuanian (litvak). The former referred to an old province of the Austrian empire, at present split between Poland and Ukraine but then (between the two World Wars) entirely within Poland; and the latter not to the modern Lithuanian republic but to the old grand duchy of Lithuania, a good deal of which (including the city of Vilnius, then called Wilno or [in Yiddish] Vilna) also belonged to Poland at the time.

When, in the course of World War II and its aftermath, I met Jews from other countries in our part of Europe – Czechoslovakia, the USSR, Hungary, Rumania – I found among them similar sense of identity as Jews first and citizens of their native countries second, if at all. Among those who came from formerly Austro-Hungarian lands – even if born after World War I – one could sometimes sense an atavistic loyalty to the Habsburgs.

But when I met Jews from Western Europe I was surprised to discover that they were Dutch, Belgian, French or English first, and that to them it was being Jewish that was incidental. I was even more amazed that Jews from Leipzig, Hamburg or Cologne still – after twelve years of Hitler – thought of themselves as Germans.

I have found in the years that have passed since then that, when I try to define my national origin by saying that I am a Jew from Poland but not a Pole, I have no difficulty in making myself understood when I speak to people from Eastern (or East Central) Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, and even East Asia (a Chinese person can readily understand being Chinese – e.g. Tibetan or Uigur – but not Han). But to most Westerners – people of Western Europe and the Americas – the concept seems unfathomable. “What do you mean, you’re Polish but not a Pole?” And it’s even worse in French or Spanish, in which the word for belonging to the country and to the ethnicity is the same (polonais, polaco).

Exceptionally, I have found comprehension among Basques, who are – alongside the “Catholic” Irish (that is, the indigenous Irish as distinct from the descendants of British settlers in Northern Ireland, the so-called “Protestants”) – the only Westerners with an ethnic sense of a nationality transcending political borders. Indeed, Basque immigrants in the United States, be they from Spain or France, have tended to form communities independent of country of origin, and apart from Spanish or French communities – just like the Jews.

And so my identity has changed as my life has changed: from being a Jew living in Poland to being an American of Jewish ethnicity. When I fill out the United States census form I check “some other race” and then specify “Jewish”; my life was marked by my being Jewish by race, and being “white” has no personal meaning for me. If, however, I were Sephardic, I would also check “Spanish/Hispanic/Latino.”

* * *

I have referred to the Seipel Line – and to the east-west dichotomy that it represents – in two previous essays, dealing with the consequences of the “wrong” concept of nation on either side of the line. In Mailbombs and Car Bombs: The Basque Conundrum, I discuss the bad fit of ethnic nationalism (that of the Basques and, secondarily, of the Irish Catholics) in the West. In Turkey’s “Turkish Problem” I posit that Turkey’s problem with its Kurds stems from Atatürk’s attempt to establish modern Turkey as a Western-style civic nation in a region where the Eastern concept prevails. But in neither essay do I actually demarcate the line geographically, and Seipel himself doesn’t seem to have done that either, except that he considered the German nation (to which he regarded himself and all German-speaking Austrians as belonging) to be squarely on the eastern side of the line. It’s my purpose in this essay to attempt such a demarcation.

* * *

Let me start with what is undoubtedly the paradigmatic segment, certainly the one that Seipel was most keenly aware of: the boundary between Austria and Switzerland (for simplicity’s sake, let’s ignore Liechtenstein). The Swiss nation, divided as it is religiously between Catholics and Protestants (with a few Jews and others thrown in) and linguistically among users of German, French, Italian and Romansh, is defined only by the boundaries of the Swiss Confederation. To be Swiss is to be, first of all, a citizen of one of the constituent cantons. But equally significant is what the Swiss are not: the French-Swiss (Romands) do not see themselves as French; the Italian-Swiss do not see themselves as Italians; and, most importantly, the German-Swiss – the overwhelming majority of the population – do not see themselves as Germans, and to emphasize that self-view they have given their local dialects (known collectively as Schwyzertütsch) a status unmatched elsewhere in the German-speaking world except, for a similar reason, in Luxembourg. Switzerland is thus an exemplary nation-state.

Now let’s look to the eastern side of the segment under consideration. The German-speaking population of the Austrian empire always considered itself as a part of the German Volk, even after Austria was excluded from the German Empire that was formed under Prussian leadership in the wake of the Austro-Prussian War (known in German-language historiography as der deutsche Krieg, the German War). The desire for Anschluss, or annexation to Germany, grew especially strong after Austria was reduced to a small, almost entirely German-speaking, republic (which at first was officially named Deutschösterreich, or German Austria). When carried out by Hitler in 1938, the Anschluss was greeted with enthusiasm by the Austrian population.

In a 1926 lecture in Vienna (reprinted in a 1953 anthology titled Österreich, wie es wirklich ist [Austria as it really is]), Seipel said that “we Germans cannot be understood by those who understand the concept of ‘nation,’ when used by us, as meaning the same as when used by western peoples. Nor are we understood by those who believe that we have – and I speak not only of us Austrians, but of all Germans – the same concept of state as the others.” In fact, he considered Austria to be “a German state that does not belong to the German Reich.”

That today’s Austrians don’t often call themselves Germans is due, perhaps, to a collective desire to bury the Hitler connection, but also to the absence of words that would distinguish between German ethnicity and citizenship in the Federal Republic of Germany. If the latter could be referred to as “Germanian” (and in German, perhaps, Deutschländer, deutschländisch), by analogy with “Croatian” and “Serbian” (as against “Croat” and “Serb”), the discourse would be made easier. I was probably one of the few non-Republicans who did not snicker when George W. Bush referred to the people of Greece as Grecians; I thought it was a good way (though perhaps unintentional) of differentiating between citizens of Greece and ethnic Greeks.

In Eastern and East Central Europe, as a general rule national states bear the names of their majority nations (or vice versa), and confusion often results over whether someone introduced as, for example, Hungarian is a citizen of Hungary (who may be ethnically, say, German or Gypsy) or a member of the Hungarian (Magyar) nation (who may be a citizen of Rumania, Slovakia or Serbia). But it is telling that when national states were first established in Eastern Europe in the nineteenth century, their official names followed the ethnic national model: kingdom of the Hellenes; kingdom of the Serbs (to which Croats and Slovenes were later added, in an attempt at multinationality). And the most recently formed such states bear the names of Czech Republic and Slovak Republic.

Present-day Austria retains mall minorities of Slovenes (in Carinthia and Styria) and Croats (in Burgenland), who maintain their ethnic national identities and who regard Slovenia and Croatia, respectively, as their national homelands. Their rights are guaranteed by the Staatsvertrag (State Treaty) of 1955 (which also forbids union with Germany). Clearly, then, Austria qualifies as a national state in the Eastern mold (a “German state,” in Seipel’s previously quoted words). It thus forms, with Germany, the joint homeland of the ethnic German nation.

The modern notion of ethnically based nationalities with cultural autonomy was, in fact, invented in the Austrian Empire; the first law embodying the principle was proclaimed in 1849. It is true that a precedent existed in the millet system of the Ottoman Empire (the milletler [“nations”] were at first defined by religion only, so that, for example, the Rum [Greek] millet included all Eastern Orthodox Christians, be they Arab, Greek, Slav or whatever, but in the second half of the 19th century the Bulgarians, Serbs, Rumanians and [Arab] Melkites achieved separate millet status). The nationality system of the USSR was, in turn, based on the Austrian model, but with the added feature of territorial autonomy; and this system was copied throughout the Communist world, from Yugoslavia to China.

* * *

When the Austro-Swiss boundary is extended southward into Italy, it becomes the western boundary of the region of Trentino-Alto Adige (South Tyrol), and this extension can reasonably be seen as representing the Seipel Line. For in this region, and in that of Friuli-Venezia Giulia further east (both regions cover territory that was Austrian until 1918), there are minority nationalities (Germans and Slovenes, respectively) whose members regard themselves as Italian citizens but not as Italians.

I have a personal reminiscence in this regard. Some time in the 1970s, while traveling in Mexico, I met a young European woman who spoke neither English nor Spanish. In the process of trying to find a language in which to converse she somehow let out that she was Yugoslavian; but she turned out to be a Slovene from Trieste, who naturally spoke fluent Italian (which became our common language). Not expecting an American to know about Slovenia or Slovenes, she used “Yugoslavia” as a substitute, but she regarded Slovenia (at the time a part of Yugoslavia) as her homeland (she was a teacher in a Slovene school and had studied in Ljubljana), and it did not occur to her to present herself as an Italian.

The Tyrolean Germans (whose homeland is Austria – it is the Austrian government that, in accordance with international treaties, protects their minority rights) come into the news every four years when, in the Winter Olympics, people with names like Thomas Prugger or Isolde Kostner win skiing medals for Italy; since international sports competition is a Western creation, athletes represent the states of which they are citizens and not the ethnic nations with which they may identify. It was said that the great popularity of the skiers Alberto Tomba and Stefania Belmondo was in no small measure due to their being perceived as “real” Italians.

The counterpart to the Slovenes of Italy are the ethnic Italians of Slovenia and Croatia, who view Italy as their homeland and who welcomed Mussolini’s annexation of Istria and Dalmatia during World War II.

Well to the west of the line lies Italy’s northwesternmost province, Aosta, constituting the autonomous region of the Aosta Valley. Its autonomy is due to its traditional French culture, and French is official there (alongside Italian) just as German and Slovene are in the two regions mentioned above. But there the similarity ends: the Valdôtains don’t consider themselves French any more than do the Romands of Switzerland or the Walloons of Belgium (the fact that the latter belong to the Communauté française relates only to language). Their loyalty to the House of Savoy, by whom they had been ruled for most of the second millennium, was simply transmuted into loyalty to the Italian state, and their Italian-ness is never in question.

Aosta also has a polar counterpart, namely Corsica: politically French, ethnically Italian. (In the nineteenth century Corsicans were still regarded by the French as Italiens, as in Balzac’s novella La Vendetta.) There is a strong nationalist movement there, ranging from autonomist to independence-seeking; but it includes no irredentism – Corsicans do not identify with Italy, and the language that they want to be taught in school and to enjoy some semiofficial status is one based on the local dialects rather than standard Italian, though Corsican is perhaps closer to Tuscan (the basis of the standard) than any other dialect of Italy.

What’s more, Corsican nationalism is based on the unique history and geography of the island of Corsica rather than on Corsican ethnicity. The Corsican people (le peuple corse, u populu corsu) has been defined by the regional assembly as “a living historical and cultural community comprising all those who are Corsicans by origin and Corsicans by adoption” (my emphasis).

With the two aforementioned exceptions of the Basques and the Irish Catholics, this territorial – rather than ethnic – basis, supported by proclamations of inclusiveness and pluralism, is common to all the regional nationalist movements in the West, from Catalonia to Scotland, from Brittany to Quebec. The Flemish independence party, Vlaams Blok, has been accused of advocating an ethnic, even racist, brand of nationalism, but its program, which includes maintaining Brussels – the projected capital of an independent Flanders – as bilingual, does not seem to bear this out, and its political activity includes canvassing for votes among the Jews of Antwerp.

* * *

The Seipel Line does not penetrate very deeply into Italy. In various parts of mainland Italy there are long-established linguistic enclaves of speakers of Albanian, Greek, Occitan, and some German dialects, and in Sardinia the traditional languages are Romance but not Italian (namely, Sardinian and Catalan); and while these people may be attached to their languages, they show no sense of being national minorities: as in Aosta, they regard themselves as fully Italian. Non-Italian Romance languages are also spoken in the aforementioned regions of Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Trentino-Alto Adige: Friulian in the former, Ladin in the latter (as well as in Belluno province in Venetia). Friulian-speakers are unswervingly Italian, but the Ladins, who under Austrian rule were considered a distinct nationality, are a curious special case. They number only a few tens of thousands; they live in five non-adjacent valleys in the Dolomite Alps, each with its own dialect and with no common standard language, divided among three provinces with different norms of language protection in each. In Belluno province they identify, by and large, as Italians speaking a minority language, but in Trentino-Alto Adige they regard themselves as something like a nationality, and in this region’s Bolzano province (South Tyrol) many of them are affiliated with the German community and give most of their votes to the Südtiroler Volkspartei (SVP), the province’s main German party, whose original platform called for reunification with Austria. (Shades of Habsburg nostalgia, perhaps.)

The segment of the line that is wholly in Italy may thus be regarded as extending no further than the southern boundary of pre-1918 Austria, with the Tagliamento, as it empties into the Adriatic, as the final stretch. The line then goes through the Ionian Sea into the Mediterranean.

* * *

The northward extension of the Austro-Swiss segment, into Germany, is less precise. Broadly speaking, an east-west dichotomy similar to that of northern Italy can be said to exist. To Germany’s east there have for centuries been settlements of ethnic Germans, whether directly beside the border (as in the Sudeten) or well beyond (as on the Volga). These people (whose designation changed, post-Hitler, from Volksdeutsche to Aussiedler) have never ceased to regard themselves as Germans, and in fact modern Germany had, until the year 2000, something comparable to Israel’s Law of Return, granting them automatic German citizenship (following what is traditionally known as ius sanguinis, the “law of the blood”). Indeed, the great majority of them availed themselves of this law, and the German communities left in Rumania, Slovakia, Poland, Russia and so on have become quite small.

By contrast, the ethnic Germans of Luxembourg, of Belgium’s Liège province, and of Alsace (and a portion of Lorraine) in France have long since abandoned any sense of belonging to the Volk, in spite of (or perhaps because of) their being right across the border from Germany. The Alsatians no longer have any use for the German language (though they do try to maintain their dialect, much like the inhabitants of other French regions). Luxembourgers still maintain some official status for German, but only alongside French and Lëtzebuergesch. In Belgium, the ethnic Germans are known, and refer to themselves, as German-speaking Belgians (deutschsprachige Belgier); they form an autonomous community (deutschsprachige Gemeinschaft), with full use of the German language, but not (as would be the case in Eastern Europe) as a minority nationality; the community is simply one of the constituents of the complex federal Belgian state, alongside the Flemish and French communities.

Within Germany, however, the Seipel Line is more philosophical than geographic. Historically, Germany has been a battlefield between the two conceptions, and perhaps this is why awareness of the dichotomy seems to have begun there (the issue seems to have been first raised by the Tübingen economist F. J. Neumann in his 1888 treatise Volk und Nation). The predominant thinking, especially during the Romantic period, favored the cultural principle, perhaps in reaction to the excesses of the French Revolution. Meinecke (in his classic Weltbürgertum und Nationalstaat) quotes, among others, such great figures as Fichte (“Where a distinct language is found, there exists a distinct nation, which has the right to independently manage its own affairs and govern itself”; “the French have no true identity of their own [kein eigen gebildetes Selbst], only, by common accord, a purely historical one, while Germans have a metaphysical one”), Wilhelm von Humboldt (“The state constitution and the national union must, however closely they may be intertwined, never be confused with each other”), Schiller (“The German Empire and the German nation are two different things... [German dignity] dwells in the culture and the character of the nation, independently of its political fate”), and Ranke (“That creation of a new nation and a new [national] life ... that took place in France was not repeated with us”). It was, interestingly enough, in the south and west of Germany (geographically closest to France), represented by such relatively minor figures as Pfizer, von Gagern, and Rümelin, that French ideas on the unitary state were most influential. These thinkers, according to Meinecke, found Prussia to be an “artificial state,” and they advocated a unitary German state – resembling the French one – under the Hohenzollern, not a federation with Prussian primacy.

The post-Hitler era has seen a “westernization” of German nationhood. Ethnic nationalism, having been combined with imperialism and fascism by the Nazis under the slogan Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer, lost its appeal, and the philosopher Jürgen Habermas has advocated its replacement by a “constitutional patriotism” (Verfassungspatriotismus) that would eventually (in Habermas’s mind) extend to all of Europe. In the meantime it has influenced the center-left parties (Social Democrats and Greens) that came to power in 1998 to the extent of enacting important changes to the citizenship law, whereby ius sanguinis was at least partially replaced by ius soli (the law of the soil) in the sense that anyone born in Germany is automatically a citizen if at least one parent is a legal resident.

Nonetheless, German citizenship law is merely a law and not yet a part of the constitution. There is no guarantee that a return to power by the Christian Democrats will not bring back the old ways.

Because of this ambivalence, the Seipel Line’s passage through Germany is perhaps best seen as a smear covering a sizable swath of the country, though not extending east of the Elbe (the Sorbs or Wends of eastern Germany are very much like a national minority). It consequently arrives at the North Sea, and then goes around Denmark into the Baltic, thus making Denmark, oddly enough, into an “Eastern” state; for the German-Danish border that was created by the 1920 plebiscite dividing Schleswig into the Danish north and the German south left minority Germans in the former and minority Danes in the latter, and these groups continue to view themselves as Germans and Danes, respectively, with Eastern-style national-minority status. (This part of Germany also lies east, or rather northeast, of the Elbe.)

The presence of Germans in Denmark, with the German language in official use locally, has given rise to a peculiar kind of tourism. Residents of Germany who wish to marry but are daunted by the severity of German marriage laws (especially if one of the parties is a non-citizen) can cross the border and marry under the far more lenient Danish law, but with the ceremony and paperwork in German.

The citizenry of Denmark also includes the Faeroese and the Greenlanders; both peoples regard themselves as nations, although, being island nations, they have a territorial basis as well. They have no ethnic minority status – such a status does not exist in Denmark, except for Germans. But according to the novel “Smilla’s Sense of Snow” (by the Danish writer Peter Høeg) Greenlanders in Copenhagen do not feel themselves to be Danes, quite unlike, say, Corsicans in Paris or Catalans in Madrid, or even Puerto Ricans in New York. I have no information about how the Faeroese feel in Denmark.

* * *

The other Scandinavian lands, by and large, follow the Western model. For example, the southern Swedish province of Skåne was once part of Denmark and the local dialect is closer to Danish than to Swedish; but its people are unquestionably Swedes. Even more remarkably, the Swedish-speaking (and Swedish-descended) minority of Finland – at least of the Finnish mainland – has historically been in the forefront of the development of Finnish national consciousness; it was the “Swedo-Finn” Johan Snellman who promoted making the Finnish language official, while Finland’s “national poet,” Johan Ludvig Runeberg, wrote his patriotic verses in Swedish. It was another Swedo-Finn, Elias Lönnrot, who compiled the Kalevala, the Finnish national epic; and yet another, Jean Sibelius, who depicted it in his music.

This Finnish national identity does not seem to hold, however, among the ethnic Swedes of the Åland islands, of which they comprise virtually the entire population (so that Swedish is the only official language there) and which lie closer to Sweden than to continental Finland. Åland’s dependence on Finland is an accidental byproduct of the islands’ being ceded, along with historic Finland, in 1809 by Sweden to Russia, which included them in the Grand Duchy of Finland. After World War I the Ålanders voted overwhelmingly to join Sweden, but were prevented from doing so by the League of Nations. In exchange, they received a broad degree of autonomy, not only in internal affairs but even to the extent that an international treaty entered into by Finland – such as membership in the European Union – requires the consent of the Parliament of Åland to be valid there. Unlike the Swedo-Finns of the mainland, then, the Ålanders should be regarded as a national minority in the Eastern sense; they think of themselves as Swedes, with Sweden as their homeland.

As it enters the Baltic, then, the Seipel Line wends its way through the Bornholmsgat (for Bornholm is an integral part of Denmark) and to the east of Gotland (a part of Sweden), loops around Åland and, through the Gulf of Finland, joins the Finnish-Russian border.

This border cuts through the historic land of Karelia, which already in the 14th century was divided into a Russian-dominated (and hence Eastern Orthodox) east and a Swedish-dominated (and hence Catholic, later Lutheran) west; the latter became an integral part of Finland and eventually became known as Finnish Karelia. The Karelian people are linguistically related to the Finns, and those in the west, who by the 17th century lost their distinctive language and became Finnish-speaking, were integrated into the Finnish nation; most of the Kalevala is, in fact, Karelian in origin.

The present-day border, however does not follow the historic one, because some areas of Finnish Karelia were taken by the Soviet Union during World War II and have remained Russian. The southern part of these areas, around the historically Swedish-Finnish city of Vyborg (Viipuri), belongs to Russia proper (St. Petersburg Oblast), while the northern part forms, together with the original Eastern Karelia, the Republic of Karelia, an autonomous constituent of the Russian Federation. As a result of migration, the population here is by now mostly Russian, but the Karelian minority constitutes, in accordance with the Soviet system, a nationality that is officially distinct both from the Russians and from the Finns (who are in fact Finnish-speaking Western Karelians and are the remnant of a population that was largely transferred into Finland).

Forty or fifty years ago, one might have regarded the Seipel Line as continuing its northward course along the Finnish-Soviet and then the Norwegian-Soviet border into the Barents Sea. Since that time, however, the Saami or Sámi (formerly known as Lapps) of northern Finland, Sweden and especially Norway (as well of those of Murmansk Oblast in Russia) have developed an ethnic national consciousness – transcending political boundaries – that is moving them ever closer to the status of a minority nationality in the Eastern mold. Each of the three countries now has a Saami parliament (Sámediggi), with jurisdiction over cultural and social matters, that is elected on an ethnic, not a territorial, basis, and that in turn sends delegates to the recently formed (2000) Saami Parliamentary Council (not to be confused with the older, non-governmental Saami Council, which changed its name from Saami Nordic Council when a delegation from Russia joined it in 1996).

The Saamis’ homeland, Saamiland or Lapland, is bounded on the south by a jagged line that does not coincide with any administrative boundaries in the countries involved (it can be found on linguistic maps). To the extent that national situation there is “Eastern,” then, the Seipel Line must be regarded as following that boundary, more or less, westward from the point where it crosses the border between Finland and Murmansk Oblast. It takes a southward turn along the Finland-Sweden boundary, bends southwestward into Sweden and then northwestward when it crosses into Norway, running into the Norwegian Sea somewhere north of Trondheim.

Of course there are many Saami who don’t speak a Saami language and who identify as Finns or Norwegians or Swedes; in all three countries, registration as Saami (in order to vote in elections for the Saami Parliament) is voluntary. But then assimilation of members of ethnic minorities into the majority (or sometimes into other minorities) has gone on everywhere and at all times. That some Austrians of Slovene origin have become Germanized does not negate the existence of a Slovene nationality in Austria, just as the fact that some Jews in Poland – as I mentioned before – regarded themselves as Poles did not prevent the rest of us from feeling our nationality as Jewish.

* * *

It is apparent from the preceding discussion that only exceptionally does the Seipel Line coincide with state boundaries; more often than not, it cuts through countries, in the sense that the meaning of nationality may be different on one side of a country than on another. But it can also cut through a people, namely, the Jewish people: the Jews’ conception of themselves – whether as a nation or as a religion (or a culturally defined ethnic group) – is largely determined by geography. It is useful to remember that what motivated F. J. Neumann to undertake his pioneering study of nationhood was the uncertain national identity of the Jews in what was then Prussian Poland (where the ethnic Poles were unwavering in their Polishness, despite Bismarck’s Germanization campaign), in contrast to the Jews of Germany proper, who saw themselves – largely as a result of the Enlightenment-inspired teachings of Moses Mendelssohn – as Germans.

Unfortunately, many Jews (and non-Jews who discuss Jewish matters) are not aware of the Seipel dichotomy and spend countless hours arguing over “Who is a Jew?” – as though this question could have a unique answer, if only one could find it – and over the nature of Zionism and the State of Israel.

Zionism was conceived by Eastern European Jews such as Pinsker and Ahad Ha’am, and organized by the Austro-Hungarians Herzl and Nordau, as a national liberation movement in the Eastern mold, naturally requiring a historic homeland, which could only be Eretz Yisrael.

What many Western Zionists such as the English writer Israel Zangwill (1864-1926) saw, on the other hand, was mainly the need for a “Jewish Home of Refuge” from anti-Semitic persecution in places such as Russia and Rumania, a refuge that could be anywhere in the world (though “preferably within the British Empire,” in Zangwill’s words). At one point Uganda was proposed for this purpose, and while Herzl himself briefly flirted with the Uganda scheme, Zangwill continued to carry the banner of “Territorialism” for many years. The idea of a Jewish nationality was something he found repugnant, and he famously articulated (and named) the typically Western notion of the melting pot, in which various ethnic groups blend – without necessarily losing their cultural idiosyncrasies – to make up the civic or state nation (exemplarily, the United States). Assimilation was, to Zangwill, a desirable process, and he saw the aim of Zionism primarily as securing a home “for those Jews who are unable or unwilling to assimilate.”

Western Europe is currently beset by the problem of Muslim immigrants “who are unable or unwilling to assimilate” and who continue to regard Morocco or Turkey or Pakistan (and, more broadly, the Muslim umma as a whole in a spiritual sense) as their homeland. The Western nation-state has no mechanism for dealing with such an element (which is foreign to its nature), and the rise of political parties characterized by anti-Muslim xenophobia in such traditionally hospitable countries as Italy, France and Holland is only one symptom of the malaise. France’s quandary about what schoolgirls may wear on their heads is perhaps a farcical illustration of the problem, but the presence of North Africans who were long-time residents of Spain among the perpetrators of the Madrid train bombings gives it a tragic cast.

It will be interesting to see what happens in the new countries of the European Union as their economies progress to the point of their becoming magnets for immigrants from Muslim lands. Dealing with unassimilated minorities is part of their nature as national states, and while the record of most of them in such dealings has been far from exemplary, at times even states may learn from experience. Will this experience prove helpful in averting the West’s problems?

July 8, 2004

Revised August 25, 2004

© 2004 by Jacob Lubliner

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