Europe: The Return of History

Europe: The Return of History

by Sven Tagil (Editor)


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This anthology gives an overview and an in-depth description of Europe in historical terms, providing explanation for the current period of dramatic development and integration process that has led to the increased strength of the European Union. It also explores the simultaneous trend towards disintegration, with an increased number of nationalist strivings of the traditional kind, attempting to foresee the future structures by understanding the underlying processes through an analysis of the historical background.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9789189116146
Publisher: Nordic Academic Press
Publication date: 01/01/2001
Pages: 547
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.70(d)

About the Author

Sven Tägil is the professor emeritus of history at Lund University, Sweden.

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The Return of History

By Sven Tägil, Jasmine Aimaq

Nordic Academic Press

Copyright © 2001 Nordic Academic Press and the authors
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-91-89116-14-6


A Crisis of the Territorial State? Integration and Fragmentation in Europe

Rune Johansson, Ralf Rönnquist & Sven Tägil

Conflicting Trends

The debate on European unity has largely focused on economic questions. However, there exists no definitive sketch for the political future of Europe. Different visions compete with one another, making it difficult for the ordinary citizen to form a clear picture of what will come. With barriers between states razed, human and financial resources are able to move freely throughout the integrated area. But this says little about the more profound realities that suffuse the new community being formed. Focusing exclusively on economic matters cannot illuminate the underlying substance of the process we are witnessing.

To better understand the Europe that will be, it is first necessary to understand the Europe that has been. The community being created is not emerging from nothingness. It is being fashioned by individuals with widely different perspectives, experiences and visions that result from distinct historical legacies. In geographic terms, this Europe is far larger than the present-day European Union, far larger than the Western Europe that launched and leads the integration process. This suggests a fundamental question–what are the boundaries of Europe? Is Russia a part of tomorrow's Europe? Where is the line separating Europe from the Muslim word in the southeast? Will the Mediterranean Sea function as a moat excluding the Africans? Not even the oceans form a natural border, since both the British and the French have ties not only to the European continent, but also to their former colonies.

Geographically, Europe is a well-defined entity, although its eastern border with Asia has been widely debated. Europe generally is also associated with a distinct culture, or civilization, yet it is difficult to specify and measure the substance and form of this civilization. Cultures are actualized by individuals; they do not exist in a vacuum. In Europe, which has been characterized by generally favorable conditions for human settlement and activity, people have since the dawn of history formed both smaller and larger collectivities, bound to the particular territory which the group inhabited. Settlement has been relatively scattered throughout the continent, however. It was therefore relatively late that Europe witnessed the development of large, cohesive populations similar to those that lived in the ancient river cultures of the Nile, the Euphrates/Tigris, and the Ganges. Europe has been linguistically and culturally fragmented from the start.

Numerous territorial identities evolved in this fragmented area. Some proved short-lived, others stood the test of time. The process by which such identities are forged is always dynamic, and the factors that determined the substance and limits of these identities were in many cases quite random. In other instances, conscious thought and deliberate action influenced the long-term development of identities.

Against this background, understanding European history involves studying the principles relevant to the evolution of territorial identities in different parts of the continent. Two trends may be distinguished. On one hand, there has been a tendency toward the creation of overarching structures, including notions of Europe as one great, unified community. On the other hand, history includes a pattern of dissolution and the fragmentation of Europe into smaller units.

Correspondingly, two conflicting tendencies characterize the development of the modern European state system. One can be described as integrative, with a growing number of competencies traditionally assigned to the state being transferred to supranational authorities. This process can be understood against the background of increased internationalization, which has been reflected both through institutional organization and through extensive contact and cooperation in many spheres. The need for far-reaching solutions has resulted in creations such as the European Union and NATO. But contemporary history has also witnessed countercurrents that have impeded the integration process. Individual states may have particular economic or security interests they feel are best dealt with within the framework of the traditional state. In such cases, the state in question might resist submitting to a supranational body, or may slow the integrative momentum within supranational organs. Particularist interests within the agricultural sector constitute a prominent contemporary example.

Since the Second World War, there has been, according to some, a development toward a new West European "state" to be constructed around the members of the European Union. Other types of union for now-sovereign states, such as a confederation, have also been considered. Yet postwar Europe has also witnessed an escalating tendency toward fragmentation. Perhaps the future holds an independent Flanders and an independent Wallonia in place of the current state of Belgium. Maybe tomorrow's Europe includes a Basque state and an independent Scotland. In Eastern Europe, in areas that were subject to Soviet domination until the late 1980s, fragmentation has proceeded swiftly. As the Soviet empire shattered, it left behind room for new, independent states, with Russia the largest of these in an area steeped in uncertainty and instability. And in the historically volatile Balkans, the dissolution of Yugoslavia demonstrated that new state-formations do not solve old problems. Major changes in the state system may have profound consequences for Europe.

Scholars throughout Europe have conducted extensive studies on, for instance, economic integration and political decision making at the supranational level. However, existing research tends to neglect certain critical issues. First, it is important to note that integration can occur in different arenas–economic, political and cultural–and that developments within these arenas need not coincide. Furthermore, previous research tends to lack a long-term historical perspective concerning the integrative/separatist tendencies in Europe. The origins of today's realities must be found in the past; an analysis of relevant historical developments is essential if we are to understand what is before us.

In addition, no existing theory does full justice to the importance of territorial identity, although it has been argued that "one of mankind's continuing problems" is "how best to give political recognition to these identities." This book emphasizes territorial identity and identification as key factors both in the trend toward supranationalism and in the trend toward regional separatism. The ultimate question is whether existing states will be able to survive in their present forms.

Territorial Identity and Identification

Identity is a complicated concept. The authors understand it as a series of attributes that are shared by, or are perceived to be shared by, a group of individuals. These individuals may share external characteristics such as language or religion. The basis of all identity-formation, however, is cultural, insofar as it is correlated to patterns of thought and behavior. The emergence of common cultural features is largely the function of historical processes–processes that have encompassed groups of people who have been in contact with one another. Consequently, identity-formation typically has been demarcated by territorial parameters.

The identity of any given individual can be more or less discernible to the outside world, but the identity of any given group normally is socially defined . Individuals within the group presumably are conscious of bearing a certain identity, or through social interactions have become conscious of being perceived in a certain manner. But this does not necessarily determine their actions. People usually have several different identities at once; it is entirely possible to be Scanian, Swedish, Scandinavian and European at the same time. In certain circumstances, however, one of these identities can be engaged at the expense of the others, and this may have political consequences. This leads to another conceptual distinction, namely that of identity from identification. Identification describes a person's perceived affinity with a group whose identity s/he shares, and the related perception of being different from individuals in any other group–hence the "us" and "them" distinction. Identification thus becomes a prerequisite for the political mobilization of a group. This is true both of territorial and non-territorial identities.

There is much to suggest that territorial identity and identification are essential concepts in an analysis of the emergence and development of political entities. The affinity inhabitants feel with one another, and the identification with a certain political entity that this affinity may foster, give the political regime its legitimacyas well as its ability to mobilize the population in support of the government's policies. In every state, the political leadership has sought to reinforce the common identity of the population, in order to promote identification with the state. Such identification is crucial if the governed are to accept the government's monopoly on legitimate use of force, particularly in times of national crisis. Territorially defined identity and identification are thus of primary importance, even compared with class identity, as illustrated by developments in Eastern and Central Europe in recent decades.

Territoriality, or the connection to a certain territory, has always been a fundamental part of human actions and relationships, independently of whether one believes it to be innate or to be an instrument used to a certain end. Territoriality has thus been an object of great interest in many disciplines, and is frequently discussed in connection with the concept of region. Naturally, different scholars pose different questions and thus use different categorizations. Leaving aside physical geography, regional analyses normally have a political-administrative, an economic, or a cultural dimension. These dimensions may overlap but need not do so, and very few studies have dealt comprehensively with all three. The following diagram illustrates the relationship between the dimensions.

The discrepancy between economic, political and cultural categorizations is a prominent subject in many studies. Scholars have sought to identify cultural, territorial entities, then analyze their political significance. The concept of region is central in this context. Here we draw on the concept as it is used in social geography. The idea is that a distinct identity can emerge within the framework of a given geographic area. Such an identity can be viewed as the product of specific social and socio-economic processes, but it can also be understood as the result of a historical process of construction and reconstruction. Put another way, a specific historical development within an area creates the basis for a shared identity among the area's inhabitants; this identity then is propagated and reinforced through the process of cultural communication within the area, and under certain conditions will survive from generation to generation.

A key component in this context is institutionalization, defined as "standardised, quite permanent modes of behaviour which are controlled by expectations connected with various roles." Institutionalization is essential to the emergence of a shared regional identity, constructed on shared patterns of thought and behavior. The Finnish geographer Anssi Paasi distinguishes four stages in the institutionalization of a region: "1) assumption of territorial shape 2) development of conceptual (symbolic) shape 3) development of institutions and 4) establishment as part of the regional system and regional consciousness concerned." The order in which the stages proceed need not directly reflect a historical course of development.

As follows from the conceptual discussion above, the development of regions is linked to social processes in history. Not all areas can be described as regions, but once a regional identity has been established, it tends to survive regardless of how the societal administration otherwise is constructed in the area. This identity is passed on from generation to generation and to some extent influences the individual's "structures of expectations," the way in which the individual organizes his/her knowledge of the world and uses it to process incoming information. In other words, regional identities outlive the administrative structures that gave rise to them, and continue to affect the behavior of future generations. This is reflected today in the role that historical provinces play in the identities of people in many European states.

According to the theoretical definition here employed, regions can vary greatly in size, and are not necessarily confined to the official boundaries of a state. A region can be a supranational entity, such as Europe, or a part of Europe, such as Central Europe. The prerequisite for an area to be labeled a region is that there exists some form of cultural unity and shared identity, perhaps supported by language and religious similarities. However, supranational, culturally-defined regions can appear also in linguistically and religiously splintered areas. Scholars and politicians have generally agreed that some form of shared identity is essential to the success of European integration; meanwhile, one of the objectives of integrative efforts has been to strengthen this shared identity.

A region can also be a state. In such instances, the boundaries of the state coincide with the boundaries of the identity-bearing "region," such that the inhabitants of the state share an overarching identity. Finally, regions may be intrastate territorial entities that have developed a distinct identity over time. It is important to distinguish between these culturally-and historically-defined regions on the one hand, and regions that are defined on the basis of economic and political criteria on the other. Scotland and Sicily might be regions according to the definition presented here. It should also be noted that historically-culturally defined regions can be divided by state boundaries. To avoid terminological confusion, the terms macroregion (or supranational region), state and region will be used throughout this book. Accordingly, "region" designates only areas within existing states.

As mentioned, an individual can have several, hierarchically layered identities. This does not necessarily pose a problem. There is no automatic contradiction in being from Yorkshire and being English, or being Scanian and Swedish. In neither case is it a problem also to be a "European." In some circumstances, however, the individual may have to choose which identity will determine his/her actions. At such times, identities may come into conflict with each other. It has been noted that states generally have tried to reinforce and develop a shared identity among their inhabitants, and to make that identity the only politically relevant, territorial identity. But it has often been difficult to direct this identity-forming process. Individuals have felt identification with entities other than the state, as they did in 19th century Czarist Russia, Austria-Hungary and imperial Germany, which ultimately resulted in the dissolution of these structures into smaller territorial units.States are confronted with the same problem today. A significant number of citizens might prioritize a territorial identity based on a territory other than the state's, whether this be a regional identification within the state accompanied by demands for self-rule or the independence of the region, or some form of supranational identification with a macroregion.

The fundamental question is thus how, and under what circumstances, different territorial identities become politically relevant. One important factor in this context is the connection between the concepts ethnicity and territoriality.

An often-used definition of an ethnic group is "a social group which consciously shares some aspects of a common culture and is defined primarily by descent." The emphasis on common descent suggests that people are usually born into a group and thus become part of a common cultural heritage. Besides common descent and shared cultural characteristics, an ethnic group often has one or several attributes that distinguishes it from other groups. The most common of these is language, though religion and race also can play important roles in the creation of an ethnic identity. Moreover, it is not essential that the group displays characteristics that clearly demarcate it from the outside world. There are cases where historical processes engendered such distinctive "civic societies" that culture and historical tradition alone constituted the identity.


Excerpted from Europe by Sven Tägil, Jasmine Aimaq. Copyright © 2001 Nordic Academic Press and the authors. Excerpted by permission of Nordic Academic Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


Title Page,
Copyright Page,
A Crisis of the Territorial State? Integration and Fragmentation in Europe,
Ideas on Europe–Europe as an Idea An Intellectual History of European Unity and Cooperation,
"God Save Britain" State-Building and Intrastate Separatism in the British Isles,
"La France sera la France" State, Nation, Region and Europe in French History,
Spain: Castilian Empire or Nation-State in the Making?,
"Soweit die deutsche Zunge klingt" State and Identity in German History,
"If We Want Everything to Remain As It Is, Then We Must Change Everything." Integration and Fragmentation in Italy,
Central Europe and the Empires –Full Circle in History,
Post-Soviet Russia–Empire or Federation?,
Yugoslavia–The Legacy Many Wish to Forget,
Macedonia and Its Place in Europe,
Sweden in Norden and Europe –From Kalmar Union to European Union,
Notes on the authors,

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