Germany and German Minorities in Europe

Eventually to be published in Divided Nations and European Integration (ed. by Tristan Mabry, John McGarry, and Brendan O’Leary, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010), this paper considers the various causes, consequences, and responses to the ‘German question’. Demographically and geographically complex, the dynamics of the divided German nation are now apparent in the context of European integration.

Following a brief historical account of German minorities in Europe, section one of this paper develops a model of what constitutes a German national identity. The second section examines the impact of European integration on the status of German minorities, focusing primarily on the situation in Central and Eastern Europe. Section three discusses the role of Germany as a kin-state and its varying policies toward external minorities and their host-states through the past century. The concluding section provides a broad-brush summary assessment of the status of German minorities in contemporary Europe.

There are four things this paper does not do. First, there is no discussion of German populations outside Europe, such as the significant numbers of Germans in South America. Second, Germans in Switzerland are also excluded from the examination. While one could easily make an argument about cultural affinity, Swiss Germans have developed a very distinct community since 1291 and, as part of the Swiss confederation, a political identity that ranks Swiss first and German second. Third, the paper makes only passing reference to Austria. Until 1867, Germans in Austria (the House of Habsburg) were an integral, and at times the dominant, part of the German nation. Austria’s exclusion from the Norddeutscher Bund (1866-1871) and then from the German Reich marked the beginning of diverging identities, heightened by a post-1945 historiography that painted Austria and Austrians as the first victims of the Nazis. To the extent that many of today’s German minorities trace their origins back to the Habsburg and Austro-Hungarian empires, the paper considers Austria and its predecessors as an important dimension of the ‘German question’, but for the post-1919 period, the focus is essentially on the various incarnations of Germany proper. Fourth, the issue of German reunification post-1945 does not feature as part of this analysis: neither in the sense of the reunifications that did happen (Saarland in 1957; former East Germany in 1990), nor the reunification that did not happen with the Ostgebiete, i.e. one-time German territories placed under provisional Polish and Soviet administration in 1945 that remained in legal limbo until the 2+4 (Unification) Treaty and the German-Polish border treaty of 1990.