Monday, April 14, 2014

Volksdeutsche and the Nation-State

The break up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after WWI left large German speaking national minorities in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Yugoslavia. The treatment of these national minorities varied, but for the most part they were able to exercise their political and cultural rights within the framework of the newly independent states of Central Europe and the Balkans during the 1920s and 1930s. This is not to say that they did not have any grievances, some of them even legitimate, but their legal and political status was considerably better than a number of other minorities at the time including Blacks in the US, Jews in Poland, and ethnic Germans in the USSR. This last group being targeted disproportionately for repression both during the dekulakization campaign of 1930-1932 and the Great Terror of 1937-1938, especially during the "German Operation." The German national minorities in Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia cooperated politically and militarily with the Nazi occupation of these states to a considerable degree. Romania and Hungary were German allies, but the ethnic Germans here served in German rather than national military units. A comparatively large percentage of adult males from these communities were members of the NSDAP  and various German military formations such as the Waffen SS. The status of ethnic Germans in the former Austro-Hungarian territories changed radically at the end of WWII. Scapegoated for all of the crimes of Hitler during the war, the new post-war governments of these states as well as those of Poland and the USSR subjected almost all of the ethnic Germans under their control to a brutal collective punishment. Most of them were violently expelled from their ancestral homelands either westward into the territory that would later form West Germany and East Germany, and to a lesser extent Austria. A smaller number, comprised primarily of ethnic Germans living in areas of the USSR west of the Urals ended up in Kazakhstan and Siberia already in 1941-1942. In the decades after the end of the war a very large number of the ethnic Germans remaining in these territories have emigrated and settled in Germany. Only a small fraction of the ethnic German population that lived east of the Oder-Neisse line in 1939 still remain.

Unfortunately, the problem of defining rights as being coterminous with living in the nation-state corresponding with your ethno-national designation and having few if any minorities did not end with the expulsion of the ethnic Germans from Central East Europe. The idea still seems to dominate a lot of frankly primitive thinking on this planet.  Creating ethnically homogenized nation-states where everybody lives in his own nation-state or nation-state like formation such as the republics in the Russian Federation can only be accomplished three ways. These ways are partition, expulsion, and killing. Usually, like in East Central Europe at the end of WWII they are applied in some sort of combination in which partition leads to expulsion which in turn due to its violence entails some degree of killing.

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