Monday, March 20, 2006

A Place in the Republic

My conference paper is still an editing nightmare. Oh, it's getting written, but I think it has a 'mind of its own' rather than 'writes itself.' I'm trying hard to keep it under the time limit, but I resent losing the color that is present in the corresponding chapters. I'm might lop off a lot of "pre-history" (the other two papers are on Alsace pre-1918) and discussion about Reichsreform (reform of the German territories and redrawing of boundaries.) I also need to fit in some discussion about the necessity of regional history as histoire croisée. Anyway, here's the intro so far:

An article written by Vermeil in 1926 may have confirmed the worst fears of the French government: the Rhenish separatists, expelled from Germany and finding exile in France, were attempting to make common cause with autonomists in Alsace. French propangandists (like Maurice Barrès) had depicted both as victims of Prussian hegemony. Now the separatists, to whom France gave support, became rabble rousers who would radicalize the autonomists, encouraging them to support a project for a trans-Rhenish, Catholic federation that would stand between France and Germany. The fears were exaggerated. Despite the irony that the former agents of French occupation in the Rhineland would ‘come home to roost,’ Alsatian autonomists (as well as the population) sympathized with, but did not join, their former co-nationals. The scare reflected the tendency to analyze problems in Alsace in the light of conditions in Rhineland, and vice-versa.

Nonetheless, there was something uncanny about the similar political climates of these border regions. Both hosted movements that aggressively advocated autonomy either within or from the nation. In the broader sense, Rhinelanders and Alsatians found themselves in the same situation: the transition from empire to republic raised questions about the nature of regions–their independent existence, their relationship with the nation, and transnationalism. Although Alsatians and Rhinelanders were uncertain how the coming of the republic would affect them, it was also an opportunity to think of new possibilities: to balance the nation and its parts and allow diversity to flower.

Rhenish regionalism and Alsatian regionalism appeared to be ascending at a time in which "minority" movements grasped at internationalism to balance their relationships with national governments. Despite common ideas and the simultaneity of regionalisms, the two movements experienced radically different fortunes. German governments came to see regionalism as a tool to strengthen Germany unity, in spite of its critique of national unity. The cultural politics of the provincial self-government encouraged a sophisticated understanding of the Rhineland's organic unity, its relationship with Western Europe, and its membership in the German nation. Consequently, separatism gave way to a subtler advocacy for territorial rights and regional interests.

French government seemed always at war with regionalism in Alsace, no matter how moderate, temporary or practical it was. Exploration of regionalism was itself regarded as a foreign import. Moderate regionalism struggled to maintain a clear message while attacked by integrationists and radical autonomists. Ironically, Alsatian regionalism, stronger and more cohesive in 1914, became ineffective while Rhenish regionalism, almost non-existent before 1918, succeeded at pushing a for regional interests. In the Rhineland, regionalism shed the reputation of separatism. Contrarily, regionalism in Alsace was overshadowed by autonomism.

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