Can nationalism and caste coexist

Romanist Kremnitz: "Nationalism is no longer justified"

As a university professor in Vienna, the Romanist Georg Kremnitz immersed himself in research reports on linguistic islands and wrote standard works on multilingualism in literature. The native Swabian is above all an exceptional connoisseur of Catalan concerns. His credo in dealing with Europe's nation-states: A democratization of the EU is essential.

DEFAULT: The criticism of the nation state, as expressed by Robert Menasse, calls his defenders on the scene. For some, the nation is a reliable guarantor of democracy, for others it appears to be a stumbling block. Can we do without them with a view to the EU?

Kremnitz: I would take a step back and question the use of the term nation as it is used in our country. When it says on television: "50 nations took part in the XY sporting event ...", then there is a confusion of terms. Because there were states represented, but not nations.

DEFAULT: You shouldn't use the two terms synonymously?

Kremnitz: There are many nations without a state, but there is hardly a state that is self-contained. We only need to take a sideways glance at Austria and its Slovenes. It was the latter who pulled Austria out of the swamp in 1945. Without the Slovenes, the claim that Austria was the first "victim" of National Socialism could not have been upheld. So there is a tension: between groups that see themselves as a nation, but primarily make no political claims and are even ready to categorize themselves.

DEFAULT: In a state that is not yours?

Kremnitz: Not as a nation, but in a state. We could start with Turkey and the Kurds and end in France. The groups are implicitly forced to demand statehood for themselves. But since every state is not homogeneous in itself, this only creates new minority problems.

DEFAULT: The post-Yugoslav development resulted in a number of small states, all of which want to become EU members as quickly as possible.

Kremnitz: The word "nation" embodies a political consciousness that is often not given the chance to become reality. As long as states are unable to be reasonably honest with the other groups within their borders, there is tension. They remain latent for a long time, but become evident when the opportunity arises.

DEFAULT:Does a "Europe of the Regions" show a way out of the conflict?

Kremnitz: In 1968, the Frenchman Pierre Lafont made a distinction between primary and secondary nations. As primary he indicated those who have formed ethnically. Secondly, he named countries that are politically constituted as states. This distinction has a lot to offer.

DEFAULT: As a secondary state, one only creates states through homogenization?

Kremnitz: Lafont was not in favor of homogenization; he was of the opinion that the different groups should be allowed to coexist. It happened here and there, in Yugoslavia, in the Soviet Union. As we see today, with a view to the United Kingdom, it is not yet clear whether we will end up with three or four states. The nation-state, as ideologized by the French Revolution, simply no longer seems practicable.

DEFAULT: Does that mean with a view to the Union?

Kremnitz: A promising construct is in danger of breaking up again. I belong to a generation that has seen this from an early age. When de Gaulle gave his big speech in Ludwigsburg in 1962, I was in the audience. That was funny. De Gaulle spoke German very well. But if he was missing a word, you could hear people whispering what he wanted.

DEFAULT: The longing for understanding of the years after 1945 has blown away?

Kremnitz: It no longer forms an experience. I think that the "passage" nation state was essential for the democratization of society. It helped to replace the old class and caste system. The state may not have removed the boundaries between social classes, but it has helped to weaken them. He only found his own limits at the geographical borders. This type of nationalism lost its right to exist in Europe after 1945.

DEFAULT: Was there a tipping point?

Kremnitz: It was dangerous to prematurely admit states into the EU which, to put it simply, had not yet turned their horns off. In other respects the European Union represented a relapse into pre-democratic times. It has less democratic control than any of its members. It will probably be necessary to catch up with the French Revolution at the European level.

DEFAULT: Without starting the guillotine again?

Kremnitz: Of course. If there is no tremendous push towards democratization, then the project as a whole is at risk. To come back to the regions one last time: Benedict Anderson coined the word about nations as "imagined communities". But even nations that are not states or have others behind them are fluid at the borders. It is just not true that all participants in a language have the same collective consciousness.

DEFAULT: Would that be the same insight that Robert Menasse takes?

Kremnitz: The monopoly of states will have to be supplemented by both a European and a regional level, at least through a sensible distribution of decision-making spheres. That's what Menasse says, and that's not a stupid thought. Unfortunately, such a development has become obsolete with the admission of new nation states that did not want to know anything about regionalism at any price. (Ronald Pohl, January 20, 2019)

Georg Kremnitz (73) comes from Baden-W├╝rttemberg. The Romanist has studied sociolinguistics and is an expert in Catalonia.