Foto del docente

Stefano Bianchini

Professore ordinario

Dipartimento di Scienze Politiche e Sociali

Settore scientifico disciplinare: SPS/06 STORIA DELLE RELAZIONI INTERNAZIONALI


Slavic Review , vol. 78, #4/2019 pp.1074-76: Liquid Nationalism and State Partitions in Europe

Liquid Nationalism and State Partitions in Europe. By Stefano Bianchini. Cheltenham, Eng.: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2017. 349 pp. Appendix. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Illustrations. Maps. $150.00, hard bound. doi: 10.1017/slr.2019.285

Stefano Bianchini, professor at the University of Bologna and a long-standing specialist on Yugoslavia and east central Europe, has written a masterful synthesis of the European experience of state partitions and nation-building from the early twentieth century to the present day. His particular emphasis is on the problematic relationship between the aforementioned historical processes and democracy, which he places in the broader context of (mostly) European geopolitics. The book is divided into two broad parts: 1) a historical part that details the impact of twentieth-century geopolitical tectonic shifts (World War One, Wilsonian and Leninist self-determination, the rise of irredentism and Hitler’s new order, post-World War Two “ethnic cleansing,” and the ways in which it affected national questions, the Cold War and the consequences of German unification, and the dissolution of multinational communist states (the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, with the Czechoslovak case discussed in the book’s second part); 2) a contemporary history of post-1989/1991 Europe with a particular emphasis on the lessons of new state partitions, the rise of neo-nationalism, and the ways in which the tension between the political economy of globalization, international institutional frameworks, social networks, migrations, and unprecedented individual mobility affect “solid” nationstates and trans(national) democratic aspirations. Theoretically, Bianchini draws inspiration from Zygmunt Bauman’s concept of “liquid modernity” in order to illustrate—using an unprecedented number of cases―the historical contingency and fluidity of both state frameworks and national identities. A singular merit of Bianchini’s book is his positioning of eastern Europe (including the Baltic States) at the center of European history. Rather than seeing the region as a “semi-periphery” or the passive recipient of imperial geopolitics (“bloodlands”), Bianchini shows—with great erudition—how the intellectual crosscurrents of European history enabled historical actors to impact both national and international politics. Along the way, Bianchini explodes many stereotypes: thus, rather than seeing Gavrilo Princip just as a pan-Serb nationalist, we should take note of the affinity of his actions with those of Italian anarchists and Russian populists (56); the centralized and unified nation-state may have been an inadequate model for eastern Europe after World War One, but the fear of irredentism, revolutionary subversion, and geopolitical instability practically forced state authorities to impose a unitary state on recalcitrant minorities (101); the Lithuanian “forest brothers” may have been “freedom fighters” for some, but many of them were either Nazi collaborators or enlisted as conscripts by the occupiers (129); the tragedy of Hitler’s new order lay not only in its devastating immediate results, but also in the fact that it fostered long-term suspicions about the loyalty of minorities, while other fascist precedents (the Italian policy of linguistic assimilation in Istria, South Tyrol, and elsewhere) anticipated Zhivkov’s campaigns against the Turks in Bulgaria in the 1980s (141). Already these select examples demonstrate that Bianchini eschews moralistic judgement in favor of Robert Merton’s “sociological ambivalence”: the simple if not yet fully assimilated idea that “the unintended consequences of social action” play a more important explanatory role than simplified narratives of “good and evil.” This is not to say that Bianchini is “value-neutral”: his preference for European integration, cosmopolitan “fluidity,” and transnational checks on nation-state policies are made obvious at various points in the book. It is precisely because of his interest in preserving the European project that Bianchini devotes a chapter to the “lessons not learned from the Yugoslav dismemberment” (Chapter 10). As Bianchini convincingly argues, the combination of prolonged economic crisis, “austerity measures without investments for growth” (188), confederal decentralization, and ineffective governance opened the road for emotional nationalist appeals that led to the country’s inglorious denouement. A similar fate awaits Europe—despite its economic strength—if it continues along the path of exacerbating the divisions between the developed northwest and “backward” south. To be sure, as Bianchini demonstrates, the social forces for integration are by now so strong (256–57) that a fullblown return to the nineteenth-century model of the nation-state seems unlikely. But to those of us who lived in Yugoslavia in the year 1985, the idea that the country would collapse violently a mere five years later also seemed unlikely. Bianchini’s strength lies precisely in his appreciation of history as a field of open possibilities in which (European) leadership (or lack thereof) can make all the difference between prosperity and tragedy. It is impossible to do justice to the intellectual wealth of Bianchini’s magisterial survey in a short review. Suffice it to note that the vast terrain covered contains many valuable particular lessons, while the exposition of the contradictions of western policies in the region should serve as welcome check on technocratic smugness. If “historia” is indeed “magistra vitae,” Bianchini shows us just why the Latin proverb may still ring true.

Veljko Vujačić The European University, St. Petersburg/Oberlin College


Pubblicato il: 14 marzo 2020