A brief note: the purpose of this post isn't to be political. It's just to point out that irredentism is a thing, it's long been a thing, and it's going to continue to be a thing. So media reports that compare Putin to Hitler on the basis of irredentism alone are just trying to go for shock value instead of actually informing you about what irredentism in Europe has looked like over the past 100 years.
Before we begin, here's a quick and dirty definition of irredentism: a belief that advocates for the annexation of neighboring territories based on the same ethnicity, language, and/or culture, actual or alleged.
Irredentist claims to territory existed before Hitler. It's what helped WWI get started. The Serbian nationalist group, the Black Hand, wanted (mostly, vaguely) the part of "Serbia" that was in the Austro-Hungarian empire to join the Kingdom of Serbia (led by a reluctant, somewhat terrified, and resentful Peter the 1st).
After WWI, Italian fascists, feeling robbed by the Treaty of Versailles, made irredentist claims on a part of the Croatian coast (look up the brief history of the Italian fascist Free State of Fiume).
Irredentism is currently a thing for ethnic Hungarians living in Romania, Slovakia, parts of the Ukraine, the Burgenland area of Austria, Croatia, and Serbia. In 1920, after the signing of the Trianon Treaty, Hungarians lost roughly 70% of their empire. 1/3 of all Hungarians after 1920 lived outside of Hungary's borders (Slovakia, Romania, etc.)
Around 1989, talking about the Trianon Treaty became a way to unify Hungarians against the crumbling USSR. Unfortunately, the Trianon Treaty also became part of Hungarians' efforts to reclaim Hungarian culture, and distinguish between the "real Hungarians" and the "cosmopolitans." Guess who the "cosmopolitans" were?
The people today advocating for Hungarian irredentism and bemoaning/bewailing the Treaty of Trianon are part of Hungary's successful far-right parties. In fact, a quick googling of Hungary and anti-Semitism led me to this NPR post from AN HOUR AGO. The headline reads "Increased Hostility Against Jews and Roma in Hungary" and points out that Hungary is more anti-immigrant and hostile to minorities than anywhere else in (western, central) Europe right now:
So when you perhaps stumble across a news item about another small town in Hungary erecting a Trianon Treaty statue to memorialize their victimization and celebrate the unity of Hungarian culture, think about what that statue might mean:
As you can probably tell by now, my natural inclination is to be suspicious of irredentist claims to territory because they reinforce the notion of an organic, natural, pure community (thanks, Gottfried Herder!). If everyone were to just come together, goes the line of thinking, our national community would just fall neatly and naturally into place.
As someone who has always, *always* been the outsider to these "natural communities" I especially distrust and dislike this idea. Yes, people are being "included" into a greater body but you sure as hell had better believe that some people are being excluded, too. I felt excluded as a black girl growing up in Vienna, Austria. And then I came to the States, thinking it would be better (and it is, to a certain extent) only to discover that Langston Hughes had a to write a poem called, "I, Too, Sing America." Only to hear people talk about the "real America" that existed in farmlands in Kansas or the mountains of Montana - places that were majority white.
So forgive me for not applauding irredentists for their particular brand of nationalism. It's not my "thing."
Have any other examples of irredentism you'd like to share with us? Leave it in the comments.