Nationalism can be viewed as the single most important force in shaping history. It has caused the
creation and disintegration of countless countries and unions, and has been the cause of nearly every major
war. Its power over history is understandable. Nationalism is the sense of unity present in a group of
people of similar ethnic or cultural background. It carries with it a feeling of separation from, and often
superiority to, other nationalities. At the end of the nineteenth century, nationalism was causing notable
changes in the boundaries of European countries. France expanded and contracted as it shifted from
republic to empire and back again. Germany and Italy were beginning to become established as unified
countries rather than groups of small territories. Austria and Hungary had joined together under a single
monarchy. These changes set the stage for the conflicts that would in turn lead to the first World War, a
war fueled almost entirely by nationa!
lism.

Germany is a prime example of a country strengthened by nationalism. Before the nineteenth
century, Germany did not exist as a country. It was comprised of numerous independent states that for the
most part did not identify themselves as having a single nation. In the mid-1800s, however, Otto von
Bismarck maneuvered the German Confederacy away from Austrian rule and towards becoming its own
separate nation. King William of Prussia was nominated Emperor of the newly formed Germany. Otto von
Bismarck became Chancellor, a position directly below the king. Bismarck then developed a constitution,
establishing the Emperorís control over foreign and domestic policy and a bicameral legislature, part of
which represented the people and the other part the various German states. In the 1870s and 1880s,
Bismarck worked at developing a strong, centralized German state, primarily to protect the territories of
Alsace and Lorraine against repossession by France. Thus, a common purpos!
e and a common enemy were established for the German people. The unification of Germany allowed for
much greater industrial and military growth. With a much greater area exploitable for raw materials, the
already industrially rich Germany quickly surpassed Britain as the most industrialized nation in Europe.
This increase in available territory also contributed to the development of the military, both in terms of
people and equipment. The combination of strong military and strong industry was what enabled Germany
to become a major European power so soon after its establishment.

Austria-Hungary was significantly weakened by nationalism. The various ethnicities that
comprised it, seeing Germany, Italy, and other nations forming, wanted similar opportunities. Since
Austria-Hungary was so large and encompassed so many different regions, it was impossible for all to be
represented in government. It was equally impossible for Austria-Hungary to allow these regions
autonomy without sacrificing much of its power. To satisfy the Hungarians, or Magyars, a dual monarchy
was created which shared power more or less equally between Austria and Hungary. The other minority
ethnicities (Czechs, Slovaks, Poles, Ruthenes, Romanians, Croats, Serbs, and Slovenes) were also
beginning to demand recognition. An agreement was reached in 1867 allowing these minorities equal
rights and the privilege to conduct education, administration, and public life in their own language. In
1868, they were allowed to use their own language in local government, to hold chief posts i!
n their own regions, and to have their own schools. These statutes were often ignored by the national
government, however, and minorities continued to be persecuted. In 1907, the Czechs gained a voice in
Austro-Hungarian government; the new parliament was one-fifth Czech, approximately the Czech
percentage of the population. This parliament was dissolved, however, and by 1914 the Czechs again were
unrepresented in Austria-Hungary. The various nationalities that went, as the Czechs did, unheard in
Austro-Hungarian government created the tension in Austria-Hungary that made it difficult to govern. It
was this same tension that led to the assassination of Francis Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian
throne, by an anti-Austrian group in Serbia. This event was the beginning of World War I, which would
culminate in the dissolution of Austria-Hungary.

Nationalism plays little, if any, role in the world today. With the end of World War II, the concept
of ethnic superiority became unpopular and even frightening for the majority of the world. What before the
war would have been considered normal racial pride