Nation building

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Nation building (Engl. Nation building ) a process of socio-political development, from loose or too controversial connected is Communities a joint company with their respective State will be. It is to be distinguished from state building , which in the narrower sense is about building state institutions.

The process of nation-building includes the establishment of common cultural standards, often including a uniform language for the future community, and the careful integration of ever wider sections of the population into socio-cultural and political institutions such as B. the judiciary, the school system or the right to vote . The process of nation building is often carried out by a militarily, administratively and economically dominant power elite in order to legitimize existing or desired relationships of rule .


Nations in the modern sense did not emerge in Europe until the French Revolution . The prerequisites for this developed in the course of the 17th and 18th centuries. In the course of the 19th century, shaped by nationalism in Europe, a number of nation states developed . Italy, which was only unified in the course of the Risorgimento in 1861 , and Germany, which only became a nation state in 1871 with the establishment of the German Empire , excluding German Austria , were therefore considered to be belated nations . The multi-ethnic state Austria-Hungary began to appear anachronistic towards the end of the 19th century. The fact that the Austro-Hungarian Compromise could not satisfy the nationalisms of the smaller nations contributed significantly to the outbreak of the First World War.

“Nation building” in the narrower sense originally referred to the endeavors of young nation-states after the Second World War , primarily the nations of former African colonies, to redesign and hold together the colonial territories that had been reshaped by the colonial powers without taking ethnic or other borders into account. The fight against a common colonial ruler came in handy here. These reformed states should, however, become mentally cohesive states capable of development after they have gained independence.

Nation building involved the creation of external national symbols such as flags , anthems , national days , national stadiums, national airlines, national languages including national myths . At a lower level that had national identity are constructed arbitrarily by different groups formed a nation, especially where the colonialism " divide and conquer " tactics ( divide et impera had) used to stabilize the own rule.

One of the most successful nation-building actions was brought about by the city republic of Singapore , where Chinese, South Indian, Malay, European and other ethnic groups live side by side.

A nation could also be successfully formed from the Swiss Confederation . If Switzerland was a confederation before 1848 , it became a federal state after the Sonderbund War . In the beginning, especially the defeated Catholic cantons in the war could not get enthusiastic about this nation. After the Second World War and the economic growth, the associated population move to metropolitan areas and the increasing immigration of foreign workers and the increasing liberalization of society, the local population was looking more and more for a common denominator, which was in their mentality, language ( German , French , Italian and Romansh ), religion ( Roman Catholic Church , Reformed Church and Christian Catholic Church) and historical background of very different populations. Cantonal conditions ( cantonal league spirit ) played an ever smaller role and are increasingly perceived as annoying. Discussions about state reform are repeated (merging the cantons, etc.). In historical regions, the cantonal names are replaced by Swiss ones (the Berner Mittelland motorway sign becomes Swiss Mittelland) and this without great discomfort on the part of the population. The inhabitants actually feel like Swiss, which was not so pronounced 100 years ago. You were Bernese, Zurich, Valais etc. and Switzerland was just the common state.

However, many young nation- states are shaken by power struggles with rivalries between ethnic or religious groups that make use of tribalism . This sometimes led to separatism , such as in 1970 during the Biafras civil war in Nigeria or the ongoing demand of the Ogaden National Liberation Front for complete independence of their region from Ethiopia . In Asia, the disintegration of Pakistan into Pakistan and Bangladesh provides an example of how ethnic differences, supported by geographical demarcation, made it easier to tear apart a post-colonial state. Certain roots of the genocide in Rwanda or the Sudan conflict are also related to a lack of ethnic and / or religious coherence within the nation. Conflicts often arise particularly when states with similar ethnic but different colonial and historical backgrounds are united. In addition to successful examples such as Cameroon , failures such as the Senegambia Confederation show the problems of uniting Francophone and Anglophone territories.

Several waves of nation building can be distinguished in the 20th century: After the disintegration of the multiethnic states in the wake of the First World War, new nation states emerged in Europe (e.g. Yugoslavia , Czechoslovakia ). In the Third World , after the Second World War and the collapse of the colonial empires, many artificially created areas became independent as nation states without having a common national identity (multi-ethnic states). After the end of the East-West conflict in 1989/90, multi-ethnic states ( Soviet Union , Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia) disintegrated due to the dynamic processes of nation-building within them.


The formation of nations has always been a protracted process that was often accompanied by violent conflicts (see wars of independence and unification ). Since state collapse and unstable identities can pose a threat to the regional environment or the entire community of states, attempts were made in the 20th century to promote nation-building from outside (cf. Bosnia and Herzegovina , Kosovo , Macedonia ). The success of such attempts is controversial.

Nevertheless, the formation of states without nation-building is considered problematic, since in this case the necessary identity-creating stabilization and compensation mechanisms are missing.


  • Benedict Anderson : The Invention of the Nation . Campus Verlag, Frankfurt am Main / New York 2005, ISBN 3-593-37729-2 .
  • Kenan Engin : “Nation-Building” - Theoretical consideration and case study: Iraq , Nomos, Baden-Baden 2013, ISBN 978-3-8487-0684-6 .
  • Christine Fricke: Non-Images of the Nation - About changing representations of African identities. In: Manuel Aßner, Jessica Breidbach et al. (Ed.): AfrikaBilder im Wandel? Sources, continuities, effects and breaks. Lang, Frankfurt am Main 2012, ISBN 978-3-631-61568-3 .
  • Francis Fukuyama : States Build , ISBN 3-549-07233-3 .
  • Jochen Hippler (ed.): Nation-building - a useful instrument for conflict management? Dietz Verlag, Berlin 2003 (excerpt online ).
  • Eric Hobsbawm : Nations and Nationalism. Myth and reality since 1780. Campus-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main / New York, NY 1991, ISBN 3-593-34524-2 .
  • Miroslav Hroch : The Europe of Nations. Modern nation-building in European comparison , Göttingen 2005, ISBN 3-525-36801-1 .
  • R. Kl. [Rolf Klima]: Nation building . In: Werner Fuchs-Heinritz u. a. ( Ed .): Lexikon zur Sociologie , 4th edition, VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, Wiesbaden 2007, ISBN 978-3-531-15573-9 , p. 452.
  • Heinz-Peter Platen: Nation building and nationalism , Schroedel, ISBN 978-3-507-36858-3 .
  • Siegfried Weichlein: National Movements and Nationalism in Europe (= history compact), Darmstadt 2006, ISBN 978-3-534-15484-5 .
  • Siegfried Weichlein: National Movements and Nationalism in Europe. A research overview , in: Neue Politische Literatur 51 (2006), Issue 2/3.


  1. This can also be done through Octroy or Import, but these usually cause considerable problems.
  2. “In the course of the Balkan Wars, however , the post-Ottoman states were able to expand their territories considerably. This intensified the conflicts in the young ' nation states'. Because in the 'liberated' areas (e.g. in the Macedonian region, in Kosovo, in Western Thrace or Epirus) there were more or less large groups at home that either had no national consciousness or whose national consciousness differed from that of the titular nation. […] The state of an ethnically based titular nation is by definition not the state of its minorities, even if they are treated equally as citizens and individuals. While the majority can identify with “their” state, its symbols, holidays, monuments and other productions, the minorities remain excluded. […] The departure of the international community from the ' Lausanne model ' did not sustainably promote the reconstruction of multi-ethnic communities. Of the roughly four million refugees and displaced persons from the former Yugoslavia, around half have returned home - but almost exclusively to where their nation is the majority. [...] The transformation from an ethnonational state to a multiethnic and ethnically neutral community of citizens that is only committed to human rights must begin with the titular nation. Where else? Only then can ethnic minority rights or territorial autonomy be dispensed with. ”Quoted in Holm Sundhaussen : State formation and ethnic-national contrasts in Southeastern Europe , From Politics and Contemporary History B 10-11 / 2003.
  3. "[...] that today's European-style state, which serves as a film, is only the end product of a complex development that has lasted for hundreds of years. Its simple implementation in other cultures must fail, according to the political scientist Berit Bliesemann de Guevara using the example of Bosnia-Herzegovina "( Book review (PDF; 13 kB) on Berit Bliesemann de Guevara, Florian P. Kühn: Illusion Statebuilding. Why the western state looks like this difficult to export , Edition Körber Foundation, 2010)