What is homeland? The political battle about a term


Event data

26. 7. 2017
Team Stronach Akadmie
Team Stronach Akademie, 1050 Wien
dr. Andreas Unterberger, Autor

On Wednesday, July 26th, I attended a talk on an important topic at the the Team Stronach Akademie. The focus was on the not so simple definition of the term „homeland“, which was made a subject of discussion by Dr. Andreas Unterberger. Andreas Unterberger was editor-in-chief of the „Wiener Zeitung“ and the „Presse“. He is the author of a number of books and runs one of the most successful political blogs in Austria.

First of all he started with the juridical, legal definition, according to which homeland is a changing place of residence. That being said, his father still had a right of domicile in a village in Styria, although he studied in Vienna. This had legal consequences, such as his hometown being responsible for him if his father required nursing care. This right of domicile existed until 1939, then it was abolished.

Further, he discussed the subjective, psychological term, according to which, the homeland is a very strong feeling which expresses itself through a bond to a certain area, a certain culture and a certain group of people. From birth, this sense of home increasingly expands. At first it is the mother, then other close people, eventually a city and finally one’s own province.

By the age of 14, this process is emotionally completed. Interestingly enough, this is exactly the age when most people are no longer able to learn a foreign language without an accent. A few examples are Arnold Schwarzenegger and Frank Stronach, who both still have their German accent while speaking English.

From the age of 20, this sense of home starts to reverse. Many young people want to go abroad and explore the world. But the older you get, the more this bond to the homeland returns. This clearly does not apply to everyone, but to most. For example, the Jews, who, despite terrible experiences, would consider Austria and Germany as their homeland once more, and would have many emotional experiences there. From the second half of life, this sense of home becomes increasingly stronger again. The bonds to the smallest circle will always remain the strongest, at least for the average person.

The student movement of ’68 was a counter-movement to National Socialism, which strongly exploited the sense of home. Also due to this, the student movement was not very patriotic. In particular, in Austria and Germany, the contempt of the homeland can be found.

Nowadays, you can find less national phenomena in the political area as well. In the ’50s and ’60s, for example, there was still brass band music in the ÖVP, politicians commonly appeared in public wearing the Styrian national costume. This changed in the ’70s, when parties were modernised. Then again, the Freedom Party had the problem that they were still attached to a “Great German” solution, therefore, wanting to make Austria a German federal province. But today, this is no longer the case.

The phenomenon of internationalisation continues. The director of the Burgtheater, Martin Kušej, for example, said that he wanted to run a world theatre, and not a national theatre. There should also be foreign language performances.

Unterberger then gave a personal insight into the issue of homeland. For him, external things are not that important and also not compulsory, but he is not ashamed of traditional music or traditions, such as the New Year’s Concert. He was a foreign journalist for 20 years and developed a bond to the Asian culture and cuisine, and you not have to drive away for an Italian opera. He is also against the condemnation of every foreign word.

However, he is against people who resist a community which surrounds them, but who, in the same vein, also want to profit from it. This applies to people who are not willing to work. Or, for example, to people who have an immigration background in the second or third generation, who do not speak German and appear veiled in public. These people dissociate themselves from the community. This especially applies to Turkish people and less to other foreigners, for example Asians, black Africans or Norwegians. You would never find Muslims in an Austrian national costume.

He visited Austrian clubs in Canada, and after a short period of time, English was spoken. The Austrian emigrants adapted themselves linguistically to the country already in the first generation.

Unterberger made another thematic jump. He raised the question of what national identity is. Regarding this, there were two historical developmental strands. In the 19th century, national identity was literally forced upon the people. At that time, Austria was part of the German military alliance, but in those days, Austria held many foreign-language territories. Due to this, it was difficult to create a nationality; the national anthem was, therefore, directed to the emperor. This remained so until after the First World War.

Until 1870, Germany was fragmented into small nations. However, there was a strong awareness of wanting to be together at that time. The German-speaking part of Austria also felt German. It, therefore, was an emotionally divisive situation. At the same time other forms of nationalism arose in Austria, for example, the South-Slav or the Hungarian. The strongest catalyst of such developments was the language. A Czech still wanted to speak Czech in Vienna. After the defeat of the First World War, almost all of the remaining Austria, except for the radical fringe groups, wanted to become a part of Germany.

Today’s national appreciation emerged during the years of Hitler, where attempts were made to distance oneself from Nazi Germany as the „better German country“. After 1945, German nationalism levelled off step by step. This also completely disappeared in the FPÖ, even if it took until the ’90s. In 70 years, Austria was not tested. In the mean time, the national consciousness is sufficiently stable to survive crises.

Fundamentally, national thinking is nothing negative. It only becomes negative if it does not grant other nations’ rights which are held by themselves, for example when the national borders are not accepted and attempts are made to annex territories. The right of self-determination of peoples, who live in affected areas, is the fairest form to solve such problems. Switzerland is a good example as regards the integration of different cultures.

However, the term homeland is partially experiencing a renaissance again, for example when the former SPÖ governor of Salzburg, Gabriele Burgstaller, appears publicly in a “dirndl”, or how Van der Bellen used the term homeland in his election campaign. At this point, the talk ended and there was a possibility to ask questions.


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