From RationalWiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search
The white man's burden
Icon imperialism.svg
The empires strike back
Veni, vidi, vici
"Every national border in Europe," El Eswad added ironically, "marks the place where two gangs of bandits got too exhausted to kill each other anymore and signed a treaty. Patriotism is the delusion that one of these gangs of bandits is better than all the others."
—Robert Anton Wilson[1]

Irredentism is the nationalist belief that a territory belonging to another country should be annexed for ethnic or historical reasons.

Irredentism is to be distinguished from territorial expansionism, in that irredentism claims to advocate taking back land that is "rightfully ours," while expansionism advocates annexation regardless of whether the territory was "ours" in the first place.[2] The name of the hypothetical country resulting from successful annexation frequently contains the word "Greater," such as in Greater Serbia,Wikipedia Greater Albania,Wikipedia Greater Greece (Megali IdeaWikipedia), Greater Germany (Greater Germanic ReichWikipedia), Greater India (Akhand BharatWikipedia), Greater Iran (Irān-e BozorgWikipedia), Greater Russia,Wikipedia Greater Hungary (Hungarian irredentismWikipedia), Greater Romania,Wikipedia and Greater Bulgaria.Wikipedia


According to the political ideology of ethnolinguistic nationalism, a nation-state must encompass all the speakers of a given language and have only one official language.[3]:4-5 The first principle meant that multiple nation-states would often clash over the same region, as completely monolingual regions are more the exception than the rule. The second meant that nation-states would pursue ethnic homogenization in their territories through deportations, population transfers, forced assimilation, or even massacres in order to destroy any existing linguistic diversity.[3][4][5] Fortunately, irredentism usually does not receive the official support it once did.[2][6][4]

The former principle was a good idea in theory, as it would ensure that ethnolinguistic groups would be able to manage their own linguistic affairs, but in practice it meant that multilingual regions would be fought over by multiple nation-states. Historians were enlisted to provide historical justifications for their nation-states' claims by portraying their own nation as having inhabited the contested regions before all others and hence (so they alleged) being the only one with any right to live in it. These arguments were merely means to a political end, with the historical reality being secondary and irrelevant; each camp was dogmatically certain about its own antecedence, and any possibility that another group might have arrived "first", or that the historical record might be unclear as to the order of migration of the ethnicities in question, was categorically dismissed. Because of the existence of multilingual regions, nation-states also considered it necessary to carry out policies of active ethnic homogenization[7][8][9][10] through forced assimilation, violence, or deportation in order to achieve the second principle (such as in Nazi Germany[11] and the Yugoslav Wars[12][13]). States would pursue the interests of one ethnolinguistic group exclusively, to the detriment of any others that might oppose it, leading to unjust double standards; while effecting such policies with impunity within their own borders, they would oppose the same actions when practiced by other states and even intervene militarily in order to prevent them.

Irredentism is closely associated with nationalism,[4] and because fascism requires nationalism, so too is fascism closely associated with irredentism: Nazi Germany (Lebensraum), fascist Italy,[14] and fascist Spain[15] are historical examples. Russia, which has taken a fascistic turn since the rise to power of Vladimir Putin,[16]:15-35 has used the writings of fascist philosopher Ivan IlyinWikipedia to justify the illegal annexation of Crimea and Russia's involvement in the Eastern Ukraine War.[17] Ilyin, who has been frequently promoted by Putin, had denied that Ukrainians were a separate entity from Russians, and thus should be absorbed into a post-Soviet Russia.[16]:23-24

Gimme, gimme, gimme![edit]

If the American desires the greatness and prosperity of the States before all nations, and the Englishman desires the same for his nation, and the Russian, Turk, Dutchman, Abyssinian, Venezuelan, Boer, Armenian, Pole, Czech, each have a similar desire; if all are convinced that these desires ought not to be concealed and suppressed, but, on the contrary, are something to be proud of, and to be encouraged in oneself and in others; and if one country's greatness and prosperity can only be obtained at the expense of another, or at times of many other countries and nations; then how can war not be?
—Leo Tolstoy, Patriotism, or Peace?[19]

Irredentism often seeks to expand a given country to its maximum historical extent, regardless of whether the irredentists' ethnic group ever actually formed the majority in the territories in question. Examples include the irredentist claims by Hungarian right-wing extremists to the entire Pannonian BasinWikipedia, ultra-Zionists to Jordan, or irredentist claims by Russian conservatives (including Vladimir Putin) to the Baltic States, Ukraine, Poland (of which they already shaved the eastern third) Finland (see previously listed affair), and Alaska[20] (which they sold at what was considered by some to be more than a fair price[21]), and more recently, historic forts in California and even Antarctica (on the basis that it was discovered by Russians) [22]. In a sense, West Germany had irredentist attitudes in claiming that East Germany was a part of Germany, too.

The goal of irredentism[edit]

Irredentists often provide lengthy justifications as to why a region rightly belongs to their country, but do not clarify how such transfer of land would be beneficial (and much less whether it would be worth the costs a war would bring).

There are numerous reasons why irredentism may fail to bring about desirable consequences. One might be that the territories claimed by irredentists may have no or a negligible presence of their ethnic group,[4] in which case irredentism would lead to little or no "liberation" of the local population. Furthermore, it is often the case that even when minorities are forcibly assimilated, the individuals themselves do not disappear; they merely begin speaking another language. In this situation, an irredentist war would cause loss of life and suffering far worse than any language shift or forced name changes. Even if the assimilatory policies consisted of violence, an irredentist conflict could cause an escalation of violence and thus increase, rather than diminish, death and suffering. Another issue is that if the irredentist country successfully waged an irredentist war, it might in turn implement similar assimilatory policies, but this time directed towards the other ethnic group, and it is unclear why this would be preferable to the pre-war situation. Irredentism may be harmful even in a moral framework where only the extent of the territory possessed by the irredentist's nation matters, since irredentist wars may backfire and lead to a decrease in territory, as Germany discovered after World War II.Wikipedia

Nor is irredentism necessary for the "survival" of a nation, since the very concept of irredentism presumes the existence of a nation-state whose purpose it is to safeguard a language. Even if the minority in the contested region were to become entirely assimilated, the language would in many cases still have a large number of speakers in its respective nation-state and be in no danger of dying out. The language would only cease to be spoken in one (often very small) area, but the continuance of the language as a whole would in no way be threatened.

Perhaps there are other reasons why one might support irredentism. The point of irredentism might not be to ensure the survival of the language, but rather to increase the number of its speakers, for whatever reason. But such a goal could be more easily (and peacefully) achieved by simply promoting higher birth rates or attracting immigrants through economic development. Or perhaps the goal might be to ensure that the language, regardless of its overall vitality, be spoken in that particular area. But why would it not be enough for the language to have an assured existence within the irredentist's currently existing nation-state? Surely it would be preferable for a language's speakers to live in peacetime in an unchanging area[note 1] than to be constantly tormented by war and bloodshed (the inevitable result of the endless cycle of irredentism) in exchange for the possibility of increasing the language's territorial range. Not to mention that changing the linguistic composition of an area would probably not ease poverty, lack of access to education or healthcare, or many other real problems that nationalists so often ignore[23] in favor of the much simpler (and pointless) goal of satisfying their urge to get rid of "foreigners".[note 2]

Irredentism in education[edit]

1887 painting of schoolboys being taught about the loss of Alsace-Lorraine in the Franco-Prussian war
See the main article on this topic: Nationalism in history textbooks
On this globe there are national boundaries marked, but on photographs of the Earth from space, there are no national boundaries to be seen, which is perhaps a useful lesson for politicians.
Carl Sagan[25]

One cause of irredentism, both presently and historically, has been educational systems. Education is often used as a means of instilling nationalism, xenophobia, exclusionary ethnic loyalty, irredentist attitudes, and the idea that only one ethnic group has the "right" to live in a certain area.

See also[edit]


  1. Just take a look at Switzerland.
  2. See also Lyndon B. Johnson's quote about politicians' manipulation of bigoted sentiments, "If you can convince the lowest white man he's better than the best colored man, he won't notice you're picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he'll empty his pockets for you."[24]


  1. Robert Anton Wilson Wikiquote. From: The Earth Will Shake: The History of the Early Illuminati (The Historical Illuminatus Chronicles Vol. 1) by Robert Anton Wilson (1982) New Falcon Publications. ISBN 1561841625. Page 100.
  2. 2.0 2.1 The Way We Were by Frank Jacobs (November 21, 2011, 9:52 pm) The New York Times.
  3. 3.0 3.1 The Silesian Language in the Early 21st Century: A Speech Community on the Rollercoaster of Politics by Tomasz Kamusella (2013) Die Welt der Slaven 58(1):1-35. Archived from August 17, 2016.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Irredentism: An Inevitable Tendency of Ethnic Nationalism by Dimostenis Yağcıoğlu (1996).
  5. Nation-States vis-a-vis Ethnocultural Minorities: Oppression and Assimilation versus Integration and Accomodation by Dimostenis Yağcıoğlu (1996).
  6. Los mitos de pérdidas territoriales de los Estados hispanoparlantes de la América meridional Capítulo 1: La destrucción social de la protonacionalidad hispanoamericana (2000) Historia General de las Relaciones Exteriores de la República Argentina (archived from March 7, 2001).
  7. See the Wikipedia article on Magyarization.
  8. See the Wikipedia article on Polonization.
  9. See the Wikipedia article on Bulgarisation.
  10. See the Wikipedia article on Romanianization.
  11. See the Wikipedia article on Germanisation.
  12. See the Wikipedia article on Serbianisation.
  13. See the Wikipedia article on Croatisation.
  14. See the Wikipedia article on Italian irredentism.
  15. See the Wikipedia article on Spanish irredentism.
  16. 16.0 16.1 The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America by Timothy Snyder (2018) Tim Duggan Books. ISBN 0525574468.
  17. See the Wikipedia article on War in Donbas.
  18. Патриотизм или мир? (Толстой) "Patriotism or Peace?" by Leo Tolstoy (in Russian, January 5, 1896) Wikisource.
  19. Patriotism and Christianity/Patriotism, or Peace? by Leo Tolstoy (January 5, 1896) Wikisource.
  20. Russian nationalists want Alaska back — 150 years after it was sold to the US: Czar Alexander II sold the north American territory in 1867 for $7.2 million by Chloe Farand (31 March 2017 13:12 BST) The Independent.
  21. U.S. purchase of Alaska ridiculed as "Seward's Folly” This Day in History, History Channel.
  22. A Russian lawmaker wants Alaska back. ‘Good luck with that!’ Iris Samuels, Anchorage Daily News.
  23. The Hungarian Horseradish by John Feffer (04/15/2014 12:32 pm ET Updated Jun 15, 2014) Huffington Post.
  24. Lyndon B. Johnson WikiQuote.
  25. 1977 Carl Sagan Christmas Lectures 1 — The Earth as a Planet (Sep 2, 2013) YouTube.