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Slavic people in Europe (south, west and east slavs)

Pan-Slavism was a movement in the mid nineteenth century aimed at unity of all the Slavic peoples. The main focus was in the Balkans where the South Slavs had been ruled and oppressed for centuries by the three great empires, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire and Venice. It was also used as a political tool by both the Russian Empire and its successor the Soviet Union.

Pan-Slavism had its roots in the rise of Romantic nationalism. Romantic nationalism was based on notions of ethnicity, in which the language, race, culture, religion, and customs were considered hallmarks of national identity. This form of nationalism arose in reaction to dynastic or imperial hegemony, which assessed the legitimacy of the state from the "top down," emanating from a monarch or other authority, which justified its existence.

Among the key themes of Romanticism, and its most enduring legacy, the cultural assertions of romantic nationalism have also been central in post-Enlightenment art and political philosophy. From its earliest stirrings, with their focus on the development of national languages and folklore, and the spiritual value of local customs and traditions, to the movements that would redraw the map of Europe and lead to calls for "self-determination" of nationalities, nationalism was one of the key issues in Romanticism, determining its roles, expressions and meanings. The modern notions of nationalism arose during this period and remain powerful ideological components.


Pan-Slavic ideas were first widely promoted by Vinko Pribojević in the early sixteenth century and Juraj Križanić in the mid-seventeenth century. Pribojević was a Croatian historian but he is best known as the founder of the pan-Slavic ideology. Its origins can be traced to his speech De origine successibusque Slavorum (On the Origin and Glory of the Slavs), in which he exalts Illyrians and Slavs as the ancestors of the Dalmatian Croats. His speech, most probably made in Venice in 1525, left a deep impression on the Venetians, who published it in Latin and Italian several times over the following years. Its passionate glorification of Slavs (in which he includes Alexander the Great and Aristotle, Diocletian, and Jerome) and its strong pathos played a major role in the birth of the pan-Slavic ideology. It was the first time that such ideology was formulated as a program.

Pribojević was the first to incorporate Illyrians and their myth into the Croatian and Slavic historiography (or ideology), as a shield and rampart against the German, Hungarian and Italian national and territorial ambitions. His identification of Slavs as Illyrians, as well as his enthusiastic glorification of the historical greatness and importance of Illyrians, left a deep mark on world history and outlook.

The development of full-scale Pan-Slavism began much like Pan-Germanism, both of which grew from the sense of unity and Nationalism experienced within ethnic groups under the domination of France during the Napoleonic Wars. Like other Romantic nationalist movements, Slavic intellectuals and scholars in the developing fields of history, philology, and folklore actively encouraged the passion of their shared identity and ancestry. Pan-Slavism also co-existed with the Southern Slavic independence.

Commonly used symbols of the Pan-Slavic movement were the Pan-Slavic colors (blue, white and red) and the Pan-Slavic anthem, Hey, Slavs.

Some of the earliest manifestations of Pan-Slavic thought within the Habsburg Monarchy have been attributed to Adam Franz Kollár and Pavel Jozef Šafárik.[1] The movement began following the end of the wars in 1815. In the aftermath, the European leaders sought to restore the pre-war status quo. Austria's representative in the Congress of Vienna, Metternich, felt the threat to this status quo in Austria was the nationalists demanding independence from the empire. While their subjects were composed of numerous ethnic groups (such as Italians, Romanians, Hungarians, and so on), most of the subjects were Slavs.

The First Pan-Slav Congress, Prague, 1848

The First Pan-Slav congress was held in Prague, Bohemia in June 1848, during the revolutionary movement of 1848. The Czechs had refused to send representatives to the Frankfurt Assembly feeling that Slavs had a distinct interest from the Germans. The austroslav, František Palacký, presided over the event. Most of the delegates were Czech. Palacký called for the co-operation of the Habsburgs and had also endorsed the Habsburg monarchy as the political formation most likely to protect the peoples of central Europe. When the Germans asked him to declare himself in favor of their desire for national unity, he replied that he would not as this would weaken the Habsburg state: “Truly, if it were not that Austria had long existed, it would be necessary, in the interest of Europe, in the interest of humanity itself, to create it.”

The Pan-Slav congress met during the revolutionary turmoil of 1848. Young inhabitants of Prague had taken to the streets and in the confrontation, a stray bullet had killed the wife of Field Marshal Alfred, Prince of Windischgrätz, the commander of the Austrian forces in Prague. Enraged, Windischgrätz seized the city, disbanded the congress, and established martial law throughout Bohemia.

Pan-Slavism in Central Europe

Slavic flag proposed by the Pan-Slav convention in Prague in 1848.

The first Pan-Slavic convention was held in Prague in 1848 and was specifically both anti-Austrian and anti-Russian. Pan-Slavism has some supporters among Czech politicians but never gained dominant influence, possibly other than treating Czechs and Slovaks as branches of a single nation.

During World War I captured Slavic soldiers were asked to fight against the "oppression in Austrian Empire: Some did (see Czechoslovak Legions).

Creation of an independent Czechoslovakia made the old ideals of Pan-Slavism anachronistic. Relations with other Slavic states varied, and were sometimes tense. Even tensions between Czechs and Slovaks developed.

Pan-Slavism in the Balkans

One of the first Pan-Slavic movements in the Balkans was the Croatian Illyrian movement. Later the Southern Slavic movement was active after Serbia regained independence from the Turkish Ottoman Empire. Austria feared that nationalists would endanger the empire. Pan-Slavism in the south was vastly different, instead it often turned to Russia for support. The Southern Slavic movement advocated the independence of the Slavic peoples in Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire. Some Serbian intellectuals sought to unite all of the Southern, Balkan Slavs, whether Orthodox, Catholic or Muslim, under their rule. Serbia, just having gained independence, was a small nascent state, whereas the Austro-Hungarian Empire, though unstable, was still a strong opponent to Serbia. In this circumstance, the idea of Russia involving the Southern Slavic unity was favored.

The Southern Slavs were some of the first to revolt against the decaying Ottoman Empire. In 1806 and again in 1815, the Serbs secured autonomy from the Ottomans. Almost immediately after Serbia's autonomy, the Serbs began seeking expansion and unity of all the Southern Slavs not under Serbian rule.

In Austria-Hungary Southern Slavs were distributed among several entities: Slovenes in the Austrian part (Carniola, Styria, Carinthia, Gorizia and Gradisca, Trieste, Istria (also Croats)), Croats and Serbs in the Hungarian part within the autonomous Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia and in the Austrian part within the autonomous Kingdom of Dalmatia, and in Bosnia and Herzegovina, under direct control from Vienna. Due to a different position within Austria-Hungary several different goals were prominent among the Southern Slavs of Austria-Hungary. A strong alternative to Pan-Slavism was Austroslavism, especially among the Slovenes. Because the Serbs were distributed among several provinces, and the fact that they had special ties to the independent nation state of Serbia, they were among the strongest supporters of independence of South-Slavs from Austria.

After World War I the creation of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, under Serbian royalty, did unite most Southern Slavs regardless of religion and cultural background (orthodox/muslim/catholic). The only ones they did not unite with were the Bulgarians.

Pan-Slavism in Poland

Although early Pan-Slavism had found interest among some Poles, it soon lost its appeal as the movement became dominated by Russia, and while Russian Pan-Slavists spoke of liberation of other Slavs through Russian actions, parts of Poland had been under oppressive rule by the Russian Empire since the Partitions of Poland. Historically, Poland often saw itself in partnership with non-Slavic nations most of the time, such as Hungary, or Lithuania under the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth from 1569 to 1795. The influence of nineteenth century Pan-Slavism had little impact in Poland except for creating sympathy towards the other oppressed Slavic nations to regaining independence. At the same time while Pan-Slavism worked against Austro-Hungary with South Slavs, Poles enjoyed a wide autonomy within the state and assumed a loyalist position as they were able to develop their national culture and preserve Polish language, something under threat in both German and Russian Empires. A Pan-Slavic federation was proposed, but on the condition that the Russian Empire would be excluded from such an entity. After Poland regained its independence (from Germany, Austria and Russia) in 1918 no major or minor force considered Pan-Slavism as a serious alternative, viewing Pan-Slavism as largely overshadowed by Russification. During Poland's communist era the USSR used Pan-Slavism as propaganda tool to justify its control over the country. The issue of the Pan-Slavism was not part of the mainstream political agenda, and is widely seen as ideology of Russian imperialism.


Modern day developments

The authentic idea of unity of the Slavic people was all but gone after World War I when the maxim "Versailles and Trianon have put an end to all Slavisms"[2] and was finally put to rest with the fall of communism in Central and Eastern Europe in late 1980s. With failures in establishing and harmonizing within Pan-Northern (Czechoslovakia), Pan-Southern (Yugoslavia) Slavic state, Pan-Western (Helasia) or the problem of Russian dominance in any proposed all-Slavic organisation the idea of Pan-Slavic unity is considered dead. Varying relations between the Slavic countries exist nowadays; they range from mutual respect on equal footing and sympathy towards one another through traditional dislike and enmity, to indifference. None, other than culture and heritage oriented organizations, are currently considered as a form of rapprochement among the countries with Slavic origins. In modern times the appeals to Pan-Slavism are often made in Russia, Serbia and Slovakia.[3]

See also

  • Russification


  1. Robert John Weston Evans, Austria, Hungary, and the Habsburgs: Essays on Central Europe, c.1683-1867 (2006).
  2. Roman Jakobson, Selected Writings. Retrieved December 12, 2008.
  3. Alexander Duleba, From Domination to Partnership—The perspectives of Russian-Central-East European Relations, Final Report to the NATO Research Fellowship Program, 1996-1998.

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