Im Zuge der gesellschaftlichen und politischen Veränderungen des 19.
Jahrhunderts entstanden in vielen Städten Ostmitteleuropas Vereins- und
Gesellschaftshäuser. Sie waren von ihren Initiatoren als Veranstaltungs-,
Begegnungs- und Vernetzungspunkte für sprachnational defi nierte Teile
der urbanen Bevölkerung gedacht. Daher verschränkten sie kultur-, wirtschafts-,
sozial- und bildungspolitische Aktivitäten unter explizit nationalen
Vorzeichen miteinander und dienten den sich formierenden oder konsolidierenden
Nationalgesellschaften als Infrastruktur, über die der städtische
öffentliche Raum in neuer Weise genutzt und damit sozial besetzt wurde.
Umfang und Ausrichtung der Aktivitäten, die von den Vereinshäusern ausgingen,
waren dabei abhängig vom sozialen Profi l der örtlichen Trägerschichten,
von lokalen Gegebenheiten und Konstellationen sowie von den
sehr unterschiedlichen Rahmenbedingungen des staatlichen und politischen
Systems. Der Band stellt in zwölf Beiträgen unterschiedliche Vereinshäuser
insbesondere in Ostmitteleuropa vor und ist so eine erstmalige
Bestandsaufnahme bisheriger Forschungen zum Thema.
Peter Haslinger, Heidi Hein-Kircher, Rudolf Jaworski (Hrsg.) (2013)
Heimstätten der Nation - Ostmitteleuropäische Vereins- und Gesellschaftshäuser im transnationalen Vergleich
Im Zuge der gesellschaftlichen und politischen Veränderungen des 19.
Diese Rezension erschien zuerst in: H-Soz-Kult, 05.08.2015, www.hsozkult.de/publicationreview/id/rezbuecher-23052.
This volume of proceedings comprises a collection of papers given at a conference of the same name organized by the Herder-Institut für Ostmitteleuropaforschung in Marburg (2010). The editors state that their reason for compiling the volume was the fact that, although the national community centres (the German idiom nationale Vereins- und Gesellschaftshäuser means literally national community centres and the offices of associations active within the national community) in the multi-ethnic towns and cities of East Central Europe played a major role as points around which the national movements crystallized during the second half of the 19th century, researchers have so far paid relatively scant attention to these institutions. The editors also acknowledge that: 1) they did not succeed in their original intention of exploring such national centres in the wider European context; 2) many authors who contributed to the proceedings are not genuine specialists in this field, as the cultural sciences have somewhat neglected this issue to date – and therefore the editors were unwilling to impose strict requirements governing the structure, form and content of the individual contributions. For purposes of comparison, the proceedings also include several case studies on the predecessors of the national community centres and the forms that such institutions took in other European regions.
The editors' introduction (pp. 1–10) serves as an effective overview and summary: For the national communities that were at an emergent stage or had already become consolidated, the national centres offered a form of infrastructure enabling a new use and social occupation of urban public space – and to some extent the creation of a new public space. Through associations and other public activities, national activists strove to popularize their work. The activists of ethnic groups seeking social advancement first had to create centres for this purpose, whereas the traditional elites were able to use existing coffee-houses, social clubs (casinos) and similar institutions. The fundamental attribute of community centres was their multi-functional nature. Among their main advantages was the fact that they offered substantially more space at a lower cost than would have been the case in rented premises. The establishment of community centres was conditional upon a defined form of social association which involved the civil elites. Later, social democratic and trade union organizations set up workers' centres; this represented a limit to the activities of the national community centres. Large-scale migrations and ethnic cleansing after the Second World War brought a homogenization of formerly multi-ethnic societies; the national centres, previously the focus of national activities, lost much of their importance. The topic of national community centres has so far received only scant attention from researchers, most likely because it straddles the boundaries of various disciplines – social history and cultural history (Bürgertumsforschung, the history of nation-building and national association), and the history of art and architecture.
To denote those who initiated the establishment of national community centres, Haslinger, Hein Kircher and Jaworski speak of "representatives of non-dominant nations" (p. 4) – a term which is somewhat misleading. Firstly, it implies that entire nations (i.e. all members of the nation) were either ruling or non-ruling; in the case of Cisleithania it is highly debatable whether there genuinely was a "ruling nation". Secondly, it automatically assumes that society at the time was segmented on the basis of clearly defined national identities and that the bearers of these identities had their universally recognized spokespeople, representatives. In my view, the principle of clearly defined national identities was only just starting to gain prominence during the period under investigation. Although the national community centres did reflect a certain degree of success in implementing this principle, they did not primarily exist as a consequence of the strengthening of national identity among the population; rather they served as the national activists' means of promoting this identity.
A synthetic approach is also taken by Michaela Marek (pp. 251–279). Her study is written primarily from the narrower perspective of the history of art and architecture. She views national community centres as an unknown architectural genre of the 19th century – a genre which generally did not feature national architectural styles, but instead tended to apply academic, historicizing styles (neo-Renaissance, neo-Baroque) for purposes of social distinction of the upper strata of civil society. Simpler architecture was more typical of the community centres initiated by the petit bourgeoisie. Her study outlines possible avenues for future research.
The proceedings include 11 more papers grouped into three sections: national community centres as spaces of identity, national community centres as models for identification (Identifikationsangebote), and national community centres in the urban environment. Geographically the contributions cover the former Cisleithania (Moravia, Galicia, Bukovina, Trieste), Transleithania (Slovakia, Vojvodina), Prussia/Germany (Posen, Schleswig, Lusatia) and the Russian Empire (Latvia, Estonia). The papers vary in their scope; some deal with a single community centre or the centres in a single town or city, while others address an entire territory or select several centres from a particular territory as examples.
The volume achieves its purpose by presenting basic information on the community centres it describes (establishment, construction, funding, reconstruction or closure). The papers focus primarily on the description of architectural details, exterior and interior décor, and the uses to which the premises were put (e.g. the Slovenian National Centre in Trieste served as a gymnasium, a theatrical auditorium, a coffee-house, a restaurant, a hotel, newspaper offices, lawyers' offices, as well as the offices of over 30 different associations). Some papers, in addition to presenting basic factual data, contain somewhat uncritical celebrations of national agitation, supported in places by "national revivalist" rhetoric drawn from period sources. This occurs primarily when the authors focus merely on the institution itself, without taking into account the social and political context in which it existed. There is no doubt that the activities pursued at these cultural centres did indeed play a highly positive role in supporting the community (e.g. via their support for education and cultural activities); however, several papers make no mention of ambiguous impacts, e. g. whether or not these national activities raised tensions in the local community, nor do they address the issue of what social influence the particular institution had – in other words, what sections of the community were targeted by the institution. Only a few authors consider the extent of the national community centres' reach. Jiří Malíř states that in Moravia, the social democratic camp and the Catholic camp each had their own centres. Manuela Hausleitner describes a unique situation in the city of Czernowitz, where within a small area in the central part of the city, there were five different community centres serving five separate nationalities. She writes that the German centre in the Bukovinian capital Czernowitz (Chernivtsi) was not used by the German social democrats. Elena Mannová and Daniela Kodajová conclude that the only two Slovak national centres (in the towns of Martin and Skalica) were of solely local importance, and that the majority of Slovaks were entirely unaware of their existence. Although the editors – for the reasons cited above – were unwilling to impose strict requirements governing the structure and content of the papers, in my opinion it would have been beneficial to list several key points which all contributing authors should have addressed.
As Michaela Marek states in her study, only two of the papers take account of the everyday functioning of the community centres. Elsewhere, the authors focus on periodically repeated special occasions: balls, celebrations, concerts, banquets, and theatre performances. However, it is necessary also to examine the everyday activities pursued at these centres, in order to assess the extent to which they performed a function of social integration (openness vs. a degree of exclusivity) and how many of the associations' members were directly involved in their activities. For example, did the genuinely active members only account for a small proportion of the total membership? (pp. 260–262). In my opinion, these are precisely the key questions that are of interest to social historians. In this respect, the publication goes only half way to reaching its goal. Answering questions such as these requires a lot more long-term specialized research.Notes:
 The terms ruling nations/non-ruling ethnic groups have been used since the publication of Hroch's classic monograph on the beginnings of national movements; they thus refer to a period predating that examined in this publication. Subsequently these terms have in my opinion become somewhat inflated, and they are often used inappropriately. Miroslav Hroch, Social Preconditions of National Revival in Europe. A Comparative Analysis of the Social Composition of Patriotic Groups Among the Smaller European Nations, New York 1985.
 Currently the approach taken by Central European historiography is criticized, especially by American historians. This criticism is justified; in the Central European approach it is nations which lie at the core of 19th-century history, and this leads to some strongly one-sided interpretations. Cf. Rogers Brubaker, Ethnizität ohne Gruppen, Hamburg 2007; Tara Zahra, Imagined Noncommunities. National Indifference as a Category of Analysis, in: Slavic Review 69, (2010), 1, pp. 93–119; Jeremy King, The Nationalization of East Central Europe. Ethnicism, Ethnicity and Beyond, in: Maria Bucur / Nancy Wingfield (eds.), Staging the Past. The Politics of Commemoration in Habsburg Central Europe, 1848 to the Present, West Lafayette 2001, pp. 112–152.
 Example: out of the total 148 local branches of the German "defence" association in Bohemia, the Böhmerwaldbund, only 65 reported any activity during 1891, and only 10 branches held more than two meetings during the year. The main driving force behind these local organizations were the white-collar workers who had moved to the community from elsewhere. Cf. Pieter Judson, Guardians of the Nation. Activists on the Language Frontiers of Imperial Austria, Cambridge MA 2006, p. 73.
Pavel Kladiwa: Rezension zu: Haslinger, Peter; Heidi Hein-Kircher; Rudolf Jaworski (Hrsg.): Heimstätten der Nation. Ostmitteleuropäische Vereins- und Gesellschaftshäuser im transnationalen Vergleich. Marburg 2013 , in: H-Soz-Kult, 05.08.2015, www.hsozkult.de/publicationreview/id/rezbuecher-23052.
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