GLOBALCIT Review Symposium of Struggles for Belonging: Citizenship in Europe, 1900-2020 by Dieter Gosewinkel


Daniela Luigia Caglioti, Università di Napoli Federico II

The translation into English of this book on citizenship and nationality in Europe, which appeared in German in 2016, was much needed. In his masterly, 524 pages long synthesis, Dieter Gosewinkel, a historian and a legal scholar, confidently deals with an impressive number of studies (the bibliography occupies 75 pages) and sources in a tour de force among articles, books and writings from different fields –history, law, sociology, anthropology, philosophy and political sciences. The book thus represents a crucial reference for any new study on the topic and will encourage scholars to rethink citizenship, nationality, inclusion and exclusion in the 20th century. From the German version to the English translation, the book, which succeeds in being at the same time comparative, transnational and interdisciplinary, has undergone some interesting and significant changes. First, it has been expanded to include the most recent developments concerning European citizenship, the consequences of Brexit, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on freedom of movement. Second, the footnotes have been updated to consider the most recent literature. Third, as suggested by the title, the focus switched from Schutz (protection) and Freiheit (freedom), to belonging, a word that across the book Gosewinkel qualifies with different adjectives and attributes –political, legal, territorial, national, etc.; and to the many struggles of individuals, minorities and groups during the 20th century to belong in a state, in a nation, in a political community.

The struggles for belonging that the book explores are epitomised in the cover which reproduces the image of the arrival of the ship MV Empire Windrush in the port of Tilbury, UK, on 22 June 1948. The boat brought to Britain, a land that promised progress, wealth, and inclusion, more than 1,000 migrants from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and other Caribbean islands which at the time were still part of the British Empire. The image of a ship packed with people smiling and waving evokes the link between migration and citizenship, but also the hope of inclusion and integration/assimilation of the immigrants arriving in the United Kingdom during decolonisation. It also suggests the crash of these same hopes caused by the immigration policy of exclusion that started with the 1962 Act and continued in the following years bringing to the Windrush Scandal in 2018 when the British government denied citizenship status (up to deportation) to some of the people belonging to that generation. Migration, however, is not at the centre of Gosewinkel’s story, although the relationship between citizens and aliens is one of many threads that cut across the book.

Struggles for belonging is the most comprehensive history of citizenship in ‘Europe’ (the reason for the use of inverted commas is explained later in this review) written so far. In fact, it is also a history of Europe from the 19th to the beginning of the 21st century narrated and interpreted through the prism of citizenship. Citizenship, inclusion, and exclusion – the main terms and concepts around which the book rotates and develops – but also rights, privileges and discrimination are the keys to tackling a wide range of issues. The book deals with many topics, phenomena, and events thus a short review cannot do them justice, and it is more than a simple history of citizenship. It also is a study of citizenship as a legal institution, a political tool and a normative ideal, and a history of European statehood from the Viennese system until today. This is because citizenship is a pillar of state sovereignty and evidently a crucial institution in the processes of state- and nation-building (as well as of state collapse) that characterised large swathes of Europe between the 19th and the beginning of the 21st century. Via citizenship, Gosewinkel addresses the two world wars, colonisation and decolonisation of both European and extra-European spaces, migration, forced migration, population displacement and ethnic cleansing. Citizenship, as defined in constitutions and laws, is also a tool to explore privileges, entitlements and rights (civil, social, political and also human), and a perspective through which one can analyse minorities and the emergence of a system of minority protection after the First World War and of human rights after the Second World War. Citizenship also is a sharp lens to understanding the Cold War developments, first in Western Europe where, according to Gosewinkel, the denationalisation of individual rights occurred under the influence of international human rights codifications and later, after 1989-1991, in its Eastern part.

The book focuses on the 20th century, the period during which citizenship as membership and citizenship rights converged and the latter became dependent on the former. Without forgetting the 19th century background and premises of the multiple changes that occurred from 1900 onward, Gosewinkel narrates the history of citizenship chronologically adhering to a familiar periodisation. The long 19th century constitutes a sort of Sattelzeit between the ancien régime and the First World War that brought about fundamental changes. For the First World War, Gosewinkel resorts to the traditional periodisation of 1914-1918 which recent and less recent historiography has revised in favour of a longer periodisation that includes the cycle of wars, revolution, and civil wars that started in 1912 and ended in 1923. The interwar period follows, and Gosewinkel stretches it up to include the Second World War, a moment of extreme radicalisation of the ideas and policies produced from 1918 onward. Gosewinkel adopts a slightly different periodisation – 1900-1950 – to deal with the cross-cutting theme of colonies, colonialism and subjugation of the various colonial subjects. As he clearly states, “The history of citizenship in Europe is not contained within the geographical boundaries of the continent” (p. 183), which is particularly true in the case of France and Britain. Outside Europe, or in its peripheries, alongside inclusion and exclusion, hierarchy, privilege and discrimination are the keywords that better explain the different citizenship regimes. Even though decolonisation appears in the title of the chapter, Gosewinkel does not deal with its impact and consequences here. In fact, decolonisation reached its climax in the 1950s and the 1960s, a period that is the object of an ensuing chapter. The Cold War (1945-1989) and the post-Cold War years follow. In Gosewinkel’s narrative and interpretation, the adopted chronology corresponds to as many big twists and turns: 1) Nationalisation of citizenship rights occurred mainly during the 19th century; 2) Ethnicisation, up to racialisation of citizenship rights, happened during the First World and in the interwar period; 3) Denationalisation of citizenship rights under the impact of migration, decolonisation and human rights (but only in Western Europe) were features of the Cold War years; 4) More generalised denationalisation both in the East and the West was a characteristic of the post-Cold War era.

Gosewinkel compares six European countries: Britain, France, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Soviet Union/Russia. The choice of the countries clearly depends on the language skills of the author and his previous studies and is certainly tenable, but it makes me, as a historian, wonder whether different choices could have been made and whether cases more comparable would have led to different conclusions. Gosewinkel’s ‘Europe’ is, on the one hand, much smaller than it actually is, as it completely excludes its southern half. On the other hand, it expands beyond the present borders of the European Union including two parts – Britain and Russia – that drifted away from it in the most recent past because of Brexit and the February 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine. The ‘Europe’ featured in this book includes countries such as Poland and Czechoslovakia, whose existence, independence, and borders were repeatedly threatened and questioned during the 20th century; and whose population composition changed dramatically from multi-ethnic to mono-ethnic, as did their regimes, between their establishment and the immediately post-WWII period. It includes countries such as Czechoslovakia which disappeared after 1989, and countries such as ‘Russia’, which were not identical during the period considered –the Russian Empire, the USSR, and the Russian Federation had, for example, quite different territories, populations and ethnic compositions. It includes countries such as France and Britain which were at the head of huge empires for half of the 20th century and whose empires shrunk rapidly after 1945. It consists of countries with an internal colonial ‘empire’ that remained in place up until 1991 (the USSR) and countries that lost their empire very early (Germany) or never had one (Poland and Czechoslovakia). It includes countries whose borders and, consequently, territory and population changed dramatically during the long period under consideration. To make a few examples, Britain lost Ireland (and its big empire), France regained Alsace-Lorraine and lost Algeria, Germany underwent various redraws of its territory, a division and reunification, and it is hard to compare the multi-ethnic Poland that emerged from Versailles with the mono-ethnic Poland that emerged from the Second World War, the Shoah and Yalta.

The comparison encompasses countries that never experienced a dramatic change of political regime, like Britain and countries such as ‘Russia’ which went from being an empire to a proletarian dictatorship to a would-be liberal democracy to an illiberal authoritarian regime. All those differences make the comparison at times problematic, but they are also a testimony of Gosewinkel’s ability to master transnational history and to focus not only on the differences and similarities between the chosen countries but on the circulation of ideas, models, and practices among and across them.

Ultimately, the choice of countries rests mainly on the need to challenge the existence in the literature and the mainstream narrative of a West-East dichotomy and propose a more nuanced and complex history of convergences and divergences between these two parts of the European continent. The book shows that there were fewer differences than similarities. It indicates that “the specific predominance of inclusionary or exclusionary factors can be attributed to changing politico-social constellations” more than to “a geographic and cultural divide.” (p. 10). Above all, Gosewinkel’s detailed analysis demonstrates that there was not either a Western or an Eastern model of citizenship that characterised the different parts of Europe. This is very convincing as long as the analysis rests based on constitutional texts and laws. I am sure, however, that an exploration of practices would have revealed, especially in the Soviet/Russian case, a decisive divergence from all the other European models, the Eastern one included, since 1917.

Although the book remains firmly anchored in a top-down perspective, and practices of citizenship and effects on individuals rarely enter the picture, there are two groups – women and Jews – that “provide a common basis for comparison”, while the policies toward them constitute “threads running through the book” (p. 12). Women and Jews were in all the countries considered the most excluded and discriminated against groups. They were those whose rights were systematically denied up to the point of liquidation of their very existence in the case of Jews. Investigating, detecting, and evaluating changes in the attitude of states toward them result in a litmus test for understanding transformations in the institution of citizenship.

Struggles for Belonging constantly reminds us of the contingency and instability of citizenship, the loose relationship between citizenship and rights, and the big chasm between law, normative ideals, and practices. It reminds us that, despite Thomas Marshall’s interpretation (1950), citizenship and rights did not and do not develop linearly. It also reminds us that over-simplified (and unfortunately extremely successful) interpretations, often based on a single factor – such as the conception of the nation in black and white one proposed by Rogers Brubaker in 1992 – explain too little. As Gosewinkel shows, we certainly need multi-factor conceptual tools to address the complexity of reality; and comparing is the only way to write important and long-lasting history books, capable of challenging many received and wrong ideas.