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


Dieter Gosewinkel, WZB Berlin Social Science Centre

The author is very grateful – beyond the words of approval – for the many thoughts, suggestions, and further criticism that the reading of “Struggles for Belonging” has triggered. I will not be able to exhaust the wealth of comments here, but will focus on recurring motifs of criticism, points needing clarification, and further questions.

A first, consistently raised question concerns the comparative design of the book. It does indeed take a specifically historical comparative approach, asking about similarities and differences among the countries studied over the period from the end of the 19th till the beginning of the 21st century… An analytical, social science comparative approach, brought into play by Maarten Prak, which would have focused on the factors of development for the unfolding of a progressive “ideal” of citizenship, is certainly an alternative. I have, on the other hand, opted for the historical narrative in epochal steps because I consider the explanation from the historical context of phases of war, dictatorship, colonialism, democratization, and supranational integration more accurate than the isolation of abstract explanatory factors such as nation-state types, race, class, gender, ethnicity, and so on. I also found the history of relations between the countries studied to be just as important as the comparison. To a considerable extent, the nation-state configuration of citizenship grew out of demarcation from other countries and in confrontation and cooperation with them. These elements of an entangled history would not be adequately captured by an abstract comparative design based on fixed nation-state units.

The relational-historical aspect was thus one of the decisive factors in the selection of the – continental European – countries for comparison. From France to Russia, the five countries form a chain of contiguous territories, many of which were particularly closely intertwined through the exchange of cultural and economic goods, the migration of people, and territorial conflicts. This criterion was more important to me than the fact that Czechoslovakia and Poland did not exist as independent states for a time during the period under study, and other regions of Europe, such as southern Europe, are not included. Great Britain, on the other hand, was included because, with its globally dominant empire and its distinctive territorial principle, it represents the authoritative comparative case to the empires of Russia and France. The book does not claim to present the history of citizenship throughout Europe, but “in Europe.” It would be interesting to see to what extent developments in Spain and Italy, for example, or even in Scandinavian countries, diverged from this – or not. For the tendencies toward decolonization, democratization, liberalization, and welfare statehood, among others, which were decisive for the formation of citizenship regimes, were also effective in other regions of Europe.

Second, the reviews commented on the analytical perspective of the book and the associated source selection. It is true that the work largely adopts a top-down perspective, i.e., based predominantly on state sources, it captures primarily the development of lawmaking and naturalization policy. However, this is based on the methodological assumption that legal regulations of citizenship in the 20th century – like other legal norms, especially those emerging from democratic parliamentary procedures – are normatively coagulated political-social conflicts. “Struggles for Belonging” addresses these conflicts of interest on the basis of central laws. In addition, the struggles of women and Jews for equal rights are shown as examples, so that social struggles for belonging appear as a driving force of the development of citizenship law. It is also true that by focusing on processes of norm formation and development, the practice of norm application recedes into the background. Possible discrepancies between the intention and effect of norms, up to and including their ineffectiveness or tightening in practice, are not illuminated. This, like a subjective history of the experience of citizenship, is a desideratum of research, which has so far only begun to address these questions. I agree with Daniela Caglioti that a more detailed analysis of the application of citizenship law, especially in Russia, could bring to light a divergence between norm and practice that is significantly greater than in the other countries studied. The book points to this problem in the context of the Soviet ‘Stalin Constitution’ of 1936. This also shows that a comprehensive answer to the question of whether and to what extent a historical ‘legal gap’ existed from Western to Eastern Europe can only be given by including legal practice. I was interested in questioning this supposed disparity, at least at the normative level. Finally, the practice of citizenship law also includes its interpretation and application by case law. Jo Shaw rightly points this out. I have considered this in the example of the European Court of Justice, because this court has a particularly strong normative effect on the law of European citizenship through its case law. In my observation, this is less true for the national supreme courts and the citizenship law of the Member States. But this assumption would have to be verified. In any case, so far there is no reliable empirical basis for the overall development of the jurisprudence on citizenship law of the individual countries during the 20th century.

Third, the critiques give me an opportunity to clear up some ambiguities and to clarify my approach. First, I agree with Maarten Prak that nationalism was a major driving force in the formation of the law of citizenship. Thus, when I conclude that “Changes in political and social constellations and interests explain citizenship policy in nation-states – also beyond territorial-imperial dimensions – with greater accuracy than the idioms of the nation,” this applies to the variants of nationalism that are often juxtaposed in ideal-types. For these variants do not explain, or do not sufficiently explain, the concrete historical configuration of citizenship law. However, nation-state thinking as a whole does bring citizenship to the fore as the dominant form of political affiliation, in contrast to concepts of estates and territories or localities.

My focus on state-legal sources does not mean – as Maarten Prak puts it – that the processes of change in citizenship were “the result of more or less autonomous state actions.” Rather, widespread tendencies of nationalism and ethnocentrism, anti-Semitism and misogyny, but also economic utilitarianism and political universalism were behind the political battles fought in parliaments and the media as well as in the streets over citizenship. This included, for example, the Europe movement, which sought to tear down the barriers between European states in the early postwar period. Therefore, the partial blurring of borders in the legal status of citizens and foreigners after 1945 was not only a side effect of Europeanization from above, but also a result of the struggle of migrant groups for their rights. Rainer Bauböck rightly reminds us of this. However, for the enforcement of certain rights, e.g. freedom of movement, not only the human rights impetus but also the codification in European law was decisive.

If one sums up, fourth, the developmental factors of citizenship, then, in addition to state projects of access regulation, resource distribution, military reinforcement, ethnic homogenization, etc., equal importance is attached to the flows of migration and their carriers, the migrants. I may be taking this all too much for granted in my book. Rainer Bauböck rightly reminds us of this and points to two new moments of change (“transformative forces”). One of these is the increasing acceptance of dual citizenship by states, which thereby want to bind their ethnic diaspora abroad more closely to themselves. It becomes clear, by the way, that the promotion of dual citizenship may well pursue nationally offensive, even aggressive, and not only integration-promoting purposes. On the other hand, Bauböck cites the “civic turn” in naturalization policy, with which states reward the “civic” performance of immigrants – language acquisition, integration achievements, naturalization tests. It should be added that these states in turn often enhance the symbolic value of citizenship by emphasizing it through a rite de passage, a naturalization ceremony.

Fifth, there is the question of the overall assessment and periodization of the development of citizenship in Europe since the 20th century, especially in light of recent political developments. These include abruptly rising immigration movements in the wake of mass, politically and economically motivated flight movements – e.g., the “refugee crisis” of 2015/16 – , the disruption of supranational integration tendencies by Brexit in 2016, and the abrupt suspension of freedom of movement, the core right of Union citizenship, in the Covid crisis of 2020. In addition, there is the not new but intensified use of citizenship as a weapon in the territorial and ethnic conflicts of Eastern Europe – up to and including open war. All of this denotes tendencies of restriction, renationalization, and instrumentalization of citizenship that have one thing in common: a departure from the liberal, supranational, inclusive, and expansive model of citizenship that the 1992 Maastricht Treaty had established for the territory of the European Union. Taken together, this amounts to a historical caesura in European citizenship. Like many epochal turns, this one prepared itself through a series of processes and events that then manifested themselves as a rupture at a particular historical moment. In my view, the unleashing of the Ukrainian war by imperial Russia in 2022 marks such a moment in the history of citizenship in Europe. The post-9/11 restrictions on civil liberties in the U.S. in the service of public safety found their counterpart in the counterterrorism measures of European states, such as France and Britain in particular, which were subject to attacks by so-called‘home-grown enemies.’ These included restrictions on freedom of movement and naturalization rights to protect the national territory and people from ‘enemies’. To these factors of a restriction of civic freedom from within, the Ukrainian war adds external factors: the existential importance of the ‘right’ citizenship for access to a state territory as well as an individual’s chances of living or surviving becomes evident once again. The preferential acceptance of Ukrainian refugees in European Union states exemplifies this. In addition, the historically close connection between conscription and citizenship, which has gradually been forgotten in the volunteer armies of Western Europe, is suddenly renewed by virtue of their citizenship – male – Ukrainians are obliged to dedicate their lives to Ukraine.

There are thus weighty arguments for interpreting 2022 as a striking breakpoint in a change in citizenship in Europe that has been in the making for some time – as the end of a liberal, supranational era that began in 1989. However, whether this also signifies a general caesura in the history of Europe will only become clear with greater distance. “Struggles for Belonging” orients the caesuras of citizenship to the epochal intersections of European history. This is not compelling for the future and certainly not true in reverse.

Finally, sixth, Rainer Bauböck and Jo Shaw raise the question of the future of citizenship in Europe. When I speak at the end of the book of the citizenship of a future European Union that represents a “truly political entity capable of making policy and decisions,” I am indeed referring to a citizenship of the Union that is no longer derived from the national citizenship of the member states but constitutes the transition of the Union from a confederation to a federation on the basis of genuine European law. I regard this as an open possibility for development, even if it currently appears to be a distant utopia. Even more remote, however, seems to me the argument mentioned in Jo Shaw’s contribution, which is   abolishing citizenship as such, given its instrumentalization for illiberal, authoritarian, and commercial purposes, its devaluation of non-belonging, and its symbolic exaltation. To abolish citizenship, however, would be, as Shaw aptly notes, to abolish the state in its present form. There is something to be said for the assumption that only states have the power to abolish the state. Those who pursue this goal must demand that state decision-making power be tied to pre-state principles of liberty, equality, and openness, with the goal that these principles also determine the politics of citizenship. For this, however, political majorities must be won.

The commentaries show where research on the history of citizenship in Europe can still open up new terrain: analytically, through a more systematic comparative design; methodologically, by including the history of individual experiences with citizenship as well as legal practice; thematically, by expanding the comparison to include states in Northern and Southern Europe; historiographically, by marking new caesurae in the recent history of citizenship. Research will produce many new things, but also confirm some of the results and structural problems presented in this book. One thing, however, emerges clearly once again in these comments: a deeper understanding of the functioning and problems of citizenship in our present can only be gained from knowledge of its history.