Ostpolitik, Nordpolitik: Partition and National Identity in Germany and Ireland

Pól Ó Dochartaigh

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    This paper looks at the effects of partition in both Germany and Ireland on national identity. It identifies certain parallels in the ways that official and unofficial attitudes developed over time in the two countries during partition/division and aims to show that attitudes towards the question of national identity among large sections of the populations of all four states were frequently at variance with officially stated positions on the question. Thus the definition of Germanness in the Federal Republic and Irishness in the Republic of Ireland became ambiguous with time, serving to define as the occasion demanded either a cultural identity that went beyond the territory of the state or a political identity based on the de facto territory of the state. Similarly, in both the GDR and Northern Ireland official attempts to create a new national identity that was no longer shared with citizens of the larger state were ambiguous and riddled with contradictions, more often rooted in denial than in any affirmation of a positive alternative, and as such they were rejected by significant portions of the populations. The ambiguities that arose in all states led to the situation whereby in both Germany and Ireland an all-embracing national identity came to reside primarily in those sections of the populations in the smaller states which rejected a separate national identity but whose adherence to a national identity tied to ‘Germany’ or ‘Ireland’ was not compromised by the territorial ambiguities that arose with time in the larger state claiming the name.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)311-330
    JournalGerman Life and Letters
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 1 Jul 2010


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