Shaping of European Identity in the Alsatian Community

Term Paper, 2008

10 Pages, Grade: 9/10 Punkten




1. The Alsatian identity before the Second World War: voluntary patriotism and strong regionalism

2. The Alsatian identity after the Second World War: from regionalism to unhealthy patriotism

3. The Alsatian opening toward Europe

Eurodistrict Strasbourg-Ortenau




The French region of Alsace has often been characterized as the crossroad of Europe, a place where different currents connect and Europe comes together. Firstly, authors believe that Alsace links two major European culture zones: the Mediterranean culture of France, Spain and Italy and the Anglo-Saxon culture of Germany, the Netherlands and Great Britain (cf. Baas, 1945, p. 162). Alsace secondly is the border region between Germany and France; with the end of the Second World War it became the symbol for reconciliation between the two former enemies. Thirdly, after its capital Strasbourg was made home to the European Parliament and the Council of Europe, Alsace also stood for the desire to establish a new political Europe.

While Alsace thus became a connector for Europe in a cultural, symbolic and political way, we may wonder how this reflected upon its citizens. This paper therefore investigates to what extent the Alsatian identity became more European with the construction of Europe after the Second World War. To this end, the paper uses two main concepts. The first one is the idea of “new medievalism” as presented by Woever in 1995 (quoted in King, 2000, p. 419-20). It points out that European citizens today have intertwined affiliations between the local, regional, national and supranational level, thus between their city, their region, their nation and Europe. In addition, the paper also uses the concept of Castells and Ohmae (quoted in King, 2000, p. 420). According to them, in the complex relations between the different levels regions and cities contribute most in the shaping of identity.

The paper is organized as follows: The first part outlines the Alsatian identity before the Second World War. In the second part it is described how this identity has changed directly after 1945. The third part focuses on the development of Alsatian identity up to today. The findings of this paper may help to understand how European identity develops in other regions today, especially those on the cultural frontier of the former iron curtain.

1. The Alsatian identity before the Second World War: voluntary patriotism and strong regionalism

Alsace has been part of both France and Germany for a long time and both cultures have left their mark on its citizens’ identity. During the Middle Ages, Alsace was a part of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. The cathedral of Strasbourg and the regional Alsatian dialect are distinct German features of this time period which still remain today.

In the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, Alsace was turned over to France. After its integration, Alsace adapted much of French culture, such as the republican values of the French revolution, and it remained a part of France until the Franco-German War in 1870-71. After this war, in 1871, the French were forced to give Alsace to the new German nation-state as a war repayment. In consequence, many French felt humiliated and built up hatred against the Germans. They wanted to have Alsace back in France.

Most Alsatians also wished to return to France. They felt oppressed by the German administration which dictated its terms upon Alsace in school education and culture (Hoffet, 1951, p. 156). Many members of the working class in particular proved “systematically hostile to Germany”, according to Hoffet. The Alsatian elite, on the contrary, was split between secret passion for France and open support for Germany (p. 141; Baas, 1945, p. 75). Local officeholders, on the one hand, aspired to maintain their positions under the German government and therefore became the Germans’ best friends. Many old protestant families, on the other hand, privately remained loyal to France and continued to be inspired by French culture and literature (Baas, 1945, p. 73). They could rise to higher positions than before, once Germany had to give Alsace back to France in the Treaty of Versailles.

With Alsace’s return to France in 1918, patriotism erupted in the region (Hoffet, 1951, p. 44). The workers, on the one hand, embraced the return of the French values of freedom and self-determination and developed a strong feeling for their nation. The francophile elite, on the other hand, could now manifest its patriotism in the open and become a part of the French elite. However, patriotism in Alsace did not become as deeply rooted as in other French regions. Due to its history with Germany, the Alsatians were not as closely bound to love their country as a person from inner France. In principle, they could make a choice between France and Germany. Baas (1945) believes that most Alsatians hated Germany and voluntarily chose to love France; yet the mere possibility to make a choice gave them a more distanced standing toward their nation (p. 44). They rather took the position of an external spectator upon the French community. When talking about the French, they did not refer to them as “us”, but as “them” or simply the “French of the inner part” (p. 44). In contrast, the Alsatians used the pronoun “us” only when they talked about their regional community.

Consequently, Baas asserts that in Alsace, the citizens firstly felt connected to their region and only then to France (Baas, 1945, p. 71). However, like patriotism, Alsatian regionalism was different from the rest of France. According to Woever, the identity of a European citizen is generally determined by mixed, but distinct, affiliations between region, nation and Europe. A region in the middle of France would thus have a clear distinction between regionalism on the one hand and patriotism on the other. It would practice customs which are either characteristic of the region or more generally attributed to the nation. Alsace, however, had been shaped by two different nations and thus had a regional identity with a German and a French component in it. Rather than having a sharp distinction between region and nation, it therefore distinguished from Germany due to its French inheritance and from France due to its German component.

Excerpt out of 10 pages


Shaping of European Identity in the Alsatian Community
Maastricht University  (Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences)
9/10 Punkten
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
352 KB
Alsace, Identity, Europe, European, Strasbourg, Vogler, Eurodistrict
Quote paper
André Feldhof (Author), 2008, Shaping of European Identity in the Alsatian Community, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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