Two Alternatives of Historical Explanation: Miroslav Hroch's and Czesław Miłosz's theses
Algimantas Valantiejus
Published 2001-07-02


national identity
Lithuanian nationalism
social factors
cultural factors
economic factors
Miroslav Hroch
Czesław Miłosz

How to Cite

Valantiejus A. (2001) “Two Alternatives of Historical Explanation: Miroslav Hroch’s and Czesław Miłosz’s theses”, Sociologija. Mintis ir veiksmas, 7(1-2), pp. 20-45. doi: 10.15388/SocMintVei.2001.1-2.7232.


This article is based upon the basic assumption that the early Lithuanian nationalism can be entirely understood only in the context of close relations between some social, cultural and economic factors. In attempting to understand the discursive context of the early Lithuanian nationalism we rely on theoretical insights drawn from the analysis of multi-dimensional factors. My central position here would be that we should question the usual mode of thinking about the decisive importance of the language for Lithuanian nationalism of the late nineteenth century. One must emphasize that our whole tradition of thinking about nationalism is based on the recognition that during the past quarter of 19th century Lithuanian society had experienced outburst of national-linguistic awakening. It would be hard to find a person in Lithuania today who rejects the role of language in transformational processes of Lithuanian nation. These beliefs now form part of what has come to be called the national identity. The concept of Lithuanian nationalism based on language has also been favored in historical analysis. Language has come to be viewed as the basic component of ‘nationhood’. This is most evident in the intrinsic prerequisites of scientific rhetoric. After sketching out the basic prerequisite, what would be more natural than to speak about ‘linguistic awakening’ in the springtime of the nations? This may be so, though the claim is easy to substantiate. There are several reasons to be sceptical about the prevailing attitude toward the decisive role of language in constructing the early Lithuanian national movement. First, it is not enough to suggest that there was a strong correlation between language and an emotional state of mind of peasants. It is not immediately evident with what justification the linguistic motifs are applied to the ‘nationhood’. This claim would imply that there was the so-called ‘innate’ reason to defend the Lithuanian language regardless of what did people really think of their ‘language’. Second, in order to illustrate the strong correlation between the language and nationalism the concepts of the above-mentioned values are substantiated. In such passages, historians implicitly recognize that there still remains no possibility that there could be the different historical scenario. It can be argued that there are also other aspects in this development which are more contradictory in nature. It is significant that language could be only contingently related to nationality. This certainly does not mean that the symbolic meanings of language were of minor importance. The ideology of nationalism itself in part grew out of a newly emerging significance of language. By the use of ‘language’ members of potential community were remained of their common heritage: the language became a source of ‘accelerated history’. Nevertheless, this question is of a different order: here the main stress falls on the efforts of Lithuanian intelligentsia who ‘evoked’ strong expressions of loyalty and solidarity to their ‘linguistic’ core. In relation to this last point, it is worth here noting that language has played a significant role in shaping how people in transitional period understood their ability to promote the growth of the new opportunities. The emotional importance of language cannot be dismissed as irrelevant. The problem with this approach arises when we try to define the other components of ‘nationhood’ and to distinguish specifically ‘nationalist’ motifs. If we adjust the above-mentioned concepts to the other particular aspects of traditional culture, the predominant relation is no longer a linguistic one: various elements have to be taken into account. In fact, these theoretical implications are never explicitly articulated. It is not immediately evident with what justification the linguistic motifs are applied to the ‘nationhood’. Whereas it is tempting, within this framework to think that Lithuanian nationalism emerged out of the process of attachment to certain linguistic sentiments, the actual situation is much more complex. Because language and religion were so closely intertwined, the national movement gained its strength during the complicated justification for the primacy between ‘language’ and ‘religion’. Holding in view these considerations, I think it is not superfluous, then, to pay attention to the sources of conflicting meanings and shifting boundaries of social environment in constructing national movement.

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