National indifference is the status of lacking a strong and consistent national identity. The concept was originated by scholars of the Bohemian lands, where many inhabitants historically resisted classification as either Czechs or Germans, around 2000.[1] It was outlined by Tara Zahra in her 2010 paper published in Slavic Review, "Imagined Noncommunities: National Indifference as a Category of Analysis".[2][3][4][5][6][7][8] In 2016, an academic conference was held in Prague to discuss the concept.[1]

Zahra's concept

Zahra notes that even as most scholars accept that nationalities are imagined communities, they continue to use national categories, such "the Czechs", "the Germans", etc. in an uncritical way. According to Zahra, national indifference is "a new label for phenomena that have long attracted the attention of historians and political activists"[9]—particularly negative attention from nationalists complaining about perceived disloyalty.[9][10] Zahra intends the concept of national indifference to provide a means of studying history without assuming national identities of historical subjects. It also helps to study the resistance of pre-nationalist identities to nationalist activism, usually in cases where either one or multiple nationalism movements attempt to mobilize a population. She outlines three types of national indifference:[1]

  1. National agnosticism: the "complete absence of national loyalties as many individuals are identified more strongly with religious, class, local, regional, professional, or familial communities";
  2. National ambivalence, characterized by opportunism and side-switching;
  3. Bilingualism and openness to interethnic marriage.

She concedes that national indifference is difficult to study, because of such factors as nationalization of history, archives that are dedicated to national history, political apathy among nationally indifferent people, and censuses that do not recognize national indifference or bilingualism.[9]


In 1906, Jan Kapica [pl] asked, "What is an Upper Silesian? Is he a German, a Pole, a Prussian, simply an Upper Silesian, or simply a Catholic or, perhaps, even just an abstract human being?"[9]

Apart from Bohemia, the concept of national indifference has been applied to other Habsburg areas, in addition to the German–French and German–Polish borderlands. More recently it has been applied to parts of the Russian Empire such as Baltics and Bessarabia.[1]

Many instances of national indifference have been cited:


Critics of the concept argue that "indifference" is often associated with passivity, which may not be the case. Alternate terms have been proposed by other scholars such as Karsten Brüggemann [de] or Katja Wezel, including "anationalism", "national ambiguity", and "hybridity".[1] According to Per Bolin and Christina Douglas, the concept may be useful when discussing demotic national movements, but is unlikely to be applicable to elite nationalism (such as Baltic Germans).[13]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e Miller, Alexei (2019). ""National Indifference" as a Political Strategy?". Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History. 20 (1): 63–72. doi:10.1353/kri.2019.0003.
  2. ^ Ginderachter, Maarten van; Fox, Jon, eds. (2018). National indifference and the History of Nationalism in Modern Europe: National indifference and the History of Nationalism in Modern Europe. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-351-38276-2.
  3. ^ "The Phantom Subject of "National Indifference"".
  4. ^ Bjork, James (2008). Neither German Nor Pole: Catholicism and National Indifference in a Central European Borderland. University of Michigan Press. ISBN 978-0-472-11646-1.
  5. ^ Van Ginderachter, Maarten (2018). "How to gauge banal nationalism and national indifference in the past: proletarian tweets in Belgium's belle époque". Nations and Nationalism. 24 (3): 579–593. doi:10.1111/nana.12420.
  6. ^ Cole, Laurence (2012). "Differentiation or Indifference? Changing Perspectives on National Identification in the Austrian Half of the Habsburg Monarchy". Nationhood from Below: Europe in the Long Nineteenth Century. Palgrave Macmillan UK. pp. 96–119. ISBN 978-0-230-35535-4.
  7. ^ Stergar, Rok (2012). "National Indifference in the Heyday of Nationalist Mobilization? Ljubljana Military Veterans and the Language of Command". Austrian History Yearbook. 43: 45–58. doi:10.1017/S0067237811000580.
  8. ^ Lichtenstein, Tatjana (2012). "Racializing Jewishness: Zionist Reponses to National Indifference in Interwar Czechoslovakia". Austrian History Yearbook. 43: 75–97. doi:10.1017/S0067237811000609.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i Zahra, Tara (2010). "Imagined Noncommunities: National Indifference as a Category of Analysis". Slavic Review. 69 (1): 93–119. doi:10.1017/S0037677900016715. ISSN 0037-6779.
  10. ^ Feest, David (2017). "Spaces of 'national indifference' in biographical research on citizens of the Baltic republics 1918–1940". Journal of Baltic Studies. 48 (1): 55–66. doi:10.1080/01629778.2016.1269438.
  11. ^ Bryant, Chad Carl (2007). Prague in Black: Nazi Rule and Czech Nationalism. Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-02451-9.
  12. ^ Fowkes, Ben (2002-03-07). Ethnicity and Ethnic Conflict in the Post-Communist World. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 73. ISBN 978-0-333-79256-8.
  13. ^ Bolin, Per; Douglas, Christina (2017). "'National indifference' in the Baltic territories? A critical assessment". Journal of Baltic Studies. 48 (1): 13–22. doi:10.1080/01629778.2016.1269432.