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Revanchism (from French: revanche, "revenge") is a term used since the 1870s to describe a political manifestation of the will to reverse territorial losses incurred by a country, often following a war or social movement. As a term, revanchism originated in France in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War among nationalists who wanted to avenge the French defeat and reclaim the lost territories of Alsace-Lorraine.
Revanchism draws its strength from patriotic and retributionist thought and is often motivated by economic or geo-political factors. Extreme revanchist ideologues often represent a hawkish stance, suggesting that desired objectives can be achieved through the positive outcome of another war. It is linked with irredentism, the conception that a part of the cultural and ethnic nation remains "unredeemed" outside the borders of its appropriate nation-state. Revanchist politics often rely on the identification of a nation with a nation-state, often mobilizing deep-rooted sentiments of ethnic nationalism, claiming territories outside of the state where members of the ethnic group live, while using heavy-handed nationalism to mobilize support for these aims. Revanchist justifications are often presented as based on ancient or even autochthonous occupation of a territory since "time immemorial", an assertion that is usually inextricably involved in revanchism and irredentism, justifying them in the eyes of their proponents.
Motivations of territorial aggression and counter aggression are as old as tribal societies, but the instance of revanchism that gave these groundswells of opinion their modern name lies in the strong desire during the French Third Republic to regain Alsace-Lorraine – which France had held since the time of King Louis XIV in the 17th century and which were taken away in the Treaty of Frankfurt, following Emperor Napoleon III's crushing defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71.
Georges Clemenceau, of the Radical Republicans, opposed participation in the scramble for Africa and other adventures that would divert the Republic from objectives related to the "blue line of the Vosges" in Alsace-Lorraine. After the governments of Jules Ferry had pursued a number of colonies in the early 1880s, Clemenceau lent his support to Georges Ernest Boulanger, a popular figure, nicknamed Général Revanche, who it was felt might overthrow the Republic in 1889. This ultra-nationalist tradition influenced French politics up to 1921 and was one of the major reasons France went to great pains to woo Russia, resulting in the Franco-Russian Alliance of 1894 and, after more accords, the Triple Entente of the three great Allied powers of World War I: France, Great Britain, and Russia.
French revanchism influenced the Treaty of Versailles following the end of World War I, which regained Alsace-Lorraine for France and extracted reparations from the defeated Germany. The conference was not only opened on the anniversary of the proclamation of the Second Reich, the treaty also had to be signed by the new German government in the same room, the Hall of Mirrors.
A German revanchist movement developed in response to the losses of World War I. Pangermanists within the Weimar Republic called for the reclamation of the property of a German state due to pre-war borders or because of the territory's historical relation to Germanic peoples. The movement called for the re-incorporation of Alsace-Lorraine, the Polish Corridor and the formerly Sudetenland (see Bohemia, Moravia, Silesiapart of the Austrian Empire and Austria-Hungary until its dismemberment after the First World War). Those claims supported by Hitler, led to World War II, with the invasion of Poland. This irredentism had also been characteristic of the Völkisch movement in general and of the Alldeutsche Verband (Pan-Germanic League). The Verband wanted to uphold German racial hygiene and were against breeding with so-called inferior races like the Jews and Slavs.
There are a number of historical examples, past and present, which can be interpreted in part to revanchism. Revanchist sentiments earlier in the 19th century, for example, may have galvanized nationalist emotions leading to two wars between the Kingdom of Prussia and Denmark over Schleswig and Holstein, the First war of Schleswig 1848–1851 and the Second war of Schleswig in 1864.
In 1809, Sweden lost Finland to Russia in the Finnish War ending nearly 600 years of belonging to the Swedish Realm. For most of the 1800s there were talk (though few practical plans) to reclaim Finland from Russia. Sweden were never able to challenge Russia militarily on its own so no attempts were made. During the Crimean War of 1853-56, the Allied nations initiated talks with Sweden to allow troop and fleet movements through Swedish ports to be used against Russia. In return the Allied would help Sweden reclaim Finland with the help of an expeditionary force. In the end the plans fell through and Sweden never became involved in the fighting.
Ethnographic Lithuania was an early 20th-century concept that defined Lithuanian territories as significant part of the territories that belonged to Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Lithuanians as all people living on them, regardless of whether those people spoke Lithuanian language and considered themselves Lithuanian. The concept was in contrast to those of "historic Lithuania" - the territories of the Duchy - and the "linguistic Lithuania", the area where Lithuanian language was overwhelmingly spoken.
The concept of ethnographic Lithuania clashed with the right for self-determination of people living in that large territory, particularly Poles and Belarusians, who according to the supporters of the ethnographic Lithuania, were "slavicized Lithuanians" who needed to be re-Lithuanized. They argued that an individual cannot decide on his ethnicity and nationality, that it is not related to the language but to their ancestry.
In the 1920s and '30s, Poland was trying to reclaim ethnic Polish lands that had been occupied by German, Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires. According to Richard Overy in The Road to War: The Origins of World War II:
"Poland counted herself among the revisionist powers, with dreams of a southward advance, even a Polish presence on the Black Sea. The victim of the revisionist claims of others, she did not see the Versailles frontiers as fixed either. In 1938 when the Czech state was dismembered at the Munich conference, Poland issued an ultimatum of her own to Prague, demanding the cession of the Teschen region; the Czech government was powerless to resist." p. 28
The annexation of the Crimean peninsula by the Russian Federation in April 2014, together with accusations by Western and Ukrainian leaders that Russia is supporting separatist actions by ethnic Russians in Ukraine's Donbas region, has been cited by a number of prominent media outlets in the West as evidence of a revanchist policy on the part of the Kremlin and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
- Franco-Prussian War (1870)
- French–German enmity
- French Third Republic (1870–1940)
- Historical Revisionism
- Karelian question in Finnish politics
- Polish–Czechoslovak border conflicts
- Polish-Lithuanian War
- Polish-Ukrainian War
- Reconquista (Mexico)
- Recovered Territories
- Rump state (a geopolitical state of existence that revanchism may create, seek to correct, or both)
- Status quo ante bellum
- Uti possidetis
- See W. Schivelbusch, The Culture of Defeat, page 106 (Henry Holt and Co. 2001)
- Antisemitism: a historical encyclopedia of prejudice and persecution, Volume 1. Richard S. Levy, 528-529,ABC-CLIO 2005
- Romano, Carlin (21 Jul 2014). "Revanchism and Its Costs". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved 27 Jul 2014.
- Niblett, Robin (12 Apr 2014). "The West must not blame itself for Putin's revanchism". CNN.com. Retrieved 27 Jul 2014.