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Drang nach Osten

Drang nach Osten, (German: “Drive to the East”) was the German policy or disposition to colonize the Slavic lands east of Germany. The phrase originally signified the eastward movement of the Germans from the eleventh to the fifteenth centuries, by which they conquered or dispossessed the thinly settled Slavs beyond the Elbe and along the southern shores of the Baltic.

This long and bitter conflict of Teuton and Slav was an irrepressible conflict in which race supremacy, religion, language, trade, customs and land to live in were the issues. The German state and the German church worked hand in glove. On the part of the Germanic peoples the struggle became a gigantic series of predatory expeditions, missionary campaigns propagated by the sword and colonizing enterprises within the Slavonic land. We can discover the beginnings of this Drang nach Osten as far back as Charlemagne. But it was with the Saxon kings that the "drive" became a permanent policy, to be continued under Salian and Hohenstaufen.

Three times the Germans crossed the Elbe, and three times were thrown back by the Slav tribes, in 982, in 1018, in 1066. Gradually, as a Saxon chronicler puts it, "the Slav failed in the land." By the middle of the twelfth century Mecklenburg, Brandenburg, Pomerania had been conquered and colonized by the victorious German people. The German frontier had been pushed from the Elbe to the Oder. The Poles and Bohemians, more fortunate than the Wilzi, Obodrites and other broken and vanished Slavonic tribes, were able to preserve their national integrity, though compelled to pass under German overlordship.

For about seventy-five years the Vistula River remained the boundary between the expanding German and the shrinking Slavonic world. Then, early in the thirteenth century, the Teutonic Knights, having no longer a field in the Holy Land, and driven out of Hungary, found a new field of conquest, in 1231, in Prussia. By 1346 their rule extended clear to the Gulf of Finland. Prussia, Courland, Livonia and Esthonia were conquered in succession. As each region was conquered a fortress was built to enforce obedience and to serve as a base for further operations; that of Marienburg, to-day the property of the Hohcnzollern house, is a conspicuous example of such a castle. German settlers were introduced to colonize and redeem the devastated lands.

It was Catherine's deliberate policy to introduce into the as yet but partly civilized Baltic provinces and into other portions of Russia a leaven of German settlers to counteract the disruptive tendencies of the disaffected peasantry. Centuries earlier the same policy had been pursued by the Germans, whose knightly order of warrior-churchmen, the Teutonic Knights, which had first been established in the Holy Land at the end of the tenth century, was subsequently invited to subdue and Christianize the country now known as Prussia and to form a bulwark against the unruly Slavonic tribes whose presence was a constant menace to Germanism.

The favored German element benefited by the comparatively mild policy of the Empress towards settlers of German birth. Each German immigrant received about 160 acres of the best land, and to each colony were attached large pasturegrounds and woods. Moreover the colonists were exempted from all taxes and duties, even from military service, and granted self-government within the limits of their settlements— privileges which, as we shall see later, were continued until recent times. "Absolutely useless to Russia, these colonies formed advance guards of the German Drang nach Osten."

Germans were in the Middle Ages a great colonial nation. Centuries before the expansion of England, in the days of Henry the Fowler and Henry the Lion, Germans began that Drang nach Osten which carried German farmers, German merchants, German knights, and German monks over the Elbe to the Vistula, over the Erzgebirge to Bohemia, and over the Carpathians to far Transylvania. The illimitable East beckoned, and the romantic soul of Germans cried, 'I come.' But then there came the Hussite Wars, and next there came the rise of Russia, and later there came still other wars and waves of the backwash of the Slav.

The term "drang nach osten" was used in publications by the mid-19th century. It became widespread since 1865, due to the deterioration of relations between the Russian government and the Baltic Germans. Subsequently, this concept was transferred to journalism of other publications (in Poland, Czech Republic, France). At the same time the expression began to be used by historians.

In the early 20th Century Drang nach Osten was used to designate the extension of German power and influence to the southeast, especially in Asiatic Turkey. It was brought about through the political friendship of Germany and Turkey, through the settlement of Germans, and especially through the activities of German banks, trade, and railways.

In the case of Austria-Hungary, Germany's ally, the Drang nach, Osten had taken the form of an attempt to extend Austrian influence over the Balkan States, especially in the control of their foreign relations. It manifested an economic turn, looking to the control of the Danube Valley and the Vardar Valley in Macedonia and its outlet at Saloniki, which would secure outlets for Austrian trade to the Black Sea and to the iEgean. For this reason every effort has been made to keep Serbia in economic dependence on Austria by depriving her of an independent outlet to the sea.

In general, Drang nach Osten was the expression of those economic and political policies of the Central Powers which led them to precipitate the European war in August 1914. Plans for Austrian and German domination in these regions (Drang nach Osten) conflicted with Russia's desire to secure Constantinople and an outlet to the Mediterranean, and threatened the security of Great Britain's communications with India.

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Page last modified: 09-01-2019 18:52:21 ZULU