Drang Nach Osten

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Drang Nach Osten


(German, drive to the east), an expression that characterizes the aggressive policies of German feudal lords and later, of bourgeois-landlord and imperialist Germany with respect to the countries of Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe. As it developed from the ninth through the 20th centuries, the Drang nach Osten went through periods of sharp intensification and temporary decline, assuming various forms, including outright colonial seizures and forcible colonization and Germanization, economic expansion, the persecution of national culture, and the propagation of the idea of the cultural and racial superiority of Germans over other peoples.

In the period of feudalism, it is possible to distinguish four basic waves of German eastward expansion. The first wave occurred in the ninth century, with the struggle of the East Frankish feudal lords against the Great Moravian states and their attack on Posavian and Dalmatian Croatia. In the tenth and early 11th century, the onslaught of the Holy Roman Empire was directed against the Polabian-Baltic Slavs, Bohemia, and Poland. The third wave, which occurred between the second half of the 12th and the early 15th century, involved the subjugation of the Polabian-Baltic Slavs by the princes of Brandenburg and Saxony, the subjugation of the Prussians by the Teutonic Order, the expansion of German feudal lords and merchants, the Catholic Church, the Order of the Brothers of the Sword, and the Livonian Order into the eastern Baltic region, and the seizure of Slovenian territory by the Hapsburgs. The fourth wave of the feudal Drang nach Osten (16th through 18th centuries) included the formation of the multinational Hapsburg monarchy, which subjugated Bohemia, Slovakia, Hungary, and Croatia, and the expansion to the east of Brandenburg-Prussia, which gained strength steadily from the mid-17th century and seized the lion’s share of Polish territory as a result of the partitions of the Kingdom of Poland in 1772, 1793, and 1795.

In the intervals between the four basic waves of eastward expansion of the German feudal lords there were periods of temporary retreat which were largely the result of the heroic resistance of the Polabian-Baltic Slavs and the Polish-German wars of the early 11th century, the Battle on the Ice of 1242, the battles at Saule (1236) andDurben (1260), the battle of Griinfelde (Tanneberg, 1410), and the Hussite revolutionary movement of the early 15th century. Feudal waves of the Drang nach Osten were also set back by the 13 Years’ War of 1454-66 between Poland and the Teutonic Order and the rout of the Livonian Order by Russia in the Livonian Wars of 1558-83. In the late 18th and early 19th century, German expansion to the east was temporarily interrupted by the events of the Great French Revolution and the wars of revolutionary and Napoleonic France.

The traditions of the feudal policy of the Drang nach Osten were revived and used by the Prussian bourgeois and Junkers in the formation of bourgeois-nationalist concepts during the struggle to unify Germany “from above” under Prussia’s domination. The term Drang nach Osten became part of the common political and scholarly vocabulary in the 1850’s in connection with the formulation of bourgeois-nationalist concepts in Germany and the sociopolitical struggle against them in the Slavic countries. In the second half of the 19th and the 20th century, Drang nach Osten became a political as well as a historical-legal concept used to justify the aggressive aspirations of the German bourgeois-Junker state and later, of the German imperialist state.

In the German Empire, which took shape in 1871, the policy of the Drang nach Osten initially took the form of economic expansion into the countries of Eastern and South-eastern Europe and was expressed in the strengthening of the policy of Germanization in the Polish territories of Prussia. The birth in Austria of Pan-Germanism (G. Schonerer), which was extremely anti-Slavic, was connected with the fierce struggle against the liberation movement of the Slavic peoples in Austria-Hungary. In the late 19th and early 20th century the concept of the Drang nach Osten, an important component of the foreign policy doctrine of German imperialism, was manifested most strikingly in the program directives and political activity of the Pan-German League. The concept was also adopted by the general staff and ministry of foreign affairs of imperial Germany during World War I (1914-18).

The concept of the Drang nach Osten, supplemented by the most extreme forms of chauvinism and racism and by geopolitical ideas on the necessity for Germans to conquer Lebensraum (living space), became one of the most important components of the ideology and policies of German fascism and its aggressive policies on the eve of and during World War II (1939-45). Fascist Germany’s crushing defeat in World War II struck a blow against the policies and concept of the Drang nach Osten. However, the old slogan of Drang nach Osten was revived (in veiled form) by certain revanchist and militarist circles of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG). Propaganda for the slogan and the historical “substantiation” of it were prominent features of the so-called Ostforshunge (the study of the east) in the FRG. In the course of many centuries, the reactionary concept of the Drang nach Osten has poisoned the consciousness of the German people, implanting in it false traditions of contempt for other peoples and belief in the alleged superiority of the so-called German race.


Gratsianskii, N. P. “Nemetskii Drang nach Osten v fashistskoi istoriografii.” In Protiv fashistskoi fal’sifikatsii istorii (collection of articles). Moscow-Leningrad, 1939.
Germanskaia ekspansiia v Tsentral’noi i Vostochnoi Evrope: Sb. st. po istorii tak nazyvaemogo “Dranga nach Osten.” Moscow, 1965. (Translated from Polish.)
Koroliuk, V. D. “’Drang nakh Osten’ i istoricheskoi razvitie narodov Tsentral’noi, Vostochnoi i lugo-Vostochnoi Evropy v period feodalizma.” Sovetskoe slavianovedenie, 1966, no. 4.
Drangnakh Osten” i istoricheskoe razvitie stran Tsentral’noi, Vostochnoi i lugo-Vostochnoi Evropy (collection of articles). Moscow, 1967.
Issledovanie po slaviano-germanskim otnosheniiam (collection of articles). Moscow, 1971.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
In particular, Germany wanted to establish an economic sphere of influence extending from the Balkans through Turkey to the Persian Gulf, a plan that became known as the Drang nach Osten, or "drive toward the East."
The railway would be a tool to enable Germany's Drang nach Osten (drive to the East) while strengthening the Turks (bitter enemies of Germany's Russian rivals) by linking the farthest reaches of the Ottoman Empire with the seat of power in Istanbul.
That sensibility lives on in what might be termed Kiefer's transgressive memory--comprising a historical awareness and its simultaneous burlesque--while once familiar catchwords and phrases such as Sudetenland, Drang nach Osten, and Lebensraum tinklingly waltz on as background buzz.
It blocked the German 'Drang nach Osten' policy for a long time.
(48) The claim rested on Germany's own supposed civilizational superiority, and what it justified was invoked as history but also intended as a program for the future: a German drive to the east (Drang nach Osten) and Germany's mission to promote culture (Kulturtragertum).
It is hardly possible to talk about East German education without taking into account the long history of the German Drang nach Osten grounded in that society's intolerance of those who lived east of the German border.
Coclanis, Drang Nach Osten: Bernard Bailyn, the World-Island, and the Idea of Atlantic History', Journal of World History 13, no.
(30.) Avesov, "Russkii 'Drang nach Osten,'" Kamsko-Volzhskaia gazeta (1873) #35: 137; Charushin, Krest'ianskie pereseleniia v bytovom ikh osveshchenii, p.12.
Hitler, asserted Buchanan in his controversial book, A Republic, Not an Empire, "was driven by a traditional German policy of Drang nach Osten, the drive to the East," and "had not wanted war with the West." It was only Britain's misbegotten military assurances in the East that sealed the alternate fate of the West.
Although describing events that took place over half a century ago, it allows the reader to feel much empathy for those ordinary men, women and children who were 'selected' to die in the name of a racist Utopia and the German Drang nach Osten. It also should be a reminder and a warning to us, and to the international community, not to allow 'ethnic cleansing' in any country (whether in Europe or elsewhere) under whatever pretext.
The task cannot be an easy one, not least because of what he properly calls the "thicket of nationalist historiography" that springs up everywhere in this part of the world: Lithuania's "ascension" will be described very differently by its own scholars, in contrast to Polish, Ukrainian, and Russian scholarship, not to mention historians operating with a bias toward these "romantic" pagans, or scholars with a contrary bias against these barbaric opponents to the German knightly Orders and their medieval Drang nach Osten. A massive rank and growth of footnotes shows how seriously Rowell takes his own scholarly task, dealing with sources, monographs and commentary in six or more European languages, along with the formal Greek and Latin of the medieval chanceries and record-keepers.
The German government, trying to attract capital to finance its Drang nach Osten and to keep inflation under control, was raising its interest rates.