- Mothers of the Nation: Women, Families, and Nationalism in Twentieth-Century Europe
In this book Patrizia Albanese uses gender relations and family policies in select countries in twentieth-century Europe as lenses through which to rethink and resolve debates regarding nationalism, modernity, and citizenship. Her overarching aim is to test "whether nationalism intends to modernize or archaize gender and family relations" (21) and evaluate the degree to which it succeeds in doing so. To this end, she takes a comparative historical approach, focusing on Germany, Italy, Russia, and the Kingdom of Yugoslavia/Croatia during the interwar and post-1989 periods. This is a lot of ground to cover in a short amount of space, and in the end the book sacrifices depth and nuance for breadth. While Albanese claims to examine "the virtually unpublicized side of nationalist traditionalism, xenophobia, and misogyny: what nationalist regimes do to and for their own women when the rest of the world is looking, but not seeing" (3), a good portion of the book synthesizes existing scholarship on gender in twentieth-century Germany, Italy, and Russia. Moreover, while Albanese aptly illustrates the negative impact of nationalist policies on women, she does not examine the diverse ways in which women were affected by and responded to these policies. Nonetheless, by revisiting women's historically complex relationship to nationalism in the European context, the book reminds us that nationalism is not simply something that happens in "distant lands with alien customs," it also exists in societies closer to home.
The first two sections of the book sketch the general political, economic, and social contexts in each country, outlining governmental attitudes, policies, and practices as they related to women and the family. The third and final section compares the demographic outcomes of nationalist policies, [End Page 382] evaluating them according to governmental models (the welfare state vs. neoliberalism) and notions of civic and social rights. In section 1 Albanese compares the nationalist states of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy to the nonnationalist states of Yugoslavia and revolutionary Russia during the interwar period, while in section 2 she compares the nonnationalist states of Germany and Italy to Croatia and Russia during the post-1989 period. According to Albanese, this comparative two-by-two model is designed to control for the impact of overall changes in the position of women in modern society as well as nation-specific trends and global events, such as recessions. Albanese's choice to focus on revolutionary Russia and the Kingdom of Yugoslavia as her nonnationalist case studies for the interwar period is both curious and problematic. Far from being nonnationalist, Yugoslavia was a hotbed of nationalist tension during the interwar period, especially between Croatia and Serbia. Albanese claims that, as a result of industrialization, traditional family forms were gradually being replaced by nuclear households and that over two hundred feminist groups existed in Yugoslavia by 1921; however, it is unclear what the overall impact of these processes was on women's status and roles, since she offers no information on women's political, legal, and economic status during this period. Instead she notes that marriage and family life was regulated by local, ethnic, and religious groups and that women were subject to "private patriarchy," a situation that, while not nationalist, was presumably considerably restricting for women. Meanwhile, by limiting her analysis to revolutionary Russia, she downplays the significance of nationalist tendencies and some of the conservative gender policies that characterized the majority of the interwar period under Stalin. Like nationalism, Stalinism was, in certain respects, a reaction to modernizing trends. For example, during the 1930s women lost the right to legal abortion and to file paternity suits and found it increasingly difficult to obtain a divorce.
Albanese concludes that in all four nationalist regimes "a nationalist leader's rise to power was accompanied by changes to family policies, from relatively less to more traditional and patriarchal ones" (161). Accordingly, birthrates rose in Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany during the 1930s (a time when they...