As we saw in Chapter 1, the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries confirmed Europe as a continent of states. These were constructed on the basis – sometimes firm, sometimes more fictional – that they were the institutional embodiment of a nation, of a community living (and in most cases born) in a territory and among other people with whom they felt a binding affinity. These nation states were presumed to be sovereign in the sense of exercising supreme political authority within their territorial boundaries and remaining free from hindrance from outside bodies. In fact, the reality has rarely matched the presumption. There are two reasons for this. First, many European countries contain ‘stateless nations’ (Keating, 2001). These are minorities that consider themselves to be, or to belong to, nations other than that on which the state claims to be founded – either because what they see as their nation has been denied statehood or because they believe they are part of a nation that does have a state, just not the one in which they themselves reside. In recent years, many have become politicized and, as we shall see below, have obliged states to respond to their demands. Secondly, few states could claim complete freedom from outside ‘interference’.
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