Drang nach Osten (German for "yearning for the East", "thrust toward the East", "push eastward", "drive toward the East" or "desire to push East) was a slogan coined in the 19th century to designate German expansion into Slavic lands, especially between 1870 and 1945. The slogan was used by Slavic nationalist and later Communist propaganda in Eastern Europe, as well as pan-Germanist propaganda, with opposite annotations. In Slavic propaganda, "Drang nach Osten" combines historical German settlement in Eastern Europe, medieval military expeditions like the ones of the Teutonic Knights, and Germanisation policies and warfare of Modern Age German states like the Nazi lebensraum concept to depict an intrinsic German desire for ethnic domination of the Slavs. In Poland, the term ties in with nationalist discourse that put the Polish nation in the role of a suffering nation, particularly at the hands of the German enemy, while on the German side the slogan was part of a wider nationalist discourse celebrating achievements like the medieval settlement in the east and the inherent idea of the superiority of German culture. A new Drang nach Osten was called for by German nationalists to oppose a Polish Drang nach Westen ("thrust toward the West").
The first known use of "Drang nach Osten" was by the Polish journalist Julian Klaczko in 1849, yet it is debatable whether he invented the term as he used it in form of a citation. Because the term is used almost exclusively in its German form in English, Polish, Russian, Czech and other languages, it has been concluded that the term is of German origin.
According to Henry Cord Meyer, in his book "Drang nach Osten: Fortunes of a Slogan-Concept in German-Slavic Relations, 1849-1990" the slogan "Drang nach Osten" most likely originated in the slavic world, where it also was more widely used than in Germany: "its main area of circulation has been the Slavic world. Indeed, most German scholars have rejected the slogan as mere Panslav (or later, Soviet) agitation against Germany." It was "a mainstay in Soviet bloc historiography--and propaganda. [...] Even if the concept has found broad acceptance in Slavic historiography since World War II, this does not mean that it is factually accurate. The phrase is most often used to suggest a basic continuity in German history from the eleventh century to the present; it is closely linked to Slavic stereotypes of the German national character."
With the development of romantic nationalism in the 19th century, Polish and Russian intellectuals began referring to the German Ostsiedlung as Drang nach Osten. The German Empire and Austria-Hungary attempted to expand their power eastward; Germany by gaining influence in the declining Ottoman Empire (the Eastern Question) and Austria-Hungary through the acquisition of territory in the Balkans (such as Bosnia and Herzegovina).
In Poland, the slogan was in use since the mid-19th century, and since then was used to suggest a continous historical trend since 1000 AD, referring back to practices of the Teutonic Knights and medieval Ostsiedlung and thereby coupling geopolitical projects with an allegded national character and a "organic unity" of the German nation. The slogan ties in with national discourse that put the Polish nation in the role of a suffering nation, particularly at the hands of the German enemy. Alongside the Kulturkampf policies directed against Catholics, Imperial Germany tried to colonize its eastern (mostly-Catholic) Polish-inhabitated territories with Germans, to which "Drang nach Osten" was also applied.. A contemporary Polish encyclopedia defined the slogan in 1896 as "the drive of the Germans eastward in order to de-nationalise the Polish people". The term also tied in with Pan-Slavist ideas.
On the German side, the slogan was part of a wider national discourse celebrating achievements like the medieval settlement in the east and the inherent idea of the superiority of German culture. Nazi Germany employed the slogan in calling the Czechs a "Slav bulwark against the Drang nach Osten" in the 1938 Sudeten crisis.
A new Drang nach Osten was called for by German nationalists to oppose a Polish Drang nach Westen ("thrust toward the West"). World War I had ended with the Treaty of Versailles, by which most or parts of the Imperial German provinces of Posen, West Prussia, and Upper Silesia were given to reconstituted Poland; the West Prussian city of Danzig became the Free City of Danzig. Poland at this stage was in an expansionist nationalist phase under Marshal Józef Piłsudski, and, according to some writers, used the opportunity for a first wave of assimilation and expulsion of German populations, thus reversing the trend of German eastward expansionism.
Halford John Mackinder's The Geographical Pivot of History pointed out the strategic position of Eastern Europe. German nationalists pointed to the historic and contemporary movements towards Eastern Europe as proof of German "vitality", while critics claimed it was another example of German imperialistic tendencies which contributed to the outbreak of World War I (see also Geopolitik).
Despite Drang nach Osten policies, population movement took place in the opposite direction also, as people from rural low-developed areas in the East were attracted by the prospering industrial areas of Western Germany. This phenomenon became known by the German term Ostflucht, literally the flight from the East.
Adolf Hitler, dictator of Nazi Germany from 1933-1945, called for a Drang nach Osten to acquire territory for German colonists at the expense of eastern European nations (Lebensraum). The term by then had gained enough currency to appear in foreign newspapers without explanation. His eastern campaigns during World War II were initially successful with the conquests of Poland and much of European Russia by the Wehrmacht; Generalplan Ost was designed to eliminate the native Slavic peoples from these lands and replace them with Germans. As for settlements actually established during the war, the settlers were not colonists from the Altreich, but in the main part East European Germans resettled from Soviet "spheres of interest" according to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. However, the Soviet Union began to reverse the German conquests by 1943, and Nazi Germany was defeated by the Allies in 1945.
Most of the demographic and cultural outcome of the Ostsiedlung was terminated after World War II. The massive expulsion of German populations east of the Oder-Neisse line in 1945-48 on the basis of decisions of the Potsdam Conference were later justified by their beneficiaries as a rollback of the Drang nach Osten. Historical Eastern Germany was split between Poland, Russia, and Lithuania and repopulated with settlers of the respective ethnicity. The Oder-Neisse line has been gradually accepted to be the eastern German boundary by all post-war German states (East and West Germany as well as reunited Germany), dropping all plans of (re-)expansion into or (re-)settlement of territories beyond this line.