“Nationalism carries with it contradictions” was the view of Ernest Gellner, the British-Czech philosopher and social anthropologist. It is these contradictions which fuel the pockets of political and social instability which the world constantly experiences.
In the good old days of huge empires, from Rome to the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian, there existed a sort of (imposed) stability but when these empires collapsed, the concept of Nationalism took hold.
Nationalism, in its most primitive form, is based on common language, nationality and territory. It is politics in its most primitive form and something which disaffected minorities always turn to in times of real or imagined political strife.
Nowadays, nationalism is still what society attempts to overlay on its territory, imagining that it continues to be the glue which binds those of a common language….and indeed that is just still the case but we are approaching a time when possibly, a new concept of nationalism needs to be assembled.
The Americans have certainly been the most successful so far at instilling the idea of nationalism to its people (“First and foremost, I’m an AMERICAN!”) but then again, they started late and have had the opportunities offered by a blank sheet of paper. They do not have the deeply-rooted ethnic issues which the rest of the world has to deal with. Any American ethnic issues have been of their own making and mostly badly dealt with.
Yes, it is ethnicity and tribalism which is firing discontent….from Israel to Ukraine……from Spain to Scotland..as well as anywhere in Africa!
A state cannot be divided like a cake in order to accommodate every ethnic group sitting on its own little slice.
Integration does not work because ethnic groups aren’t particularly bothered by it. They want to be left alone with their ethnicity. The only group bothered is the ruling class – the politicians……and THAT is the great tragedy of the modern nation state. Politicians bang-on about “Integration”, possibly not understanding that “the ethnics” don’t want it and never did.
There is no solution to the issue of ethnicity – there can only be a strategy. Politicians need to stop treating ethnicity as a problem which needs solutions.
The strategies for dealing with ethnicity can be anything from recognising differences and encouraging them (good) to actively ensuring equal opportunities for all (very good). Yet another strategy may be doing what Russia has recently done in a part of Ukraine: Invade and Take (bad).
Separatist movements such as the Scottish Nationalists should be actively discouraged – as early as possible, otherwise and in spite of referendums, a disaffected minority will become even more disaffected. They are the dissidents and terrorists of the future.
Political and social strategies are comparatively easy to implement but should certainly NOT include placatory measures such as allowing separatist groups their own “parliament”. That, as is currently being demonstrated in the United Kingdom (and Crimea) is a recipe for disaster.
Terrorism is another manifestation of the Nationalist-Separatist mindset. Unfortunately, there is only one way to deal with terrorism – through the medium of violence! However, a strategy (and policy) may be NOT to become involved in others’ ethnic or governmental issues and by doing so, kicking over a terrorist hornet’s nest. (Blair/Bush/Iraq)
The real solution is NOT in integration but in coexistence. THAT means, recognising the minority groups, nurturing them and providing fair opportunities to all as well as ensuring that social, legal, cultural and economic aspects of their lives are all accounted for and dealt with fairly.
FAIRNESS is the key word.
However, historical reality has shown that the achievement of such a balance is very difficult. But until the question of ethnicity is dealt with properly, nationalism will remain a zero-sum game.
Let’s have a quick look at Ukraine because it is the most recent example of the dark side of nationalism bubbling to the political surface and creating rifts at both local and global level.
Russia has made a huge mistake through the vanity of one man – Vladimir Putin. There is little doubt that he is sincere but misguided in his actions of sending Russian troops to humiliate their Crimean/Ukranian counterparts. Putin and Russia have failed because they are now on a collision course with the West and we are most likely to be plunged into another Cold War.
There will be those in the West as well as in Ukraine who will be thinking about re-conquering Crimea. It is only their over-reliance on Russian energy which is stopping them.
In reality, what Ukraine ought to be doing now is working hard to become a successful European State by strengthening its ties with the EU and showing ethnic Crimeans that they may NOT QUITE have made the right decision by voting to get back into bed with Uncle Vlad.
Ukraine should join the EU and NATO and concentrate on nothing else but strengthening its economy, security and politics.
Nationalism borne of ethnicity, if properly managed can not only be the cause of conflict but a great catalyst for peace.