Nation and Region

Nationalism can be both “repressive” and “emancipatory” according to Painter and Jeffrey, in their introduction to this interesting concept. Nationalism is this idea of a shared cultural identity, based in common values and a shared history. Nationalism brings people together but is also causes fractures and infighting, it is fascinating how it can be so bipolar.

The authors bring up three perspectives on nationalism; primordial, modernist, and ethno-symbolist. The primordial perspective seeks to separate people based on their lineage, more or less. If you are born to two ethnic German parents then you are born into the German nation, this was seen first hand in Nazi Germany where Hitler tried to unite and create a perfect “Aryan Nation.” The ethno-symbolist perspective is similar to the primordial perspective, in this perspective a nation is based on a shared ethnic identity but a member does not have to be born into the nation, to belong to it. Someone who speaks Arabic, adopts Islam or Eastern Christianity and embraces Arabic culture might not have been born an Arab, but they might now belong to that group under the ethno-symbolist point of view. Also under ethno-symbolism, two related cultures might share a common nation. Uralic ethnic groups for instance, like Estonians, Mordvins, Finns and others share similar languages and a shared history of subjugation. These groups might view each other as being a part of a shared nation, despite their subtle differences. The Modernist perspective believes that the idea of a nation is directly related to the state, and that a nation cannot exist without a sovereign state. Unified states breed a collectivist mentality (a national identity perhaps) despite their being sub-cultures within a nation.

Today the idea of nationhood is very intertwined with having territory, and being “a state”.  Nationalist movements seek greater autonomy for members of their perceived “nations”, the situation in Yugoslavia is a good example of this. The breakup of the Soviet Union can be seen as another instance in which different nations formed as the result of a major political change. Nationalism is ultimately a “political strategy”, used to unite people and press social change into action. This idea makes sense in the instance of Yugoslavia, and other nationalist movements where people have attempted or are attempting to establish a state for their people. Inflaming pride, and finding common issues amongst people can create unity, and in turn this unity can help a nation establish itself within the greater global political context.

On a smaller scale is regionalism. Regionalism in many ways deals with the relationships between smaller territories where people share common values and identities, and the state in which they are part of. The identity of a region is in many ways shaped by its state, the book brings up the Basque region of Iberia as an example of region-state relations. In Spain, Basque separatists are very hostile towards the Spanish government due to a feeling of repression and subjugation. In France, the Basque people are more passive and have a better relation with their state, yet the people still have the same cultural identity as their neighbors to the South. Regional identities may differ depending on location, but national identities can span multiple borders. Armenians in Armenia have a different regional identity then Armenians in Georgia for instance, but both share a common Armenian nation. Cubans in Cuba, and Cubans in Florida likewise exist under very different political circumstances but both groups have a sense of nationalism and pride in their culture.

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