Posts Tagged ‘Nationalism’

Neoliberalism and its discontents (2)

April 13, 2017

What follows is notes for the second part of a talk for the Rochester Russell Forum scheduled at Writers & Books Literary Center, 740 University Ave., Rochester, NY, at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 13.

Neoliberalism has generated an antithesis—blood and soil nationalism, which holds that the supreme human value consists of the ties of loyalty and customs among people of common ancestry who live in the same place.

Blood and soil nationalism is not fascism, although it can fit very well with fascism.  It is not racism, although it can fit very well with racism.

The difference is that fascism and racism are international movements.  They are disconnected from the culture and heritage of any particular place.

Loyalty to a heritage and a way of life, to kindred who live in a particular place, is the most natural feeling in the world.   It is wrong to devalue this feeling.

The problem is that, for many people, local cultures and heritages have already been hollowed out by the consumer culture promoted by the mass media of entertainment and advertising.  What is left is a hollowed-out version of patriotism consisting of loyalty to your own group and hatred of some other group you see as a threat.

People embrace this hollow nationalism as a way of giving a meaning to their lives that the neoliberal consumer and advertising culture does not provide.


Nations of immigrants and the future

May 17, 2016


Hat tip to Jim Rose.

I’ve always thought of the United States as a nation particularly welcoming to immigrants, but the chart shows many other nations have proportionately larger immigrant populations than the USA.

I’m less surprised at the high ranking of Australia, New Zealand and Canada as at nations such as Switzerland, Austria, Sweden and Ireland, which I’ve always thought of as ethnically and culturally homogeneous.

I’d be interested in the figures for Argentina, Brazil and other Latin American countries.

[Update 2016/5/19.  I came across an interesting interactive graphic, Origins and Destinations of the World’s Migrants, 1990-2015, from Pew Research Center that answers my question.  Also, I forgot about peoplemovin- A visualization of migrant flows, an interactive graphic to which I linked previously.]


Nationalism and religious fanaticism in Israel

October 16, 2015

Nationalism and religious fanaticism are a dangerous combination in any country.

It means that people worship their collective selves instead of a universal God, and regard rival nations as the equivalent of demons.

I hesitated to post this video because I don’t want to associate myself with the anti-Semites in the comment thread.  I have had many Jewish friends and acquaintances during my life, none of whom adhered to the theology described by the brave Israeli journalist Yossi Gurvitz.   I do not think that what he describes represents the best values of Judaism.

But I think what he describes is real, and should not be ignored in the name of tolerance.

I do not criticize Israeli policy from the standpoint of moral superiority.  I don’t think the Israeli government has done anything that the American government has not done.

Nationalism and religious fanaticism in India

October 16, 2015

Nationalism and religious fanaticism are a dangerous combination.

It means that people worship their collective selves instead of a universal God, and that they regard other people as the equivalent of demons.

Very few, if any, countries are immune from this danger—certainly not mine.

What if Russia breaks up?

August 7, 2015


The Economist had an article speculating on the possibility of the breakup of the Russian Federation.  This doesn’t seem likely to me, but I’m no expert.

The old Soviet Union was a multi-national empire which was united, in theory, by Communist ideology which, in theory, treated all persons and all cultures equally.

The present-day Russian Federation is united mainly by Russian nationalism, based on the Russian language and Russian Orthodox Church.

This may solidify the loyalty of Russians, who are the federation’s largest ethnic group, but not necessarily Chechens, Tatars and other non-Russian peoples, who are treated as second-class citizens by Russian-speakers.

The Russian government had to fight a bloody war to keep Chechnya from seceding and the potential exists for other conflicts.

Many of the non-Russian nationalities have higher birth rates than the Russians.

What would happen if Russia did break up?  The United States, China and maybe Germany, Turkey, Iran and Japan would probably try to draw the fragments into their sphere of influence—a possible source of conflict and war.

The worst case would be if Russia descended into chaos and anarchy, and some rogue government or movement got control of Russian nuclear missiles.

I don’t think The Economist is seriously predicting this.  But who knows what might happen?


What if Russia breaks up? The peril beyond Putin by The Economist.


Why the alliance of Netanyahu and the GOP?

March 16, 2015

The overwhelming majority of Jewish people in the United States vote for the Democratic Party, but it is the Republicans who are the strongest supporters of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  And vice versa.  Why is this?

P.M. Benjamin Netanyahu and Sen. Tom Cotton

P.M. Benjamin Netanyahu and GOP Sen. Tom Cotton

I think that Republican hawks see Netanyahu’s Israel as a model of the kind of aggressive, militarist nation that they would like to see the United States become.

American Jewish voters mostly support Democrats because, based on their historical memory as an oppressed people, they favor civil rights, labor rights and humanitarian causes.   These are values rejected by the dominant faction of the Republican Party and by the Likud party in Israel.

I think that another reason is that Republicans appeal to the apocalyptic Christian minority that believes that the establishment of Israel is the fulfillment of a Biblical prophecy about the End Times.  Jewish people in the USA find these Christians scary, recalling their history of persecution, but they are exactly parallel to the apocalyptic Jewish minority in Israel.


An excellent question

January 20, 2015

Why is it not OK to kill people in the name of a religion, but it is OK to kill people in the name of a nation?

via Ian Welsh.

The global rise of Putinism

December 16, 2014

What do the following leaders have in common?

  • Vladimir Putin of Russia.
  • Xi Jinping of China.
  • Narendra Modi of India.
  • Shinzo Abe of Japan.
  • Recep Tayyip Erodogan of Turkey.
  • Viktor Orban of Hungary.

Putin-ModiThey all reject the ideals of democracy and human rights as historically understood in the United States, Great Britain and France, and instead embrace authoritarianism, nationalism, state capitalism and religious and social conservatism.  For want of a better name, call the new ideology Putinism.

Other names arguably could be added to this list.  Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, like Putin and Modi, is an ethnic and religious nationalist who turns a deaf ear to advocates of universal human rights.

I wouldn’t say any of these people are movements are exactly the same as Hitler, but neither to I think it is a coincidence that Nazi symbols keep popping up in unlikely places, because the Nazis are the polar opposite of liberal and democratic values.

The Taliban, al Qaeda ISIS and other radical Salafists represent a different kind of anti-democratic backlash.  They’re not Putinists.  They hate Putin, Xi, Modi and Erdogan.  They aren’t nationalists.  Their leaders don’t care whether you’re an Arab, a Afghan, a Chechen, a Uighur, a Somali or even a European, so long as you accept their religious dogma and hate people of different religions.

I think we Americans and others should resist the temptation to take sides in quarrels among freedom’s enemies.  The enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend.


Ukrainian history and nationalism

May 11, 2014

What is a nation?  A nation is a group of people who want to be ruled by an independent government, and who don’t want to be ruled by members of some other group.

Claims to nationhood are often based on common ancestry, common language, common culture or common history, and all these things are important, but not essential.  Often they are invented after the fact.

The Irish and the Poles are nations with long and strong histories of struggling for independence.  The Italians and the Germans had common languages and cultures for centuries before they united under a common government.

On the other hand there are peoples who before nations overnight.  Up until the early 1770s, the English-speaking colonists on the eastern seaboard of North America were loyal subjects of the British king.  A quarter-century later, they were patriotic citizens of the USA.

russia&europe1400What are the roots of Ukrainian nationhood?  And how strong are those roots?  It is virtually impossible to find Ukraine on a map prior the 20th century, although there was an independent Cossack nation for a brief period in the 17th century in the territory that is now Ukraine.   The Cossacks were a people on the borders of the Russian Empire who fought the Poles and Turks, and later became the defenders of the Russian frontier.

The Cossacks had a strong sense of national identity, although they never again became a separate nation.  Some years back I read Leo Tolstoy’s novel, The Cossacks, set in the early 1800s, about the Cossacks and Russia’s war against the Chechens.   Nearly 200 years later, the Russians are still trying to subdue the Chechens.

Ukrainian_Cossack_state_Zaporizhian_Host_1649_1653I am not a historian, nor an authority on Ukrainian history, but I have read a certain amount of European and Russian history, and I don’t recall reading about Ukrainians prior to the 20th century.   The territory that is now Ukraine was Kievan Russ, whose people were converted to Eastern Orthodox Christianity at the dawn of the European Middle Ages.   Kievan Russ laid the foundations of Russian and Ukrainian culture, but vanished from the map of history after the Mongol invasions.  After that the Ukrainian area was ruled by Tatars, Ottoman Turks and Poles, until it was slowly conquered by Russia  the eastern part first and then the western part.

The Czarist Russian Empire had a policy of trying to Russify its conquered Slavic peoples, forcing them to speak Russian and suppressing their own languages. There was some resistance to this.  I read about a 19th century Ukrainian composer who refused to allow the lyrics of his music to be translated into Russian, and thereby gave up the chance of having his works performed in Moscow.

UKR 1918The Ukrainian language is similar to, but different from, Russian.   A British writer, in an article not available on-line, said that if you walked from Moscow to Kiev, every village you walked through would understand the language spoken in all the neighboring villages, and yet, by the time you got to Kiev, the language of the Muscovites would be unintelligible.

During World War One, the German armies created a Ukrainian puppet state under a “Hetman,” a Cossack title.   This state existed for only a few months before being conquered by the Bolsheviks.

Oppression is a great force for creating national consciousness (ask the Palestinian Arabs!) and the Ukrainians suffered greatly under Stalin’s rule.   Millions of Ukrainian farmers died of starvation as the Soviet government confiscated their food and tried to force them into collective farms.  One could argue that this was not aimed at Ukrainians as a people because the same policies were carried out in southern Russia.  I think the descendents of Stalin’s Ukrainian victims would regard that as a distinction without a difference.

ukraine-map-compositeThe Germans had a good record as occupiers during World War One, and, according to my Ukrainian college roommate Lubaslaw, many Ukrainians welcomed them.  But the German policy was to confiscate Ukrainian grain, let Ukrainians starve and reduce the survivors to slavery and serfdom.

A fascistic Ukrainian nationalist, Stepan Bandera, born in Polish Galacia, proclaimed an independent Ukraine and sought to kill and drive out Russians, Poles and Jews.  Later he turned against the Germans when he realized what they had in mind for Ukraine.   Not all Ukrainians supported him.  Many fought in the Red Army to drive the Nazis out of Ukraine.  And, I suspect, many others just tried to survive as best they could, as most people would do in such circumstances.

After World War Two, Ukraine along with Belorussia were given representation in the United Nations, though still under control of the Soviet Union.  After 1985, when Mikhail Gorbachev came to power and loosened the grip of the Soviet state, many peoples in the various Soviet republics, including Ukraine, agitated for independence.  A referendum was held in Ukraine in 1990, and 90 percent voted for independence.

Actual independence, however, did not come about as the result of a freedom struggle.  It was the result of a deal by Boris Yeltsin, president of the Russian Federation, with the presidents of Ukraine and Belorussia, to secede from the Soviet Union and thereby leave Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev without a nation to rule.

The presidents of newly-independent Ukraine were not patriots.  Their corrupt government left Ukraine as the poorest and least dynamic of the former Soviet republics.  Ukrainians both east and east, and both Ukrainian-speaking and Russian-speaking want a more honest and efficient government than they have had.

The Russian Empire conquered eastern Ukraine first and western Ukraine later.  The result of this is that the Russian language is stronger in the eastern part of Ukraine than the western part.  This doesn’t mean that eastern Ukrainians necessarily want to be a part of Russia.  English Canadians speak the same language as us Americans and have a superficially similar culture, but few if any want to be part of the USA.

Similarly there is a sharp political divide between eastern and western Ukraine, but that doesn’t mean Ukraine is on the verge of splitting into two separate nations.  Here in the USA, there is a deep political divide between the so-called Red States and Blue States, but all of us think of ourselves as Americans.

Ukrainians in religion include Russian Orthodox and Ukrainian Catholics, who are a separate communion with their own hierarchy that reports directly to the Pope.  A Ukrainian-American friend of mine told me jokingly that Ukrainians would never be Roman Catholics because Roman Catholics are Polish.

So how united a nation is Ukraine?  I don’t live in Ukraine, I don’t know anybody who lives in Ukraine, I don’t speak Ukrainian or Russian, and I don’t claim that reading a few books and articles makes me an authority on the subject.  Yet, because my government is meddling in Ukraine, I try to understand as best I can.

I see no evidence that the majority of Ukrainians hate each other.  Maybe they do, maybe they don’t, but I don’t see evidence that they do.  The YouTube videos and photos of militant groups circulating on the Internet are evidence of the existence of murderous extremists in Ukraine, but not evidence of what the Ukrainian public thinks.  The uniformed Ukrainian military has so far been reluctant to fire on their fellow citizens, and I take that as evidence that ordinary Ukrainians don’t want a civil war.

My guess is that Ukrainians feel some attraction to the liberal values symbolized by the European Union, but that they don’t want to be part of NATO, they don’t want to be subject to austerity measures imposed by the International Monetary Fund and they don’t want to be rescued by Russia —  not even residents of eastern Ukraine who are taking part in a referendum today about their status in Ukraine.   And my guess also is that the more foreign governments meddle in the affairs of Ukraine, the more united a nation they will be.

What do you think?

[Added 5/12/14]  For the record, more than 90 percent of the voters in a referendum in the Luhansk and Donetsk areas supported independence, which could mean greater independence within the Ukrainian nation, an independent nation or annexation by Russia.


How divided is Ukraine?

May 9, 2014
Double click to enlarge.

Double click to enlarge.

Loyalty to one’s tribe, homeland or city is as old as humanity, but modern nationalism is an idea that arose in 19th century Europe.  Modern nationalism is the idea that any group of people of common ancestry speaking a common language should have their own independent government in order for their culture to flourish.

This made obvious sense to divided peoples such as the Germans and Italians or subject peoples such as the Greeks where a group of people of common ancestry and common language occupied the same territory.  But it is harder to apply where you have populations of different ancestry and language all mixed together in the same territory, which is the case for much of the world, including the whole area stretching from the Balkans in Europe through southwest, southern and southeast Asia..

As the map above shows, not everybody in Ukraine is of Ukrainian ancestry nor speaks Ukrainian as their primary language.  Ukraine also is home to Jews, Tatars and other nationalities not shown on the map.

One of the problems of Ukraine, as in many nations in Africa and Asia, is that its boundaries were not determined by the Ukrainians themselves, but by the ruling nation — in this case, the Soviet Union.   Stalin, like other colonial rulers, was a practitioner of divide-and-rule, and so drew boundaries of the Soviet republics so that each contained minority groups that might look to Moscow for protection.

Now Vladimir Putin says he has a duty to protect Russians and Russian-speaking Ukrainians in the east from persecution.  A think an east-west vision of Ukraine would be a great tragedy because so many of the “wrong” ethnicity would wind up on the “wrong” side of the dividing line.   Fortunately a Pew survey indicates that an overwhelming majority of Ukrainians, east and west, want to remain a united nation, and that even Ukrainians in the east have no desire to be rescued by Russia.

An extremist few could start a cycle of violence and retaliation that could change all this, so it behooves authorities east and west to keep their ultra-nationalists under control.


Bosnian protesters unite across ethnic lies

February 10, 2014

My e-mail pen pal  Jack Clontz sent me the following link.

He thinks it is important and so do I.

Anger in Bosnia, but this time the people can read their leaders’ ethnic lies by Slavoj Zizek for The Guardian.ho

Click on the link to read about how Serbs, Croats and Bosnian Muslims in Bosnia-Herzegovina have joined in protests against corruption and demands for jobs.

As Zizek points out, their action has significance beyond Bosnia, because it shows it is possible to avoid the sterile dilemma of  rule by religious theocrats and rule by materialistic dictators, as seems to be the case in so many countries.

Conflicts among nationalities and religions, and between religious zealots and secularists, helps the powers that be to divide and rule.

Why don’t the Palestinians just give up?

December 5, 2012


I just got finished reading Max Hastings’ great new book, Armageddon: The Battle for Germany, 1944-1945. The book is a vast panorama of human suffering, including an episode almost forgotten today—the ethnic cleansing of the Germans from eastern Europe and from the German territories of East Prussia and Silesia.   German families were sent out onto the roads in winter with what they could carry on their backs, to survive as best they could.  As many as a million perished.  But after the suffering inflicted on the world by the Nazi regime, few had any sympathy for the plight of German people.

I described this to a friend of mine, and he wondered why the Palestinian people can’t accept defeat as the Germans did.  There are winners and losers in war.  The Palestinian Arabs are the losers.  Why can’t they accept that?   I forget what answer I mumbled in reply, but it wasn’t a good one.

The real answer is that this is not a question for me or my friend to decide.   The Irish were defeated time and time again by the British, but they never accepted defeat and eventually won their independence.  On the other hand they came to accept the partition of Ireland as the price to be paid for peace.   The nation of Poland was wiped off the map not just once, but twice, and the Poles reconstituted themselves as a nation.   The people of Chechnia and Kurdistan fight on for independence even though their causes seem hopeless.

Jewish people created a new Israel thousands of years after the original Israel was destroyed, and Armenian people have a new Armenia thousands of years after the old Armenia vanished.   The question is not whether the Palestinian Arabs have been defeated.  It is whether and when they will accept defeat.