Archive for October, 2010

political violence

After a very fun and crazy Halloween party last night, I woke up to this news about my hometown this morning: http://edition.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/europe/10/31/turkey.blast/index.html?hpt=T2

The place the bombings happened is the heart of the city, and when you see a place you’ve been to almost everyday in such a situation, you feel a bit shocked. There is now no doubt that the bombings are related to Kurdish separatist party PKK, and people are bit shocked because this happened after PKK declared that they were not going to do any actions against civilians.

When something like this happens in the most crowded place of the most crowded city of the country, the first things people would feel is the fear and panic. When I talked to my family, they said they were going to go to that square later in the day, but now they are going to stay home because they feel scared. And that is exactly what these kinds of “terrorist actions” aim (terrorist in qoutation marks because they are terrorists according to the Turkish state). I am sure that they could have killed many people if they choose any other time than a Sunday morning, but the message they want to give is different.

They want the Turkish government to do something about the “Kurdish problem”, and they want to them to at least recognize that they should also have their own rights like the other citizens of the Republic. But can you expect most of the people to sympathize with you when the means you apply is violence? I am fully behind the Kurdish people and their rights in Turkey (or any other “ethnic groups”), and I argue with any nationalist Turk that what they want is fair. But I have my doubts that these kinds of things will solve anything, in fact, it could only make the feelings towards Kurdish people worse.

I read somewhere that you can only understand violence when it affects you most, and I think it is true.

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by Meerim Maturaimova

Interestingly, reading about Anderson’s idea of print capitalism – that people in Western Europe perceived themselves as a whole by reading print materials – I found out how greatly it differs from the situation in my home country, Kyrgyzstan. The matter is that it is not printing or even manuscript that was crucial in the final stage of Kyrgyz nation’s formation in XV-XVI centuries, but the oral literature – actually all the history of the Kyrgyz has come down in the form of ballads and songs. Thus, more fitting to the Kyrgyz case can seem Hastings’ idea claiming it is not printed text, but “a common vernacular literature that ultimately shapes a nation” (Anderson 1991 in Smith 2001: 15). But then he says that “fluid oral ethnicity becomes a nation through the standardization of a written vernacular which defines a ‘fixed’ field of readers” (Anderson 1991 in Smith 2001: 15), which again cannot be applied to the Kyrgyz case. I will explain why it is so by making an example of “Manas” epic.

The “Manas” epic is the most popular Kyrgyz literary work. It narrates about the Kyrgyz national hero Manas, his courage in struggling against foreign invaders and the unification of separate Kyrgyz tribes. At the same time, it reflects the historical past, the way of life, aesthetic and ethical concepts, world outlook, religious, medical and geographical knowledge of the Kyrgyz. The age of the epic is 1000 years and the events portrayed in it date to the XVI-XVII centuries. The epic, as well as the other Kyrgyz folklore production, was transmitted orally without being recorded (it was recorded only in early XX century). This practice has been carried out from generation to generation by reciting the epic consisting of approximately 500.000 poetic lines.

Having all these findings, it can be concluded that when employing oral literature, the Kyrgyz distinguished themselves by the way, very different from the idea of print capitalism proposed by Anderson. The fact of such a great distinction gave me the idea that there is probably no single regularity of how nations emerge and evolve, and what causes them to do so.  Every nation has its own path.

P.S. Memories of Manas are alive and reciting of the epic is common among the Kyrgyz up to the present regardless of where they live – watch the video for more details.



Smith, A.D., 2001. ‘Nations and History’, in M. Guibernau and J. Hutchinson (eds), Understanding Nationalism, Cambridge: Polity

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Imagined Cyber Communities

Anderson group:

In Benedict Anderson´s Imagined Communities he traces the origin of nationalism back to the decline of religious communities and dynastic realms, the explorations of the non-European world which ´widened the cultural and geographical horizon´, gradual demotion of sacred languages and finally the arrival of print-capitalism with the book and newspaper as cultural products written in vernaculars. (IC, ch. 2)

Today´s imagined communities, whether national or not, are most likely imagined through the internet which has in many ways replaced the book and the newspaper in Anderson´s theory. Transnational networks are formed on sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Myspace which at first sight might seem to be undermining the national community. The internet allows people to explore the world and exposes them to different cultures, particularly in the English language which might seem to be becoming the dominant world-wide technological ´sacred language´.

Is this development undermining the many national identities of the world while enforcing a supra-national cosmopolitan identity upon the users of the world wide web? A world-community? Restrictions and censorship on internet sites, such as those that have been enforced in China among other places, on Facebook, Youtube and Google, clearly shows that this is considered a current threat to some national communities.

But at the same time as the internet seems to be erasing national boundaries, it is also bringing ´national´ diasporas closer together. It may be said that due to the loss of physical contact the imagined communities of diasporas over the internet are even stronger, more visual and clearly imagined.

By Anderson´s definition ´communities are to be distinguished, not by their falsety/genuineness, but by the style in which they are imagined´. The imaginations of a community through the web might seem more ´false´to someone but does that really matter? Does cohabitation matter in the imagining of communities?

The building of a Moroccan diasporic community online is an interesting example. The internet portal Yabiladi (which means My Country) is a portal for the Moroccan diaspora and is ranked on the web as the first popular site visited by Moroccan migrants from all around the world. Daily visits on the site are around 250.000 but the Moroccan diaspora is thought to range between 2.500.000 and 7.000.000.(see Loukili, Amina, “Moroccan diaspora, Internet and national imagination.” Research Article presented at the Nordic Africa Institute, Uppsala, Sweden, 5-7 October, 2007)

The discussion forums, pictures and news that especially focus on this group of people are all tools for building a strong sense of community based on a common origin and exclusive to those speaking Moroccan dialect, French or Spanish. Moreover, the forum creates an opportunity to discuss controversial issues that in their ´homeland´ are likely to be repressed by censorship.

A web community like that of the Moroccan diaspora creates an imagined community that is based on the feeling of a national homeland but that is effectively transnational. The feeling of a ´deep horizontal comradeship´ that Anderson sees as one of the main characterisation of the imagined community is probably at its strongest in the web community.

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Applicability and bus drivers

Anderson group:

Anderson (1991: 72) does not perceive the imagined community as mere successor of those communities in dynastic and religious realms but rather as result of a changing understanding of the world. Thus, it is most interesting to identify the circumstances that have led to change in the community’s apprehension in recent cases of nationalism in various parts of the world. All the socio-economic circumstances which contributed to the emergence of imagined communities in Europe as well as the New World (Anderson’s case studies) have arguably fundamentally changed. Is Anderson’s theory of print capitalism nevertheless still applicable today, especially with regard to the internet and other communication technologies? How does globalisation affect communities? How does the availability of vast amounts of information challenge nationalist claims of (imagined) national histories, cultures, languages etc? If, as Anderson (1991: 3) holds, nationalism prevails and still draws on the imagined community, how has is adapted to the current circumstances? Is it an outdated theory only valid for early modern phenomena?

In fact, his comment on his theory published in his Imagined Communities is the following:

“I have a relationship to that book as to a daughter who has grown up and run   off with a bus driver: I see her occasionally but, really, she has gone her own merry way. I can wish her good luck, but now she belongs with someone else. What would I change in the book? Well, should I try to change my daughter?” (Interview 2005, link below)


While he does not necessarily repeal his theory with this statement, he admits to a certain perpetuation which slipped out of his hands. Does that show the diminishing applicability of his theory the further we progress into modernity and post-modernity?

For an interesting interview with Anderson in which he shares some thoughts about his book Imagined Communities and the clash between nationalism and the internet as well as the feminist movement see http://www.culcom.uio.no/english/news/2005/anderson.html

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Manipulation of the imagination

In the light of next week´s topic in Theories and theorists, Anderson and his ´Imagined communities´, I have been thinking about how nations are imagined today. By Anderson´s definition the imagined community has to be imagined by the people that make up that particular community. If we transfer his idea to the modern nation it seems that in the globalised world of today it is just as important for the nation to be imagined from the outside, by people that don´t belong to that particular nation.

National identities are more and more caught up in the consumer market. Identities are ´sold´ to the outside world to create a world-wide image of each given country, be it for political, economical or other reasons. It seems to be in every country´s interest to have a clear-cut (and positive) image/cliché at their hands (remember the scandal around the art installation by a Czech artist that was supposed to symbolise every one of the EU nations in a simple way, where Bulgaria was represented as a toilet?!).

Is it possible to describe a whole nation by a single object, a picture or a short film? Most people would probably deny this but the fact is that most national identities are presented as very simple and one-sided images.

I thought of this in connection to a world-wide marketing campaign that was presented by the Icelandic government early this summer and was supposed to create a new and fresh image of Iceland and Icelanders, in an efford to turn the world´s eyes away from the depressing banking crisis in Iceland that was affecting other countries and not to mention from that terrible volcano-that-nobody-could-pronounce. A short video was produced that portrayed the Icelanders as nature-loving, happy, dancing, singing, down-to-earth people, an image far away from the previously prominent idea of the ´cosmopolitan money-making vikings´.

Icelanders were encouraged by the government to share this video with their friends around the world and were by that forced to acknowledge the image portrayed in the video. It was kinda like – don´t send the video and you´ll betray your country – send the video and recognise who you, who WE are (at least at the moment). The people of Iceland responded quickly, I don´t remember the exact numbers but in 24 hours every Icelander had on average sent the video over the internet multiple times. The video is innocent enough, sure the weather in Iceland is not that nice all the time, and we don´t spend a lot of time naked in the hot springs (if interested see video below). But still this image suits Iceland at the moment and so to feel better about themselves and to try to forget all the economic miseries Icelanders are very happy to embrace this image as much as they´d like everybody else to believe in it.

This small example sees the national identity as a mixture of (power)manipulation, people´s conscious decision to acknowledge a certain ´made-up´ identity, and finally a reflection of other peoples views.

Here you can see the ´Inspired by Iceland´ video:

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Anthony D. Smith 

In Myths and Memories of the Nation, Smith discusses the “myth of ethnic election,” referring to the widespread belief that one’s ethnic community is a “chosen” solidarity. These groups need not be politically autonomous to survive. Rather than surviving in a political sense they can survive solely by the continued beliefs in their cultures. Examples would include Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Catalonia, among others. According to Smith, members of such groups feel as though they belong to a special “elect,” and that they have a moral obligation to sustain the solidarity’s unique cultural and, in many cases, linguistic or religious characteristics.

Of course, in this theory the so-called ‘elect’ is preceded by the ‘myth(s)’. What makes a group feel as though they are special or chosen? In Smith’s words, “To be worthy of forefathers who laid down their lives in these holy mountains and by the banks of these sacred rivers, must we not return to the ancient virtues and forsaken ways?” (1999:135) Many cases leap off the page to support this theory. Take for instance the American patriotic song My Country ‘Tis of Thee:

My country ‘tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing.
Land where my fathers died!
Land of the Pilgrim’s pride!
From every mountain side,
Let freedom ring! …

(Source: http://kids.niehs.nih.gov)

Ironically set to the tune of God Save the Queen, this song reflects a commonly shared bond to a national past and even a (mythical?) shared ancestry of ‘fathers’. But one might criticise this example for exemplifying an obviously modern nation in the case of the United States. After all, Smith’s argument is meant to provide evidence that while nationalism may be a modern phenomenon, nations themselves are rooted in pre-modern cultural and ethnic ties. Fair enough. How about, then, the Welsh national anthem:

(For a good visual-audio experience, head to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3kUnCwV3AYE)

This land of my fathers is dear to me
Land of poets and singers, and people of stature
Her brave warriors, fine patriots
Shed their blood for freedom

Land! Land! I am true to my land!
As long as the sea serves as a wall for this pure, dear land
May the language endure for ever.
Old land of the mountains, paradise of the poets,
Every valley, every cliff a beauty guards;
Through love of my country, enchanting voices will be
Her streams and rivers to me.


Though the enemy have trampled my country underfoot,
The old language of the Welsh knows no retreat,
The spirit is not hindered by the treacherous hand
Nor silenced the sweet harp of my land.

(Source: BBC)

Unsurprisingly, the anthem is meant to be sung in Welsh, and it serves as a great example of glorifying one “chosen” people, who according to the anthem refuse to allow their language to die, are extremely loyal to their ostensibly beautiful land, and will fight “the enemy” if needed.

Wales is what Smith would call an example of Communal-Demotic ethnic survival, most cases of which involve an ethnic group that has been conquered and must fight to preserve its culture. Communal-Demotic patterns also emphasize the importance of the “homeland” being linked to the group in question. Wales was granted a national assembly with secondary law-making powers in the late-’90s, and a referendum for more law-making power is due next March.

Meanwhile, Chechnya is arguably even less autonomous. The Caucasian Chechen ‘ethnie’ is an example of Smith’s Diaspora-Restoration ethnic survival. The constantly nomadic community attached the myth of being “chosen” to “patriots” moving to the direction of homeland, whose cultural connection was closely tied to the centurial ancestry. The latter finds its illustration in the folklore:

Noxçi (this is how they call themselves) Mohajirs (emigrants in Arabic), brothers of Mohammed,
Your land waits you, your blood of ancestry, your culture of fighter,
Will surpass from generation to generation,
Long live, long live, long live

(Sources: Book of Caucasian Folklore, Encyclopedia of stateless nations)

With these examples in mind, consider the following questions. We will try to address at least the bold-faced questions in class tomorrow:

(From Brandon)
1. Is Wales, which has witnessed somewhat of a surge in nationalism quite recently, an example of Smith’s pre-modern, ethnically conceived nation? Or could the recent political developments in Wales (and Scotland for that matter) be attributed more to Gellner’s modernity- and industrialisation-driven theory?

2. Do you believe Smith and Hastings when they claim that nations may have existed in medieval times, or even beforehand? Why or why not?

3. Smith says the modern idea of nationalism “has strengthened existing myths of ethnic chosenness and kindled new ones wherever ethnic groups have begun to crystallize and demand recognition.” (1997:140). Yet, he also says that nations existed before modern times, and preceded nationalism. Is this a contradiction, or can nationalism be both a product of, and catalyst for, nations and nation-building?

(From Caitlin)
1. Smith finds that there are two time frames for “Neo–Perennialism”: medieval nations and ancient nations. To what degree do you agree with him that the two are distinct. Or, is Smith trying to solidify his stance by creating a definition that is too encompassing?

2. Walker Connor finds that the end point of nation-formation is when “the nation mobilizes large numbers of people that it becomes a ‘major force in history’. However, he concerns himself “with exactly how many members of a people must internalize a national identity” to solidify it. To what degree does Smith find fault with his argument? Do you think Connor has supporting evidence for his argument? (2004, 207-208)

(From Jennie)
1. “For in the language and symbolism of modern nationalism we find the contemporary equivalent of the old beliefs in ethnic election.” (1999:139)

“The nation is not an essence or fixed state that is either present or absent, or that one either possesses or lacks…It is a precipitate of a set processes which are variable in extent and intensity, and which may combine to produce a type of community that approximates, more or less, to the ideal type of nation.” (2004 article)

In light of the two quotations above and from your own knowledge of Smith, to what extent do you agree that ‘the nation’ is an ongoing process as opposed to a fixed state? (And could/should this process be argued to have begun in a pre-modern time period?)

2. If Smith accepts that modernity and nationalism play a key role in shaping ethnies do we still have ethnies today?

3. Does Smith’s ethnosymbolist approach give sufficient weight to political aspects necessary/inherent to nation-formation?

4. We often talk of nation-states as being the main political unit in the world today but the two are not synonymous. We are familiar with the idea of multi-nation states and nations without states, what do you make of the idea that it is possible to have a state without a nation? Can you think of any examples? (Smith mentions South Africa as an example of this in the 2004 article).

(From Christopher)
1. Smith states that nations begin with ethnic communities. Keeping this idea in mind, what would Smith say to the creation of Australia? How does Australia’s history as being a prisoner’s colony fit into Smith’s theory?

2. Switzerland was built mainly because of political reasons by different ethnies. What would Smith’s response be?

3. Considering ethno-symbolism: What consequences does that imply for modern state-building (Afghanistan, Iraq…)?

(From Tornike)
1. Can the ideology of Chechen nationalism be named as modern and the process of their ethnic survival pre-modern?

Feel free to watch the following YouTube video of a Chechen ritual dance to help form your opinion:


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Importance of “Flags”

One of the advantages of studying nationalism is that you can observe an event in everyday life and relate it to the things you study academically. What I have just encountered on Facebook is really interesting because of the things we have just talked in the class. I have just got an “invitation” to an event on Facebook and when I opened the link to see what it is, I saw that it’s an invitation to all “Turkish people” (Turkish in quotation marks because what being “Turkish”  means for them is really different than my understanding of being Turkish) to wave their flags on 29th of October, which is the biggest national holiday in Turkey because it’s the day on which the Republic was founded. I read some of the comments on the “wall” of the event and saw some things like “everybody who has at least a bit of a Turkish blood should wave the flag”, or “people who don’t wave the flag should be ashamed of themselves”. Somebody even wrote something like “I wave my flag everyday anyway, I don’t need a 29th of October”.

After reading these comments, I posted my own question of what would happen if people don’t wave the flag on that day. Could there be some kind of a conflict between people who wave the flag and those who don’t? Given the polarity of people in Turkey, I fear something might happen. Kurds, who already feel isolated and excluded from the society, might be attacked because they don’t wave the Turkish flag in their house. I think about the Nations and Nationalism lecture on Monday and the popularity of wave flagging in the US, and I don’t think such a conflict would emerge there but why is this so much important to wave the flag? Do people have to prove that they love their country by populist means such as waving the flag? One of the things I’ve liked about UK since I came here is the the very few numbers of flags I’ve seen around. In Turkey, you would see the flag in almost every institution, in the schools, in the universities etc. Does that mean that people in the UK don’t love their country as much as Turkish or Americans? I don’t think so.

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