Archive for February, 2014

Post written by: Kirsten Gerrie, Killashandra Rashid, & Madison Reid

As we all know, the 2014 Winter Olympics have just concluded, and as with the Olympics every two years, these offered a ready and potent platform for various countries of the world to compete, compare, and contrast. In short, during the Olympics, nation-building is implicitly heightened. Virtually all countries seem to capitalize on their populations being roused and mobilized with the patriotic fever characteristic of these proceedings to create national values and norms to the state’s own ends.

Positions on social issues can create a shared sense of zeitgeist, and one particular social issue, which Olympic media attention has exacerbated, has polarized two countries in particular on either side of the debate: LGBT minority acceptance. In July of 2013 the Russian Federation came under global scrutiny for the introduction of two new laws. The first banned the promotion or advertising of non-traditional (not heterogeneous) relationships to minors. The second law requires organisations to register with the government in order to continue operating. Without government approval, organisations are labeled as foreign agents and thus subject to fines and imprisonment. Coinciding with these new nation-building strategies was the run-up to the 2014 Winter Olympics, hosted by Russia which drew attention to the issue.

Both Russia and Canada have endeavored to set themselves apart, or to imply essentially that, “We are better than the rest of the world” (either via traditionally conservative values or traditionally liberal values). It is also worth noting that, as was pointed out last lecture, ‘Identity’ only becomes an issue when it is in crisis. Such a polarizing issue forces the national populace to choose sides and – ideally in the eyes of the state – come down on the side of the official national line. We hypothesize one possible explanation: Canadian self-styling is “liberal” and inclusive because it relies on civic nationalism to hold the state together, whereas Russia, with comparatively lower diversity rates and nearly non-existent influx of immigrants, is increasingly “traditional” and exclusive because it has chosen to build national identity around ethnic lines (defining the somewhat small populations of LGBT and others and somehow non-Russian due to the lack of other more convenient groups to ostracize).

Part of this comparison benefits from exploring the leadership structure of both countries; Russia’s leadership remains, arguably, a cult of personality, or rather a glorification of the ‘Strong Man’. Putin is the face of Russian Government. On the other hand, Canada has no such enjoyment of watching Stephen Harper wrestle bears shirtless. Indeed, most of the populace has no delusions surrounding his ability or inclination to do so. As Russia ostensibly seeks a resurgence of power under Putin and Medvedev, its foreign policy reflects both internal and external influences, especially US and Chinese factors. According to Saito (2008) Russia saw itself as the Pluto of a Western solar system in the aftermath of the disintegration of the USSR, but recently it has begun to create its own Moscow-centered system. Currently (and as we have seen with the mess surrounding the #Sochiproblems hashtag, Russia is facing significant challenge in dealing with the global economic crisis and seeks to reduce US influence in the Caucasus and Central Asia. The US and Chinese factors, together with domestic concerns, are likely to continue to drive Russia’s foreign policy AND its internal move towards viewing Russia as the bastion of traditional values under the “inspirational and father-like” figure of Putin (Quote from an Olympic figure skater).

Many Canadians – at least the vocal ones – on the other hand, condemned the Russian anti-gay laws. But Canadians’ protests began much earlier and quieter — in written letters and emails sent to government officials almost as soon as the Russian law was passed. Documents obtained by CBC News through an access to information request reveal extensive correspondence between concerned citizens and Minister of Sport Bal Gosal. The government responded to more than 200 emails and letters from the public, according to Foreign Affairs spokesperson Beatrice Fenelon. This may not seem like a large number, but the documents contain mostly notes to Gosal and not to representatives from other relevant departments. Many more Canadian demanded a boycott, and Rainbow flags were raised throughout the country in a show of solidarity. Compelling evidence of the national identity-building value of this debate is found in a CBS article, which cites many felt that “Canadian Values” as a monolithic whole, were being fought for: “And, mostly, the emails invoked a sense of patriotism, that action on the part of government would not only signal a respect for human rights but reflect instinctive Canadian values. ‘I am a proud Canadian,’ opened one email. ‘I love my Edmonton Oilers and having a few cold ones while camping with my friends — just like millions of my countrymen. Our athletes aren’t just representing our country — they are representing what our country stands for and believes in. Competing in Russia means athletes are asked to compete in a place that is contrary to those values.’ Another said that as one of the first countries in the world to legalize same-sex marriage, “and as a country that guarantees the rights of its LGBTQ citizens, Canada must stand clearly against the recent homophobic attacks in Russia.” (CBC, 2014). The Canadian government obliged the public with words, demonstrating to the populace it was acting on issues which were close to the hearts of the voting public. In an August 2013 interview, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said it is “an incitement to intolerance, which breeds hate. And intolerance and hate breed violence.”

In July of 2013 the Russian Federation came under global scrutiny for the introduction of two new laws. The first banned the promotion or advertising of non-traditional (not heterogeneous) relationships to minors. The second law requires organisations to register with the government in order to continue operating. Without government approval, organisations are labeled as foreign agents and thus subject to fines and imprisonment. Coinciding with these new nation-building strategies was the run-up to the 2014 Winter Olympics, hosted by Russia.

Russian civil society has reacted to these laws in a relatively exclusionary manner. Both major Russian religious institutions, the Orthodox Church and Mosque, have come out in favour of these laws. Not only does their support demonstrate the strong ties between church and state within Russia, but it also highlights the type of society that Russia is trying to construct. That is, one built on traditional values which is reinforced by religious language of purity of the nation . Within   civil society, there have been several other indicators of who belongs to the nation and who doesn’t. Nearly half of the institutions prosecuted under the Foreign Agents Law have been LGBT support groups run by Russian citizens. A LGBT youth support blog is currently awaiting trial, accused of being a foreign agent and acting amorally. In labeling these organisations as both foreign and amoral, it is made clear that there is no place for them within the conception of the Russian nation. Another aspect of exclusive nation building is that it prevents people who want to belong to the nation from doing so, based on a personal trait. This can lead to the adoption or appropriation of an alternative identity which falls more in line with the concept of the nation. An interesting demonstration of this process can be seen with the group G.A.S.H. (the Gay Arian Skinhead Nazis), who attempt to incorporate ultranationalist and racist policies with elements of gay culture.

In the run-up to the Olympics, nation-building took on a much different character within Canada. Public statements made by Canadian politicians and corporations alike stressed their support for all athletes – regardless of ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation – and criticized the Russian laws as being harmful to a diverse society. Several events were organised by organisations within civil society to support athletes, such as pride parades featuring gay Olympic athletes. Currently a LGBT flag flies at all three of the former Olympic sites in Canada: Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver. Perhaps most famously, the Canadian Institute for Diversity and Inclusion made a video in February supporting gay Olympic athletes (http://www.cidi-icdi.ca/whats-happening/in-the-news/gay-rights-sochi/). Indeed, most debates within Canada include some rallying call around shared values of diversity and inclusion.

Nation-building and the Olympics have become tightly entwined within both Russia and Canada. For Russia, this has meant introducing divisive policies which clearly denote who belongs and who does not. These laws support some civil organisations, such as religious groups, more than others, which again highlights the idea that Russia is attempting to become known as a nation built on traditional values. Canadian nation-building has taken on a different tone, focusing on inclusivity within the nation. In many ways, these public statements and commercials are intended to present a version of Canadian-ness to the world.

For the individual too, these images of the nation projected by the state and the strategies used to cement it have a profound impact on his or her national identity and sense of belonging. In Russia’s case, the portrayal of the nation excludes LGBT individuals, forcing them into a position in which their national and sexual identity are set against one another and which effectively alienates these groups from the national community. Individual Russians have had a number of different reactions to this position assumed by the elite and many elements of civil society. Some, such as those mentioned above , opt to join organizations such as the Gay Aryan Skinheads (GASH) that adopt radical Nazi politics in an attempt to reconcile their sexual orientation with Russian national identity (see discussion question #4 below ).

Others attempt instead to propose an inclusive alternative vision of what it means to be Russian. These individuals, such as Nikolai Alekseyev who organised one of the first pride parades in Russia in 2006 and Elena Kotsyuchenko who launched a set of kiss-in protests, reject the exclusionary nationalism and remain in Russia to combat the homophobia in order to see themselves included in the nation into which they were born and would otherwise belong.

The majority’s response to the homophobic Russian nation-building is especially chilling. Taking it upon themselves to enforce national purity and affirm their own national identity, individual Russians have committed horrendous acts of violence against LGBT in the country. This violence puts increased pressure on all Russian LGBT, some of whom, such as activist and author Masha Gessen, have made the difficult decision to emigrate. This means abandoning what they see as their country, their nation, to preserve their safety and that of their loved ones. Unfortunately, this is largely the desired result of the violence: purifying the nation by pushing out those perceived as outsiders.

In opposition to this is the inclusive Canadian nation-building which, for the most part, does not alienate potential members due to qualities with which they were born, thereby avoiding the tensions such as that present in Russia between sexual orientation and national identity. Naturally, this model nation-building is a strategic one for a country otherwise too diverse to unite around any single “ethnic” identity.

In short, both Canada and Russia are appropriating what would otherwise be a social or civil rights issue for the purpose of mobilizing their respective nations. This is an interesting departure from traditional conceptions of civic and ethnic nationalism and nation-building, as LGBT individuals, while born into their sexual orientation, are largely invisible unlike other ethnic or “racial” groups that more often serve as an “other” against which the nation can be defined. Conversely, using a social issue in such a fashion can also be highly strategic depending on the circumstance. However, not all countries can capitalize on social issues in this way. The Unites States, for instance, is deeply divided on the topic of gay marriage and could hardly use this as a point around which to nation-build.

Questions for Consideration:

  1. Do you agree with viewing this comparison of Olympic Nation Building and Identity though this lens? Is it helpful? Why or why not?
  2. Is the Russian model of nation-building effective? How smart was the strategic decision to select an otherwise small, invisible minority as the internal “other” against which the nation can then define itself?
  3. According to Elena Kotsyuchenko, the othering of LGBT was deliberately not racial and it is largely top-down nationalism, stemming from the Kremlin. That said, is this nationalism ethnic or civic? Are these terms useful to describe this kind of nationalism?
  4.  More broadly, are social issues, LGBT rights in this case, effective in the formation of national identity since they, as in the case of the US, can be highly controversial?
  5. The outlier case: http://www.vice.com/read/meet-russias-gay-aryan-skinheads-finally-bringing-homosexuality-to-the-neo-nazi-world – The G.A.S.H. clearly represents a group struggling to belong to the nation, as demonstrated by their adoption of conflicting ideologies. Why do you think members of the G.A.S.H. are so unsupportive of other minority groups? In what ways does this reflect the construction notion of belonging to a nation?


Allen, Trevor (2014) Children 404: A Refuge for Russia’s At-Risk LGBT Youth is Under Attack http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/blog/%E2%80%9Cchildren-404%E2%80%9D-refuge-russia%E2%80%99s-risk-lgbt-youth-under-attack

BBC (2013) Q&A: Gay Rights in Russia http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-23604142

Chester, Nick (2013), An Interview with a Gay, Russian Neo-Nazi http://www.vice.com/read/meet-russias-gay-aryan-skinheads-finally-bringing-homosexuality-to-the-neo-nazi-world

GESSEN, Masha (2013) “As a Gay Parent I Must Flee Russia or Lose My Children.” The Guardian [online]: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/aug/11/anti-gay-laws-russia .

GESSEN, Masha (2013) “My Life as an Out Gay Person in Russia.” The Guardian [online]: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/nov/15/life-as-out-gay-russia.

Logan, Nick (2014) VIDEO: ‘The Games Have Always Been a Little Gay’ http://globalnews.ca/news/1132480/luge-parody-ad-points-out-olympics-have-always-been-a-little-gay/

SAITO, M. (2008), “Russia’s Diplomacy under the Tandem Leadership of Putin and Medvedev’, Russian and East European Studies 37, pp. 3-16,

SHARLET, Jeff (2014) “Outside the Iron Closet: What It’s Like to Be Gay in Putin’s Russia.” GQ [online]: http://www.gq.com/news-politics/big-issues/201402/being-gay-in-russia

TRINH, Theresa Do. (2014), Canadians protest Russia’s anti-gay law with letters to government: Letters say the ‘Olympic spirit is under assault,’ demand Canada pressure Russia to rescind law. CBC News Online: http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/canadians-protest-russia-s-anti-gay-law-with-letters-to-government-1.2546095

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Speaker(s): Michael Skey (UEA)
Date and Time: 19th Feb 2014 11:00 – 13:00
Location: Seminar Room 2 CMB 15A George Square

This paper explores the reasons why national forms of identification and organisation (might) matter in the contemporary era. In the first part, recent research on everyday nationalism is combined with insights from micro-sociology and discursive psychology to highlight the importance of routine practices, institutional arrangements and symbolic systems in contributing to a relatively settled sense of identity, place and community. In the second, I use data from my own qualitative research among the ethnic majority in England (alongside insights from researchers working on similar issues in the Netherlands, Sweden, US and Australia) to explore the hierarchies of belonging that operate within a given national setting. Here, there is a particular focus on how members of the majority position themselves as the arbiters of national space and culture and, as a result, lay claim to key material and psychological benefits. In articulating such views, they also point to the (perceived) threats that certain minority groups represent to both their own status and the nation, which are often articulated in relation to the most banal incidents and objects.

In conclusion, it is argued that these insights may be used to offer a fresh perspective on current policy debates around national belonging, multiculturalism and community cohesion. At present, an undue emphasis on minorities (what they do, don’t do or should do) has meant that little attention has been focused on the status of the majority; where are they situated? What are their interests and how are they articulated and justified? In foregrounding the discomfort and insecurity that many members of this group seem to feel, we can begin to unravel what is at stake for them at the current time. In unmasking the significance of different identity formations, we are also in a better position to understand how and why different social groups mobilise and, as a result, offer more practical solutions to some of the most entrenched social conflicts.

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Does education construct national identity?

The rationale behind the exploration of this question is to examine how responsible the state is to the construction of national identity. There seems to be a conception that the state creates national identity. Mann in Dark Side of Democracy explores the idea of how the state is responsible for the formation of a stratified people, as seen in North America and organic people, as seen in Nazi Germany. A problem that these authors have with these ‘two types of we the people’ defined by Mann is that both are constructions of the state as the state wants its people to be seen. Organic nor do stratified people, in reality, exist. Nevertheless the state is essential in the perception that they do. The question is, therefore, where does this perception come from?

These authors do not wish to tackle Mann, instead it wishes to tackle whether or not education helps to create national identity. This exploration will define the nation as Anderson does: imagined, limited and secular (Anderson: 1991). Print capitalism is one way that allows the nation to imagine itself in this way as it allows individuals to relate and imagine themselves in new ways (1991: 36). This blog will then examine education with print-capitalism in mind, that is, does education work in the same way? And if it does, how influential is it to national identity? And, if it is, how important is it to the construction of national identity?

These authors also understand identity to be formed as Anderson does, that is by comparison to the other. Anderson uses the case of Creole identity to illustrate how the Creole defined themselves against what they were not – not being Spanish. For this reason, the two case studies chosen to compare and contrast is education in England and Scotland. The research will focus on the curriculum up until 16, the age when it is no longer compulsory to attend school. Furthermore, the comparison will look at the content of the syllabus for specific subjects, such as History and Social studies, based on the assumption that these subjects will focus more on the nation than Maths or science will.

The National Curriculum in England

Responding to rallying cries to aid public understanding to the work of schools, to promote continuity and accountability across schools, and support the entitlement for all pupils to access a broad and balanced curriculum- Parliament passed the 1988 Education Reform Act, which established the framework for the National Curriculum. This curriculum was touted to “promote the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils, and to prepare pupils for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of adult life.” The National Curriculum for England sets out a clear, full and statutory entitlement to learning for all pupils up to the age of 16, except for those students in academies, free schools, and students schooled at home. It determines the content of what will be taught and sets attainment targets for learning. The National Curriculum also determines how performance will be assessed and reported. This structured system follows Key Stages with specific skills or knowledge to be gained at each stage.

According to Professor Audrey Osler, the introduction of the national curriculum by the Conservative government in the 1990s, amid some nationalist overtones, aimed to foster a strong sense of national identity. Although history was a core component of the original curriculum, it was not until the introduction of citizenship as a national curriculum subject in 2002 that any form of explicit civic education was widely practised in English schools. Then-chancellor Gordon Brown stated in a New Year’s Speech in 2006: ‘We should not recoil from our national history, rather we should make it more central to our education. I propose that British history should be given much more prominence in the curriculum, not just dates places and names, nor just a set of unconnected facts, but a narrative that encompasses our history’.

The concept of national identity and the debate that surrounds it is particularly complex in the context of a sovereign state (UK) made up of four separate nations (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland). As noted before, the focus of this group was to particularly examine if and how national identities are influenced by what is supposedly taught in both the history and the citizenship components of the curriculum. It must be stated that there may be a difference between what is in the curriculum and what is highlighted and taught in schools. This divergence may be explained by the demographic makeup of the students and administration. It is important though what is stated in the curriculum on a national level.

One of the principal goals of the history curriculum is to “promote individual and national identities by contributing ‘to the development of pupils’ sense of identity through knowledge and understanding of the spiritual, moral, social and cultural heritages of Britain’s diverse society and of the local, national, European, commonwealth and global dimensions of their lives” (NCC, 1999:11/online). However, history curriculum tends to be England focused, reflecting the cultural dominance of the English in the UK. There are very few direct references to the histories of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Island in the curriculum and those included are non-statutory. This exclusion may lead to a more “English” focus in the identity building.

This is also explicit in the citizenship curriculum. There is an expectation that pupils will come to understand and be comfortable with their own identity and the notion of ‘multiple identities’. However, little exploration of this complexity in the resources produced for the Citizenship curriculum are found. According to Ofsted (2006:13) ‘the diversity of national, regional, religious and ethnic identities in the United Kingdom are only rarely deconstructed to explore in any detail what this implies’. According to a diversity in curriculum research survey, the focus of citizenship education was much more globally focused and issues of national identity were often only focused on racial differences, if brought up at all. While race is an important aspect of studying identity building, there are numerous other impacting factors. It is telling that citizenship education in England is lacking in addressing those complexities.

The Scottish Curriculum for Excellence

Education in Scotland has not always been conducive to fostering a sense of national identity. In 1872, Westminster passed the Education (Scotland) Act which resulted in the Scottish school system being restructured so that it was similar to the English school system. Additionally, it removed any Gaelic instruction from the schools and students who were caught speaking it in the classroom would face corporal punishment. As a result of this, there are no monolingual Gaelic speakers in Scotland and as of the 2011 census, only 1.2% (58,652) of the population has Gaelic facilities. It was not until The Gaelic Language (Scotland) Bill was passed in 2005 by the Scottish parliament that Gaelic would officially be part of Scotland’s curriculum once again. The bill also made Gaelic an official language of Scotland and outlined a national plan for its development. The government’s efforts have resulted in a slowing down of the decline of Gaelic speakers.

As history education was not traditionally given any sort of prominence in schools, there was not much time to cover a wide range of events which resulted in lessons often including some sort of major battle. Scottish attitudes in the classroom regarding history bring about a theme of Scotland being oppressed by England. A study of 3000 16-year-old students showed that 34% thought that Scotland became part of the United Kingdom because English forces conquered it (Wood and Payne, 1999). Furthermore, students aged 9-11 in an Edinburgh school were surveyed and found that even at that young age there was still a determination to separate Scottish identity from British identity and distaste for the term ‘British’ to be used interchangeably with ‘English’, (Carrington & Short, 1996) .

The Scottish parliament has recently created Education Scotland along with the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) to address the concerns of requiring such specific assessments in the curriculum. The CfE replaces the conventional example of a national curriculum and is described by the SNP as ‘[focusing] on the traditional Scottish system of a broad education, tailored to children and including as its aims building confidence and citizenship.’ In another comment regarding the difference with the CfE as opposed to the more traditional, English curriculum it was said:  ‘The great strength of CfE is that it encourages innovation in learning and discretion for teachers, which is quite different from south of the Border, where teachers have been very constrained by testing.’ The CfE does not assess students at Key Stages and instead outlines what the ‘outcomes and experiences’ students should have on completion of a certain unit as outlined by the ‘principles and practices’ followed by the teachers. Common criticisms of the CfE are that it is too vague and without assessments the teachers are left confused as to what their objectives are in teaching.

Overall, the CfE includes many instances of language that emphasises Scottish national identity in particular. A common phrase in the ‘experience and outcomes’ portion of the CfE is that ‘Learning in the subject will enable me to develop my understanding of the history, heritage and culture of Scotland, and an appreciation of my local and national heritage within the world.’ Moreover, the social studies section in the CfE explains that through the curriculum, ‘children and young people’s experiences will be broadened using Scottish, British, European and wider contexts for learning, while maintaining a focus on the historical, social, geographic, economic and political changes that have shaped Scotland.’


We have found that both curriculums aim to mould a sense of national identity. The English curriculum however, differs slightly from the Scottish version due to the lack of essence of Englishness in the text, whereas Scottishness is prevalent throughout the Scottish curriculum. An interesting discovery with regards to England was that it only chose to differ identities on race. It does not account for those different nationalities within Britain, it rather assumes them all to be one. That being said the focus in England is on England and how others react to it or relate to it, although inadvertently. Here there is a clear sense that education does help to construct identity. Perhaps then it is of no surprise that the Scottish curriculum tells us a similar story. Scotland focuses on Scotland, but interestingly as a victim. The interviews of Scottish children very much agree with this idea, and perhaps shows the dramatic impact that education has on identity. To go off on a slight tangent and bring it back to England, how else would this Englishman have the horrific misconception that Scottish people are angry drunkards!? Nothing could be further from the truth. Never have I felt so much hospitality and politeness than when interacting with the Scottish. This misconception was also believed by my English friend and then rectified on her recent visit to Scotland. Is it possible that this misconception comes from the English education system? That history and social studies in England are taught in such a way that highlight the strengths of England – the centre of Britain, and plays down the importance, differences and intricacies of its neighbours? The point here is that a perception has been fed to ill informed youths, and perhaps that perception is from education and those teachers with an agenda to teach in a methodology that is wished by the government. This is made clear by the different methods found in England and Scotland – England being rigid, whereas Scotland is more flexible – perhaps with a stronger emphasis on Scottish culture.

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In Innovative Learning week we have two exciting events featuring Dr Alexander Verkhovsky, Director of the SOVA Centre for Information and Analysis, and one of Russia’s foremost human rights commentators.

On Monday 17th February 2014, 11:00-12:00, at the Princess Dashkova Russian Centre we have a Q&A session entitled ‘Russian Nationalism Today: a Q&A with Alexander Verkhovsky’. This is only open to students of Edinburgh University, and places are limited, so please contact Luke March (l.march@ed.ac.uk) by Wednesday 12 February at latest to reserve your place.

The second event is open to all: this is the 2014 Honorary Dashkova Lecture by Dr Alexander Verkhovsky, Director of the SOVA Centre for Information and Analysis:
“Russia: The use and abuse of anti-extremism”.
Date: Tuesday, 18th February 2014, 17:00-18:30
Venue: David Hume Tower – Faculty Room North

Summary: Russia faces serious security threats from ultra-nationalists, various kinds of terrorists, and other forms of extremism. Ethnic, religious, and other kinds of intolerance have also been on the rise. In response to existing threats and supported by the majority of the population, the government has created a set of anti-extremist laws. However, the language and the implementation of these laws have proved to be counter-productive and generated unjustified and unreasonable restrictions on fundamental rights and freedoms. The situation continues to deteriorate.

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