Archive for March, 2015


Speaker: SHIRIN RAI (University of Warwick)
Date: Thursday 2nd April 2015
Venue: Seminar Room 1, Chrystal Macmillan Building, 15a George Square
Time: 4-5.30pm

Further details here: http://www.csas.ed.ac.uk/events/seminar_series/2014_2015/political_aesthetics_of_the_nation

ALL ARE WELCOME. We will convene afterwards for drinks in 56 North, Chapel Street

For abstracts and further information on upcoming seminars and events at CSAS Edinburgh please see

and visit our Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/CSASEdinburgh

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Please come along to the Sociology seminar next Wednesday, co-sponsored with the Migration and Citizenship Research Group. Lunch will be provided.

Title: Nation, Transnationalization and Citizenship

Speaker: Yasemin Soysal (University of Essex)
Date and Time: 25th Mar 2015 11:00 – 13:00

Location: Chrystal Macmillan Building, 6th floor common room
Despite sociology’s increasing engagement with global processes, the relationship between global/transnational studies and cross-national, comparative studies remains a question, both conceptually and methodologically.
Yasemin Soysal’s talk will inquire into this relationship through an empirical focus on the transnationalization of nation and citizenship in East Asia. Soysal will attempt to clarify transnationalization as a distinct analytical mode, and in relation to comparative studies.

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Nationalism in a Day

“Yesterday, on the 17th of May, we Norwegians celebrated our constitution day to mark the signing of Norway’s constitution in 1814. Maybe it is because we are a small country: In Norway this is an important day. All over Norway children have paraded in their best clothes to the music of thousands of marching bands, and countless speeches have been made to remind each others, as fellow Norwegians, that freedom should never be taken for granted.”

– Andreas Heldal-Lund, Award Winner’s Speech, Leipzig Human Rights Award, 2003 Leipzig Human Rights Award of the European-American Citizens Committee for Human Rights and Religious Freedom in the USA, (May 18, 2003).

In contrast with the discussions last week, the focus this week is on a more decisively expressive side of nationalism – the celebration of national days. True to the flexible nature of nationalism, national day celebrations take in a huge variety of forms, differing from one nation to another. Many serve as celebrations of independence or acquisition of statehood, but it is not uncommon to find examples of the contrary. The case studies provided – the celebration of Norwegian and Russian national days, are part of the latter and very different from each other. Their origins, age, organization, perception and participation all contribute to establishing a day of celebration unique only to themselves.


norway(Image: Children’s parade on Karl Johans Gate in Oslo)

Historical development

After being unified as a single kingdom between the 10th and 14th centuries, Norway entered into the Kalmar Union with Sweden and Denmark in 1397, and was annexed by Denmark in 1536. In 1814, at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the Treaty of Kiel granted Norway to Sweden, who had fought against Napoleon, from the defeated Denmark. This caused outrage in Norway, spurring on a nationalist movement that materialised within months, and culminated with the hasty signing of a distinct Norwegian Constitution on 17th May 1814 (Elgenius 2009: 107). After a brief and limited war, Norway was forced into a union with Sweden (Elgenius 2009), but was allowed to retain its own Constitution and parliament. In this context, public celebrations of the anniversary of the signing of the Constitution sprung up around Norway in the 1820s, identifying Norway as an independent nation and demonstrating resistance against Swedish dominance (Elgenius 2009: 107-108). The Swedish monarchy and parliament attempted to ban the celebrations, but to no avail; and by the 1840s the 17th of May was widely and popularly celebrated throughout the country (Elgenius 2009: 109).

At this point, however, the Constitution Day was far from a unified or homogenous celebration. Different socio-political groups organised separate parades, often organised by political parties, emphasising issues such as women’s suffrage and temperance (Elgenius 2009: 109; Blehr 1999: 177). As the struggle for independence intensified towards the end of the 19th century, however, the celebrations became more unified, and even conservative processions began to use Norwegian flags unmarked by the Union emblem in the corner (Elgenius 2009: 109; 2011: 402). The 1870s saw the introduction of a “boys’ flag parade”, which came to also include girls by 1889, thereby making children a focal point of the celebrations (Elgenius 2009: 111-113). The dissolution of the Union in 1905 brought a brief interlude of relative unity in the celebrations, before the class struggles of the 1920s and 1930s again gave the celebrations a clear political and divisive character (Elgenius 2009: 112). The Nazi occupation of 1940-1945 is commonly argued to have changed the nature of the Constitution Day by creating a strong sense of resistance, community and national solidarity, leading to its current form (Elgenius 2009: 112-113; Blehr 1999: 177). With the exception of some controversy surrounding the referendums on membership of the EC/EU in the 1970s and 1990s, the celebrations took on a strongly apolitical character from this point on (Blehr 1999: 177, 181).

 wave(Image: The Norwegian Royal Family waving at the children’s parade from the balcony of the Royal Palace in Oslo)

Current form

Today, around 78 percent of the Norwegian population participates in some sort of celebration on Constitution Day (Elgenius 2009: 105). The Norwegian national day stands in stark contrast to most other national days in its form: where other states frequently celebrate their nation with military parades, the Norwegian Constitution Day is a purely civilian celebration, in which the schoolchildren’s parades are central (Blehr 1999: 175-176). Starting with church services and solemn commemorations at war memorials in the early morning, the celebrations take on a festive and joyous character for the rest of the day (Blehr 1999: 177). Parades are organised by schools and local committees consisting of representatives from civil society and local political parties, and high participation is secured through strongly encouraging – though not compelling – all schoolchildren to participate (Blehr 1999: 177-178). In the children’s parades, children march as representatives of their school rather than of their class or ethnicity; they wave Norwegian flags, often wear traditional folk dress (children of immigrants are allowed to wear the folk dress from their parents’ home country) (Blehr 1999: 178, 183-184), and sing the national anthem Ja vi elsker dette landet (Yes, we love this country) as well as the song Norge I rødt, hvitt og blått (Norway in red, white, and blue), a tribute to the Norwegian flag. Following the children’s parades are the citizens parades, which are informal in nature and in which people participate not as individuals but as representatives of one of the many civic associations that pervade Norwegian society – or, when they do not belong to any such association, simply as citizens (Blehr 1999: 179). The practice of parading as members of groups rather than as individuals “testifies to the importance of egalitarian ideals in Norwegian society” (Blehr 1999: 186). Associations representing political causes that are deemed to be in any way controversial – such as LGBT groups and atheist organisations – are excluded, usually by their own accord (Blehr 1999: 177, 183). Unlike the children’s parades, it is possible to participate as an ethnic group in the citizens’ parades, but such groups are rare even here (Blehr 1999: 183-184). Like the children’s parades, participants in the citizens’ parades often wear traditional folk dress – bunad – wave Norwegian flags, and sing the same anthems. In addition to the children’s and citizens’ parades, high school graduands also have their own, very informal processions, which are meant to be entertaining and often includes some somewhat controversial political statements – though it is implicitly accepted that highly controversial issues should be excluded even from these processions (Blehr 1999: 179). In all three types of parades, participants usually wear a red, white and blue silk ribbon on the left side of their chest, “over the heart – a symbolic link between the individual and the nation” (Elgenius 2009: 115). After the parades, the afternoon is spent in schoolyards where children play games and eat cake, ice cream and hot dogs while adults socialise with neighbours and acquaintances (Blehr 1999: 178).

family(Image: The Norwegian Crown Prince and his family wearing traditional folk dress, bunad)


The celebration of the Norwegian Constitution Day on the 17th of May is widely considered to be unique: it is a widely celebrated joyous occasion, organised by civil society rather than the state as such, characterised by a strong sense of pride and (arguably strongly exaggerated) national unity, in which the (allegedly) harmless nature of Norwegian nationalism is demonstrated through peaceful children’s parades (Blehr 1999: 175). Moreover, and crucially, the celebrations are highly inclusive: although one might expect that the intense flaunting of national symbols and strong expressions of national romanticism would lead immigrants and foreigners to feel excluded from the celebrations, polls have in fact shown that immigrants feel more included on this day, and find Norwegians to be more pleasant and welcoming than usual. The Constitution Day thus constitutes a “low-threshold opening into the Norwegian national community” (Bjørnholt 2005: 9). This is perfectly in line with the state ideology of integration, but is a quite recent development as the parades used to be the exclusive domain of ethnic Norwegians only a few decades ago, when Swedish children were frequently excluded from the parades (Blehr 1999: 183; Bjørnholt 2005: 9).

The unique significance, scope, and form of the celebrations have been attributed to a number of factors. It is commonly asserted that the widespread use of the traditional folk dress, the bunad, can be “explained by a young nation’s need for national symbols” (Bjørnholt 2005: 2), and the same may be said for the widespread use of Norwegian flags and the singing of the national anthem, Ja vi elsker dette landet. Not only is the Norwegian nation a young one, but its nationhood has persistently proven to be vulnerable (Elgenius 2009: 115; 2011: 397), first through the enforced union with Sweden 1814-1905, then with the Nazi occupation 1940-1945, and – to some – by the debates over accession to the EC/EU in the 1970s and 1990s. Although Norway was briefly independent in 1814, the Norwegian national project and the Constitution Day were linked to a struggle for independence – a nation in search for statehood – for 91 years. A separate, yet equally important explanation is to be found in the ceremonial practice of the celebrations themselves: Since the introduction of the “boys’ flag parade” in the 1870s, high participation has been ensured through the strong encouragement of children’s participation in children’s parades, which has also served to introduce and replicate national sentiment from a young age and to give the celebrations the joyous and civilian character they have today (Engelius 2009: 113, 116; 2011: 411).

Russia Day

Russians have more than one day they celebrate as their National Days, or simply days in which they express their nationalism, “however, the official ND today is Russia Day [12 June] commemorating the declaration of Russian sovereignty and the beginning of the post-Soviet era in 1991. It was adopted in 2004 as a public holiday and is characterised by state celebrations (Elgenius, 2005: 171).” Yet to the Russians its the most misunderstood and vague national day amongst all other national celebrations. According to “Sociologists from the Levada Center polled 1,600 people on how they feel about this holiday. According to the poll, 44 percent of respondents thought that the holiday was called ‘Russian Independence Day’. Only 38 percent were aware that it is actually called ‘Russia Day’. One-fifth of respondents were unable to answer what entity Russia is independent from (Litovkin, 2014).”

Most people attend the various activities scheduled for the day that include; concerts by famous musicians, kids activities, or making their own plans of going with their families to the park or simply hang out in the pubs. Usually there are fireworks at night and an award ceremony. “The holiday is now also used as an opportunity to give state awards to prominent Russians who have made significant accomplishments in the past year – in the sciences, humanities, arts and humanitarian activities. These official award presentations are broadly televised and attended by some of Russia’s most prominent political figures. There is a President’s Address, also televised, in the evening (Makagonova, n.d.).”

fireworksMany attribute this confusion to the fact that it is a young holiday that has been recently founded, Elgenius (2005) explains: “In the case of Russia, Slovakia and Croatia, it has to be taken into account that the public national holidays have been established recently and a pattern for celebrations may have not yet been formed. The Russians themselves do not celebrate any of the days [Russia Day, the Day of the Fatherland or the National Unity Day] recently established by the state elites, who in the process have abolished the anniversary of the ‘Great October Socialist Revolution’ as a public holiday despite polls showing that the majority of Russians were in favour of keeping it. Victory Day [9 May], on the other hand, is still today a most popular national celebration in Russia (p.254).” It seems as though most of the efforts to celebrate this national day stems from the Government, while people just simply consider it to be just another day off!

Understanding Russian Holidays

In 20th century Russia, the development of calendar holiday culture was determined by the cultural transformations that occurred under the influence of socioeconomic upheavals and their negative consequences for demographic processes and the mobility of young generations of Russians. As a result, personality types and people’s consciousness changed, and their attitudes towards the family and its values changed. The numerical decrease in population and disruption of the mechanism by which ethnically significant information is transmitted led to a loss of it. (L.A. Tul’tseva p. 97)

With this contextualisation in mind, to truly understand the traditional Russian holiday one must be aware of the effort of organisers to maintain the astronomical/calendar cycle, which in our case coincide with the Orthodox calendar. These holidays are needed as much as ever. Being milestones in the change of natural seasons, they correspond to historically established economic and cultural types of life support and distinctive features of consciousness. Such holidays are more in demand by rural families, which, because of how they live, dependent on the natural world, have always had large families. The strategy of the current demographic policy should be focused on large families, particularly rural ones. It is large rural families that are the demographic resource that will help preserve the images and symbolic meanings of our ritual holiday heritage. (Ibid)


The question of recreating traditional models of ritual holiday culture, for the purpose not only of improving socio-cultural parameters but also interesting urban residents in their own ethno-cultural heritage, was settled in the 1970s and 80s. That was when celebrations of the native village, street and city received broad recognition. Festivals with folk crafts, folklore and ethnographic ritual presentations on club stages and on the sites of traditional outdoor gatherings became part of holiday leisure activities. (Ibid)

In recent decades, up to the present, such “mass culture” events have played an especially prominent role in maintaining a generalized version of the traditional layer of Russian culture. These festivals are inherently stylized in imitation of the old days, with a mixture of various regional ethnographic and folklore styles, and the reconstructed forms themselves are often only remotely reminiscent of their prototypes, which supposedly go back to ethnographic sources. This phenomenon of a “secondary quality” in the life of ethnically marked holidays is typical and reflects society’s attitude toward its heritage. (Ibid)

The 1990s will go down in Russian history as a decade of unprecedented emptying of villages and catastrophic increase of depopulation of traditionally Russian territories. It was exacerbated in 2010 by the environmental catastrophe that gripped European Russia. The ethnic culture of these oblasts was subjected to the latest survival test. It suffered an irrevocable loss with the passing of the older generation, who were often the last exponents of idiosyncratic dialects and their own ways of perceiving the surrounding world. Among them were the last keepers of sacred knowledge. As never before, the life of a holiday now depends on the population’s economic situation. If there is no work, there is no holiday. At the same time, much depends on the attitude that society and individual people have toward their own ethno-cultural heritage. (p.97)


The two examples illustrated above showed how national day celebrations can take different shapes, one particular contrast being the social positions held by those who precipitated these celebrations (Norwegian celebration came from bottom up compared to the Russian top down approach). However it is also important to consider what is not shown here – both examples were state sanctioned national days, but more often than not a nation celebrates together in more than one occasion. This is of particular relevance to us as this discussion is taking place in a state with no official national day. What does this say about the nature of nationalism in the United Kingdom? Does the official nature of a national day separate it from other national celebrations? Does state involvement give national days anymore credit? Going back to the two case studies, are there any particularly compelling reason that the these two national days are treated so differently? Are there any possible common ground to be drawn from national days across the world? Feel free to use your own state’s national day celebration as a point of reference.

Key Questions

  • Thus, it is at this juncture that Russia Day materialises. But given this historical context for the formulation of holidays in Russia, was the rootless Russia Day ever going to succeed?
  • In light of the obvious problems apparent since the 90s, has the current political situation and media spotlight on Russia provided a remedy?
  • Will not participating in the celebrations of Russia day become a marker of who is pro-Putin and who is a potential threat to the nation?


Bjørnholt, M., 2005. ‘Hvorfor er folkedrakt så viktig i Norge og marginalt i nabolandene?’ Nordic Journal of Cultural Policy. 8 (2): 34-50

Blehr, B., 1999. ‘Sacred Unity, Sacred Similarity: Norwegian Constitution Day Parades’, Ethnology. 38 (2): 175-189

Elgenius, G., 2009. ‘Successful Nation-Building and Ceremonial Triumph: Constitution Day in Norway’. Chapter 8 in: D. McCrone and G. McPherson (eds), National Days: Constructing and Mobilising National Identity. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan

Elgenius, G., 2011. “The politics of recognition: symbols, nation building and rival nationalisms.” Nations & Nationalism 17, no. 2: 396-418.

Elgenius, G., 2005. Expressions of Nationhood: National Symbols and Ceremonies in Contemporary Europe. PhD. University of London.

Frolova, A., 2013. Modern Holiday Calendar of the Russians

L.A. Tul’tseva, 2012. Russian Holidays and Demography in the 20th and early 21st Centuries.

Litovkin, N., 2014. Russia Day: The country’s most misunderstood day off. Russia Beyond the Headlines [Online] Available from: http://rbth.co.uk/society/2014/06/12/russia_day_the_countrys_most_misunderstood_day_off_37427.html Retrieved 3 March, 2015.

Makagonova, V., (n.d.) Russia Day – June 12 Independence Day in Russia. [Online] Available from: http://gorussia.about.com/od/russia_events_and_festivals/ss/Russia-Day.htm Retrieved 3 March, 2015.

Norris, S.M., 2011. Memory for Sale: Victory Day 2010 and Russian remembrance.

Sprouting Spring Celebrations. March/April 2015.

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Angus LockyerPoster-page-001

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The Voices of Post-Conflict project is pleased to invite you to two policy-workshops on ‘Men, Masculinity and Militarism’ and ‘Challenges to humanitarian action in post-conflict societies’.

1. ‘Men, Masculinity and Militarism’

Thursday March 12th, Practice Suite (1.12) CMB


Claire Duncanson will discuss the role of men and masculinities in sustaining militarism and war. The particular focus is on the challenges-both theoretical and practical-of transforming militarised masculinities as one crucial route to achieving peace and security. The talk will be followed by a facilitated discussion on this topic.

To register: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/workshop-on-men-masculinities-and-militarism-tickets-15993570199

2. ‘Challenges to humanitarian action in post-conflict societies’

Thursday March 19th, Practice Suite (1.12) CMB


The workshop will be lead by Sandrine Tiller from Médecins Sans Frontières and by Dr. Jonathan Spencer from the University of Edinburgh. The workshop will comprise of one hour presentation by Sandrine Tiller and Dr. Spencer, followed by a facilitated discussion on the topic of humanitarian action in post-conflict societies.​

To register: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/workshop-on-challenges-to-humanitarian-action-in-post-conflict-societies-tickets-15993547130

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The deadline for the delivery of the articles and book files to be published in the sixth issue of “Nazioni e Regioni” (December 2015) is the 30 August, 2015. As regards the book reviews, the deadline for their delivery is 15 November 2015.

The journal accepts contributions that analyze theoretical questions related to nationalism and regionalism, enquiries on the current situation of the study of specific cases, researches on concrete aspects of national construction analyzed from different scientific angles. Apart from Italian, the journal will accept contributions also in English, Spanish, French, Russian, Catalan. The submitted articles will go through an anonymous peer review procedure and, if accepted, will be translated into Italian by the editors.

The contributions must follow the editorial guidelines of the journal: http://www.nazionieregioni.it/?page_id=278

e-mail: nazionieregioni@gmail.com

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Dr Nawal Al-Saadawi Guest Lecture – Thursday 12 March 2015 – The University of Edinburgh

Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies, CASAW and the Alwaleed Centre at the University of Edinburgh are pleased to announce that Egyptian writer, feminist and activist, Dr Nawal al-Saadawi, will be speaking on
‘Patriarchy and the Rights of Women in the Arab World’ at the University of Edinburgh at 6:30pm on Thursday, 12 March in Appleton Tower, Lecture Theatre 5.

More details to follow shortly. To book your FREE ticket, please visit our Eventbrite page: http://goo.gl/Foor1p

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Elite and Mass Attitudes on How the UK and its Parts are Governed – After the Referendum and Before the General Election 2015

(Edinburgh, 18 March 2015)

Following the Scottish independence referendum a process of far-reaching constitutional change with a hectic timescale began that has been impacting the lead up to the May 2015 General Elections. At this event, researchers from Social Policy at the University of Edinburgh (Dr Jan Eichhorn, Dr Daniel Kenealy, Richard Parry, Prof Lindsay Paterson and Alexandra Remond) will present new and highly topical findings from a study funded by the Economic and Social Research Council under its urgency grant scheme. The project examined what masses and elites in different parts of the UK thought about the constitutional change process, what their preferences were and whether they feel they had influence.

The project consists of a set of elite interviews with high-profile politicians, civil servants and campaigners from across the UK as well as a mass opinion survey of people in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. A large sample allows us to present how views differ across the different parts of the UK, including a breakdown of England’s ten regions. The results are the most comprehensive analysis of people’s views on the political process since September 2014 and in advance of the elections in May 2015. It allows us to show which groups of people feel most represented and which groups feel most alienated from this process. Comparing views from elites with those of the public will enable us to see where perceptions of those representing publics match actual views and where they may be more representative of particular groups of the population while others’ views may be less represented.

At this event, key results from the study will be presented by the members of the team and discussed by representatives of different elite groups interviewed and contrasted by views from public contributions. Apart from the general results for the UK as a whole, there will be a special focus on findings from Scotland as well. There will be ample room for discussion about the findings and their important implications for the general change process as well as the upcoming election and campaigns.

Attendance at this event is open, but places are limited, so please sign up here:http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/constitutional-change-in-the-uk-differences-in-mass-and-elite-attitudes-tickets-15827483429

Please note, we will also be running events in London (23 March), Cardiff (24 March) and Belfast (26 March). You can find links to the other events via the above event link.

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Of handbags, balls and freedom

In his book Banal Nationalism (1995), Michael Billig discusses the emergence of a nation through clusters of semiotic practices that pass unnoticed, reaffirming the notion of nationhood. These kinds of symbols stay in the centre of everyday life, repeatedly reproduced by the press and, in cases, institutionalized by the state, ready to be used at will. Does nationhood “provide a continual backdrop for political discourses, cultural products, and social life” (Billig, 1995: 8)? What is the significance of ‘banal’ on the nationalist discourse? And, if we agree with Malesevic that identity is an ideological device that relies on myths and ideologies to purify its meaning, making them ‘obvious and innocent’ (Malesevic, 2006: 3), to what extend does ‘banal’ nationalism influence the construction of the national self?


When one thinks of Swedish nationalism, it is not strong patriotic flag waving that springs to mind. Especially not for someone living in Sweden. Swedish nationality centres, one could argue, around different ideals. The quiet confirmation of people’s equal rights and the importance of human rights. The long history of so called neutrality from warfare and a background with a strong Social democratic state building model has centered Swedish national identity around ideas of Sweden and Swedes being strong advocates of peace and human rights, moreso than other nations (Åke. Svensk mentalitet:ett jämförande perspektiv, Stockholm: Rabén Prisma, 1998  3rd edition). The core values can be seen in many instances, and perhaps even alluded to in something as innocent as one of Sweden’s favourite Brown Bear, Bamse; the nice bear that is friends with everyone in the forest, yet also eats his honey to become strong and beat up bullies.


Another famous example of Swede’s commitment to peace and human rights can be seen with the famous sculpture of a gun with an upturned knot known as “non- violence” by Carl – Fredrik Reuterswärd.


So when an artist wants to put up a statue of an old woman that hit a neo-nazi over the head during a right wing demonstration one could perhaps assume it is in line with artistic symbols of Sweden. (Please read here for more details: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2015/02/28/sweden-blocks-plan-to-honor-woman-who-hit-a-neo-nazi-with-a-purse/?tid=sm_fb www.thelocal.se/20150219/swedes-rally-in-bizarre-handbag-protest)

Instead, it has sparked a heated debate between two sides. One defined as Cultural Sweden, people in the arts, and the other with more right oriented politicians. While both sides make valid arguments of it either standing up for Swedish core values (http://www.dn.se/kultur-noje/kulturdebatt/ola-larsmo-andra-beslutet-och-res-statyn-over-danuta-danielsson-i-vaxjo/) or in fact that it promotes acts of violence (http://www.dt.se/noje/vaxjo-nobbar-staty-av-slaende-dam)

A demonstration has begun, sparking the imagination of Swedes in the famous handbag protest. For the people the statue seems to represent core values in Sweden. Peter Kadhammar expresses in his column for the Swedish national paper Aftonbladet, (strongly linked with the Social democrats and more leftist oriented politics),  “everything that we revere, the weak against the strong, democracy against Nazism, woman against man. Danuta Danielson became a symbol, the taciturn person that took a stand for equality”.


The debate comes at a time when Sweden has recently returned to a Social democratic government after 8 years of conservative politics. It also comes at a time when our 3rd largest party have become the Swedish Democrats, the right wing party with a past in national socialism,  for whom culture is something which promotes our traditional Nordic heritage and core values. (SD culture political programme), and whose followers view the statue and the actual artist as violent and promoting violence. Perhaps Swedes feel that they no longer can cling to the same ideas of what it means to be Swedish. Could the handbag protest be an attempt for Swedes at forming solidarity and reminding people of what it means to be a Swede? Taking over our everyday spaces with the symbolic handbag. Is art calling upon the people to remember who we as a people are? Reaffirming once again our symbols of nationhood, our very own banal nationalism.

 p.s if you want to see a bunch of statues with handbags check out twitter #tantentillVaexjoe


From eternal enemies to playful brothers

  • Animosity and hatred

            In the nationalist media coverage surrounding football matches, tales of a nation’s identity can be uncovered. Let’s take a look at how the Dutch-German football rivalry changed, with the media coverage evolving accordingly. The Dutch national football team, called ‘Oranje’, has a longstanding rivalry with the German Mannschaft. A central event in this rivalry is the World Cup final of 1974 in which the Dutch, generally perceived as the better and more innovative team, lost to the Germans (Trouw 2013). World War II still quite fresh in the national memory, the final was being perceived by press and public as the opportunity to even the score with the Germans. As the daily Trouw in 2013 wrote about the 1974 final: “For ‘Oranje’  and the Dutch public, this match had everything to do with the war”. Consequently, the defeat had a strong impact in Dutch media that placed the defeat in the broader history involving the Second World War. For example, the Dutch commentator shouted “We’ve been had again!” when the Germans were (unjustly) granted a penalty kick, thereby referring to the May 1940 German surprise invasion (Luyendijk 2012). A regional newspaper opened with “The Netherlands suffered in silence”. Interestingly, the use of terms that hardly distinguish between country and team (‘we’ & ‘The Netherlands’) reflect how the Dutch national squad is equated with the nation in media coverage.


            Ever since, the Dutch media refers to ‘1974’ as a ‘national trauma’ (Algemeen Dagblad 2010). The media clearly used sporting events to define and reproduce the nation as a collectivity with a shared history, present and future. The football match was being drawn into a broader scheme of national collective history involving the war and the ensuing painful German occupation, as well as demarcating a trauma that would last into future. The innovative football playing Dutch nation, ‘us’, was juxtaposed against the other, ruthless and pesky German nation, ‘them’.

  • Playful brothers

            The Dutch mostly resolved their trauma during the 1988 European Cup, beating the Germans in the semifinals. “It felt like liberation all over again”, Dutch journalist Joris Luyendijk retrospectively writes in the Guardian (2012). “1974 has been forgotten (…) liberating goal”, the Dutch daily Algemeen Dagblad proclaimed. Again, the media reproduced the feeling of the nation with a shared history by alluding to both past sporting and war events.


            Ever since, there is still some animosity – with the famous spat incident of 1990 as a highlight/low point (see picture below) – but the German-Dutch rivalry has lost much of its edge. The Netherlands grew closer to Germany with cultural and political ties being strengthened since the 90s (Luyendijk 2012; Trouw 2014). The memory of the Second World War in the Netherlands has changed too and is not as clear-cut black and white as it used to be – not all Dutch were brave resistance fighters, not all Germans were raging Nazi’s (Trouw 2014).


            This changed relationship is reflected in the 2014 World Cup media coverage in both countries. Dutch and German newspapers alike were looking forward to a Dutch-German final. The day after the Dutch won the quarterfinals, the German tabloid Bild wrote “Congratulations, Orange, we’ll see each other this Sunday”, referring to the finals to be played that Sunday. After Germany’s World Cup final victory, Dutch newspapers were cheerful (NRC.nl 2014). Algemeen Dagblad opened with a picture of the German squad holding the cup and the text “And that’s number four – Germany deserved World Champions” against the backdrop of the German flag. This media coverage reflects the changing nature of the Dutch nation. As Dutch daily Trouw (2014) wrote “Now we’re cheering for the Germans” – reporting on Dutch youngsters even cheering for the German squad in the semi-finals.



            The nationalist media, in reproducing the nation as a collective entity with a shared history, present and future, has altered its image of the Dutch nation vis-a-vis the Germans, hardly mentioning the WW II-past. The Dutch nation is not being juxtaposed against the violent Germans anymore. Rather, the Dutch nation is being reproduced as friendly to its continental neighbor. The Dutch-German relationship as being portrayed in Dutch football coverage now resembles more a relationship between brothers than one between eternal enemies.

The funny chaps that weren’t

As a country with no tradition in football, Greece never had much luck when it came to European and World championships. In consequence, the unexpected conquest of Euro 2004 was a great surprise to the supporters and sparked a newfound interest in the national team. When the players returned to Greece, a huge celebration took place and the joyful atmosphere lasted for more than a week. At the time, nobody put much thought on the way and the symbols of the celebrations (http://www.theschooligans.gr/site/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=24&Itemid=28).


2004 Celebrations

2004 Celebrations

After the summer euphoria dissolved, in September 2004, a new kind of followers was born. Their first appearances on the stands during the qualifying games for the next World Cup were quite eventful, especially due to their rowdy signals and kitsch attire. They seemed quite an easy spot for the cameras; dressed up as ancient Spartans, they were the ones that were singing the national anthem, insulting the opposite team and waving the flag of the Eastern Roman Empire. Both the press and the public opinion perceived them as quaint hooligans, not always appropriate, but otherwise charming.


However, these organized supporters were neither funny nor charming (http://www.iospress.gr/mikro2004/mikro20040918.htm). In the spring of 2007, during a football match with the Turkish national team, they showed their true face, proving that football had created a snug corner for the far right nationalist movement.


The attitude was widely considered an isolated case, but it was not. It is safe to say that it took the media almost a decade to discover that the ‘Blue Army’, as those fans call themselves, was a branch of the nationalist party of Golden Dawn, existing long before 2004 (http://www.tovima.gr/sports/article/?aid=196126). Grasping the opportunity, Golden Dawn used the football triumph and the national pride with which it came to expand its audience and promote a new form of Greek identity (http://www.ethnos.gr/article.asp?catid=22768&subid=2&pubid=63659429)  based on a farrago of nonsense and a misconception of history. It is safe to say that, judging by the people that followed their example, they have been more or less successful.


In the recent years, the ‘Spartans of the Fields’ and their imitators have made their appearance in almost any demonstration held. While they still attract the attention of the foreign press, no one in Greece notices them anymore, as they slowly have become banal symbols of nationalism, reminders of nationhood, born on ordinary days, from ordinary activities, blooming in times of crisis (Billig, 1995: 8). All the while, even if not on the spotlight any more, the ‘Blue Army’ continues to attend every single match of the national team, mixing with the rest, as if no different.



“We stand for a different choice, made long ago, on the day of our founding. We affirm it again today. We choose freedom and the dignity of every life. Steadfast in our purpose, we now press on. We have known freedom’s price. We have shown freedom’s power. And in this great conflict, my fellow Americans, we will see freedom’s victory. Thank you all, and may God bless America.”

George Bush, State of the Union, 2002

Amy: (flipping through Selina’s memoir) “Freedom is what this nation is built on…” blah, blah, blah, “…and freedom means the freedom to choose how to use that freedom to protect the freedom of others —
Selina: Sorry, that’s just pastel-colored shit.



“I call this turf-n-turf. It’s a 16 ounce T-bone and a 24 ounce porterhouse. Also, whiskey and a cigar. I am going to consume all of this at the same time because I am a free American.”

Ron Swanson, Parks & Recreation

In examining American political rhetoric, its comedic reproduction in film and television, and the influence of both on casual interactions between citizens, it is evident that nationalism exists as an endemic condition in American society.

American politicians have consistently made appeals to the public through the dissemination of ideals and values that are treated as distinctly, or even naturally, American (i.e. freedom/liberty, democracy, etc.). Such rhetoric is consistently invoked as a means of legitimizing policies and agendas as well as to promote its hegemonic status in the international system. Comedians have often mocked these patriotic appeals in film and television by employing similar rhetorical devices, in which the characters on the screen forge a link between their extraneous plight and purpose with that of the nation. Often times this not only serves to reinforce the American feeling of preeminence on the global scale, but by default, one’s own self-importance (See: Otter’s defense in Animal House and Hank Hill’s patriotic duty in welcoming his new Canadian neighbor to the community; for more on satirical representations of attitudes towards Canada, see: Ron Swanson’s letter to Canada).


The absurdity of patriotic rhetoric reached new heights in justifying policies related to the War on Terror as well as the ways in which to assess the loyalty of public figures to the the nation (or rather, the Bush administration’s political agenda) following the 9/11 attacks (e.g. the donning of the flag lapel pin, the “shibboleth of America’s War on Terror”). Such behavior was not limited to the domestic realm, but even against critics abroad, the most ridiculous of which was Congressmen Bob Ney’s insistence on renaming of French fries to “freedom fries” in three congressional cafeterias following France’s opposition to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. While a number of small businesses followed suit to demonstrate their loyalties, comedians in film and television overtly mocked the outrageous gestures, including Tina Fey on SNL’s Weekend Update, who joked that since the conversion of French fries to freedom fries in restaurants across the United States, the French now refer to American cheese as “Idiot Cheese.”

Pasado de vueltas

Some took a more indirect satirical approach to reflect the silliness of the patriotic gestures, especially those lodged against France, such as the 2006 film Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (See also: Stephen Colbert on The O’Reilly Factor). In the film, Will Ferrell stars as Ricky Bobby, a NASCAR driver who functions as the archetype (or rather, stereotype) of the folksy (redneck), rugged (unrefined), authentic American patriot. For example, in the initial confrontation between Ricky Bobby and Jean Girard, the flamboyant French “Formule Un” driver, the two identity their personal aspirations of defeating one another on the racetrack not only as a personal goal, but as a national mission to demonstrate the superiority of their respective nations.

 Rather than alienating skeptics with the excessive, ridiculous displays of national pride or the real-life Ricky Bobbies/“love it or leave it” types with the hypocrisy (perhaps even lunacy) of equating the pursuit “American” ideals with trivial goals, the comedic reproduction of political discourse was instead a unifying force. Both camps are not only “reminded” of the nation throughout the film, but both recognize how the nation has come to be defined by American politicians and newscasters (Billig, 1995).


Anderson, B. (1983) Imagined Communities: Reflections on the origins and the spread of Nationalism London: Verso

Billig, M. (1995) Banal Nationalism London: Sage

Bishop, H. & Jaworski, A. (2003) ‘We beat ‘em: nationalism and the hegemony of homogeneity in the British press reportage of Germany versus England during 2000’ Discourse and Society 14 (3) pp: 243-271

Hunter, J. (2003) ‘Flying the flag, identities, the nation and Sport’ Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power 10 (4) pp 409 – 425

Luyendijk, J. (2012) ‘Help! Whatever happened to Holland-Germany animosity?’ in The Guardians Comment is Free link: http://bit.ly/1E6Uy4c

Malesevic Sinisa (2006), Identity as Ideology: Understanding Ethnicity and Nationalism, New York: Palgrave Macmillan

  • Media

Algemeen Dagblad (2010) ‘Kranten verbitterd over derde WK-trauma’, 12 July link: http://bit.ly/1N5nyfw

Trouw (2013) ‘1974 Cruijff & co tuinen er toch in’, 13 November, link: http://bit.ly/1zPuXX5

Trouw (2014) ‘Nu zijn we voor de Duitsers’ 13 July, link: http://bit.ly/1GD5rJa

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