On Nationalism (Again)

NATIONALISM is one of significant subjects and debates in the real politics.

It is a sense that stirs group of human beings in particular territory, which share many similarities and experiences among them, to unite themselves and to form a distinct supra-organization called state. In practice, nationalism is used for the first time as a political banner in the resistance and anti-colonial movement. After that, it is used in many ways, from the political arena to the sport fields.

As a political banner of the resistance movement in modern world, nationalism movement meets its goal following a very severe political turbulence and crisis in one existing polity. After the First World War, for instance, the Ottoman severely lost many of its territory in the Middle East and the Central Asia where the people in those regions found them, culturally and historically, were different with the Turks, and were different among each other’s. Or, following the end of the Second World War, many colonized countries in Asia and Africa, proclaimed their independence from colonizers. The last significant wave of nationalism happened following the downfall of the Soviet Union and socialist block in Eastern Europe at the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s. As much as 17 new countries emerged following the end of the Soviet Union and at least sevens new states proclaimed their independence following the collapse of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

The ball keeps revolving, and in 1999, East Timorese decided to leave Indonesia. The former Portuguese’s colony was occupied by the Indonesia troops in 1975. Due to worrisome over the spread of global communism, the U.S. and Western hemisphere in general supported the occupation. Last year (2008) Albanians proclaimed the Kosovo’s independence from Serbia. After one year, not many countries recognized this self-proclamation. People Republic of China is one among countries that do not recognize the Kosovo’s independence. China considers its recognition could be used as a justification for Tibetan and Uyghur people in Xinjiang Province to advance their nationalism and separatism movement. Indonesia and the Philippines who have quite similar problem with China also deferred to recognize Kosovo. Meanwhile countries like Taiwan and Northern Cyprus supported the Kosovo.

These facts strongly suggest us that the nationalism will always be a matter in the political practice. As a political commodity it affects all countries.

Nationalism is not a natural and universal, says Ernest Gellner (1966). “It is a necessary conditions and attributes of man, a touchstone of the boundaries of political units, and rightly so.” It is not given. It is a creation of human being based on specific conditions and reasons. He argues that nationalism is a result of industrialization and modernization, and moved mainly by the elites groups or the fully human men. The fully human men are the ones who have ability to develop education system to promote the idea of oneness nation. Nevertheless, the nationalism movement needs both intelligentsia and proletariat groups even these two distinct groups have their own idea about independence. For the intelligentsia, independence simply means enormous advantages and very good jobs where they can create their own monopoly in it. Meanwhile for the proletariat group, the independence means freedom from any kind of repression, even tough what they get is not what they see. “The hardship are not removed and indeed it is increased by the drive of rapid development and the fact that a national government can sometimes afford to be harsher than a foreign one.”

Gellner argues that various considerations need to be explored in the nationalism discourse. The basic considerations are that the nationalism tends to shift from nationalism to any kind of group loyalty and sentiment, and that the nation is a creation of nationalism, and lastly that even it is extremely powerful, but the nationalism itself is not the only force in the real politics.

Smith Anthony (1996) also sees the nationalism discourse as an “elite construction” to serve their “partisan ends”. In his study on the origin of nationalism he asks questions whether or not the nationalism is merely a result of modernization and whether or not it is political unit or social and cultural entity. Smith defines nation as “a named community of history and culture, possessing a unified territory, economy, mass education system and common legal rights.” It is created through two main patterns: the use of landscape or “poetic space”, and the use of historical features. Both of these patterns had been implied in the language and symbolism of people.

Like Gellner, he also underlines that nationalism and nation is not permanent or perennial. It can be formed, where human will and effort play an important role in the nation making process. He also highlights the importance of the use of bureaucracy in creating the sense of nationalism and nation building. In fact both of colonizer and colonized people use it as a tool to maintain their own goal. The colonizer, in Anderson (2006), uses bureaucracy to classify colonized people so the colonizer can easily control them. In another hand, the colonized people use the bureaucracy and its branches, such as mapping and censuses, to form a kind of consciousness among them. Nevertheless, the bureaucratic state and it incorporating activities, Anthony argues, provide “the framework and the motor of change.”

Chattarjee (1996) discusses the two types of nationalism, which are Western and Eastern nationalism. The Western nationalism, emerged in the Western Europe, is assumed as the role model of nationalism idea in the world, whereas the Eastern nationalism has been influenced by the Western nationalism and accompanied by an effort to re-equip the nation culturally. There is also awareness that the standards of the Western nationalism are somehow odd. Each nationalism project needs to find it own patterns and models that emerged from its roots of culture and history.

Anderson (2006) mentions the strong relationship between the nationalism idea and Protestantism tradition. The nationalism movement has benefited from the use of printed book and the use of Latin character to spread the teaching of Protestantism. Anderson concludes that, “the coalition between Protestantism and print capitalism, exploiting cheap popular edition, quickly created large new reading publics.” The print-language promoted the base for national consciousness in three different ways. First, it created unified field of exchange and communication, then it built the image of antiquity so central to the subject idea of nation, and at the end it created languages-of-power among the distinct people. But yet, nationalism will always be an idea of imagined community. It is imagined, Anderson says, because the members of even the smallest nation never hear ed or met in person with their fellows. In another hand, it is also imagined because the largest nation including so many distinct groups within its territory.

So then, we can assume that the nationalism is a fragile idea and belief. It can be challenged easily when it meets new circumstances and dynamics within the existing nation. For me, the success and the failure of nationalism is determined by its practicality in real politics, whether it can meet relatively all of its goals and aims, whether or not the regime, the fully human men, the elite group who use nation as their project of monopoly, can fulfill their promises to the people. If the answer is not, then a nation will face new challenge.

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Born in Medan, lives in Jakarta, loves Indonesia.

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