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Ethnicity and Nationalism in Europe Today

Author(s): E. J. Hobsbawm and David J. Kertzer


Source: Anthropology Today, Vol. 8, No. 1 (Feb., 1992), pp. 3-8
Published by: Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland
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Ethnicity and nationalismin Europe
today
E.J. HOBSBAWM

David l. Kertzer, Following recent custom, one of the plenarysessions at this close to a thousandanthropologists.It is reproducedhere
WilliamR. KenanJr. past year's AmericanAnthropologicalAssociation featured along with the comments by Verderyand Fox.
Professorof a distinguishednon-anthropologistwhose work has been
Anthropologyat influentialin the anthropologicalcommunity.This year's David I. Kertzer
BowdoinCollege, speakerwas Eric Hobsbawm,who gave the majoraddressat
organizedtheplenary a session devoted to the natureof nationalism.In addition,
session. Amonghis I speak to you not simply as a historian who has been
two anthropologists- KatherineVerderyand Richard G.
books are Ritual, Fox - added their own comments.
interested in the development of nationalism and has
Politics, and Power written something about it, but as part of my subject.
Given the theme of the 1991 AAA meeting - Nationalism,
(1988, Yale U. P.) and For historiansare to nationalismwhat poppy-growersin
ethnicity, race and racism - and the world events that have
Comradesand
been absorbingso much of our attentionin recent months, Pakistan are to heroin-addicts:we supply the essential
Christians:Religion and
PoliticalStrugglein there could scarcely have been be a more appropriatefocus raw materialfor the market.Nations without a past are
CommunistItaly (1990, for the plenary session. The problemof nationalismin contradictions in terms. What makes a nation is the
WavelandP.; revised Europe,though, is not only a matterof contemporary past, whatjustifies one nation against others is the past,
edition of book political concern, for it also cuts to the heartof the
and historians are the people who produce it. So my
published in 1980 by anthropologicalenterprise.The allegiances that people form,
the identities that they create for themselves, the histories
profession, which has always been mixed up in politics,
CambridgeU.P.).
that they construct,these are all centralissues of becomes an essential component of nationalism. More
Katherine Verdery, anthropologicalconcern.The increasingattentionthat so even than the ethnographers,philologists and other
Professor of anthropologistsare paying to Europenot only promises to suppliers of ethnic and national services who have
Anthropologyat Johns shed new light on the crucial events occurringthere now, usually also been mobilized. In what terms do Ar-
Hopkins University,is but also promises to make majorcontributionsto the menians and Azeris argue about who has the right to
the author of two books developmentof anthropologicaltheorymore generally.
on Romanianpolitical Mountain Karabakhwhich, I remind you, is in Azer-
There can be few, if any, non-anthropologistswhose work is
life and society: beijan, but inhabitedmainly by Armenians?In terms of
as familiarto anthropologistsas that of Eric Hobsbawm.
TransylvanianVillagers The scope and influence of his writingshave been
arguments about the Caucasian Albanians, a people
(1983), and National which no longer exists but which in the Middle Ages
breathtaking,from studies of the jazz scene, throughhis
Ideology under inhabited the disputed region. Were they more like, or
monumentalthree-volumehistory of the nineteenth-century
Socialism: Identityand
(TheAge of Revolution,TheAge of Capital and TheAge of unlike the Armenians who are there now? This is es-
CulturalPolitics in
Ceausescu's Romania Empire)to his several books on the history of labourand sentially a problem for historical research, in this case
(1991), bothpublished revolutionarymovements. As historianEugene Genovese endlessly speculative historical debates. (I take this ex-
by the U. of CaliforniaP. has written, 'few if any serious historians... have remained ample from Nora Dudwick of the University of Pen-
I
without a large debt to his work. Nor has his influence nsylvania). Unfortunately the history that nationalists
Richard G. Fox, been limited to the corridorsof academia.His penetrating
want is not the history that professional academic his-
Professor of analyses of contemporarypolitics have involved him in
Anthropologyat Duke political debate throughoutEurope.I can vouch that nothing torians, even ideologically committed ones, ought to
University,has authored of importhappenstoday in Italy without some major supply. It is a retrospective mythology. Let me repeat
and edited several newspaperpublishingHobsbawm'scritiqueof unfolding yet again the words of Ernest Renan in his famous lec-
books.Among his recent events. ture 'What is a Nation' in 1882: 'Forgettinghistory, or
books are Gandhian From his first book, his famed 1959 study of Primitive even getting history wrong (V'erreur historique) are an
Utopia: Experimentsin Rebels, to his most recent,Nations and Nationalismsince
Culture(1989, Beacon essential factor in the formation of a nation, which is
1780, Hobsbawm's work is notable for its comparative
P.) and Lions of the why the progress of historical studies is often
characterand its interestin the theoreticalcontributions
Punjab:Culturein the dangerous to a nationality'. So a historian who writes
anthropologyoffers to historicalresearch.In fact, Primitive
Making (1985, U. of about ethnicity or nationalismcannot but make a politi-
Rebels was based on a series of lectures at the University of
CaliforniaP.), a study of cally or ideologically explosive intervention.
the evolution of Sikh Manchesterthat Hobsbawmgave at the invitationof Max
Gluckman,and such chaptersin that book as 'Ritualin Let me begin with a semantic query. If there is any
ethnic identity.
social movements' clearly show the imprintof Gluckman standard criterion today of what constitutes a nation
and other British social anthropologists.My own interestin with a claim to self-determination,i.e. to setting up an
both anthropologyand Italy was, in fact, given a big boost independentterritorialnation-state,it is ethnic-linguis-
by readingPrimitiveRebels as an undergraduate. tic, since language is taken, wherever possible, to ex-
Hobsbawm's more recent works have similarly made major
press and symbolize ethnicity. But of course it is some-
contributionsto the dialogue between anthropologistsand
historians.His 1983 edited volume (with Terence Ranger), times not possible, because historical research
1. 'The politics of class demonstratesconclusively that the kind of standardized
struggle in the history The Inventionof Tradition,not only has made that phrase
into a household word among anthropologists,but has also written language which can be used to represent eth-
of society: an appraisal
of the work of Eric helped promptan extremely importantrethinkingof the nicity or nationalityis a ratherlate historic construction
Hobsbawm', in The implicationsof the uses of history in our discipline. His - mostly of the 19th century or even later - and in any
Power of the Past: volume on Nations and Nationalism (1990), influencedby case quite often it does not exist at all, as between
Essaysfor Eric such anthropologistsas ErnestGellner and FredrikBarth, Serbs and Croats. Even then, however, the ethnic dis-
Hobsbawm,edited by similarly advancesthis dialogue.
tinction, whatever it may signify, is made. I spend my
Pat Thane, Geoffrey Eric Hobsbawmserved for many years as professorof
Economic and Social History at the University of London, holidays in a cottage in Wales which is administratively
Crossick and Roderick and legally less distinct from Englandthan Connecticut
Floud, Cambridge and is currentlyProfessorof Politics and Society at the New
School for Social Research.His honoursare legion. His is from New York State. Yet even though in my part
U.P., 1984.
lecture, given in Chicago on November 23, 1991, drew Welsh has not been spoken for a long time, and indeed

ANTHROPOLOGYTODAY Vol 8 No 1, February1992 3


the natives have even forgotten the Welsh pronuncia- well-known imperialist interests of 'divide and rule'.
tion of our celtic place-names, it would not cross my Gandhi and Nehru, Mandela and Mugabe, or for that
neighbours' minds that just living there makes me matterthe late ZulfikharBhutto who complained about
Welsh. Of course I must add that the concept of eth- the absence of a sense of Pakistani nationhood, are or
nicity is available to them, as it would not be available were not nationalists in the sense of Landsbergis or
to my neighbours if I bought a cottage in Suffolk, un- Tudjman. They were on exactly the same wavelength
less they were antisemitic. There I would be just as as Massimo d'Azeglio who said, after Italy had been
much a stranger,but they would have to define them- politically unified: 'We have made Italy, now we have
selves against me as natives against incomers, or in to make Italians', i.e. out of the inhabitants of the
terms of social classification. This would probablybe a peninsula who had all sorts of identities, but not one
less effective form of making collective distinctions based on a language they did not speak, and a state that
than 'ethnicity', but I am by no means clear why. had come into existence over their heads. There was
Every separatistmovement in Europethat I can think nothing primordialabout Italianness,just as there is not
of bases itself on 'ethnicity', linguistic or not, that is toabout the South Africannessof the ANC.
say on the assumption that 'we' - the Basques, Ethnicity on the other hand, whatever it may be, is
Catalans, Scots, Croats, or Georgians are a different not programmaticand even less is it a political concept.
people from the Spaniards,the English, the Serbs or the It may acquirepolitical functions in certain circumstan-
Russians, and therefore we should not live in the same ces, and may therefore find itself associated with
state with them. This is not, by the way, the case as yet programmes,including nationalist and separatist ones.
in most of Asia, Africa and the Americas south of the There are plenty of good reasons why nationalism
Canadianborder.I shall returnto this point later. thirsts for identification with ethnicity, if only because
Why then do we need two words, which help us to it provides the historical pedigree 'the nation' in the
distinguish nationalism from ethnicity, though both are great majority of cases so obviously lacks. At least it
so closely identified today? Because we are dealing does so in regions of ancient written culture like
with different,and indeed non-comparable,concepts. Europe,where the same names for ethnic groups persist
over long periods, even though they may describe quite
Nationalism is a political programme, and in historic different and changing social realities. Ethnicity,
terms a fairly recent one. It holds that groups defined as whatever its basis, is a readily definable way of ex-
'nations' have the right to, and thereforeought to, form pressing a real sense of group identity which links the
territorialstates of the kind that have become standard members of 'we' because it emphasizes their differen-
since the French Revolution. Without this programme, ces from 'them'. What they actually have in common
realized or not, 'nationalism' is a meaningless term. In beyond not being 'them' is not so clear, especially
practice the programme usually means exercising today, and I shall returnto this point. Anyway ethnicity
sovereign control over a, so far as possible, continuous is one way of filling the empty containers of
stretch of territory with clearly defined borders, in- nationalism.Thus Sabino Arana invents the name Eus-
habited by a homogeneous populationthat forms its es- kadi for the country of the people who had long given
sential body of citizens. Or rather, according to Maz- themselves, and been given, a collective name
zini, it includes the totality of such a population:'Every (Basques, Gascons or whatever)but without feeling the
nation a state and only one state for the entire nation'. need for the sort of country, state or nation Arana had
Within such states a single language, that of the in mind.
'nation' in question, is dominant, or rather enjoys In other words, nationalism belongs with political
privileged official status or monopoly. I observe in theory, ethnicity with sociology or social anthropology.
passing that probably not more than a dozen or so out It can take the state or any other form of political or-
of the 170-odd political entities in the world conform to ganization or it can leave it alone. If it becomes politi-
even the first half of the Mazzinian programme,if na- cal, it has no special affinity for ethnically labelled
tions are defined in ethnic-linguisticterms. politics. All it requires is that the political label,
Nationalism, or rather, to use the more lucid 19th whatever it is, should make a disproportionatelystrong
century phrase 'the principle of nationality', assumes appeal to the members of the ethnic group. An extreme
'the nation' as given, just as democracy assumes 'the case, now long forgotten, is the appeal of the pas-
people' as given. In itself it tells us nothing about what sionately non-ethnic Bolshevik party in the revolution-
constitutes such a nation, although since the late 19th ary period to the inhabitantsof what has become Lat-
century- but not, commonly, much before then - it has via. The prominenceof some Lettish names in the last
increasingly been defined in ethnic-linguistic terms. days of Soviet communism is a reminder of the days
However, I must remindyou that earlierversions of the when the Lettish riflemen were to Lenin what the Swiss
principle of nationality,which I describe in my book as guards are to the Pope. There is Col. Alksnis on the
the 'revolutionary-democratic'and 'Liberal', are not so hard-lineside and Otto Latsis of Kommunistand Izves-
based, although there are overlaps. Neither language tia on the reformingside.
nor ethnicity are essential to the original revolutionary
nationalism, of which the USA is the major surviving If this is so, why then the general Europeanmutationof
version. Classical 19th century Liberal nationalismwas ethnic politics into nationalist politics? This mutation
the opposite of the current search for a definition of takes two forms, which have little or nothing in com-
group identity by separatism. It aimed to extend the mon except the need or desire to control state policy:
scale of human social, political and cultural units: to national separatismand national xenophobia, i.e. being
unify and expand rather than to restrict and separate. against foreigners by setting up 'our' own state, and
This is one reason why Third-worldnational liberation being against them by excluding them from 'our' al-
movements found the 19th century traditions, both ready existing state. The second variantI find more dif-
liberal and revolutionary-democratic, so congenial. ficult to account for than the first, for which there are
Anti-colonial nationalists dismissed, or at least subor- both specific and general explanationstoday.
dinated, 'tribalism', 'communalism' or other sectional But before I try to answer these questions, let me
and regional identities as anti-national,and serving the remind you once again that there are vast areas of the

4 ANTHROPOLOGYTODAY Vol 8 No 1, February1992


globe, where ethnic politics, however embittered, are have, like the east EuropeanMennonites,were not Ger-
not nationalist,sometimes because the idea of an ethni- mans by origin at all (unless all speakers of Germanic
cally homogeneous population has been abandoned at languages are counted), but Flemings or Frisians. And
some time in the past, or never existed - as in the USA the only East Europeansettlers from Germanywho ac-
- or because the programmeof setting up separateter- tually saw themselves, among other things, as cultural
ritorial, ethnic-linguistic states is both irrelevant and and linguistic Germans- to the point of organizing the
impractical.The USA is once again a case in point, but German schools teaching the standard German lan-
the situation also arises in the majority of the guage - do not enjoy the 'right of return'except to Is-
decolonized ThirdWorld states. Whateverthe bitterness rael. They were the upper and middle class eastern
of interethnic and ghetto conflicts in the USA, Jews, whose very choice of surnames - Deutscher,
separatismis not a serious option, and serves no pur- Ginsburg,Shapiro- echoes unforgottenorigins. Elwert
pose for any ethnic or other groups. even notes that there are Transylvanianvillages where
To return to the main question. The specific reason high German(as distinct from the Teutonic dialects ac-
for the wave of nationalist separatismin Europe today tually spoken) was known before the Hitler period as
is historical. The chickens of world war I are coming 'Judendaitsch'. Such are the paradoxes of primordial
home to roost. The explosive issues of 1989-91 are ethnicity.
those created in Europe and, I am tempted to add, in And yet there is no denying that 'ethnic' identities
the Middle East, by the collapse of the multi-ethnic which had no political or even existential significance
Habsburg, Ottoman and Russian empires in 1917-18, until yesterday (for instance being a 'Lombard',which
and the nature of the postwar peace settlements in is now the title of the xenophobic leagues in North
respect of their successor states. The essence of these, Italy) can acquire a genuine hold as badges of group
you may recall, was the Wilsonian plan to divide identity overnight.In my book Nations and nationalism
Europe into ethnic-linguisticterritorialstates, a project since 1780 I suggest that these short-termchanges and
as dangerousas it was impracticable,except at the cost shifts of ethnic identities constitute 'the area of national
of forcible mass expulsion, coercion and genocide studies in which thinking and researchare most urgent-
which was subsequently paid. Let me add that the ly needed today', and I maintainthis view.
Leninist theory of nations on which the USSR was sub- There are good reasons why ethnicity (whateverit is)
sequently constructed(and Yugoslavia) was essentially should be politicized in modern multi-ethnic societies,
the same, though in practice - at least in the USSR - which characteristicallytake the form of a diaspora of
supplemented by the Austro-Marxist system of mainly urbanghettoes, combined with a sharp increase
nationalityas an individual choice, which every citizen in the occasions for friction between ethnic groups.
has the right to make at the age of 16 wherever he or Electoral democracy produces a ready-made machine
she comes from. for minority groups to fight effectively for a share of
I don't want to document my thesis at length, but I central resources, once they learn to act as a group and
will just remind you that Slovak conflict with Czechs, are sufficiently concentratedfor electoralpurposes.This
Croat conflict with Serbs, could not exist before 1918 gives ghettoized groups a lot of potential leverage. At
when these peoples were put into the same states. Bal- the same time, for reasons both of politics and ideol-
tic nationalism, which had been the least of the Tsar's ogy, and also of changing economic organization, the
political worries and barely existed in 1917, was nur- mechanism for defusing interethnictensions by assign-
tured by setting up independentlittle states as part of ing separateniches to different groups, atrophies.They
the quarantine belt against the Bolshevist infection. now compete, not for comparableresources ('separate
Conversely, national issues which were serious or even but equal' as the phrase went) but for the same resour-
explosive before 1914 have receded: I am thinking of ces in the same labour or housing or educational or
the famous 'Macedonian Question', the Ukraine, or other markets. And in this competition, at least for the
even the demand for the restorationof historic Poland. disadvantaged,group pressure for special favours ('af-
Ukraine (except in the formerly Habsburg part) and firmative action') is the most powerful weapon avail-
Macedonia showed no signs of wanting to break away able. Where, for whatever reason, participationin elec-
until the USSR and Yugoslavia had been destroyed by tions is low, as in the USA today, or traditionalmass
other hands, and they found they had to take some ac- support weakens, as in the US Democratic and the
tion in self-defence. British Labourparties, politicians pay even more atten-
* * * tion to minorities, of which ethnic groups are one
It is therefore more importantthan ever to reject the variant. We can even see pseudo-ethnic groups being
'primordialist'theory of ethnicity, let alone of national invented for political purposes, as in the attempt by
self-determination. Since this is an audience of some on the British Left to classify all Third World
anthropologistsI hope that I may assume that this is an immigrants as 'Black' in order to give them more
uncontroversialstatement.It is the historianswho need leverage within the Labour Party for which most of
to be reminded how easily ethnic identities can be them vote. So the new 'Black sections' of the party
changed, as witness the nationalist animus against which have been set up will include Bangladeshis,
'assimilation', so familiar in Jewish debates about Pakistanis, West Indians, Indians and presumably
Judaism. Early 20th century Europe was full of men Chinese.
and women who, as their very names indicate, had
chosen to be Germans or Magyars or French or Finns, Yet the core of ethnic politicizationis not instrumental.
and even today the name of PresidentLandsbergisand What we see very generally today is a retreatfrom so-
a number of prominent Slovenes suggests German cial into group identity. It is not necessarily political.
parentsopting for anothercollective identity. Converse- One thinks of the familiar nostalgia for 'roots' which
ly, a Germananthropologist,Georg Elwert, reminds us makes the children of assimilated, secularized and
that the concept of the Volksdeutsche,the ethnic Ger- anglicized Jews rediscover comfort in the ancestral
man who, by the constitution of the Federal Republic, rituals and sentimentalize the memories of the shtetl
has a 'right of return' to his homeland as Jews have in which, thank God, they have never known. Sometimes
Israel, is an ideological construct. Some of those who when it calls itself political it is so only by semantic

ANTHROPOLOGYTODAY Vol 8 No 1, February1992 5


combination. And ethnicity turns into separatist
nationalism for much the same reasons as colonial
liberationmovements established their states within the
frontiers of the preceding colonial empires. They are
the frontiers that exist. Only more so, for the Soviet
constitution itself had divided the country into theoreti-
cally ethnic territorial sub- units, ranging from
autonomous areas to full federal republics. Supposing
the union fell to pieces, these were the fracture lines
along which it would naturally break. It is a curious
l
joke of history that it was Stalin who gave Lithuaniaits
capital city (between the wars it was in Poland), and
Tito who, in order to weaken great-Serbianchauvinism,
created a much larger Croatia with a much larger Ser-
bian minority.
However, let us not - or not yet - infer mass
nationalism from separatistmovements in all cases. So
far the Yugoslav civil war has been waged mainly by
activist minorities plus the professionals. Has it yet be-
come, will it become, a real peoples' war? We don't
know, but there are at least 2.8 million Yugoslav
families - those who produced the 1.4 million mixed
marriages, mostly Croat-Serb,for whom the choice of
an exclusive ethnic identity must be a complex matter.

If the roots of ethnic politics in social disorientationare


X - ;*B plain in the ex-socialist countries, the same social disor-

- .j w
ientation is found for other reasons elsewhere. Is it an
accident that Quebec separatismbecame a major force
5,7- at the end of a decade during which the Quebec birth-
rate had virtually halved and (for the first time) fallen
well below that of Canada?I The decades since 1950,
the forty most revolutionary years in the history of
human society, should lead us to expect a massive dis-
integrationof old values, a collapse of old certainties.
The 'nation' is not as obvious a fall-back position
everywhere as it is in those parts of the globe whose
frontiers were drawn on Wilsonian-Leninistlines after
1918, and neither is that old-time religion. But it is one
such position, and the demonstrationeffect of central
A defaced poster of innovation, as in the phrase 'the personal is political'. and eastern Europe naturallyencourages it, where local
Gorbachevin Vilnius, Yet, inevitably it has a political dimension. But under conditions are favourable.
Lithuania,outside the what circumstances does it become politically
parliament, /5 Januarv However, separatismis exceptional in Europeoutside
1991. Among the objects separatist? the ex-Soviet zone. National xenophobia shading into
pinned up bv indignant Miroslav Hroch has tried to answer this question for racism is almost universal. And it poses a problem
citizens are Soviet contemporary Central and Eastern Europe by com- which I cannot solve. What exactly is being defended
passports, money and a parison with 19th century small-nation linguistic against 'the other', identified with the immigrant
medal. Photo: Alik nationalism. One element he stresses in both cases is
,Kapliz.C Associated strangers?Who constitutes 'us' poses less of a problem,
Press. that it is a lot easier to understandlanguage demands for the definition is usually in terms of existing states.
than the theory and institutionsof democracy and con- 'We' are French,or Swedes, or Germansor even mem-
stitutional society, especially for people who lack both bers of politically defined subunits like Lombards,but
political education and political experience. But more distinguished from the invading 'them' by being the
crucially he stresses social disorientation: 'real' Frenchmen or Germans or Brits, as defined
In a socialsituationwherethe old regimewas collapsing, (usually) by putative descent or long residence. Who
whereold relationswerein fluxandgeneralinsecuritywas
growing,the membersof the 'non-dominant ethnicgroup' 'they' are is also not difficult. 'They' are recognizable
[in Englishin the originalGermantext] would see the as 'not we', most usually by colour or other physical
communityof languageandcultureas the ultimatecertain- stigmata,or by language. Where these signs are not ob-
ty, the unambiguously demonstrable value.Today,as the vious, subtler discriminationscan be made: Quebecois
system or plannedeconomyand social securitybreaks who refuse to understandanglophones who talk in a
down,once again- the situationis analogous- language
acts as a substitutefor factorsof integrationin a disin- Canadianaccent, will respond to anglophones who talk
tegratingsociety.Whensocietyfails,the nationappearsas with a British or US intonation,as Flemings who claim
theultimateguarantee. not to understandFrench spoken with a Belgian accent,
The situation in the ex-socialist societies and espe- understand French French. I am not sure how far,
cially in the ex-USSR is clear. Now that both the without these visible or audible marks of strangeness,
material framework and the routines of everyday life 'they' would be recognized by cultural differences,
have broken down, now that all the established values though in racist reactions much is made of such things:
are suddenly denied, what is the citizen of the USSR, how good Frenchmen are insulted by the smells of
what can he or she believe in? North African cooking, or good Brits by that of curry
Assuming the past is irrecoverable,the obvious fall- emanating from their neighbours. In fact, as the global
back positions are ethnicity and religion, singly or in expansion of Indian and Chinese restaurantssuggests,

6 ANTHROPOLOGYTODAY Vol 8 No 1, February1992


xenophobia is directed against foreign people, not intelligent British traditionalistlike Enoch Powell call
foreign culturalimports. for a halt to mass immigrationsome 20 years ago, and
It would be tempting to say: what is being defended what made British governments of both parties follow
against strangersis jobs, and there is a certain truthin his lead. What is more, all of us apply the same criteria
the proposition. The major social base of European when it comes to saving our own favourite environ-
racist movements such as the FrenchNational Frontap- ments, human or non-human, from 'being ruined' by
pears to be in the native working class, the major ac- too many people or the wrong kind of people. The
tivists or such movements appear to be working class point is not whether some places, or even some regions
young men - skinheadsand the like - and a long era of and countries should be, or could still be, protected
full or virtually guaranteed employment ended, in from the disruptionby change of their ancient collec-
western Europeduringthe 1970s, in central and eastern tive character,but whetherthis is what modernpolitical
Europe at the end of the 1980s. Since then Europe is xenophobiais actually trying to do.
once again living in societies of mass unemployment In fact, fear of the alien today is rarely a traditional
and job uncertainty.Moreover, as I already observed, nationalist defence of old ways of life against the
the social mechanisms which assigned each group foreign virus. This form of culturalxenophobia was in-
different and non-competitiveniches, are eroding or are deed common in the 1950s, mainly in anti-American
politically unacceptable. The relatively sudden rise of versions - some of us rememberthe campaign against
xenophobic parties, or of the xenophobic issue in 'coca-colonization' - but that battle has long been for-
politics, is largely due to this. gotten. Culturally,the most militant gangs who beat up
immigrantsin the name of the nation belong to the in-
Nevertheless, this is clearly only part of the answer. ternational youth culture and reflect its modes and
What is being defended is not simply the position of fashions, jeans, punk-rock,junk food and all. Indeed,
individuals in group A against challenge by outsiders. for most of the inhabitantsof the countries in which
If this were so we would not find the genuine uneasi- xenophobia is now epidemic, the old ways of life have
ness about an influx of strangers(or outside influences) changed so drasticallysince the 1950s that there is very
which cannot in any realistic sense threatenthe mem- little of them left to defend. It actually takes someone
bers of the group as individuals,for instance the insis- who has lived throughthe past 40 years as an adult to
tence by sections of the US citizens that English - of appreciate quite how extraordinarilythe England of
all languages - has to be given protection against im- even the 1970s differed from the England of the 1940s,
migrantlanguages by the grantof an official monopoly and the France, Italy or Spain of the 1980s from those
of public use. In some sense it is the idea of 'us' as a countriesin the early 1950s.
body of people united by an uncountable number of And this seems to me to be the clue. This is the point
things 'we' have in common - a 'way of life' in the of contact with separatism,or the rush into fundamen-
widest sense, a commonterritoryof existence in which talism (as we see it, for instance, in Latin America). All
we live, whose landscape is familiar and recognizable. are comprehensible as symptoms of social disorienta-
It is the existence of this which the influx from outside tion, of the fraying, and sometimes the snapping,of the
threatens.Virtuallyevery single item on the list of what threads of what used to be the network that bound
'we' as English, French,Germansor Czechs are said to people together in society. The strength of this
have in common, can be acquired by immigrantswho xenophobia is the fear of the unknown, of the darkness
wish to do so, except physical appearance,where this into which we may fall when the landmarks which
differs very markedly from the norm of the receiving seem to provide an objective, a permanent,a positive
population.(This is one of the things that makes racism delimitation of our belonging together, disappear.And
so hard to eradicate.) Moreover, some of the countries belonging together,preferablyin groupingswith visible
where xenophobia has been politically mobilized very badges of membership and recognition signs, is more
powerfully are, like France, also countries which in the important than ever in societies in which everything
past received, even encouraged, and successfully as- combines to destroy what binds human beings together
similated mass immigration to an extent almost com- into communities. A recent documentaryfilm, Paris is
parableat times to the USA: Italians, Spaniards,Poles, Burning, presents a population of the most marginal-
even North Africans. Some countries which are very ized, excluded, anomic individuals imaginable: black
much exercised about the alien danger actually have drag queens in New York. Nothing is more touching
very little immigration.Indeed they do their best not to and sad than to see how these people - cast out and
have any. This is the case of the Scandinaviancountries despised by everyone including their kin, living in and
- I am thinking of Finland and Iceland in particular- for their regular 'balls' where they compete to dress up
though the prevailing liberal ideology in those parts to act out, for a moment, the roles they would like to
makes it embarrassing to admit to this form of in- play in real life, and know they can't - reconstructtheir
tolerance. Finland virtually makes permanentimmigra- own human groups. In these so-called 'families', each
tion impossible, but until the collapse of the USSR it with an invented family name, each with a senior
could hardlybe describedas a clear and presentdanger. 'mother' who takes responsibility for the rest of the
On the contrary, Finland is, as it has long been, a group, individuals can feel that they are not entirely
countrymass-producingemigrants. weak and alone.
I am not, of course, denying that societies may exist But for those who can no longer rely on belonging
within a specific set of habits and ways of life, which anywhere else, there is at least one other imagined
may be destroyed or transformed by, among other community to which one can belong: which is per-
things, excessive immigration.Emotionally, most of us manent, indestructible,and whose membership is cer-
can understandthe sentiments of the Pyrenean village tain. Once again 'the nation', or the ethnic group, 'ap-
which decided to block its public water-fountain,so pears as the ultimate guarantee'when society fails. You
that not even the thirsty cyclists touring the region don't have to do anythingto belong to it. You can't be
should have any incentive to pass through it. It would thrownout. You are born in it and stay in it. As Eugene
be disingenuous, even for those of us who take another Roosens says in Creating Ethnicity, the book which,
view, to pretend that we do not know what made an with FrederikBarth's Ethnic Groups I have found par-

ANTHROPOLOGYTODAY Vol 8 No 1, February1992 7


ticularly helpful: 'After all, nobody can change "the de siecle. What holds humanity together today is the
past" from which one descends, and nobody can undo denial of what the humanrace has in common.
who one is'2 (Well, of course you can change, or at And where does that leave you anthropologists
least invent a past - but they don't know it.) And how whose very name commits you to some conceptual
do men and women know that they belong to this com- universalism'? And us historians, who are not only
munity? Because they can define the others who do not being told that only Blacks or Whites or Basques or
1. GeraldBemier, belong, who should not belong, who never can belong. Croats can properly understand the history of these
RobertBoily et al. Le In other words by xenophobia. And because we live in respective groups, but to invent the sort of history that
Quebecen chiffresde an era when all other humanrelations and values are in they want to 'understand'?At least it leaves us, it
1850 a nosjours,
crisis, or at least somewhere on a journey towards un- should leave us, the freedom to be sceptical. No good
Montreal1986, p. 28.
2. NewburyPark, 1989,
known and uncertain destinations, xenophobia looks will come of it, but it won't last for ever. [1
p.16. like becoming the mass ideology of the 20th centuryfin ? 1991 E.J. Hobsbawm

Comment: Hobsbawm in the East


In his eruditeand stimulatingessay, Hobsbawm distin- different forms of this relation. Its two most important
guishes nationalism, as a political programme, from forms have been 1) a relation known as citizenship, in
ethnicity, which can become tied to such programmes which the nation consists of collective sovereignty
but is not so automatically;and he asks, under what based in common political participation,3and 2) a rela-
circumstancesdo nationalismand ethnicity become su- tion known as ethnicity, in which the nation comprises
perimposed? Let me refer to this superimposition as all those of supposedly common language, history, or
ethno-nationalism.Specifically, why are they superim- broader 'cultural' identity. The state-subject relation
posed in Europe now? He notes two forms of their su- emphasizing common political participation arose in
perimposition: separatism, which is happening mostly Western Europe and the USA; the one emphasizing
in the East, and xenophobia, which is happening all common ethnicity and language arose in many places,
over. His answer (inevitablyoversimplified,in this brief most especially in EasternEurope.
summary) to his importantquestion appears to be that I would like to add to these a third form of cultural
contemporaryethno-nationalismresults from social dis- relation between state and subject, the one that socialist
orientation, 'the fraying, and sometimes the snapping, rule sought to construct- sometimes even using the ex-
of the threads of what used to be the network that pression 'socialist nation'. It emphasized neither
bound people together'. As social identities have citizenship nor ethnicity but a qua i-familial depend-
ceased of late to be meaningful, people retreat into ency I will call (for lack of anything better) 'socialist
group identities, so as to defend their way of life and paternalism'.Insteadof political rights or ethno-cultural
find belonging. In short, his answer hinges on a sort of similarity, it emphasized a moral tie linking subjects
group psycho-dynamics, in which identity and belong- with the state through their rights to a share in the
ing are importantantidotesto a situationof 'anomie'. redistributedsocial product.Subjects were presumedto
I understandmy task in this comment as assessing be neither politically active, as with citizenship, nor
the relevance of his account for the post-Soviet bloc ethnically similar to each other: they were presumedto
and suggesting the significance of ethno-nationalismin be gratefulrecipients, like small childrenin a family, of
that bloc for Europe's emerging order.Let me begin by benefits their rulers decided upon for them.4 The sub-
saying that any account emphasizing disorientationhas ject disposition this produced was dependency, rather
a broad and fertile field in EasternEurope (not to men- than the agency cultivated by citizenship or the
tion among those specializing in the region!), and solidarity of ethno-nationalism. Sharing a kinship-
ethno-nationalism is undoubtedly a result. The familial metaphor, socialist paternalism and ethno-
phenomenonhas, however, numerousother causes: that nationalismas state-subjectrelations enjoy a certain af-
is, East Europeanethno-nationalismis overdetermined. finity with one another.
Two of its other main causes are the history of the To see 'nation' as an ideological constructtying sub-
region's nationalisms,and aspects of Communistparty jects to the state highlights two things. First, it focuses
rule - particularlythe 'economies of shortage' that put our sights on contestation,which shapes all ideological
a premiumon any mechanismby which competitorsfor constructs and the subjectivities they form; this sen-
scarce goods could be excluded. Having treatedthese at sitizes us to look for differences in the way national
some length in a recent book,1 I will not belabourthem ideas are expressed and to ask who is arguing what,
furtherhere. I would like instead to focus on the place and why. Second, it emphasizes the tremendousstakes
of ethno-nationalismin the supposed transformationof of this contestationin the East - fiercer now'than ever
socialist systems into 'democratic', market-based - as the end of socialism brings not just 'ethnic
societies. For this purpose, however, I need to explain conflict' but the promise of a new, non-paternalistcul-
what I mean by the construct'nation'. turalrelationbetween subjects and state. This new rela-
We often think of 'nation' as an element of identity- tion will influence the prospects for both democracy in
as in the expressions 'national identity' or 'ethnic the East and also the region's integrationinto the EC.
identity'. While identity does enter into nation and eth-
nicity, I prefer a somewhat different emphasis, which In the remainder of my comments, I will suggest a
brings out better, I think, the significance of these con- couple of ways that post-socialist 'democratization'and
cepts for the post-socialist transition. I see 'nation' as 'market reforms' intersect with ethno-nationalism in
an element of the relation between state and subject, Eastern Europe. I ask who finds the national idea ap-
understood as a cultural relation. More specifically, I pealing and how the collapse of other social identities
see 'nation' as an ideological construct that has been may connect with nationalism- ProfessorHobsbawm's
essential to assigning subject positions in the modern main point. My examples come primarily from
state. Professor Hobsbawm's book shows nicely that Romania, where we find both xenophobiaand potential
the construct 'nation' has historically subsumedseveral separatism,in the form of Romanianfears that the Hun-

8 ANTHROPOLOGYTODAY Vol 8 No 1, February1992