Discussion “NATION BUILDING AND MODERNITY – 2014”
organized on-Skype by magazine “CULTURE, NATION”, November 24, 2014
Participants: Iryna Khadarenka, Inga Popovaite, Anton Shekhovtsov, Piotra Murzionak
Iryna Shumskaya (creative pseudonym – Iryna Khadarenka) is writer, civic activist, PhD in cultural studies. Author of many books, member of the Belarusian writers’ Union and Belarusian PEN Centre. She was born in Minsk, where presently works as associate professor at the Belarusian State University of Culture and Arts, researcher and art-manager.
Inga Popovaite holds an M.A. from Nationalism Studies Program from Central European University. Her academic interests include, but are not limited to, ethnic and religious minorities in the South Caucasus, intergroup relations, radical nationalistic movements, self determination and territorial integrity debates and ethnicity in post-communist states. She writes about ethnic, religious and sexual minority issues for English-language Tbilisi based news website and provides insightful sociopolitical analysis of the East Europe and the South Caucasus region for several Lithuanian media outlets.
Anton Shekhovtsov is Visiting Fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences and General Editor of the “Explorations of the Far Right” book series at ibidem-Verlag. His main area of expertise is European radical right-wing parties and far right culture. He was a research fellow at the academic institutions in Austria, Poland and Britain.
Piotra Murzionak is the Founder and Editor of magazine “Culture, Nation”, MD, PhD, DSc.
After short introduction two main topics were suggested for discussion (Piotra Murzionak): “The Nation-building in post-soviet countries: commonalities and differences” and “Interrelationships between nationalism, patriotism, and chauvinism”. It was underlined that each of these topics might be considered separately at symposiums involving investigators specialized in those areas.
Inga Popovaite: I have something to say first of all. I completely disagree with the definition of building of nation. Because it implies out of edge of majority of my ethnic view. I do not like this term at all. I would like to talk about state building which is in my opinion is more inclusive term. Because when we talk about nation building or nation state building we are applying that nation or state is basically the same entity as nation state. I think that this definition from the 19th century is outdated. When I am talking about it, I do not refer to nation building but to state building based on institutions and not on the ethnicity of people who live there.
Anton Shekhovtsov: I am not sure that we are talking about nation building from point of view consolidating ethnic nation. It will be about building of civic-republican nation. It does not really imply strict references to ethnic backgrounds or cultures. But it’s about building of civic nation that would be inclusive of minorities and majorities of the population.
Inga Popovaite: I mean the same thing when I am saying building of the institution of state. I am not comfortable with such word as “nation”.
Piotra Murzionak: The definitions are important. However, do you think that it’s possible yet to say about ethnic state building in our days or you do not support this idea and use instead of term nation building or ethnic state building other terms such as building of civic or public nation (state)?
Inga Popovaite: If we look at Europe region, it is a trend just to withdraw boundaries between countries. In this case to talk about the ethnic state it has no real meaning for me.
Iryna Khadarenka: I absolutely agree that definitions are important. I would say it’s extremely important, because if we have different understanding of definitions on the start, we can’t reach an agreement in the discussion. Personally for me nation is not the synonym of citizenship. Nation in the modern sense is based not so much on the ethnic origin of the person, but rather on a kind of culture and mentality, which are correlated with the person.
Piotra Murzionak: I understand that we discuss now the problem of terminology. I would say that the term nation building might be until now a quite disputable question. You are right. From one side, Europeans have no borders; the most of the countries are united within the EU. However, last time we can see a number of situations in European countries which evidence a support for separate nation states based even on ethnicity. What I would like to discuss today that a nation building in post-soviet countries. Because there is a specific situation for them: being formally ethnic states for approximately 70 years, most of them, in fact, did not come through the nation building which most of European countries did in 19 century. The good example for that is newly built countries on the territory of former Yugoslavia. Yes, it was the war and the war was bad. However, a few new countries are building now their national states. I would say even that some of them built ethnic countries or states. The way they reached ethnic homogeneicity was not the best way as it was solved through murdering and killing people of minorities. No doubt there is no rehabilitation for those inhuman actions. But it’s happened. Thus, again, from one side European countries are united now, but from other side we see a continuation of nation building in Yugoslavia and in the post-soviet countries. Could you comment this?
Inga Popovaite: You are right when you are saying that there are contra movements against Europeanization. Let’s take an example, the strongest such party in Europe would be JOBBIC in Hungary. If we look at these movements, we see that they are mainly chauvinistic and have racist ideas.
When you propagate one ethnic state you are supporting one ethnic community, the majority, most of the time, and you put minorities in weaker position. Let’s take Georgia for example. In Georgia, there are still no ethnic minority law. Minorities have been excluded from political participation until now. The local governаnce reform allows for more active participation of minorities in political life. But they are still excluded from social sphere, from media as they do not have enough channels for their language etc. Georgia is leaning more towards ethnic state at this moment not to more inclusive civic state. And in my opinion this is a problem. It should be movement towards more inclusive state not ethnic state.
Anton Shekhovtsov: I would add to that mentioning of ethnic state. It does not necessarily bind to the Soviet Union. The republics in the Soviet Union were basically ethnic states.
Inga Popovaite: I just want to add that majority of people in the Soviet Union lived quietly and peacefully. However, republics based on ethnicity resulted in such turmoils in the South Caucasus as Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Nagorno Karabach. The same goes for the North Caucasus.
Anton Shekhovtsov: Sure. I think that the problems of Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia went back to the Soviet Union because of administrative division that soviet authorities imposed and built out in Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic. But I would also add, in terms of the attempts to create an ethnic state or nation state that would create complexity. Sometimes this is not really in power of nationalism, patriotic or chauvinist groups. For example, a Scottish referendum which was held, yet was not successful, a few weeks ago. Scottish national party is not a right-wing party but they wanted to create a separate state based on Scottish ethnicity and at the same time based on nation or also state interpreted in civic terms. The attempt to create a separate state was based on political and economical reasons. The same I can say about some movements in France, Belgium or Spain. These are not really in nationalist hands to create those states.
Iryna Khadarenka: I guess the idea about the absence of ethical conflicts in USSR is not more than popular myth. USSR was a clumsy attempt to solve so called national question in a latent form and to put it in the shell of internationalism. In fact, sharp ethnic conflicts occurred often, but mentions of them were carefully concealed in the public sphere. In particular, in 1945 there was Jewish pogrom in the town of Rubtsovsk, on the Altai region. In 1958 there were serious clashes between Chechens and Russians in Grozny. Also there were several Russian pogroms in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, and finally, in 1988 there was a terrible massacre of Armenians in Sumgait, Azerbaijan. All this conflicts testify in favor of the fact that anyway it is impossible to ignore the national issues. And the building of a civic nation is premature before the condition when nations as common ethno-cultural communities are not finally formed.
Piotra Murzionak: As we discussed I see a controversy between both versions to built ethnic state. It’s a real problem to overcome the problems in ethnic state or, if you want, civic state related to minorities and to solve the problems of interrelations between primary nations and minorities. Let’s talk about Belarus, Lithuania or Ukraine. According to the last survey (2009), Belarusians consist about 84% of population. It is a primary nation. The same in Lithuania, about 85% of population are Lithuanians. Similar situation is in the former Yugoslavian republics. It appears Lithuania solves successfully some minority problems. Could you think that definition of nation building, not building of civic state, might be applied in different way in term of post-soviet countries understanding that the rights of minorities should be solved anyway?
Anton Shekhovtsov: I do not think we can say it in case of Belarus. I cannot talk about a nation state. I would not talk about the percentage of Belarusians lived in Belarus. I would say that identity of majority of citizen of Belarus is not Belarusians. They are Soviets. They still have a Soviet identity and unless Belarusians do not get away from Soviet identity, they will not be able to build a nation state or any efficient state.
Iryna Khadarenka: No, they are not Soviets already. First of all, a part of our society might be described as post-Soviet, that’s true. But at the same time, we have a lot of people, mostly young, who really don’t want to have anything in common with the Soviet mentality, traditions and values. Nevertheless, I agree, we should get away from this “post-Soviet trap” for sure.
Piotra Murzionak: Inga, what do you think about Georgia? Whether Georgians fill themselves like in ethnic state? Do they?
Inga Popovaite: Yes. There are a couple of layers relevant to Georgian identity. I guess we can talk about distinctions between what you feel like and how others see you. Basically, if I feel Georgian it doesn’t mean others see me as a Georgian, because of my religion, ethnicity etc. Let’s talk more about concrete examples: Armenians live in the region where there is the most poverty, a lack of proper education in a state language. They go mainly to schools where primarily language is Russian or Armenian and they speak in Georgian poorly. The language barrier does not allow them to take public offices and they cannot represent their minority on a higher political level. The things are slowly changing; the new government is implementing local reforms which means that there is more representation of ethnic minorities on the local level.
Talking about Lithuania, it might seem that Lithuania is in a bit advanced position when it comes to accommodating minorities. However, there are still a lot of problems. As Lithuania still does not have valid law on national minorities. Polish party is in ruling coalition at the moment, however, there are a lot of problems with Polish people. I see more and more hatred or at least strong dislike towards Polish and Russian people. Lithuanians see them as the fifth column in Lithuania. In my opinion they have no reason for that.
Then, they still have problem with language. Lithuania has signed the Council of Europe Minority Charter which actually states that state should provide means for minorities to place names written in language proper for the people most populated in the region. Again, Lithuanians do not allow writing street names in two languages, Lithuanian and Polish, in south-east Lithuania.
Also there are ongoing debates about writing names in passports using original spelling, for example, using “W” letter and other letters which Lithuanians do not have in their own alphabet. This is so called “W” debates has been going on for 5-6 years if not longer. Again, there are still a lot of tiny problems which finally result in dislike of minorities.
Piotra Murzionak: Just to remember that letters mean a lot for Lithuanians as they started nation building in the beginning of 20th century with introduction of Latin alphabet and a number of distinct letters. However, if you look at Belarus, the Belarusians are still under genocide pressure of current government as Belarusians being the majority or primary nation are fighting for introduction of native language into the street names until now. So, the native language situation in Lithuania and Belarus ate totally opposite. In what extent Georgians fill themselves as Soviet people yet?
Inga Popovaite: Not at all. In mean, in Georgia basically because of Abkhazia-Ossetia conflict, Georgians feel themselves anything but Russians. Higher Russian culture, such as literature, is accepted, but younger generation says that they are not Soviets anymore.
Piotra Murzionak: Is any pressure from Russian TV in Georgia or there is no Russian TV there?
Inga Popovaite: Of course, Russian media is present in Georgia. It is pretty strong. Especially, there are pro-Russia people arguing that ties with Russia should be stronger compared to the Saakashvili time. Now the new government is trying to promote softer politics towards Russia. They were able to lift bans in Russia on wine and mineral water and thus help to Georgian economy. Of course, there is a pressure from Russia. However, again, younger generation is more Europe-oriented and always says that Georgia belongs to Europe, and Georgia is not Russia. Young people are trying to distinguish Georgia from Armenia and Azerbaijan, the countries of the same region; they are saying: ‘you guys are more in Asia but we belong in Europe’.
Piotra Murzionak: I understand the government of Georgia before and now supports nation building. Does it? Even you do not want to say about ethnic state but let’s continue to discuss it.
Inga Popovaite: Of course, they do. I can give you an example. When Saakashvili became president after the Rose revolution he gave his oath at the ancient cathedral in Kutaisi where one of the most celebrated Georgian king, David the Builder, also swore, and where he is buried. It was a show of continuity of David the Builder era. The flag was also changed in 2003 to the flag used in the Middle ages by Queen Tamara, the Saint George Cross. We see a lot of continuation from the Middle ages nation state building.
Piotra Murzionak: Anton, we know that Ukraine is fighting now for freedom. It’s so important now as the fight occurs on a border line between West and East. Could we say that this war is the war for nation building?
Anton Shekhovtsov: I argued in December last year that Ukraine independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 did not come out of any form of a struggle for freedom. Independence just happened. My argument is that only now Ukraine is fighting for independence of the country. It was formally independent, but it was not independent as a sovereign country. Something similar we may observe in history of 20th century in Austria. Austria became formally independent in 1945. But there were still Allied troops and military stations in Austria and only in 1955 Austria really got its independence. But still they celebrate the date going back to 1955 not to 1945. So, in my opinion only now Ukraine is trying to fight for independence.
Of course, it would be a mistake to talk about the West and the East. Even in the 1990s when society was very much polarized on a number of issues there were no two Ukraines. Of course, there is more than one Ukraine; each oblast has its own Ukraine – in the West, Centre, Transcarpathia, East, etc. – and every oblast tends to interpret itself as separate Ukraine.
Ukraine is European country like Georgia. It is Eastern Europe. Eurasian culture belongs mainly to Soviet culture. Not to Russian, but Soviet culture. It seems that there is in Russia an idealistic image of Soviet Union. This is not applied towards West and East but between Ukrainian civic nation, not ethnic state, and Soviet people that have been in manpower and who support Russia.
Piotra Murzionak: Could we consider the war between Russian and Ukraine as part of the movement for independence or as part of the nation building?
Anton Shekhovtsov: Yes, this is the war between Ukraine and Russia. Russia wants to prevent Ukraine from becoming a successful European country. Because, otherwise, if Ukraine becomes successful then it will be very bad example for Russian society. Let’s say if Russian citizens will see that Ukranians succeeded and they still live in the authoritarian society the situation might be escalated to Russia. Obviously the war against Ukraine is aimed at preserving Putin’s regime in Russia.
Iryna Khadarenka: For my mind, this is not a war between nations; this is a war between different values first of all. And now we can observe the situation when two neighbors, which both were born in the Ukraine and have the Ukrainian citizenship, got on opposite poles in their mind-styles thanks to nasty Russian propaganda.
Piotra Murzionak: So, what to do for Belarus? As you mentioned, and you are absolutely right, that identity of Belarusians is a key question. The reason why they mostly speak Russian is beyond of our discussion. But this is a real fact. Cultural and economic pressure from Russia to Belarus is very strong. But I don’t think that the situation in Belarus might be similar as in Ukraine. I mean that Belarusians are not ready to fight with weapons for independence. How could it possible help them to build a nation in this situation using education, information, Internet? May be you have some ideas based on the experience of your countries: Georgia went through the war and Ukraine goes through the war now?
Anton Shekhovtsov: To be a successful nation state supposes a long way to consolidate the nation. Of course, first of all it is necessary to promote Belarusian language. It seems obvious to me. But at the same time only that is not enough to build a successful independent nation state. I would start with modernization, social and economic modernization, and industrial modernization. Because if a state is successful economically then it creates the conditions for building a nation and a state. As at now what I’ve seen in Belarus, that pressure from Russia it’s mostly economic event, not a political issue. Without Russia Belarus seems not to be able to survive. The only way for Belarus to build an independent, successful and efficious nation state is to modernize economy and to reform the country.
Iryna Khadarenka: I can only add that there’s necessary to modernize our economy through the privatization, global governance reforms, improving the competitiveness of products and – ultimately – moving towards to minimization of the dependence on Russian resources and Russian market. As long as Russian economy keeps our economic system on a short leash, to talk about the full independence of Belarus is very difficult, to put it mildly.
Inga Popovaite: I do not know what even to add here. You have to start from economic, social prospective, native language as well. Belarus may be is in a harder position as the regime is not as democratic as should be and that supposes extra problems.
Piotra Murzionak: What mechanisms for changes might be suggested as it is known that in Belarus there are not a lot of independent media and most of them are under state control? Internet is important but may you know some other approaches to influence?
Inga Popovaite: You can use Diaspora. For example, the people currently studying in Vilnius at European university are doing a lot. Generally, using Belarusians from outside the country including talks and discussions via Internet is very important. It is necessary to attract people of different language background, not only Belarusian but also Russian language as well, to involve a bigger auditorium and bigger population.
Anton Shekhovtsov: I do not think Belarus is really a closed society. A lot of Belarusians travel to the West, and to Europe. Internet is not bad by the way. I do not really see they have any problems with access to the information. It is just there is not enough cultural production in Belarus. Even if Belarusians are interested in modernization they simply need to do more for Belarus. Organize talks and discussions. But also current regime in Belarus may not be interested in modernization. At the same, in history there are examples of authoritarian modernization. And the Soviet Union is a good example of authoritarian modernization, and China, and Turkey. So, modernization is possible even within authoritarian regime. But problems exist in their leaders. Lukashenka may not be willing to do this. Even with authoritarian regime continuous in China that is dependent on leaders. Similar is in Eastern Europe. It is a very great problem with personification of politics. That’s again Lukashenka may not be willing to modernise Belarus but somebody may influence him even if they want to continue good relations with Russia.
Piotra Murzionak: What is the role of Diasporas in your countries?
Anton Shekhovtsov: During revolution and afterwards Diaspora was extremely mobilised and extremely efficient. It was not only money. It was soft power; it was lobbying, demonstrations, social activity in the western countries and in central Europe. I would say that sometimes a Diaspora was even more active than Ukrainian citizens themselves. So, that was done by Diaspora in Canada, Italy, Germany, US, France. It was very active.
Inga Popovaite: I have not enough information about Georgia. As to Lithuanian Diaspora, it played a crucial role in establishment of Lithuania state in the beginning of 20th century and also it in the 70s-80s. I give you an example, the first president of country, Valdas Adamkus, was of American-Lithuanian origin. That says a lot.
Piotra Murzionak: I think we could underline the first part of our discussion and continue for the rest of time with the second topic which is “Interrelationships between nationalism, patriotism, and chauvinism”. We may discuss here the definition of “bad” nationalism versus “good” nationalism? What is border line between them? What should be done in that area in countries building their nation states? How to fight xenophobia? While my colleagues by discussion does not like the term “nation building” in the modern application, I still believe that nation building is appropriate definition or term for post-soviet countries. While, in fact, our countries (Belarus, Georgia, Lithuania, and Ukraine) received their chance to build nation states in the beginning of 20th century, only now they can do it in full volume. Georgia and Lithuania are on the road, Ukraine is on the way to real independence. It seems only Belarus is still under influence of Russian Empire in term of movement to independence.
The understanding of nationalism in the former Soviet Union always was associated with far right, marginal sides of nationalism (fascism, extremism, etc.). During recent meeting with university students Lukashenka explained his vision of nationalism in Belarus like “I do not like those nationalists who speculate on native language, I keep them under control. But there are also the good nationalists they love Belarusian language, they are patriots, etc.” He did not tell only who is a judge in such evaluation. From other side, let’s look at Norwegian, Brejvik case where mass murdering was happened arisen far right nationalistic events in Western Europe. Could we discuss it?
Anton Shekhovtsov: I do not believe that nationalism might be distinguished as bad or good nationalism. These categories are going back to the distinction between the Western nationalism which is good and the Eastern nationalism which is bad. Western nationalism would be described in civic terms and Eastern or bad nationalism would be described in ethnic terms.
I would like to talk about illiberal nationalism which may probably be understood as bad nationalism, but … Illiberal nationalism which is exclusive which positions one ethnic group over the others. It will be imposed in so understanding of the nation on national minorities. Sometimes it is ethnic based with its majority excluding a particular group from participation in the life of nation.
I would say that the border line between liberal and illiberal nationalism is defined by inclusivity – exclusivity. Thus, the degree of inclusiveness would be characteristic for liberal nation. The more inclusivity – the more liberal nation will be.
Patriotism, especially in discussion relevant to Ukraine, might be understood quite specifically. For example, “Azov” battalion – it was built in May by leaders of a neo-Nazi organization, Social-National Assembly. I was very critical about the authorities, especially, the police that armed those people. Basically they were arming Nazis. In “Azov” battalion, especially, in June-July, they started to accept only those people who had national-socialist views. It was not just battalion that was formed by Nazis group then welcomed others due to any political ambitions because I would say 80-90% of people who find themselves in “Azov” battalion were much as exceptions. But people would be local for many reasons. I am not holding Ukraine must have Asians but sometimes that have happened. And people may say that these people are patriots and they are fighting for Ukraine. And my argument is that patriotism is neither good nor bad. It’s like a knife: you can kill with a knife or you can heal with a knife.
The interpretation of the nation which is a characteristic of these people, of this “Azov” battalion of social-nationalist assembly, it is very, very different from the ideas of liberal democracy and liberal interpretation of the nation. These people might be patriots but it does not make them good.
Iryna Khadarenka: I would say the nationalism might be good and even might be necessary. Especially if we are talking about modern Belarus, where no problem with national minorities. Except perhaps the Russians who are obsessed on the “reunion” with Russia. Soft nationalism will contribute to the finalization of the process of national building, which is extremely important for the Belarusians. Should not be afraid of nationalism and to confuse it with Nazism, because in fact, any state must always be on guard of its national interests. And if the state is almost mono-ethnic, as in the case of Belarus, the interests of the state should be primarily expressed in terms of the interests of the dominant nation, which risks to lose its identity during moving on the wobbly bridge of transition from the ephemeral Soviet nation to not less ephemeral civic nation.
Piotra Murzionak: Inga, you are dealing with minorities in Georgia. Could you share some of your views on situation in that area?
Inga Popovaite: What we have in Georgia, it is civic nationalism, but on the border line at religious nationalism. There are a lot of examples about ultra nationalism. Just to make it clear, I am talking here not about leaders; I am talking about the Church as institution. These people are against Europeanization, against Western values and Western ideals because they are opposing the ideal Georgian nation as it was, let’s say, in Middle Ages or in the 19th century. So we have violent clashes with human right activists, physically lead by priests. We have heads of the Church speaking, for example, against children studying in the West, or even against women having more rights. So, these are examples of religious nationalism. This I would say falls as Anton Shekhovtsov says under illiberal category and this is bad.
Piotra Murzionak: How to fight xenophobia, religion, and ethnic brutals? What is the role of government and non-governmental organizations?
Inga Popovaite: Education. I mean both formal and non-formal education. Text books, especially history books, have to be revised and be more inclusive. Non-government sector in Georgia is extremely strong and is the main advocate for inclusiveness. Of course, all possible approaches and institutions have to be used. In my opinion, there is no magic cure, this is a long process and a long work.
Piotra Murzionak: I guess those problems will only increase, especially, in countries ethnically homogeneous like Belarus, Georgia, or Lithuania. For example, there are plans to build an economic area near Minsk involving Chinese people. I could not imagine what will be interrelations between primary nation and temporary workers-immigrants because the Belarusian society is absolutely not prepared for this. Some surveys show that Belarusians do not tolerate other ethnicities coming for competition for working positions. You are right the education and government efforts are very important.
Anton Shekhovtsov: I would agree with Inga about education. I would only add that it should be liberal education. Let’s say Russia is literate, they have education, and however, sometimes it is invasive and produces in some extent religious intolerance. As for other actors fighting against xenophobia, chauvinism, people think that representatives of other institutions in economic sphere would be dominant groups. If societies are poor it will only make for the enemies. If societies prosper they do not have enemies. Even if we look at Western Europe; sometimes it may be not probably economic crisis or financial crisis, however, far rights are arisen. And when the people fill insecure they obviously leave for state goals. And very often these state goals are either social, ethnic, or religious minority. The only way to fight against those intolerances is to make society prosper.
Piotra Murzionak: So, the poverty is the key here?
Anton Shekhovtsov: It’s not really so. The question is not only about poverty but in that people fill themselves insecure. If they are not secure they will be trying to find the safe ways sometimes oscillatory and willingness to find the enemies and to fight them.
Piotra Murzionak: We had a very fruitful discussion on these both questions. I’d like to thank all of you for participation in the discussion “MODERNITY AND NATION BUILDING – 2014”.
November 24, 2014
Discussion “NATION BUILDING AND MODERNITY – 2014”
Participants: Iryna Khadarenka, Inga Popovaite, Anton Shekhovtsov, Piotra Murzionak
(Abstract, magazine “CULTURE, NATION”, December 2014, issue 8, pp. 69-80)
On-line Skype discussion was organized by magazine “CULTURE, NATION” on November 24, 2014. Two main topics were discussed: “The Nation-building in post-soviet countries: commonalities and differences” and “Interrelationships between nationalism, patriotism, and chauvinism”.