1.2 Nationalism and the Nation-state

 “Nations” and national identities are not self-existent or eternal entities, but on the contrary they constitute phenomena which evolve historically, which emerged within specific historical contexts. They are subjected, through time, to processes of continuity and discontinuity since; they evolve in consecutive episodes of construction, deconstruction and reconstruction. Nationalisms often used preexisting characteristics (such as language) and symbols upon which they add new meanings combined with new elements. In the end, they managed to incorporate all of them in new intellective and ideological frames. According to this, nations are “imagined communities”13.

Our aim is not to define whether the state produces the nation or vise versa, because for us the “nation” can not be defined a priori, using objective criteria but it can only be recognized a posteriori. From the 18th century and onwards the notions of state and nation are so interrelated that the success of the first is determined by the success of the later and the reverse. On one hand, the state integration and the inclusion in one state of all “same-population” consist for the nation its ulterior purpose. On the other hand nationalistic ideology serves for the state as the main mean for the territorial, economic, political and cultural unification of its population.

Naturally, the above do not take place in “laboratory conditions” but in the framework of capitalism. Nation tends to soften and disguise the class confrontations and contribute to the reproduction of capitalistic dominance. It concerns the function of power structures preservation in a class structured society. National interest demonstrates a mode of political action which in stead of the existing exploitation poses an “undefined” common interest “the national interest” which is presented as more powerful than any class or internationalist interest. Meanwhile the nation state regulates certain needs of the market ranging from the enactment of a single unit of weight measurement to the rules of commercial law.

Nationalism is not a solid and unique phenomenon which emerges with specific structure and features through various populations and places. There are many nationalisms, but they all converge at the following pursuit: first, the homogenization of a territorial or not defined population along with the camouflage of local, class, religious and other cultural differences. Second, the differentiation of this population from another which is bounded outside no matter if this other population lives inside or outside state borders. For nationalism, nation constitutes the necessary element which secures internal social cohesion while pointing out all the elements that distinguish one nation from the other. All the elements that make nations unequal to one another, all the elements that finally legitimize the requirement for the unlimited imposition at national interest. Thus, nationalism produces a contradiction which can be described by the need of internal unity and at the same time the demand for external differentiation. 

Nationalism and the supposed “national interest” produce an identity that goes beyond the local, class or cultural identity and this identity is always in opposition to something “other.” This “other” that is not “we” constitutes the vehicle that carries the meaning of the nation from the realm of fantasy into the realm of reality. The element that connects for example Greeks as Greeks, it is not an imagined family (the family of Greeks with its eternal characteristics), but the real existence of Turks, Bulgarians, “Skopjans” and Albanians. We are “we”, because simply we are not the “others”. The paradox of nationalism, is that by shaping the nation creates automatically the counterbalancing nationalism either those located outside the territory and see a potential enemy, either those located in and forced to choose between assimilation and inferiority. In short, it creates the “others”. 

The nation, as we know it today, has a date of birth. It appears during the American and French revolution and it constitutes a mean for the legitimization of the power of the then emerging bourgeoisie. Of course, the movements of popular revolt against foreign domination in the period from the French revolution to 1848 should not be confused with the modern nationalist movements. The first people who revolted in the early 19th century in the Balkans, the Serbs, did not fight against the Turkish dominance but in favor of the Sultan and against the abuses of local landlords. However, in the Greek case, the struggle of pastoral populations, farmers and bandits against any dominance was mingled with the ideas of bourgeois nationalism and the French Revolution.

Thus, the first modern nationalism that developed in the Balkans is Greek. This makes sense as modern nationalism in the Balkans comes from the Diaspora and Europe, where Greek communities already exist. Bodies of the new ideas are mainly intellectuals and merchants of the communities in Western Europe and Russia.  What we call nationalism it does not concern the wider mass of the population14 but only the educated citizens of the Balkan space15. Nevertheless, the paradoxical effect has been to limit the Hellenism procedure (meaning becoming part of the Greek culture) inside Greek territory and thus to create or to intensify the nationalism of the other Balkan people. As long as being a Greek was only an almost indispensable professional qualification, Hellenization had made progress. Once meant political support of Greece started to decline even among the literate classes Balkan digested. In this sense the Greek independence was the essential condition for the development of nationalism in other Balkan peoples.

The emergence of Bulgarian nationalism historically confirms the aforementioned approach. The period of Bulgarian renaissance begins, not by chance, during the 1830s. What has to be added in the case of Bulgarian emancipation is the effort of the hellenization of the population attempted by the orthodox clergy. The tsorbajili (local notables) hellenized their names and maintained a philhellenic attitude. The Greek merchants, along with the hellenized local merchants controlled the greater part of economic life. This was actually a Greek economic and cultural “imperialism”. The Greek clergy complements the economic and cultural exploitation while at the same time it monopolizes higher ecclesiastical ranks and it establish taxes for its own interest. The nationalistic reaction is the response to this situation. Of course the most active during this period of nationalism, and had the greatest interest in its outcome, belong to the class of merchants and craftsmens, mainly those who had settled abroad, as in the cases of Serbia and Greece. The Bulgarian emancipation is evoked by the cities and not the villages. This is where the new elites will appear (which derive from guilds16) and these elites will play the nationalistic card during the next decades. But, the development of national consciousness in the rest of the population is a state duty.

The new Balkan state that will emerge during the 19th century will be the one that will develop the concept of national identity. In any case, this identity will be a political construction, a strategy with specific goals based on collective memories and collective oblivion. Since, Balkan nation-states appeared recently both historians and politicians attempted to reinforce their legitimacy linking them to other pre existing medieval and ancient states. Romantic historicism will constitute the core around which the entire political pattern of the Balkan states will be organized. The rebirth of the byzantine empire (for Greece), the empire of Symeon (for Bulgaria), and the empire of Dusan (for Serbia) will constitute its substance. The existence of Balkan medieval empires provided historical roots to the new states and arguments to nationalism. This way, the argument of “priority” (i.e. “we were the first to…”) became the weapon of ideological antagonism. Since the Greek, Serbian and Bulgarian nation-states were created, it was now the time for the respective states to establish their nations. The means used towards this end were language, public education, employment in the public sector, art, national celebrations and anniversaries, military service, industrialization, national church. The spirit of nationalism was dominant in every aspect of everyday life.

A decisive step in the development of nationhood was made when school textbooks or newspapers were first published in an official national language; and when this language was first used as an official mean of communication. After the 1830s, this takes place in most of Europe and the Balkans. This is caused by the increased percentage of educated people amongst small elites and the bourgeois. On the contrary, the more traditional and poor layers, which constituted the vast majority of the population, were the last to embrace nationalistic ideology. In order for these layers to be assimilated in the essence of the nation, a national language had to be established as the language of transactions and be taught through mandatory education. However, this linguistic nationalism was the creation of people who were able to read and write, and not by the people who were limited to the verbal use of language. The national languages in which they identified the essential character of their nations were constructions, since they had to be enriched, standardized and homogenized, for the contemporary literary needs through a mix of regional dialects that were non-literary languages in their verbal form17. Moreover, the needs of capitalistic development demanded an educated and skilled workforce, which only a system of public education could provide. Along with courts and bureaucracy, education became one of the pillars that promoted language as a primary condition for nationality. Additionally, social advancement, from one class to another, required at least the change of language.

The national language issue is related, but not necessarily, to the territory and the political institutions. During this period, populations are still connected to the land, referred to as “fatherland”. Nationalism and the state appropriated the associations of family relations, neighbors and “fatherland”, and used them for territories and populations of such size and scale, that turned these words into metaphors. As the actual communities in which people were integrated in time (e.g. zantrougka) began to decline, people felt the need to replace them with something other, and the imagined community of the nation could fill this gap. Moreover, since mid-19th century and onwards, the authorities could no longer rely on the spontaneous allegiance of social classes to social superiors in the traditional way, as it was during the Ottoman administration, nor the church as an effective guarantee of social obedience. The nation was the new religion of the citizens18. It is no coincidence that in 1844, in Greece, we have the formulation of the “Great Idea” by Ioannis Kolettis and in Serbia, in the same year, the “Program” (Nacertanije) by Ilija Garasanin. The axis of the internal and external policy in both countries for the next seventy years was irredentism.

By mid 19th century, the middle class and lower middle class were the main pillars of nationalism, both represented by intellectuals. For these layers, nationalism had a broader and less instrumental attraction. It offered them a collective identity as the true defenders of the nation. Patriotism served as a counterpart of social inferiority. From the mid of 19th century and onwards, the modernity of advancing capitalism, urbanization, market needs and the industrial organization of production, came in rupture with the old organisation of social life and economy. The nationalism of the middle classes met the suspiciousness of the lower classes for “the other”, for “the foreigner”, which symbolized the new way of organizing life. Gradually, the xenophobic tendencies were extended from the intermediate layers to the farmers as “the foreigner” began to be identified with the dissolution of the old way of life and the new capitalistic reality. Thus, nationalism penetrated the total of society and constituted the unifying element of the otherwise class-divided population.

In summary, it should not be forgotten that through the creation of a nation, of a symbol and a legal entity called Greece, Serbia, and Bulgaria, the respective elites were able to extend their land ownership, profit and political power, with unanimous popular support19. The recipe is in any case known: the upper class politicians mobilize the lower classes in order to defend or expand their own interests. The Macedonian struggle, that follows, was just the climax of imperialist competition among these classes, which was skillfully covered under the cloak of national liberation and national self-determination.



13 B. Anderson: “Imagined Communities: Reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism”, 1983. Back

14 For the masses the only criterion of differentiation was the religion. In addition, most of the rural population began to define itself in national terms only during the mid 19th century under the influence of mandatory primary education and military service as well as the newer means of communication. Back

15 Those did not exceed 2% of the population and from this 2% a major portion reacted in a hostile way towards the “disrespectful” ideas of the west, preferring to remain within the framework of traditional ideological structures of Byzantium (Daikin, 1973). In any case the Balkan national emancipation took the form of conflict between modernization and tradition, between the European and Byzantine-Ottoman local culture. Back

16 The first capitalistic elements are presented in the interior of these guilds. Back

17 It is no coincidence that just at the end of the 19th century; the language appears as “proof” of national identity. Back

18 In general, the old empires, supported the legalization of the dynastic loyalty rather than “national” identity, but now in the bourgeois states ‘sovereignty’ was associated with the vague notion of “the people”, which is recognized by the nation. Back

19 The same pattern can be adopted and in the case of the Republic of Macedonia. Back


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