Nations And Nation-States In History Research Paper

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This research paper starts by asking whether nations existed before the establishment of nation-states. It then considers the formation of national states before the development of nationalist movements. The next two sections look at nation-state formation in and beyond Europe around 1850 to 1970. A final section considers the place of nations in a world of nation-states.

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1. Nations Before Nation-States?

Nationalists answer this question in the affirmative. In the beginning was the nation. As the nation acquired consciousness of itself, there arose explicit demands and movements (nationalism) seeking autonomy, usually a nation-state. The nationalist sequence is: nation nationalism nation-state.

Nationalist historiography locates the ‘nation’ far in the past. Hermann Arminius is celebrated by German nationalists for his victory over Roman legions in AD 9. The feudal kingdoms succeeding the Roman Empire are presented as national—western Frankish kingdom France, Anglo-Saxon kingdoms England. The Capetian and Norman dynasties found the modern French and British nation-states. Nationalist etymologies cite references to English, French, Germans, Italians, etc.

This view has superficial plausibility for cases like England. Nationalist historians of subordinate cultural groups (e.g., Slavs) or stateless, nonliterate societies, have difficulties. Political fragmentation presents problems, even given evidence of cultural identity (e.g., Italy, Germany). There were premodern societies which stressed ethnic religious unity between elites and non-elites against foreign rule (e.g., Jewish resistance to Rome). However, dominant states were marked by divisions between elites of priests, warriors, and officials, usually serving a monarch, and the mass of subjects. Elites referred to ethnicity, but this was not sustained and subordinated to religious and dynastic values. Subjects were transferred from one ruler to another without reference to their ‘nationality.’ Ethnicity had a marginal role in premodern politics. Indeed, the puzzle would be if elites wished to identify with those they ruled.

A more significant debate concerns the relationship of premodern ethnicity to modern nations and nationstates. One view is that modern nationality is based upon ethnicity. An opposing view is that ethnicity is little more than an arsenal upon which nationalists can draw for historical myths, which admittedly are important. There is agreement that nationalism and the nation-state are modern. However, just how modern, what the relationship is between state, nationalism, and nation-state, and why the nationstate has become the dominant political unit of modern times, are matters of debate (Armstrong 1982, Hastings 1997, Smith 1986).

2. Nation-States Before Nationalism

In Europe at around 1500 there was no idea that the political order was only legitimate if national. Germany and Italy were fragmented. By 1600 some voices called for national unity in Italy and the United Provinces against foreign domination. Nevertheless, political loyalty was overwhelmingly to existing states with their republican (city-state), confessional, and dynastic legitimations.

Dynastic empires ruled over different ethnic groups. Henry VIII described his kingdom as an ‘empire,’ ruling Wales and Ireland, and claiming parts of France. The Habsburg dynasty ruled Austria, much of south-eastern Europe, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, and South America. The Valois and Bourbon dynasties claimed territories beyond those of contemporary France, itself inhabited by different language groups. By the seventeenth century the Romanovs were extending their rule beyond the core of Russia, west and south into Slav regions, north and east into Asiatic ones. Opposition came not from ‘Slavs’ or ‘Asians,’ but from other dynasties, e.g., the elective Kings of Poland (Saxons). The core of the Hohenzollern dynasty, Brandenburg-Prussia, included Polish speakers. The Ottoman Empire ruled Slav populations, Muslim and Christian.

The national idea was unimportant. Historians write of long-term ‘winners’ emerging as the core of later nation-states (England, France, Spain, Prussia, Russia, and Piedmont). However, these had no stronger, more consciously ‘national’ characteristics than long-term ‘losers’ like Poland-Lithuania, Burgundy, Britanny, Habsburg Austria, the Ottoman Empire, city-states, and small princedoms. Beyond Europe there was little one could call a national state. (Possible exceptions are Ethiopia, and Japan.) Often there was no distinct state but systems of lineal rule described as stateless or tribal. Dynastic empires ruled over many ethnic groups, e.g., China and India.

Only after 1500 does the national idea start to legitimize states and political movements. In England the construction of a common legal and administrative system from the late Anglo-Saxon period, the growing importance of Parliament, island situation, increased emphasis upon the vernacular language, and the national emphasis of the Protestant Reformation made the national idea salient. Shakespeare in Henry V (1599) delineates Irish, Welsh, and Scottish stereotypes, though all support the king. (Shakespeare only constructed English stereotypes at an elite level in contrast to other Europeans, e.g., the suitors for Portia’s hand in The Merchant of Venice.) The enemy was France, but hostile stereotypes were confined to the elite, not the people. The play includes Henry wooing a French princess; his marriage and military campaigns are designed to maintain power in France. Ethnic and national ideas are prominent but subordinated to the monarchical principle. If England was the most ‘advanced’ case, this suggests the marginality of the idea elsewhere in 1600.

Four processes increased the importance of national arguments: confessional conflict, absolutism, new political opposition, and intensification of interstate conflict. All developed alongside an extension of European influence beyond Europe and the growth of a commercial economy which undermined privilege and brought into politics ‘middling sorts’ of people— financiers, lawyers, merchants, commercial farmers, and manufacturers.

The Reformation challenged the dominance of Papacy, Catholic clergy, and the use of Latin. Translations and mass circulation of the Bible into vernacular languages, because individuals must take responsibility for their souls rather than leaving it to priests, gave a national flavor to Protestantism. Luther challenged the alien Papacy as a German, and Henry VIII as an Englishman. In Catholic states the prince took control over the church; in Spain and France this led to a ‘national’ church. Popular religious movements share affinities with later nationalist movements. Nevertheless, religion mattered more than nationality, and only when combined, usually under princely control, did national language figure prominently in politics.

Princes extended their powers by sale of office, appointment of extraordinary commissioners, legal codification, subordination of church, greater taxation, and the establishment of standing armies; processes summarized as ‘absolutism.’ There was nothing intrinsically ‘national’ in this, but where the core territory could be regarded as national, e.g., Spain, England, and France, this was justified by national arguments.

This affected political opposition. By 1620 the English Parliament presented itself as a defender of national freedoms. Parlements and provincial estates in eighteenth century France depicted the crown as despotic and themselves as guardians of national liberties. These arguments could escape beyond elite control. In England in the 1640s, national claims were extended to the ‘poorest he’ by radicals in the Putney debates. In France, radical values were projected upon the Estates-General summoned in 1789, soon converted into the ‘National Assembly.’ Monarchy was redefined as at best the servant of the nation, at worst its enemy.

Conflict between states had national consequences. Wars in late seventeenth and eighteenth century Europe were ‘cabinet wars’; the War of Spanish Succession, Austrian Succession, etc. However, they had a global dimension. The central struggle was between France and Britain for world hegemony, using other states as proxies. The struggle extended to India and North America. The wars mobilized the expanding resources of commercializing, imperial economies. They engaged the attentions of an everlarger part of the population. Commercial growth was associated with the rise of a print culture. In England the electorate increased in size. In France the crown and its opponents resorted to pamphleteering, appealing to ‘public opinion,’ and presenting political conflicts in national terms.

These national arguments accepted the territory of the state but questioned its legitimacy.

—–The Nation is essentially the source of all sovereignty; nor can any individual or any body of men, be entitled to any authority which is not expressly derived from it.’ (Article III of the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, 1789)

The nation was the body of citizens within the existing state. For radicals this meant all adult males. If ideology was logical this would mean that the national idea was purely political. However, cultural elements were soon introduced.

The idea of a state occupying a national territory associates national virtues with the state. As the French revolutionary state plunged into crisis, it took up these associations. The ethnic and linguistic characteristics of the regions which rebelled against the Jacobins, let alone of opposing states, were linked to counter-revolution:

—–We have observed that the dialects called Bas-Breton, the Basque dialect, and the German and Italian languages have perpetuated the reign of fanaticism and superstition, revered the domination of priests and aristocrats, and favoured the enemies of France. (Speech in the National Assembly by Barere, quoted in Carlton J. Hayes, The Historical Evolution of Nationalism (New York, 1931, p. 65)).

Opponents of the Jacobins presented the ‘true’ France as Catholic and monarchical in which the historic provinces and the estates enjoyed autonomies and privileges. Edmund Burke depicted nations as carriers of traditions which bound together generations and inhibited the arbitrary and destructive use of reason to alter institutions.

This greater use of national arguments was reinforced by the making of sharp distinctions between ‘state’ and ‘society’ and between state boundaries. Such changes became apparent during the Napoleonic wars. The French revolution abolished distinctions of privilege in France and exported this principle beyond France. This did not herald an era of freedom and equality. New governments were often more autocratic than their predecessors and political rights were restricted to a small minority. Nevertheless, equality before the law was introduced and a clear distinction was made between the state as public power and society as private. When governments appealed for support, they appealed to that ‘whole’ society rather than privileged minorities.

Opponents of Napoleon noted he could tap popular enthusiasm and linked this to new freedoms achieved in France. Reformers advocated the removal of privilege and the extension of political rights to strengthen support for the state. In politically fragmented regions, some invoked the ‘nation’ as a unifying and mobilizing principle. The nation was presented as a cultural entity from which should rise nation-states, unlike France where the state created national unity. The idea was weak at first, though stronger in Germany than Italy, probably because in Germany there were national traditions such as the Holy Roman Empire and two powerful states— Prussia and Austria—which had an interest in appealing to the national idea.

Napoleon’s defeat was inflicted by the conservative regimes he had not conquered—Russia and Britain— rather than by national movements in areas he had. Even there dynasties, state patriotism, hatred of the French, religious convictions, and opportunism better explain effective resistance. After 1815 there were attempts to restore privileges and old political arrangements. However, the map of Europe after 1815 was closer to that created by Napoleon than what had existed before. States were fewer and larger, more rationally and bureaucratically organized, with clearer boundaries. Governments could suppress national and liberal oppositions, but not the ideas those movements embodied. Commercialization, even without industrialization, increased social and territorial mobility which undermined attempts to restore privileges. Without those props, monarchies had to shift towards constitutional forms of rule. New politicians emerged who appealed to the people or the nation (Anderson 1974, Colley 1992, Dann and Dinwiddy 1988, Greenfeld 1992, Marcu 1976).

3. Nation-State Formation In Europe

Nation-state formation took place in three different ways: within preexisting territory (reform), by bringing together smaller states (unification), and by breaking away from a larger state (separation). These are artificial distinctions, but they draw attention to types of political movements and processes and provide a framework for analysis (Breuilly 1993).

3.1 Reform

France and Britain had a national character by 1800, although rebellions in Ireland and the Vendee indicated that not all subjects agreed. Napoleon introduced legal, administrative, and other reforms which over the nineteenth century overcame regional antagonisms, turning ‘peasants’ into Frenchmen. Vital was the development of mass education and politics. This took some time, marked by intense conflicts. Nevertheless, by 1900, although disagreements remained about the values to attach to the nation-state, all key political actors subscribed to the national idea and the priority of defending France against foreign threats.

In Britain, imperial growth and the stress on Protestant resistance to Catholic threats shifted the national idea from an English to a British level. The Reform Act of 1832 doubled the electorate, established the House of Commons as the national center of power, and entrenched the two-party system. Following further franchise extensions universal manhood suffrage was instituted in 1918, and universal adult suffrage in 1930. By 1870 elementary education was made compulsory and in the last decades of the nineteenth century there emerged a mass print media. Peasant and Catholic Ireland responded with separatist movements, but in the rest of the kingdom the effect was to integrate politics and sentiments on national lines.

Similar processes can be observed in other ‘statenations’ such as Spain, Belgium, and the Netherlands (after the separation of the two territories in 1830), and the Scandanavian states. However, sometimes this was accompanied by regional resistance which took on a national form, e.g., Catalonia and the Basque regions of Spain (Hobsbawm 1987, Pugh 1997, Weber 1979).

3.2 Unification

German and Italian unification was marked by four features: a dynasty opposed to unification; a state promoting unification; a zone of small states; neutrality or support from major powers. The growth of constitutional and popular politics meant political movements increasingly appealed to the nation. Such movements were more important in Germany with supra-state institutions (Confederation of 1814; Customs Union of 1834) and more advanced economic development. Even here, national movements lacked mass support or access to state power.

The opposing dynasty was the Habsburg Empire. The revolutions of 1848 made that opposition very clear and revealed the weakness of popular nationalism. Elite nationalists turned to Prussia and Piedmont. The support of Louis Napoleon, British neutrality, and the weakening of Austrian and Russian capacity to resist change after the Crimean War—all created the conditions for effective action against Austria. Cavour, Prime Minister of Piedmon, allied with France against Austria in 1859. The decrepit Kingdom of the Two Sicilies collapsed in the face of invasion by Garibaldi, extending unity to the south. The new state had little elite unity or popular support. As D’Azeglio put it: ‘We have made Italy, now we must make Italians.’

Prussia became capable of acting against Austria after the 1859 war, Austrian crisis, and military modernization in Prussia. Yet Prussia as a conservative dynasty was reluctant to take up the national idea with its radical implications. However, Bismarck, Prime Minister of Prussia from 1862, was an unconventional conservative who believed the national idea could serve the Hohenzollerns. In alliance with Austria he exploited the mistakes of Danish nationalism to defeat Denmark in war in 1864 and bring Schleswig-Holstein under direct Austro-Prussian control. He maneuvered a war with Austria, helped by an alliance with Italy (engineered by Louis Napoleon) which was swiftly won. Prussian control was extended over northern and central Germany in alliance with liberal nationalists who helped to organize this political creation. French opposition to extension of control over south Germany was removed in the war against France of 1870 to 1871. Italy exploited the wars of 1866 and 1870 to 1871 to bring the Papal States and Rome into the nation-state.

The greater role of ‘positive’ factors of Prussian leadership and a national liberal movement compared to the ‘negative’ factors of state collapse and international support meant regionalism was more quickly overcome compared to the Italian case. Nevertheless, Germany in 1871 was reluctant to embrace the national idea, as evidenced by the absence of a national anthem, the refusal to adopt the national colors of black-red-gold, and the rapid move into opposition of popular parties representing workers and Catholics. Both Germany and Italy required the same processes of industrial and urban growth, mass education and politics, as noted for France and Britain, before a genuine nation-state could develop (Breuilly 1996, Hearder 1983).

3.3 Separation

Military defeats weakened Habsburg capacity to resist demands for internal change. In 1867 a new constitution gave autonomy to Hungary, converting the Magyars into a prop of the empire while depriving non-Magyars of support from Vienna. This intensified nationalist opposition, but Magyars maintained control, providing the outlet of individual assimilation into the dominant culture. In the western half of the empire a Czech national movement had compelled the dynasty by the 1880s to make concessions at the expense of Germans. Nationalist ambitions were checked by a combination of state power, reform, and the sense that full independence would create a small state at the mercy of powerful neighbors. Consequently, although national conflicts intensified in the Habsburg Empire, they did not directly threaten the empire before 1914.

By contrast, in the Ottoman Empire in Europe national opposition was less the product of conflicts between ethnic cultural groups, and more the work of Christian elites seeking to replace waning Ottoman power. With assistance from European powers, motivated by self-interest and sentimental identification with Christian and national principles, this enabled the creation of separate states: Greece, Romania, Serbia, and Bulgaria. This stimulated a Turkish nationalist response which challenged the imperial Ottoman elite and in turn reinforced nationalist opposition, not only in Ottoman Europe but also amongst Arab subjects. Serbia supported national movements amongst ‘its’ national counterparts in the Habsburg Empire which in turn stimulated Vienna to crush Serbia.

In Russia, there was an intensifying interaction between ‘official’ Russian nationalism and non-Russian movements. These remained weak, especially after the most significant, that of the Poles, was repressed in 1863. In Germany there was Polish and Danish resistance to incorporation into a nationalizing state (Haddad and Ochsenwald 1977, Okey 2000).

3.4 Political Transformation

The trigger for transformation did not come from direct nationalist challenges to Habsburg and Romanov power, but from their responses to the new states in former Ottoman Europe. Austria sought to exploit the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in June 1914 to bring Serbia to heel and Russia supported Serbia. Austria only acted as she did because of assurances of German support. Russia mobilized her alliance with France. Britain entered the war to prevent German domination in Europe. The success of nation-building, especially in Britain, France, and Germany, meant public opinion powerfully supported their nation-states.

Nationalist movements had little impact on the war. Rather, the defeat of Russia in 1917, and Germany, Austria, and Turkey in 1918 catapulted nationalism into prominence. The national idea was the legitimating principle of the peace settlement. Germany lost her Danish, Polish, and French acquisitions. The Ottoman and Habsburg empires were transformed into a series of nation-states in Europe and Allied mandates in the Middle East. Bolshevik Russia maintained control of non-Russian peoples, but incorporated the national principle into its ideology and institutions.

The new states were the product of great power diplomacy. They included national minorities. There were ethnic conflicts, even massacres. The result was a series of weak states which appealed to the core nationalism, persecuted national minorities, and whipped up discontent amongst their ‘own’ national minorities in other states.

These problems were compounded by global depression and the recovery of Germany and the USSR. The Allies could not longer guarantee the post-1918 order in east-central Europe. Between 1936 and 1941 Germany and the USSR destroyed that order. With the German invasion of the USSR, the way was opened to the fantastic project of racial empire in Europe.

After Allied victory in 1945 the national principle was too entrenched to permit any alternative to the nation-state, although the principle was not applied to Germany, which was partitioned and occupied. However, states were grouped into supranational blocs under US and USSR leadership. Many observers thought the era of nationalism (especially when equated with fascism) and sovereign nation-states had ended in Europe, even if nation-state and national sentiment were firmly established (Brubacker 1996, Dunn and Fraser 1996, Payne 1996).

4. Nation-State Formation Beyond Europe

Nationalism and nation-state formation beyond Europe were responses to Europe. The earliest movements by settlers in the Americas utilized eighteenth century appeals to political liberty and self-determination, but not the nationalist idea of cultural uniqueness. Americans did not yet see themselves as culturally distinct from Europeans. The formation of distinctive national cultures was here, as in Europe, a nineteenth century development associated with commercial, industrial, and urban growth. Similar patterns, though not accompanied by political revolt against the imperial state, mark other states dominated by large-scale white settlement. In Australia, New Zealand, and Canada this led to the peaceful achievement of Dominion status within the British Empire, later membership of the British Commonwealth and de facto independence, although disputes continue about remaining political ties as evidenced by the 1999 referendum in Australia on the British queen remaining head of state. In Canada and South Africa the story was complicated by conflict between two different streams of European settlement—French and English, and English and Dutch, respectively. In Canada this conflict remains politically important. In South Africa the conflict became violent at the start of the twentieth century, but after the formation of an autonomous South African state in 1910 was increasingly replaced by conflict along race lines. In the Americas, Australia, and New Zealand the precolonial populations were marginalized; in South Africa this was not possible.

Neither was it possible where European domination was less through settlement than government and trade. Officials, missionaries, and merchants outnumbered white farmers, entrepreneurs, and workers. Colonial states were established in India and Africa. In large parts of Asia, notably China, power was indirectly exercised through client rulers.

There is a continuum rather than a sharp distinction between ‘direct’ and ‘indirect’ rule, ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ empire. Even an elaborate imperial bureaucracy as in India depended upon informal agreements with indigenous groups. Areas of indirect rule were often marked by economic exploitation and cultural domination. Nevertheless, to understand the formation of nation-states the distinction is important. Arbitrary boundaries imposed by Europe largely persist in the twenty-first century.

This suggests that the nation-state was the inheritor of the colonial state. Political movements formed within the colonial state, whether to oppose or collaborate. Such movements, using modern methods of political rallies, electoral contests, and print media, broke from precolonial patterns, appealing to the ‘nation,’ as subjects of the colonial state and as bearers of a distinct culture to set against European claims to civilizational and racial superiority.

Formal empire was largely constructed between 1858 (India) and 1900. Territory was transferred from the defeated to the victors of the World War I. There were hardly any nationalist movements in these vast regions. Some opposition developed in the inter-war period. Just as World War I created the basis for independence claims in Europe, so too did World War II beyond Europe. Japanese success in Southeast Asia and China abruptly destroyed myths of white superiority although only to be replaced by a new and brutal imperial rule. Nationalist movements were divided as whether to ally with the old or the new imperial power.

World War II destroyed the empires of the defeated powers and fatally weakened those of the European victors. The USA and USSR had no overseas empire and promoted anti-imperialist values. Imperial rule was restored by European countries, but it was desperately weak. The UK had to quit India in 1947. Arab nationalism threatened British and French man-dates in the Middle East. A uniquely complicating factor was the foundation of Israel in 1948. The crisis of 1956, when Israel, the UK, and France sought control of the Suez Canal, led to the withdrawal of US support for her western allies and defeat for the UK and France.

From 1956 European withdrawal from Africa and the Middle East was just a matter of time. Nationalism became a politics of inheritance. Where political structures had promoted indigenous elites using modern political methods, decolonization was negotiated. Where this was blocked by white settlers or over- dependence on direct economic exploitation, decolonization took place in chaos and violence, often with fateful consequences for the independent state. Decolonization is not the same as removal of cultural or economic power. Indeed some regard decolonization as an imperialist trick. New forms of nationalism developed, stressing economic independence and cultural authenticity rather than ‘mere’ political self- determination.

In the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and China, the story is complicated by the emergence of the USA as an imperial power, even if indirectly exercising power. This was partly due to fear of communist expansion, partly support for client states (e.g., Israel), and partly to protect economic interests. Whatever the reasons it stimulated anti-American nationalism. This remained tied to existing state boundaries. Nationalists in Tunisia, Libya, Algeria, Egypt, Syria, and Iraq espoused Arab nationalism, but jealously maintained state independence. Vietnamese anti-imperialists turned to communism, but never ceased to distrust China. This is not to argue that ancient national rivalries predate and trump other sentiments, but rather that the colonial state and its successor provided the framework around which nations formed.

Important regions not subject to formal empire were Japan and China. In Japan, a unique transition took place from feudal decentralized to imperial centralized state, similar to the European pattern and partly in reaction to Western threats. The assertion of autonomy was couched in national terms. Japanese modernization was sufficiently advanced to lead to successful war against Russia in 1904. This is perhaps a unique case of modern nation-state formation without European involvement, although Japan’s post-1945 history has been shaped by defeat and American occupation.

The subjugation of China to indirect Western rule produced nationalist rejection of the corrupt empire and alien influences, leading to the formation of a republic in 1911. However, nationalists had little control over much of China which was run by local warlords and this inhibited appeals to the ‘people.’ That appeal came from communists, although the ‘people’ was constructed in class, not national, terms. The Japanese invasion of China tilted the balance of power from nationalists to communists, enabling the communists to appeal to anti-Japanese sentiment as well as class interest. Thus, Chinese communism had a nationalist element which in turn shaped the state it established (Anderson 1998, Brown 1985, Darwin 1988, Wilson 1977).

5. Nations In A World Of Nation-States

After 1945 the nation-state appeared both less and more important than previously. More important as the accepted political unit and because forced population transfers, mass murder, and boundary changes since 1918 had created more ethnically homogenous populations; less important because of the discrediting of nationalism and the emergence of supranational blocs.

The result was ‘banal nationalism.’ National identity was presented as something ‘natural,’ separate from ‘politics.’ National rivalry was displaced form politics into cultural contests. How far such sentiments can be politically mobilized is questionable; after a few years of casualties in Vietnam it was difficult to sustain popular support for the US war effort. Nevertheless, sentiments of national identity are transmitted every day through mass media. The banality of the idea means no political force can disavow national values, but equally they have little specific political content.

There are two major exceptions to this. First, the emergence of regional national movements in Europe and Canada. Some have gained regional autonomy, often the goal rather than the dangers of independence, and something central governments felt able to concede, often as part of a more general decentralizing political process. It is difficult to generalize about these movements which do not appear as part of a general trend, but represent specific problems in individual nation-states.

Second, the collapse of the Soviet Union. Warsaw Pact states gained real independence, whether retaining communist rule or not. Non-Russian republics in the USSR declared independence. Regions within Russia asserted claims against Moscow. Russian nationalists resented the loss of imperial power and sought to retain and regain territory and offered help to ‘Russians abroad.’ Has the collapse of the USSR unleashed a new wave of nationalism?

Nationalism contributed little to the collapse of the USSR which was due to economic crisis and destabilizing political reforms. National movements were a response to that instability. The issue was less about national independence than the form of the post-Soviet state. Answers varied along a continuum from old-style communism through reform communism, takeover by popular leaders, dissenting intelligentsia or nationalists to disappearance (East Germany). Each can change, e.g., as electorates shift between market-oriented liberal reformers and protectionist, socialist restorers. The nation-state is the political unit within which these politics are practiced, including seeking closer association with Western Europe.

In non-Russian republics the first nationalist outbursts leading to independence subsequently subsided. In the Ukraine and Moldova ethnic nationalism gave way to a stress on the national character of the territory and all its inhabitants. Russian minority problems in states like Estonia became matters of negotiation in ways pessimists had not thought possible. In Russia major conflicts seem likely to revolve around economic, rather than nationalist issues.

That does not mean nationalism is unimportant. There are non-Russian areas where military-based movements claim autonomy by violent means. Russian nationalism has been inflamed by Western intervention. Festering disputes remain between Russia and former republics. Muslim sentiments can fuel separatist movements, especially in mountainous and inaccessible areas. Nevertheless, in much of the region, political geography seems fairly settled.

Just as one can exaggerate nationalist conflict in Eastern Europe, so one can underestimate it in Western Europe. Many features of the ‘classic’ nation-state are being superseded. European Union (EU) nationals are semi-citizens in other EU states. Settled immigrant workers possess legal and social rights. National governments shift from policies of cultural assimilation or exclusion to those of multiculturalism. Governments cede powers to EU institutions. Nevertheless, the most important EU institution is the Council of Ministers, i.e., delegates of national governments. While most people remain largely confined to their national language and territory, they will regard themselves ‘naturally’ as national, something routinely reinforced through mass media. Nationalism as the basis for the organized pursuit and use of state power may have passed its peak. Nations as communities and nation-states as their protectors are still regarded as natural and remain of central importance in the modern world (Billig 1995, Christian 1997, Kupchan 1995).


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