The Notion of Nation


From top: Catalan independence protest in Barcelona; Dan Boyle

The brutal response of the Spanish Government to the Catalan referendum, like that of the British to the Irish rising of 1916, is likely to help confirm a critical mass in favour of independence, where none may previously have existed.

A similar exercise is about to take place in Kurdish Iraq. It is being condemned in advance by those who consider themselves to be ‘elite’ nations, who see what seems a natural expression of nationhood, as a likely destablising factor in the region.

What defines a nation? Territorial integrity? A dominant language? A dominant religion?

Each and all of these factors have been cited as justifying new nations asserting themselves, even when dominance of belief or language are often the most destabilising of factors.

One of the decisions I was not happy with, while the Greens were in government, was the decision (at the behest of Germany) to recognise, so quickly, the independence of Kosovo.

There were many other options that could have been and should have been considered at the time. Kosovo could have become an international protectorate. The role of Albania (Kosovars being ethnic Albanians) should also have been explored further.

Establishing new nations, particularly the defining of citizenship, has been a fraught process in several countries.

Lativia and Estonia are countries whose independence, in its current form, has existed for little more than twenty five years. Both countries continue to struggle with large Russian minorities within their boundaries. Their second class citizenship, and laws passed against the Russian language, may yet provide a pretext for Russia to invade the Baltics.

Nation building isn’t simple nor is it easy. The 1960s film ‘What’s Up Tiger Lily‘, (a Japanese film dubbed into English with dialogue by Woody Allen) pointed to a more interesting approach. In the movie a character introduces himself as the representative of “a non existent but likely sounding country” who were next on the list for a place on the map, once an opening became available!

On Catalonia I find myself in agreement with the Sinn Féin representatives there, while also being somewhat jealous of their being able to witness history first hand.

Where we probably would diverge, is how we would view the ironic context of people who live in a north eastern territory of a wider national concept.

It would never happen here, of course.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

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24 thoughts on “The Notion of Nation

  1. bisted

    ‘…may yet provide a pretext for Russia to invade the Baltics.’ …evidently some eyes in Cork are still firmly fixed on Russia…

  2. Brother Barnabas

    In a lot of respects, the federal nature of State as a state could have or should have facilitated Catalunya’s ambitions – not quite a nation-state but a nation-autonomous region. Subtle difference but I often got sense that Catalans’ desire for independence was as much about not wanting to be part of Spain as wanting to be their own country. There’s a sneering antipathy throughout Spain for Catalunya – and everyone’s aware of it. Even left-leaning liberal Spaniards I know, who go with every right-on cause going, change their demeanour when Catalunya is mentioned. There’s footage doing the rounds of crowds cheering the Guardia Civil as they headed off from their Andalucian bases last week for Catalunya – with chants urging the police to give the Catalans the bearing they deserve []. In my personal experience, this is representative of how the rest of Spain feels. It makes sense in every way except for economics to let them go.

    1. digs

      Catalunya already enjoys a kind of quasi notion of state. In terms of language, territory, politics of identity, a high level of autonomous governance and an their own judiciary. In many ways, as well as seeing themselves as separate from Spain, so too does the wider world.
      The economic exception you mention is the most puissant, as well as perhaps the most binding. It is
      disingenuous for many observers, but yet utterly predictable, to suggest or apply the narrative of some kind of cultural oppression. It is not an oppressed territory, despite the recent policing approach.
      Catalunya makes up about 20% of the Spanish economy and some have argued that it could go it alone, but the legal ramifications in terms of European membership would be difficult for the region, with no guarantees or certainty. The knock on effect on trade could make the region implode.
      Not just in Ireland, but indeed all over Europe we were aghast and disgusted at Brexit. We’ve seen what a mess that is turning out to be for everyone involved, but we don’t skoff at Catalunya like we do at our nearest neighbors. Save for a some fantasists, not least the SNP, we all realzsed the Scots were committing economic suicide by wanting to exit the UK. There are also parallels with our own country. I’m sure most rational and pragmatic people on this island realize that we simply can’t afford the 6 counties. Romantically it resonates, but it makes little sense outside of that.
      Unless there are issues of ethnic cleansing and quantifiable and systemic state sponsored oppression, then is the separatists pursuit not a little heady and emotional? Catalunya is not Israel or Kurdish Iraq.

      “I propose the following definition of the nation: it is an imagined political community-and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign. It is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion…. Communities are to be distinguished, not by their falsity/genuineness, but by the style in which they are imagined…. Finally, [the nation] is imagined as a community, because, regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship. Ultimately, it is this fraternity that makes it possible, over the past two centuries for so many millions of people, not so much to kill, as willing to die for such limited imaginings.”
      ― Benedict Anderson

    2. Andyourpointiswhatexactly?

      I’m with the rest of Spain. Those Catalans are up themselves.

      Barcelona ain’t all that. It’s the Galway of Spain. Thinks it’s cooler than it is.

      So now so. Am I saying those people deserved the beatings they got? I must be. Ah well. Collateral damage etc etc. Boo hoo liberal tears: here’s a cup. Have some calimocho.

      I’m not drunk, but this is a very Memes post.

      1. mildred st. meadowlark

        It is.

        Don’t do it again though, y’hear? Or it’s a good ol’ crucifixion for you I’m afraid.

        1. Andyourpointiswhatexactly?

          Yerrah, you have to go off on one every now and again. Let out the inner dumb fupp. Scratching very close to the surface in my case.

  3. MoyestWithExcitement

    “What defines a nation? Territorial integrity? A dominant language? A dominant religion?”

    Desire. Nations are just ideas. We are all mere bags of flesh whose purpose is to continue the existence of the species. Everything after that is make believe and ego.

    1. Gorev Mahagut

      you might say I’m a dreamer
      but I’m not the only one
      I hope one day you’ll join us in territorial sovereignty
      or you’ll be first against the wall
      – John Lennon

  4. phil

    Dan I don’t think having Catalonia guarantee the private debts of all of Spain to be a suitable solution in this situation , I think Spain would be far better off if they likes of you stayed out of their affairs , more is the pity we couldn’t keep you out of our affairs …

  5. Truth in the News

    The Unionists declaring UDI, how long would they last, as things are unfolding in
    England, how long before Corbyn takes over, they will then pay the price for propping
    the Tories in power…..little wonder the Shinners are reluctant to throw a lifebelt to Arlene
    Kelly…..the Spanish Forces wuold remind one of a modern version of the B Special’s.
    Even echoes of Derry nearly 50 years ago

    1. Dan Boyle

      I certainly wouldn’t be a fan of the Flemish Block. Nationalism based on the idea of ethnic superiority is always ugly. I see something different, something far more inclusion, in the nationalism promoted in Scotland and in Catalonia.

  6. Nando

    Well, brutal?, Not a single broken bone. Ugly, disgusting, unnecessary, idiot perhaps, but not brutal. This is100% post-truth. Catalans have voted 6 times in the last few years, pro independency parties never reach half of te votes. They are more noisy and active, but not represent the catalan people. Even this time figures were around 2m, less than 40% of a regular census even considering that underages could vote and people could vote several times. Let’s be honest, their wealth is not based on coltan mines but in tourism and services, that can easily move to Madrid or Valencia. They see themselves as the mediterranean Switzerland, but have no banks. Spanish people don’t hate them, though they’ve been raised to think so but I reckon some people start to feel piss off about catalans blaming them for all their troubles. Anyways, peace and love.

    1. ahjayzis

      There are videos. If you’d watched them before commenting you’d look like less of an idiot now, pet.

      1. MoyestWithExcitement

        And the EU commission said it was proportional. This is what happens when you complicate the corporations’ trade deals; you get beat down. We’re back to feudalism except with tv and Facebook.

      2. nando

        I have relatives in there, no need for videos. Not deny the violence, not justify it under any circunstance, but a fair amount of the images have proved to be fake, at least dont belong to what happened last Sunday, one was even in the front page of the Guardian in 2012. Violence is disgusting, making propaganda out of it is not nice either.

        10000 angry well-equiped men, not a single broken bone or night spent at the hospital, ask yourself this question, dont you think that they could have done better (or worse) if they had tried to hurt people?, No medical report has been shown to the media, because there are none.

        We live in the fake news era, do you seriously think are well informed following what the media says?, Who is the muppet here?

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