Childhood Nationalism Syndrome

Praсtice shows that all post-Soviet countries are afflicted with nationalism to some extent. But why? Is that a result of the former politics of creating a “soviet man”, i.e. an attempt at fixing former errors or some kind of mandatory syndrome that goes along with acquiring national identity?

We searched for answers to these questions with the head of the Ukrainian Politics fund, historian Konstantin Bondarenko.

– Konstantin, so what is nationalism in our countries – a result of Soviet politics or a mandatory syndrome?

– It is a mandatory syndrome. Process of nation building requires that at some stage society has to go through nationalistic “illness”. Today we are repeating the stage that European nations went through in the 19th and early 20th century, and only WWII gave European nations a vaccine against nationalism.

Ukraine and other post-Soviet countries are now going through their own so-called “spring of nations”, they are at the stage when their self-identity forms tendencies related to ethnic nationalism. It is a period of self-searching and finding one’s own way. It is a childhood illness that needs to be endured in order to be immune to it in the future.

– At the same time nationalist in Ukraine and Kazakhstan differ a lot in orderliness, energy, toughness of their positions, even though they all came out of the same soviet “overcoat”, why is that? Why are Ukrainian nationalistic forces are some of the major players on the political arena of the country, while Kazakh ones are very marginalized, decentralized and non-influential?

The reason is that, Ukrainian history knows both theory and practices of nationalism, and so Ukrainian nationalism has formed in the 20s 30s and 40s. It has deep roots and traditions. Thus, starting from 1989 there has been a revival of this very traditions. Kazakh nationalism, on the other hand is just starting to form. Kazakhstan never had regions where a real nationalism would exist, based on some ethnic theory.

For Kazakhstan, nationalism is a revival of traditions of 1920s, and it is closely related to Islam. As for nationalism of Ukraine, it has always been oriented on European examples. This is includes its most radical versions, such as Italian fascism. Not the German Nazism, but specifically Italian one, under whose influence Ukrainian nationalism was formed in the 1920s and 1930s. Kazakh nationalism lacks that.

Of course, Kazakhstan doesn’t have a history of insurgencies like the ones in Ukraine, or similar tradition. Thus, in a current situation, Kazakh nationalism is a pretty emergent concept that is just starting to form. I am not counting the events of 1980s, when there were demonstrations against Kolbin in Almaty (Kolbin was appointed head of Communist Party of Kazakhstan in 1986, instead of Dinmuhamed Kunaev). Or events of the 1990s, when Kazakhstan was just getting on track of building its own nation-state.

There is another reason: Kazakhstan has a very influential leader, something that Ukraine hasn’t had during the entire period after it gained independence, it also has a strong party and power source. This means that all other currents are out of business.

– Praсtice shows that all post-Soviet countries are afflicted with nationalism to some extent. But why? Is that a result of the former politics of creating a “soviet man”, i.e. an attempt at fixing former errors or some kind of mandatory syndrome that goes along with acquiring national identity?

– We searched for answers to these questions with the head of the Ukrainian Politics fund, historian Konstantin Bondarenko.

– Konstantin, so what is nationalism in our countries – a result of Soviet politics or a mandatory syndrome?

– It is a mandatory syndrome. Process of nation building requires that at some stage society has to go through nationalistic “illness”. Today we are repeating the stage that European nations went through in the 19th and early 20th century, and only WWII gave European nations a vaccine against nationalism.

Ukraine and other post-Soviet countries are now going through their own so-called “spring of nations”, they are at the stage when their self-identity forms tendencies related to ethnic nationalism. It is a period of self-searching and finding one’s own way. It is a childhood illness that needs to be endured in order to be immune to it in the future.

– At the same time nationalist in Ukraine and Kazakhstan differ a lot in orderliness, energy, toughness of their positions, even though they all came out of the same soviet “overcoat”, why is that? Why are Ukrainian nationalistic forces are some of the major players on the political arena of the country, while Kazakh ones are very marginalized, decentralized and non-influential?

– The reason is that, Ukrainian history knows both theory and practices of nationalism, and so Ukrainian nationalism has formed in the 20s 30s and 40s. It has deep roots and traditions. Thus, starting from 1989 there has been a revival of this very traditions. Kazakh nationalism, on the other hand is just starting to form. Kazakhstan never had regions where a real nationalism would exist, based on some ethnic theory.

For Kazakhstan, nationalism is a revival of traditions of 1920s, and it is closely related to Islam. As for nationalism of Ukraine, it has always been oriented on European examples. This is includes its most radical versions, such as Italian fascism. Not the German Nazism, but specifically Italian one, under whose influence Ukrainian nationalism was formed in the 1920s and 1930s. Kazakh nationalism lacks that.

Of course, Kazakhstan doesn’t have a history of insurgencies like the ones in Ukraine, or similar tradition. Thus, in a current situation, Kazakh nationalism is a pretty emergent concept that is just starting to form. I am not counting the events of 1980s, when there were demonstrations against Kolbin in Almaty (Kolbin was appointed head of Communist Party of Kazakhstan in 1986, instead of Dinmuhamed Kunaev). Or events of the 1990s, when Kazakhstan was just getting on track of building its own nation-state.

There is another reason: Kazakhstan has a very influential leader, something that Ukraine hasn’t had during the entire period after it gained independence, it also has a strong party and power source. This means that all other currents are out of business.

– One of the common traits of nationalist forces, especially radical ones, is their hatred of another nation and its language. In both Ukraine and Kazakhstan it is Russians and Russian language, in Russia itself, it is USA, Ukraine, North Caucasus, etc. Why does that happen and is it inevitable?

– Nationalism, sooner or later gains some xenophobic traits. No matter how long nationalists say that they are in defense of their own culture and nation, and not against someone else’s, xenophobic traits start to show up, there comes a search for some object, against whom they may build their subjectivity. It is a search for a target, against which they can start building aggressive theories.

This is normal for any nationalism. Austrian writer, playwright and poet Franz Grillparzer said in the 19th century: from humanism via nationalism to bestiality. Thus, even then, he established that nationalism leads to displays of different extreme types of social consiousness, including xenophobia. In addition, nationalism goes in the path of looking for easy solutions.

– Which ones, for example?

– Easy solutions are an attempt to show the people the enemy – a culprit of all their troubles. I.e. as soon as we’ll defeat them, everything will work out for us.

For Ukraine, such enemy is Russia. For us, if the rain falls down or there is a snowfall or bad harvest, it is their fault. In Russia, it is America’s fault. The same happened in Nazi Germany, where people were told that Jews are to blame for everything, and as soon as we defeat them, we will live happily. And only Italian fascism was faceless in those matters, because in its theory everything was communists’ fault.

– So the search for an enemy is inevitable. However, it cannot go on forever?

– As a syndrome, nationalism runs its course quickly, and as a rule, the society gets rid of it pretty radically and then gets better. I think that in about five-ten years, we will remember it as a bad dream. The way Europeans remember nationalism as dark pages of their history, however it is a period that has to occur.

– Can a nationalism be formative rather than destructive? Are there positive examples of this in history, and can something like that happen in our country?

– It can, when the realization comes that in order to develop a country, first thing you need to do is to defend your own economic interests. We can view formative nationalism as a certain form of subjectivity of a state or a nation. But it is a more developed form of nationalism. It has nothing in common with ethnocentrism.

For example in Ukraine, or more accurately, in its immigrant communities, there is a new idea that is common for late-stage nationalism, but is denied by most nationalists in Ukraine itself.

– What idea are you talking about?

– Ukrainian emigrants talked about creating a democratic nationalism with a slogan “Ukraine is a common good for all of its citizens”, i.e. regardless of ethnic background or nationality. This idea, in emigrant circles, was put forward and adhered to by a group of melnikovists.

I think that if current Ukrainian nationalists will follow this formula, if they will achieve the understanding of the formula that Ukraine is a common acquisition of all its citizens, then we will be able to talk about strikingly different qualities of Ukrainian nationalism. The same goes for Kazakhstan.

– Nationalist parties and groups in today’s Ukraine are not only players on the political arena, but have their own armed forces. It is the latter who conduct the most high-profile actions, such as blockades of railroad tracks. Why can’t the president and the government deal with them in Ukraine, while they can do that in Kazakhstan?

Because it was nationalistic organizations in Ukraine that played a role in ousting Yanukovich and placing the current team in power. So, it is a sort of gratitude of new rulers of the government to their former political allies. However, we already see the worsening if relations between nationalists and current ruling powers.

– How does it show itself?

– For example, there is a nationalist protest going on. National corps, together with representatives of the “Right sector” party, forbidden in Russia hold a protest together to which a few thousand people show up and anti-government slogans can be heard. So the relations worsen, and they get worse with time. I think that a serious, severe conflict between nationalists and the government is coming, and the fact that nationalists in Ukraine act free is a temporary thing.

– And what would you say are perspectives of the nationalists and nationalist political forces? Will they manage to come to power? IF yes, how will it happen: will it be something civic, or a thing resembling the actions of German, Italian, Spanish and Balkan nationalists on the eve of WWII, or god forbid their actions during it?

– Even if these forces will come to power, they won’t stay there long. As of today, nationalism isn’t a mainstream idea in the world. For example, if nationalists come to power in Ukraine, they won’t stay in power long, because they won’t be able to secure support of big players and large governments, and won’t find support among their neighbors. We already had conflicts with Hungary, Poland and other states, on a nationalistic basis; this is not to mention our relations with Russia, and alert attitude towards us form Belarus and Moldova. In essence, Ukraine is already in a state of conflict along the perimeter of its borders, and nationalists rise to power, will only worsen it.

– And this, evidently, doesn’t only apply to Ukraine?

– Of course. Nationalism in the world today, isn’t a form of government approved by civic societies. There is no reason to expect that nationalists will come to power and will be accepted by today’s civil society.

– Thank you for the interview.

 


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