Is Nationalism Obsolete?

Is nationalism capable of dealing with, or even addressing, the issues of our time? Dealing with this question, the Balkan Society for Theory and Practice (BSTP) – supported by transform! europe – held its second annual workshop in Prishtina, Kosovo.

In National Independence: The Only Possible Outcome, Frantz Fanon argues that nationalism is strictly a regression. For example, the French public views Algerian nationalism as extremist, backwards and anti-progressive. That definition aligns with the way nationalism is generally discussed today in relation to far-right parties, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, the desire to establish a “Christian Europe”, whiteness, and Eurocentricity. Nationalism is understood to align the past, present and future in a timeless continuity, thus reducing all "external" elements, such as immigration and global capitalism, to threats. Nationalism is understood to be furthered by strict immigration policies, Euroscepticism, and anti-globalisation, among others. The Economist even coined the term New Nationalism to denote contemporary nationalism as inherently anti-globalisation. This new nationalism is understood to facilitate a rejuvenation of national pride, which has supposedly been wounded on the international scene. Besides New Nationalism, new terms like Trumpism are employed to denote specific forms of nationalism today.

Authoritarian populism, national movements, Trumpism and Brexit are all interpreted to represent challenges to the global community. These movements (examples often include Russia, Turkey, India, Austria and Sweden, to name but a few) are thought to be products of populist leaders who mobilise people against foreign influence and “the establishment”, thus creating the conditions for an emergence of authoritarian tendencies and extreme national ideologies. In response, people turn their backs on international institutions and the ideal of global unity. In other words, nationalism is placed in direct conflict with democratic capitalism.     

The popular understanding of nationalism obfuscates its revolutionary potential. Firstly, the conflation of terms like “nationalism”, “populism”, “right wing” and “fascism” has left space for reactionary voices to claim nationalism as fascism with another name. Secondly, there is a lack of serious engagement in demands for nationalist strategies because such strategies are viewed as relics of the past. Specifically, nationalism is seen to have failed alongside anti-colonial wars and socialist projects. Thirdly, nationalism, which cannot be disarticulated from the nation-state model, appears anachronistic in our increasingly globalised world. With globalisation and the demise of traditional colonisation, to the liberal mind, nationalism simply signifies a backwardness that should have been replaced by transnationalism. It should be understood that these narratives of nationalism are very different from those developed by formerly colonised countries, for whom nationalism was often a strategic feature of decolonisation.    

BSTP workshop sessions discussed examples of revolutionary nationalism, such as Vietnam; black nationalism within the United States (e.g., the Black Panther Party, Black Liberation Army); numerous African nationalist movements, including Algeria, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, Angola and Mozambique; numerous South American nationalist movements, including Venezuela, Chile, Colombia and Peru; and nationalist movements among First Nations populations in the Americas, which have lasted for centuries. Given BSTP’s orientation towards the Balkans, we considered these nationalist movements alongside those that have emerged prior to and after the dissolution of Yugoslavia. 

To discuss the understanding and potential of nationalism, BSTP gathered participants and scholars from all over the globe representing a range of disciplines, including philosophy, political science, anthropology, sociology, oral history and architecture.

Source: BSTP Archive

The daily workshop sessions included two presentations per day. Each participant had 30 minutes to present their work, followed by a 1.5-hour-long discussion. Topics presented ranged from political relations between Kosovo and Serbia, multilingualism in Kosovo, and physicalist theory in managing impediments to democracy and peacebuilding in the Balkans, nationalism and internationalism among Serbian youth, oral history, Belgrade new wave, nationalism in South Sudan, and feminism during the 1990s in the former Yugoslavia, to name but a few.

Source: BSTP Archive

BSTP ensured that the wider public was also involved in these discussions by holding public lectures. For the 2019 edition, BSTP hosted four guest speakers. The first event was a panel with Branislav Radeljić and Arber Zaimi. Radeljić is Associate Professor of International Relations at the University of East London and presented on Kosovo’s independence, official dilemmas and policy preferences. Arber Zaimi has been an activist for Vetevendosje since 2009 and is a political advisor and member of the presidency for the Movement for Self-Determination. He presented on the work of the movement and independence and social justice in Kosovo. The second public event was a lecture by Denijal Jegić, who is a researcher, writer and editor. Jegić presented on nationalism in Palestine and Israel. Anikó Imre, a professor of Cinematic Arts in the Division of Cinema and Media Studies, was the third guest speaker. Imre presented on queer nationalism and how the televised, annual pan-European music competition Eurovision started as an aspirational cultural forum to create a sense of European belonging among post-war nations. In addition to the workshop and public lectures, BSTP organised a screening of Twenty-Eight Nights and a Poem by Akram Zaatari, followed by a public discussion.

BSTP daily workshops were held at the RIT University in Kosovo. Public events were held at Kosovo 2.0, a pioneering independent media organisation, and the screening of the film was held at Kino Armata.

The BSTP team will hold its third annual workshop in 2020 in Prishtina, Kosovo. The topic, call for applications and other details will soon be available.