The Sociology of Nationalism: Tomorrow's Ancestors

By David McCrone | Go to book overview

8

THE UNFORESEEN REVOLUTION

Post-communist nationalism

When Gorbachev became General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in March 1985, no-one, least of all Gorbachev himself, expected nationalism to rise from the ashes. And yet, a mere decade later, the political and cultural landscape of Central and Eastern Europe had been transformed. Four states, including his own, have disappeared—USSR, East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia; former national states like Hungary, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have become independent of Soviet influence; and new states have emerged seemingly out of nothing, especially in the non-Russian federation, the Central Asian republics, the Caucasus including Chechnya, and many more. A process of fusion has rejoined East and West Germany in unification nationalism. Fission has created the Czech Republic and Slovakia in a process which was so relatively painless that it became known as the Velvet Revolution. On the other hand, Yugoslavia imploded in a series of bloody wars, and gave the language of nationalism a new, chilling euphemism, ‘etnicko ciscenjie’—ethnic cleansing.

As we can see from the chronology of events at the end of this chapter, the unpredictability and speed of political change in Eastern and Central Europe, especially since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, caught virtually everyone unawares. No-one expected or predicted it, largely because it did not fit into the set of conventional explanations. Some analysts like Francis Fukuyama (1989) saw it as ‘the end of history’ whereby the grand narrative of capitalism versus communism had suddenly lost its raison d’être. In fact, contra Fukuyama, history was only beginning. Territories were rediscovering their histories and connecting them into their futures, often determined to go their separate ways. The monochrome of the Cold War gave way to the kaleidoscope of cultures rediscovered and reinvented.

Many did not like what they saw. Eric Hobsbawm, who was suspicious of nationalism in East and West, voiced admiration and regret for the passing of the old order: ‘It was’, he commented, in melancholic retrospect, ‘the great achievement of the communist regimes in multinational countries to limit the disastrous effects of nationalism within them’ (Hobsbawm, 1990:173). The Russian and Yugoslav revolutions had, he judged, at least prevented the nationalities killing each other. There was method in the madness of the old communist regimes

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The Sociology of Nationalism: Tomorrow's Ancestors
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • 1 - The Fall and Rise of Nationalism 1
  • 2 - Tribe, Place and Identity 22
  • 3 - Inventing the Past 44
  • 4 - ‘devils at His Back’ 64
  • 5 - Nation as State 85
  • 6 - Dialectic with the Other 102
  • 7 - In and Out of the State 125
  • 8 - The Unforeseen Revolution 149
  • 9 - Nationalism and Its Futures 169
  • Bibliography 188
  • Index 199
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