Nationalist Exclusion and Ethnic Conflict: Shadows of Modernity

By Andreas Wimmer | Go to book overview

8
Nationalising multi-ethnic Switzerland

Racism and xenophobia are consequences of the social closure that characterise fully nationalised societies. They are homologous to Arab extremists looking forward to the annihilation of the Kurdish population or of mestizo nationalists disdaining 'los inditos' in Mexico. In this chapter, another, yet closely related, consequence of 'successful' nation-state formation will be examined: the systematic discrimination between foreigners and nationals that is inscribed in citizenship laws and especially in the institutional machinery controlling and restricting migration flows.

Thus, we will no longer be concerned with those extreme forms of nationalism, xenophobia and racism, that are nowadays confined to rather marginalised corners of the public sphere, but with the institutionalised, overwhelmingly accepted and legally legitimated forms of exclusion. The discrimination against aliens is so deeply inscribed in the institutional structures of modern states and their legal machinery that it is not perceived as running against the basic principles of political modernity — rather, it is taken for granted as the way 'things have always been'. Yet historical research shows that immigrants have not always been placed outside the home of modern citizenship. Their exclusion was a gradual process developing from the beginning of the nineteenth century to the mid 1970s.

The fate of the so-called Faili Kurds in Iraq, who in the seventies were deprived of Iraqi citizenship and then driven over the border to Iran (McDowall 1996: 30), or of the Banyarwanda in Zaire, who were denaturalised in 1980 following a retroactive nationality law (Lemarchand, forthcoming), is homologous to the precarious legal situation of immigrants in fully nationalised states. Legal discrimination against citizens with a certain ethnic background has a parallel in the second-class status of resident aliens, both being the product of parallel, yet differently channelled processes of closure. I will demonstrate in this chapter that the exclusion of alien immigrants is closely linked to the last step of closure along national lines that I referred to in chapter 3: to the rise of the welfare state and the political incorporation of the working classes accompanying it.

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