National Identity and International Politics an Analysis of Romania's Post-Communist Foreign Policy Imaginary (1990-1996)

By Salajan, Loretta C. | Studia Politica; Romanian Political Science Review, July 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

National Identity and International Politics an Analysis of Romania's Post-Communist Foreign Policy Imaginary (1990-1996)


Salajan, Loretta C., Studia Politica; Romanian Political Science Review


The concept of "identity" with its various nuances has been intensely analysed in academia, shedding distinctive light on the way we think about a state's external affairs. Post-1990 the gradual restoration of democracy provided Romania with the opportunity to freely choose a new international direction. Following the collapse of the communist dictatorship in December 1989, Romanian foreign policy featured two major goals that marked the evolution of national identity - membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and in the European Union (EU). Euro-Atlantic accession was partly a rational foreign policy choice because it would bring material advantages such as increased security and economic prosperity. Nevertheless, NATO and EU integration primarily meant for Romania the return to the Western world from which it had been separated by communism and the irrevocable recognition of its proclaimed Euro-Atlantic identity. Joining the Euro-Atlantic community was a necessary step since a state's national identity becomes valid only in so far as it is legitimated at both the domestic and international level.

In line with such an argument, this article aims to configure an interdisciplinary perspective of national identity and to illustrate it by analysing Romania's post-communist foreign policy imaginary, which emerged in 19901996. The working framework of national identity draws insights related to four literatures: constructivism, nationalism studies, collective memory and international recognition. They have a complementary utility in identifying the elements that shape the dual dynamic of national identity - internal (the nation and collective memory-myths) and external (recognition by relevant others). As an empirical application, the years 1990-1996 constitute an important case study since they were one of the key formative periods of Romania's post-communist identity and exhibited a bewildering array of emerging and re-emerging ideas. The foreign policy imaginary articulated three main discursive themes or selfimages: "European", "non-Balkan" and "security provider". These self-images feeding into national identity formed an ideational foundation that influenced how Romania positioned itself in the arena of international politics. In terms of structure, the article first introduces the conceptual outline of national identity and then examines the three major identity themes that circulated in the Romanian foreign policy imaginary between 1990 and 1996.

An Inter-Disciplinary Perspective on National Identity

The conceptual stance adopted by this article is an inter-disciplinary view on national identity, which draws from four academic literatures - constructivism, nationalism studies, collective memory and international recognition. It starts from the constructivist principle that identities have an ideational basis and fluid nature, being defined and re-defined under the impact of systemic and internal factors1. Constructivism in turn represents the ontological position which posits that "all knowledge, and therefore all meaningful reality as such, is contingent upon human practices, being constructed in and out of interaction between human beings and their world, and developed and transmitted within an essentially social context"2. When discussing the relationship between foreign policy and identity, the foreign policy imaginary becomes a key tool derived from Jutta Weldes' "security imaginary" - "a structure of well-established meanings and social relations out of which representations of the world of international relations are created"3.

Both adaptations originate in the "social imaginary" of Cornelius Castoriadis, who argues that the symbolic carries understandings that take into account the "real-rational", but also includes an imaginary dimension which comes "from the original faculty of positioning or presenting oneself with things and relations that do not exist, in the form of representation"4. …

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