My essay is based on my own perception and experience within my nation and my perception of identity. I would like to conduct a research about what my nationality is based on and what actually nationality is, what it is influenced and formed by. This essay has two parts – first part concerned with race and nation and the other part is about my own perception of my identity and nationality. I will compare my nation, my culture, define those terms in terms of my own experience and compare my seeing of Czechs with cultures and citizens of other nations. I will take Zizek´s, Anderson´s and Hobsbawn´s ideas and opinions into account.
Before I come to examining my culture and my nation I shall at first denote what nation and race is. Is there anything like a race? For example black people are not different from us apart of the colour of their skin but this is only a physiological feature and does not influence anything else so that judging people according to their colour is superficial because there is no inner difference between a white person and a black person. Now just to be able to cope with race and nationality I should cite a paragraph about main problems with nationalism. Theorists of nationalism, Anderson says, have first to deal with these three paradoxes:
(1) The objective modernity of nations to the historian´s eye vs. Their subjective antiquity in the eyes of nationalists. (2) The formal universality of nationality as socio-cultural concept- in the modern world everyone can, should, will have a nationality, as he or she has a gender – vs.the irremediable particularity of its concrete manifestations, such that by definition Greek- nationlity sui generis. (3) The political power of nationalism vs. Their philosophical poverty and even incoherence.
It may be said that nationality is an invention and that there is no boundary where one nation begins and other ends. Just to ilustrate how vague the term nationlity is I would like to draw a parallel to race. Although Johann Friedrich Blumenbach distinguished five races which were recognised as generally believed truths, his theory was not flawless. Nobody fits perfectly into these five races and efforts to generalize people under one race led to racism and segration of black people in North America – they were unable to distinguish perfectly between black and white and thus established one drop rule. By saying this I do not want to talk about atrocities of racism, I just want to depict instability and impropriety of the term race and subsequently nation. One drop rule actually made everyone, whose ancestry was in any measure of black origin, black race. Now how many of ancestors make one black or white or Czech or German? In my opinion this all is actually arbitrary. If skin does not matter, what does then? Is colour of our skin important for us anymore? When dealing with colour of skin one would say that it has no other meaning that appearance and thus having a tinge of superficiality. It seems to me that it is important in a way of Zizek´s concept of cosa nostra. A way to belong somewhere. Having a Thing (race – colour of skin and subsequently nationality) one can posess and rely on, as Zizek claims about nation:
National identification is by definition sustanied by a relationship toward the Nation qua Thing. This Nation-Thing is determined by series of contradictoryr properties. It appears to us that ”our thing” (perhaps we could say cosa nostra), as something accesible only to us, as something they, the others, cannot grasp, but which is none the less constantly menaced by them.
Basically what Zizek says is that there is some kind of thing which is ours, and not theirs, but only ours, this thing is essential for our being and identity and is threated, which is very imporant. Can a colour of my skin be threatened? I do not think so, the colour of skin is a fact, but what my race or nation is, is not fact but an arbitrary issue. Thus it is not possible to base my identity upon colour of my skin because every white humans would have the same identity. We can of course come to a conclusion that there are shades of black and the spectrum between white and black is infinite but this is a very subjective and relative notion which is not a relevant issue for me right now. Zizek says that we cannot precisely describe or say what this thing is. To me it seems that such thing must be arbitrary, consesual, something a group of people or society must agree upon and not something which is given (as for example colour of skin). Now I have come to a conclusion that nation and race are relative and related terms and it might be even said that race is a human invention and should the term cease to exist it would make no difference to our world because human originated probably somewhere in Africa and thus there is probably one common ancestor. In my point of view race is not a relevant issue when dealing with ability to improve or change, whereas nation can and should improve, develop or change. I believe that saying generally about race anything comes to racism (segragation on the ground that black people are inferior and white superior to them – had no basis) and has no solid ground whereas saying anything about nation is, I think, relevant. It cannot be said generally (but rather saying that most of the people of one state or nation) but I pereceive it as relevant argument, that for example Germans, Japanese or Jews are hardworking, and inventive – see the number of Nobel prizes for Germans and German descendants in America or Jews as opposed to Muslims – nice indicator of distinction between Jews and Muslims – though of course not entirely objective may be seen in the possesion of Nobel prizes. There is approximately 12 milions of Jews and 1.4 billion of Muslim (ratio 117:1). Jews have 170 prizes whereas Muslims only 9. According to the ratio there should be 22 260 Prizes among Muslims. This illustration is not given in order to discredit Muslims but rather to emphasize that feeling of belonging to a Jewish descent means being open to new things and developments. Germans are hardworking because they are educated so (our predescesers were working hard so now you have to do so as well). Problems with Gipsy nation come not from them being intrinsically indolent and hardly adaptable but rather from their being used to it and having also such image in their parents. My teaching experience of Gipsy childern taught me that surrounding is more important than what is in my blood or race so to say. There might be some characteristic traits of a nation (but those are minimal in such general perspective), but Gipsy children when showed affection and an honest help are as just the same as white children. As a citizen of Czech republic and having (claiming) Czech nationality I can say that Czechs are cunning (more cunning that other nations so to say but mostly due to the outter conditions – factor of the recent regime of communism and here is already ground for development. Getting rid of past wounds of communism (being used to incredulity because of fear of false accusation) via education will lead to our nation and state becoming more civilized and less cunning (having no reason for that) that it is now. Of course saying that Czech politics are stupid or worst in the world is stupid in itself but it is obvious that German goverment is in my opinion less scandalous than ours – our politicians (chosen from people) are more cunning and thus more corrupt and prone to cheat than above mentioned Germans.
Concerning the term nation I will use definition given by Anderson:
It is an imagined political community – imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign. It is imagined because the members of even the smammlest nation will never know most of their fellow-member, meet them or even hear of them, yet in the minds of eac h lives the image of their communion.
This applies to a nation and I sense that this is an image of my nation, my thing and it is important for the belief that I belong somewhere. Why is this feeling of belonging so important for people? I have always been biased against the thing of nation becuase it seemed to me that people are week if they need to belong somewhere – to a community or a nation in this context. Now I have come to a realisation that there must be a boundary between individuality and help from the community and hiding within a community. Aim of a community or nation lies in using everybody´s merits and abilities so that he/she contributes to the society and to help him get rid of his weakness and demerits in order to keep him in a working order, in other words use his potential and help him where he is unable to help to contribute or help himself. This is a theory of division of labour. Everyone should do what the one is good at and should be helped in things which he or she is not good at (social state, welfare). Anyway we still do not see clearly what cosa nostra is. As Zizek puts it, Our thing is something we must defend. To be able to defend anything I must first have an enemy which I know is dangerous for me. Is this Our thing a possesion? Something I can be robbed of? It seems to me that this cosa nostra issue is merely a superficiality, anxiety about losing something which I believe in, fear about destroying image of my idolatry. As mentioned above clinging to a nation seems to me only an alibistic view about the world. The need to hide myself behind a greater subject in order to hide my mistakes and weaknesses so that those do not come into light. Hiding ourselfes from new things makes us not conservative but conserved in blindess, unable to cope with new menaces so to say and develop via the clashes with those menaces. Sense of existance of an individuality is not in defending our imagined thing or idol but in defending what I believe is imporant and essential for my sake and sake of others and also knowing that my belief is relative as everything is (helps me to avoid radicalism). Being always opened to new issues and changes is congenitaly for pople unpleasant but without new incentives in my life which shape and form my confidence in myself I would be stucked in an imagined deceitfull picture of idolatry. This is precisely what I percieve as Our Thing – only a constructed untrue notion and perception about my life and lifes of others in the commmunity or nation. This is another reason (apart of damage made by communism) why I believe that most Czechs are cunning and suspective, we defend Our Thing – imagined or hoped picture of me belonging somewhere (for example being proud of consumption of beer in Czech republic being the highest in Europe) against people from different cultures. I believe that Czechs being cunning will relent through time and assimilation with other cultures and we will keep our true sense for culture – not clinging to an imagined community and trying to defeat anybody around but rather to be proud of real achievements of our predecessors (not for boasting but as a model of our behavious) our kings from medieval ages or saints and trying to keep their legacy live.
However, when someone can hate his nation, what features of the nation he hates. There must be some boundary between his nation and some other nation so that he can hate one feature of his nation and features of other nations or communities are alright for him. May it be that the one hates being possesed with the thing of his society and naturally clings to other thing? It seems to me that even hatred is a sign of weakness in the mind of an individual character not not being content with his own achievments and thus forcing his anger against other people (other cultures being the most easiest targets because one sees them as more succesful in coming to our country because the one would not dare come to their country). Hatred is just an another aspect or means of defeating every menace coming from an another nation in order to protect constructed image of my life or nation.
As above mentioned I have come a conclusion that physical features are of no importance to nation so that anybody can become a Czech. What forms my Czechness then? On one hnad, its not just a perception, I believe that alsoa recognition of others in a certain territory and confirmation of one´s status as a member of a nation is an important thing. It might be said that when more than 50 percept already recognized members of a nation affirm that black people may (if they want to ) be Czechs, althought they have no slavic origin and were not born in Czech republic, makes them citizens of Czech Republic and consequently Czechs indeed. If people were to chose their nation, they would have to have some features according to which they could make their decision and actually have criteria accroding to which they might as well dislike a nation. Nation has to be taken care of or it might fall apart, terminate. Hobsbawm describes Scotish tradition as following:
Today, whenever Scotchmen gather together to celebrate their national identity, they assert it openly by certain distinctive national apparatus. They wear a kilt, woven in a tartan whose colour and pattern indicates their clan; and if they indulge in music, their instrument is the bagpipe. This apparatus, to which they ascribe great antiguity, is in fact largely modern.
It is modern and provident to care about it – in modern terms care for what is old but in a new form – so that it may survive. Althought we do not dance in order to celebrate a harvest, we still should not forget about traditions of our predecessors. Folkore and costumes (in Czech kroje) are part of our culture, hereditary culture. Although the importance of folklore costumes does not lie in its difference – in order to distinguish inhabitants from one villiage to inhabitant from another, we still use it to celebrate significant events, at least symbolically. This distinction of costumes (every village has its own costume) seems quite interesting to me – it might hint at a need of human to belong as well to a small community – a village which has its own costume, and together with it to a larger part – nation, Czech republic in this case. It a paradox that on one hand one needs to belong to a community where he knows everybody (something like an extended family) and on the other hand one needs a sense of belonging to a larger (anonymous, as opposed to small group) part – as Anderson´s argumend mentioned above – imagined community. A question arises how big or large this imagined community – a nation has or can be? My surmise is that such geographical or demographical boundaries are not limited because of an abstract nature of the concept of nation. In my opinion I do not care so much about how many Czechs there are, but how many of them I can identify with. One of such identification traits or features is precisely the usage of costume here in South Moravia. Such tradition is important for me because it is a concrete trait of part of my own history. What then connects me to people in Bohemian? Is there a link between us? Next to the language which is arbitrary and a feeling about Czech nature being somewhat incredule and cunning I do not sense a deeper bond to someone further off from congregation of village where I live – thus not making a signifcant difference between a citizen from Czech republic – Czech or any other state, nation and I do not agree that Czechs should stick together on basis of some vague feeling or a need to belong to some greater part – this arises in racism, thinking that my race is superior or some other race inferior. Czechs should care for their cultural heritage not in order to keep it for themselves, but to enshrine it for future generations and also for people from outside of Czech republic. Importance of a nation (or tradition in my point of view) is in natural, congenital human need to belong somewhere, but this should not overgrow into affirming my position or my belonging via destroying position of someone else as was seen in history (for example Nazi German)
Now I have come to a notion of descent. Why is it so imporant? Is it also just peoples natural condition of need to belong, cling to something? I believe that my Czechness is not based on my origin or colour (as I am quarter German). It does not seem congruent to me that descent should play a major role in my perception of nation and my individuality within it.
To conclude with, I do believe, as mentioned above in a general characteristic which is found in the majority of people of a certain state but I do not believe and it does not seem to me that it is important to identify with it and be proud of it. I am for example proud of deeds of Charles IV.(his support for education – building of Charles university). But I do not need to boast with being the same descent. This need to belong or boast with someone else is , I believe, just human weakness which may end up in racism if one needs to belong to some abstract thought up, imagined community too much and wants to save this false picture at any cost. It is about whether I need to cling to a society (race, nation, community…) in order to be helped or whether I want to belong in order to teach myself and subsequently teach others so that everyone develops his or hers merits not dependently on a nation, but more generally on who contributes to a better world and who does not. I do recognize Czechs but do not need to boast about my Czechness (generally nation) as I do not see it more important than individual quality of a human being. I would also like to paraphrase Jan Neruda´s Charles´s IV notion about Czechs: he said that this wine is a little bit bitter but when you get used to it you begin to like it. This is a parallel to Czech nation – the exact thing I actually like about Czechs. Although we are cunning, I believe that Czechs when their first incredulity, shrewdness and suspiciousness (mostly due to the outter conditions – previous regime) is overcome, are in fact cordial and open minded people, as I believe I am.
Neruda, Jan. Ballady a Romance (1883). Romance o Karlu IV. http://users.ox.ac.uk/~tayl0010/ ballady.htm#karlu
Zizek, Slavoj. Eastern Europe´s Republics of Gilead. The Nation Thing.
Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities. Courier Companies Inc. 1983.
Hobsbawm, Eric. The Invention of Tradition. Inventing Traditions. Cambridge UP 1983.