by David J. Lobina
Last time around I said I would bring this series on language and nationalism to an end by considering an actual example: the case of Catalan nationalism, a discussion likely to be testy. I still intend to do that, and to be a bit argumentative about it to boot; however, it has occurred to me in these last four weeks that the follow-up between the first three posts and the case study of Catalan nationalism is not as smooth as it should be. This is because of an issue I brought up in the last post, where I rather briefly mentioned that the Catalan case exemplified what is sometimes called a peripheral nationalist movement, in contrast to core nationalist movements. To this I should have added that in the case of peripheral nationalisms the historical process that turns a state or a country into a nation-state is slightly different to what is the case for core nationalisms – additional factors are involved – and this point deserves to be spelled out a little bit. I shall do just that this week, and I will come back to the Catalans, finally, in the next post.
As explained in the previous three posts, it is certainly noteworthy, though not at all surprising, that the word nation seems to have been initially used in history as a place name and only much later did the politically-laden term of nationalism actually appear. The feeling of belonging to a particular place, after all, has plausibly been a feature of human gatherings for centuries and it is not intrinsically tied to the concepts of “nation” or “nationalism” per se.
In medieval Europe at least, the village where a person was born was typically that person’s “country”, as the historian Henry Kamen has chronicled, and this sentiment was still present in many parts of the world well into the 20th century. For instance, the Belorussian-speaking people of Polesia, a historical region stretching from modern Poland to Russia, simply replied ‘from here’ when asked about their nationality in a 1919 census, and even as recently as the 1950s, we have the curious case of captured Egyptian soldiers during the second Arab-Israeli war who seemed to know very little about their own country, instead identifying more strongly with their local villages.[i] Read more »