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Professor Dr. Zlatko Hadžidedić: “All major wars in the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries have been generated by nationalism. On the global geopolitical level, nationalism was also the main tool for transformation of the entire world, for dissolution of large mercantilist empires and their transformation into a number of nation-states”
Professor Dr. Zlatko Hadžidedić - the founder and director of the Center for Nationalism Studies in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina - shared from his insight on nationalism as an ideology and its implementation in the Balkans, in the interview below.

Nationalism was at the heart of the Enlightenment notion of liberal democracy. Now, it is often viewed with a negative connotation and linked to concepts such as chauvinism, xenophobia, authoritarianism and even fascism. Why? What is your definition of nationalism for the current times?

Zlatko Hadžidedić: Interestingly, my professors at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) were very strict in denial of any link between nationalism and liberalism, when I submitted my PhD thesis on this very topic, some twenty years ago. Some of them even claimed that I must have been “crazy”, since I saw a connection between these two. For, allegedly, liberalism was “absolutely individualistic”, whereas nationalism was “absolutely collectivistic”. However, in historical reality, nationalism is a discourse that was generated within the broader context of capitalism, that is, as part of capitalism’s dominant ideology, liberalism. Liberalism’s doctrine of self-determination of peoples served as a global umbrella under which particular nationalisms were developed in their respective targeted locations. By spreading the doctrine of self-determination of peoples, liberalism undermined and eventually dismantled both traditional feudal empires and their early capitalist mercantilist successors, so as to introduce free market capitalism around the world and, together with it, the nation-state as the form of state within which this model of capitalism was granted monopolistic status. So, a single global market practically existed since the decline of mercantilism and rise of liberalism. Or, in other words, since the death of traditional empires and birth of the nation-state. Therefore, the nation-state, together with nationalism, was a historical product of liberal ideology, accompanied with the principles of free market and democracy, implemented through a series of so-called bourgeois revolutions. As such, it served primarily specific interests of capitalist elites, to make capitalist society sustainable and long-lasting by creating a social glue between the rich and the poor, engaging the masses through the imagined community of the nation. Bridging that gap without actually changing the structure of society became the paramount task for the system in trying to preserve its mechanism for incessant exploitation of labour and limitless accumulation of capital. The system had to introduce a social glue tailored to conceal, but also to cement, the actual polarisation of society. This glue was designed as a concept of absolute social unity, based on the assumption that the entire population, both the exploiting and the exploited, was born with equal rights, common interests, and common identity. This concept of absolute social unity was assumed to form an entirely new entity, the nation. The nation has successfully played the designated role of social glue within the capitalist system until a couple of years ago. However, the neoliberal policy, from the 1980s onwards, widened the gap between the rich and the poor to such an extent that classical nationalism, connected to democratic principles, could not conceal it anymore, so that the system itself has again become unsustainable. What was needed was nationalism in a new, more robust, authoritarian form, and its current resurgence is thus a direct social consequence of neoliberalism, as much as globalisation served as neoliberalism’s acceptable public image. At the same time, the resurgence of nationalism in an authoritarian form is an announcement of a new phase in capitalism’s development, the phase of hyper-capitalism, in which further, unlimited extraction of capital will be protected by radicalised nationalism articulated through authoritarian regimes and populist methods. In this context, chauvinism and xenophobia, authoritarianism, populism and fascism are all to be interpreted only as more robust forms of nationalism, rather than some inherently distinct phenomena.         

Yoram Hazony, an Israeli philosopher, Bible scholar and political theorist, wrote in his book “The Virtue of Nationalism” that nationalism is a virtuous idea of the world, the middle ground between tribalism (the enemy of peace) and imperialism (the enemy of freedom) - an absolutely current model to oppose globalism. What do think of this statement?

This statement is totally a-historical. Tribalism, as a pre-modern form of social relations, clearly precedes capitalism, while imperialism – just like nationalism and globalism – is one of political forms in which capitalism was manifested in different periods. Also, tribalism is not an articulate political ideology, it is rather a structure of relations between social units in pre-modern, pre-capitalist societies. So, it cannot rightfully be compared to imperialism, globalism and nationalism, as three modern political ideologies which served as tools for promotion of global capitalist interests. Besides, as I have already said, globalism is a product of neoliberalism, and so is the contemporary, robust, authoritarian nationalism, whereas classical, 19th-century nationalism was a product of classical liberalism. So, I think that the author has missed so many points, historically and methodologically.       

Can nationalism drive geopolitics and lead to wars or conflicts? Could it be the root cause of a conflict? Or does it simply play a role in exacerbating conflicts?

The former is one of nationalism’s basic purposes. Just as nationalism makes capitalist society sustainable on the intra-state level, serving as a glue between the rich and the poor, while maintaining their hierarchical positions, on the inter-state level nationalism serves as a geopolitical instrument in the hands of global capitalist elites to generate conflicts wherever it turns out to be financially beneficial for them. It is easy to prove that all major wars in the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries have been generated by nationalism. Of course, in the background, they have all been fought for interests of global capitalist elites, but on the public level they have always been interpreted as wars for ‘national interests’. On the global geopolitical level, nationalism was also the main tool for transformation of the entire world, for dissolution of large mercantilist empires and their transformation into a number of nation-states. That was a perfect tool in the hands of the British Empire, to destroy all competing empires through ‘national revolutions’, without having fought real wars against them, imposing simultaneously the system of global free market.

Is there a relation, or a link, in your opinion, between nationalism and the concept of ethnically exclusive territories? How could the two key principles of international law - territorial integrity and self-determination - be reconciled.

The concept of ethnically exclusive territories would not exist without nationalism as its frame. This concept was simply irrelevant prior to the emergence of nationalism. In all pre-modern, pre-nationalist periods of history, legitimacy for conquest of particular territories was to be found in the power of the conquerors. With nationalism, creation of ethnically exclusive territories – depicted as ‘national territories’ – has become the ultimate source of legitimacy for both the creation of new states and conquests of other states’ territories. Indeed, there are nationalisms which do not insist on ethnic exclusivity, but rather on homogeneity through multi-ethnic assimilation; however, even homogeneity achieved by assimilation leads to yet another form of exclusivity. As for the principles you mention, it should be noted that territorial integrity is a key principle of international law, whereas self-determination is rather a key principle of Anglo-American geopolitics; in other words, relies on arbitrary application of foreign policy influence. Take the Versailles Conference as a paradigm of this would-be conflict, a conflict on two totally different levels: it was totally against international law that the victorious powers – Great Britain, the USA, and France – dismantle the defeated Austro-Hungarian Empire; however, as a bypass, they introduced the principle of ‘self-determination of peoples’ in order to dismantle the defeated state. Paradoxically, none of the newly created nation-states had ever fought an actual war for ‘self-determination’ – instead, they were ‘self-determined’ by these three victorious powers. Now, how can we speak of ‘self-determination’ as a principle of international law? It has been introduced as a principle to circumvent international law, and it has retained this quality.               

What are the characteristics that nationalism assumes in the Balkans? Can it influence the current and future geopolitical perspectives of the Balkan states, with particular reference to multi-ethnic states, such as Macedonia and Bosnia- Herzegovina? Do you believe that the future of all Balkans states lies within the European Union?

 In the Balkans, just as elsewhere, national identities are a product of geopolitical games of relevant powers, and these are commonly Great Britain and France, whose general 19th-century strategy was to dismantle the competing empires – instead of fighting wars against them – through nationalist movements and revolutions. At the beginning of the 19th century, this area was controlled by two empires, Habsburg Empire and Ottoman Empire, both of which were defined along the lines of their dominant religions – the Habsburg Empire was a de facto successor of the Catholic Holy Roman Empire, while the Ottoman Empire defined itself as a successor of the Islamic Caliphate. Britain and France, as their competitors and adversaries, realized that their strategy of instigating nationalist movements and revolutions would function best in the Balkans if nationalist movements against these two empires were to be defined along religious lines, as a religious insurgency of Orthodox Christians against the rule of an Islamic empire, in today’s Serbia, Greece, and Bulgaria. Amongst South Slavs, Serbian national identity was thus derived from Orthodox Christianity; inversely, Orthodox Christians were identified as Serbs. The nascent Serbian state, as the main pillar of the Anglo-French influence in the Balkans, thus adopted a model of anti-Ottoman and anti-Habsburg expansion by assimilating Orthodox Christians in other parts of the Balkans into the Serbian nation, with a prospect of annexation of their territories into a Greater Serbian state. As we can see in the Greater Serbian programme, called “Načertanije”, up to the 1860s Orthodox Christians and Catholics in Bosnia perceived themselves as Bosniaks, rather than Serbs and Croats. However, this programme sought to redefine the former as Serbs, and eventually bring them under control of the Serbian state. A similar pattern was applied to Montenegrins, who were also proclaimed Serbs, despite the fact that they had created their own state in the former Ottoman territory, parallel to the Serbian one. This has remained a problem in Montenegrin politics to the present day. The same happened to today’s Macedonians, due to their Orthodox religion, although both Serbia and Bulgaria fought for decades to impose their respective national identities on Macedonians. Such attempts have not ceased within some Bulgarian nationalist circles, who still claim that Macedonians are in fact Bulgarians, and enjoy significant support in London and Paris to cede the eastern part of Macedonia to a Greater Bulgaria. This pattern of national identification on the basis of religious identity was spreading to other groups as well, so as to assimilate all Catholics into a Croatian national identity, and so on. According to the Greater Serbian programme, all Muslims in Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro, were to be perceived as ‘Turks’ and were projected to be exterminated or expelled to Turkey. During the communist Yugoslavia, there were some efforts to assimilate them into either Serbian or Croatian national identity, but eventually they were recognized as a distinct ethnic group and have recently been named ‘Bosniaks’, which is, again, a historical fallacy because this name refers to the entire population of Bosnia, irrespectively of their religious identity. To put it briefly, the problem in Bosnia and Macedonia is not the existence of a multitude of ethnic groups – there are so many ethnic groups in the United States of America, and they still function as part of the American nation. The problem is the pattern of translation of religious identities into national ones, regardless of where the territories in which distinct religious groups live are actually located. For, nations, by definition, seek to establish their own states. Try to apply this pattern to any multi-religious country in the world, and it will quickly fall apart, probably in a civil war. This pattern does not permit formation of national identities and nation-states on the civic or cultural or historical grounds: a national identity is not permitted to develop within a particular territory despite its distinct history and culture, and even already-existing statehood; instead, territory and statehood must be dissolved if there are different religious groups within, and new nation-states must be created so as to embrace respective religious groups in their entirety. This pattern therefore generates permanent instability, which is going to last until the pattern itself is dismantled. The perverse idea of attainment of a Greater Serbia, Greater Croatia, Greater Bulgaria, or Greater Albania, promoted and supported by the British diplomacy to the present moment, shall never create any degree of stability in the Balkans, but rather permanent instability and occasional bloodshed. And that is precisely what the British foreign policy has been trying to achieve in the Balkans since the beginning of the 19th century, labelling it ‘Balkanization’. Since the European Union has never opposed these geopolitical designs and games, there are enough reasons to believe that the European Union does not want the Balkans to be its part and that, accordingly, the Balkan countries should not take the European Union as a desirable framework for their own future. The future for the Balkan countries lies in turning to their own interests, so as to promote stability and prosperity for their region. As long as we live in the world of nation-states, this is possible only through rejection of the pattern of religiously based nationalisms and development of civic national identities, as the least bad option.

Note: Interview republished with the permission of World Geostrategic Insights. Original Source: Interview