About nationalisms

Маріам Наєм
About nationalisms

What is imperialism?

To understand the functions and differences of different types of nationalism, we need to understand the essence of the concept of imperialism.

In Edward Said's book, Culture and Imperialism, he defines it as follows: 

“At the most basic level, imperialism means the intention to settle and establish control over a certain land that you do not own, and that land is remote from you, inhabited and owned by others… ”

Nowadays, the topic of rethinking imperialism is very relevant. For example, representatives of the post-colonial territories of Asia, Africa, and Latin America have repeatedly stated the reverse side of the medal of colonialism, the cultural, political, and economic consequences of the influence of empires.

But in the former Russian dominions, such voices are almost unheard.

Nationalism: protective or expansive?

A distinction must be made between protective nationalism, which is based on the protection of national identity, and aggressive nationalism, aimed at exporting one's own national identity and conquering the lands inhabited by others. 

Protective nationalism characterizes those united by shared memory and are in danger of extinction, either because of their small numbers (such as Lithuanians, Georgians, and Chechens) or because of the threat posed by their expansionist neighbors. The opinions of those communities characterized by this kind of nationalism are directed inwards rather than outwards, as a result of which they are unable to develop successful relations with the outside world.

The nationalism of stable and self-confident ethnic groups that have quietly accumulated wealth over the centuries differs in their goals and methods from the nationalism of those ethnic groups that fight for their right to live in a particular geographical area whose sovereignty is in question.

Expansive nationalism

Expansive nationalism is outward-looking and therefore less aware of its chauvinism and colonial aspirations. Somewhere in such a privileged space, formed by the realization of one's present greatness and the successful imposition of one's own opinion on others, lies the desire to seize the land of others, establish one's institutions and conduct one's activities. At various times in modern history, the colonizers have severely criticized nations, which has hampered their development and drained much of the energy they could devote to building society and individual development.

Why have we heard so little about Russian imperialism?

The fact that Russia was largely not perceived as a colonial power was influenced by many factors. The first is the location of the Russian colonies. In postcolonial theory and criticism, it is generally believed that colonies are located far from the metropolis and that their conquest requires overseas campaigns. In the case of Russia, the colonies bordered ethnically Russian lands. The forcible transformation of the Russian Empire into the Soviet Union further disguised the colonial nature of the Russian-dominated state. The territory of this state increased through wars, annexations, and diplomatic maneuvers, which did not differ much from the overseas adventures of Western European states. 

Probably, the blindness of Western scholars to Russian colonialism was, to some extent, a factor of supremacy, not only in literature but also in politics. Russia, with its underdeveloped consumer economy and the unclear status of great power in the backyard of Europe, could be considered incapable of the well-organized and memorable efforts needed to compete in military and cultural contests for control over the world's less militant nations.

Who is Eva Thompson and what kind of book is this?

The book "TROUBADOURS OF THE EMPIRE: Russian Literature and Colonialism" should now be a must-have book for all Ukrainians. It is a thorough analysis of the Russian imperial cultural discourse, the circumstances of its functioning in different historical epochs, and to this day. The author touches on a wide range of issues related to the theory of postcolonial studies, the formation of national and state identity, and the differences in these processes between Western European empires and Russia.

The author of the book is Eva M. THOMPSON, a professor and researcher of Slavic studies at Rice University (USA). She is the author of five books and many scientific articles.