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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2000, Vol. 3 No. 1 .


National Identity and Foreign Policy: Nationalism and Leadership in Poland, Russia, and Ukraine
Ilya Prizel

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
443pp. index ISBN 0-521-57157 X 50.00. Pb.: 0-521-57697-0



In this book, Ilya Prizel offers a far-reaching comparative survey of the relationship between national identity and foreign policy in Poland, Russia and Ukraine. He probes deeply into the historical past and concludes with observations about the relevance of national self-concepts in each country for their contemporary foreign policies. The author masterfully summarizes large bodies of literature produced in each country in order to draw out the dominant motifs in the debates over each country's historic character and destiny. Prizel's general conclusion is that the messianic forms of nationalism prevalent in earlier eras are largely past, as a result of the reshaping of Europe's map by war and by communist rule; they have been replaced by a more realistic acceptance of each nation's international position. However slow and tentative this process may have been for Poland and Ukraine, it has been far more protracted and uncertain in Russia because of the difficulty of finding a non-imperial concept for Russia's state. Reinforcing the general argument about the interaction between national myths and ideologies, on the one hand, and the impact of participation in international political relations, on the other, is the fact that national identity, and indeed statehood, have been highly interdependent among the three countries: their status as independent national states is extremely recent. Prizel treats national identity as relatively fluid and subject to constant reinterpretation through the interaction of elites and masses, intellectuals and political leaders, and international relations. Yet at the same time, he argues, national identity exerts a real impact on foreign policy. The relationship between national identity, as an observer might define it, and the foreign policy strategy of a political leadership at a given point in time is far from easy to measure, of course, and the book should be seen as Prizel's own interpretive reconstruction of the ideological influences on foreign policy in his three cases. But the interpretation Prizel offers is deeply erudite, sympathetic and insightful. Perhaps the greatest achievement of the book is its ability to remain dispassionate toward all three of the countries treated: Prizel avoids the temptation to cast one into the role of eternal victim and another as victimizer. As a result, he goes a long way toward helping us understand the two-way process of interaction between the hard realities of the international system and the efforts by thinkers and policy makers to define their countries' place in the world.


Thomas Ambrosio, North Dakota State University



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