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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2001, Vol. 4 No. 1 .

Kritik des Ethnonationalismus (Critique of Ethnic-Nationalism)
Detlev Claussen, Oskar Negt, Michael Werz, (eds)

In: Hannoversche Schriften 2, Frankfurt / Main 2000
ISBN 3-8015-0343-7 (Price: 28,- DM) Language: German

Why a critique of ethnic (or ethno-) nationalism? According to the editors of this volume of articles, there have been important changes in the political and ideological landscapes since the autumn of 1989, when the Berlin wall fell and the soviet empire broke apart. Since then, the argument continues, the world has seen the development of a new framework of political, ideological and cultural orientation around the world. As the existing model of east vs. west didn't work anymore, the vacuum was very soon filled with a new model - that of ethnic nationalism.

Ethnic nationalism is seen by the editors as modern ideology, an everyday religion that is different to the 19th century nationalism, as it doesn't use nation state as its reference, but is all about ever changing perceptions of cultural belonging (pp. 7-9). The background today is a world, which is globalised by the market, and whose borders and frontiers are constantly challenged by individual mobility of various kinds. And as borders have become so vulnerable, they have to be maintained and secured by new ideologies (p. 9).

The volume brings together a broad range of different accounts on the wider issue of ethnic nationalism, geographically as well as thematically. Two of the contributions deal with the ethnic politics of the former Soviet Union. They examine the effects this had, and still has on concepts of ethnic nationalism in some of the Soviet republics turned nation states in Central Asia (Detlev Claussen and Victor Zaslavsky).

The articles by David A Hollinger, Berndt Ostendorf and Britta Waldschmidt-Nelson are concerned with America. According to David A. Hollinger, America has not been given much attention in the general discussion on nationalism. Nonetheless, he argues that America is of vital importance for such a debate, as it is one of the oldest constitutional regimes and was able to incorporate/integrate many different ethnic groups throughout its existence (p. 110). Ostendorf takes a wider perspective on this and discusses the role of American nationalism for America in front of a global perspective, while Waldschmidt-Nelson looks at some of the contradictions of this nationalism in analysing the political representation of the black minority in the USA.

The remaining articles deal with the topic on a more abstract level. Dan Diner analyses the historic constitutional process of ethnos and nationality and without doubt contributes the most interesting article in this volume. Also excellent is Bruno Schoch's piece on Switzerland as an example of a nation, which is an exception in almost all regards as to what is generally believed to constitute a nation. The piece by Benedict Anderson, whose seminal work 'Imagined Communities' (1991) set standards in the discussion of nationalism, is somewhat disappointing, as it tells us nothing new and merely repeats what he already pointed out in his rather well known book. The very short, but to the point, essay by Paul Parin is more anthropological in nature as it successfully argues that against a universal principle of revenge and retaliation is not an inherent part of human nature.

The book is an interesting and helpful introduction into the subject, especially for those who have not previously studied the subject of nationalism in depth. Although history is a big part of many of the articles, the book also shows that the issues at hand are of very current concern across this planet. Notwithstanding the quality of the articles, one book on which many of the articles and indeed the concept of this volume seem to be based, shouldn't go unmentioned, i.e. Eric J. Hobsbawm's "Age of Extremes". Hobsbawm's earlier work on ethnic nationalism and his recent analyses of the 20th century, the break-up of the Soviet Union ('Age of Extremes') and the changes after 1989 are crucial to understanding the current situation that this volume attempts to discuss.

Nils Zurawski
University of Muenster / Germany

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