National identity – is it about ego or a justified desire for differentiation?

National identity

The century’s dilemma – national identity

I heard a lot of times people having a discussion like: “My nephew is on a trip abroad!”

“Really? Where?”

“To Russians, in Ukraine…” (and the list goes on)

Believe it or not, the discussion I heard on the bus made me terribly angry. Why?

Because, while trying to find the historical information I had somewhere in my head, I remembered that the USSR disintegrated in 1991 and newly independent states appeared in its place. States like Ukraine, Belarus, Latvia, Armenia, etc. By analyzing, I was trying to find explications for this… let’s call it confusion. And I found: either people don’t have enough geographical and historical information, or they are not up to date, or they choose, out of convenience, to ignore the nuances (which are not really nuances, but valuable countries).

Why do I see the act of attributing the same generic name to more nationalities as a wrong attitude?

To put it simply, because every country, no matter how small, it’s independent and different. We cannot say that apples, oranges, and bananas are all just “a bunch of apples”.

It’s the same for every nation. We can’t just call every South East Asia’s inhabitants Chinese. We can’t call the Scandinavian Peninsula’s inhabitants Swedish or say that everyone from Soth America is Brazilian. This is because geographical vicinity is not an eloquent criteria, keeping in mind that countries can be extremely different from each other even if they are neighbors. So, national identity is essential.

A convincing example would be Romania, a small country from Eastern Europe, a Latin oasis in the Slavic world.

A suitable criteria is the belief in shared myths. According to the informations presented in the book “Sapiens – scurta istorie a omenirii (a short human history)”, they always got people close, forming bigger and better-bonded communities. While the downfall of different common beliefs of these myths (religion, traditions, lifestyles) led to conflicts.

Therefore, I consider that the appropriate use of ethnonyms (greek; ethnos=nation; onyma=name) represents a fundamental element in human interactions and not at all an act of pride.

This, in my opinion, is a matter of respect from the one who’s addressing a person that belongs to a different nationality and a confirmation of respect and accomplishment for the person in case. It’s very probable for Scottish to feel offended if he’s called “Irish” or “English” because the existence of his country and people would indirectly be excluded, being overshadowed by the neighbor country that reached higher notoriety at a global level.

Also, according to some sources from the book mentioned earlier, the ethnonym concept (not under this form, obviously) is present in people’s lives from ancient times. The distinctions are made between Neanderthals, homo Erectus, homo sapiens, and so on, so this is not a trifle of our century. Talking about Africa, it is the same situation for a Basotho, that is called is called African, not even South-African. Now we’ve reached small states and enclaves…

There are many states on the globe (islands or continentals, enclaves or exclaves) of small size (Vatican, Andorra, Luxembourg, East Timor, Liechtenstein, El Salvador).

What does it mean?

That we use the ethnonyms of a bigger neighboring country, thus calling Luxembourgers French or Liechtensteiner Austrians? Countries have separated, after long wars and rebellions, for a reason: affirmation as a nation, the recognition of their own nation at an international level…

Therefore, even though we can freely travel across the EU, I think that the correct use of ethnonyms is essential. This how we show respect to history and, in particular, to the common myths the differentiated and asked for independence after a period of time and also towards the people who created it.

And, let us not forget, it’s a subtle way, but a sure one for the manifestation of solidarity towards the territories that are being separated and achieve independence after ethnic or religious conflicts that put their lives in danger. That is why national identity is very important.

What are your thoughts? Are correct ethnonyms a good first step when talking with a foreign person? But with someone coming from a country that won its independence in a violent way recently?

If you enjoyed reading this article, you might be thinking about what you’re doing this summer.

Author: Zahari Alexandra


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