A nation refers to a large group of people who have a common language, culture, or similarity in origin (Elgenius 2011). Before the onset of the 18th and 19th centuries, ‘nation’ mainly referred to a group of people unified by language, religion, and cultural background in what is now considered as one’s ethnicity (Smith 1998). Traditionally, nations were formed based on tribe where the dominant tribe dictated the culture to be observed by the minorities. However, in the modern world, people in a nation need not come from a single tribe. Through the spirit of nationalism in the modern nations, common language and culture are developed to unite people from different ethnic backgrounds. The definition of a nation has changed overtime due to the different structures that disparate nations have taken.
In the recent past, nationalism scholars have differed greatly on the nation formation issue with some asserting that nations trace their origins from the French Revolution, while others arguing that nations have a longer history than just the French revolution. Miller (1995) argues that Egypt was the first country to acquire a nation status with its citizens drawn from a diversity of cultures. Modern states have their unique features, thus distinguishing them from each other. The differences are clearly seen in the way they were formed. Some nations came to existence due to certain ethnic communities dominating the countries.
Others came to being due to nationalism that aimed at recognising the rights of every ethnic group. Communities fighting for independence formed the governments after attaining independence. However, in most developing states the nations are formed based on the ethnic dominance. This paper discusses the view that nations are authentic and they develop out of dominant ethnic groups.
The African Diaspora
The African Diaspora is an important factor to discuss when looking at the formation and development of nations (Breuilly 1993). In the 18th century, the term nation was defined as a group of individuals who have a self-sovereign government recognised and respected by its citizens. The definition of the term insisted on the existence of a sovereign government with tangible boarders marking and distinguishing the nation from other nations. The change in meaning of the term was perpetuated by the existence of the African Diasporas in other countries especially in the United States. The need to recognise these groups as American citizens and thus accord them rights such as the right to vote, had significant impacts on the meaning of the term (Hobsbawm & Ranger 1992).
However, Smith (1998, p.83) notes, ‘within the Diaspora, particularly among groups that have been politicised, the term nation has been used to describe a more abstract national experience, one that transcends physical borders and language differences’. The Africans living in the United States were given identity cards and recognised as ordinary citizens of the country. The identity cards came with other rights such as the right to vote and the right to be elected to any position in the government. Therefore, in this case, nation is constructed and not made from authentic ethnic origins.
Ethnicity and state formation
Some scholars argue that nations were formed courtesy of ethnic and cultural similarities by noting that for a nation to be sustained there must be harmonisation of culture and language (Elgenius 2011). China has been used to illustrate this view due to its ethnic composition. The Han Chinese, who apparently make the bulk of the country’s population, dominate China. The other small ethnic groups are classified as minority groups and have no say in the government (Hobsbawm & Ranger 1992). The reason behind the exclusion of the minority groups in the government is the view that the government is based on democracy where major decisions require the support of the majority. This scenario results in dictatorship by the majority and the minorities may suffer exclusion and discrimination by the majority groups.
In China, some minority groups such as the Jews and the Oirat are not recognised at all, which is a clear indicator that minority groups have no place in the nation’s governance. Therefore, one can conclude that nations are formed based on ethnic dominance as opposed to nationalism since the minority groups are disregarded in major national building processes. The political alignments in most countries today are based on ethnic backgrounds and a candidate from a big community will automatically win in an election. The government of China recognises the majority groups in mainland and Taiwan. According to Smith (1998, p.105), the communities ‘here are classified as one group referred to as the Taiwanese aborigines made up of about 13 communities’. The rest, who are popularly known as shaoshu minzu, are hardly recognised and they are hardly included in the decision-making process in the country.
Many empires formed in the colonial periods were ethnic based who later formed the governments after independence. One such group was the Yoruba community that is regarded as one of the largest communities in Africa. The Yoruba community is mainly found in western Africa where it continues to grow bigger. The community is highly connected with the Oyo Empire of the 19th century. The empire emerged as one of the strongest empires and in the mid 19th century, it was further boosted by the appointment of Samuel Ajayi Crowther, as the first Anglican bishop in Nigeria (Breuilly 1993). Crowther came from the Yoruba community and he played a vital role in flaming the first dictionary in the Yoruba language.
In a bid to support ethnicity in nation formation, Israel is also cited as an example of a nation formed on the platform of ethnicity. Israel was officially declared a Jewish state in 1949 (Hobsbawm & Ranger 1992). According to statistics, the Jewish community dominates the country with its composition being 76% of the total population. This aspect is a clear indicator that the country is formed on the platform of ethnicity. The country has the Jewish language as the national language. A good number of Jews have so far migrated and settled in Israel, thus increasing the number of Jewish people day after another. Even though the country has some minority groups such as the Armenians and the Circassians, their rights are not respected (Smith 1998).
Pakistan is yet another example of a nation where ethnicity is attributed to its formation (Hobsbawm & Ranger 1992). In Pakistan, the diverse ethnic groups are tied by their Islamic identity. The people have similar cultural and religious backgrounds, and thus they have similar political and social interests. The majority groups in most developing countries dictate the culture of a nation. For example, in Albania, the nation is formed on ethnical platform whereby the Albanian community forms about 97% of the population (Elgenius 2011). The country was compelled to declare Albania as the national language despite the existence of minorities who do not belong to the community. The same atmosphere is felt in Armenia and Bangladesh with Armenians and the Bengali groups forming more than 96% of the total population in their respective countries (Anderson 1991). The population in Bangladesh has a lot in common ranging from the social and cultural features.
Nationalism and nation formation
On the other side, some scholars argue that nations are not build on ethnic backgrounds, but rather on the spirit of nationalism. Nationalism in this context refers to the ideological progression aimed at ensuring national unity and social consistency among citizens. Linguistic and education systems adapted by different nations distinguish each nation from the other. State nationalism can be articulated in a number of ways and most importantly as s a tool exercised in the course of nation formation whereby the nation is formed and maintained around the notion of state nationalism. It can also denote the state management of nationalist philosophy to sponsor unity and surpass practices not in favour of the ruling government. State nationalism can also refer to strategies directed at expanding a country’s territories. A government that has embraced this kind of nationalism is bound to respect cultural and religion pluralism in the nation.
Nationalism acts as a venue through which the minority groups in the society can raise their points of dissatisfaction with the majority groups. It aims at maintaining the highest levels of religious and cultural independence for all citizens. Nationalism has worked well in states that have embraced it as a way of building their respective nations. Such nations are characterised by independence and freedom of all citizens irrespective of their cultural or ethnical background. Europe is one of the best examples that nationalism has been embraced. In the 19th century, Europe developed an agenda of uniting its citizens at the expense of dividing them along ethnic backgrounds (Morris & Morton 1998).
The rise of industrial system in the 19th century resulted in the rise of a secular state whereby the church was no longer recognised as the uniting factor as it was previously viewed. Instead, nationalism was embraced and it was seen as the uniting factor. After the First World War, the heart of nationalism led to the fall of the Russian Empire and the subsequent formation of nation states in Europe to cover the rights of all the citizens living in the region (Miller 1995). The formation of nations in this case can be traced to the need for nationalism as opposed to ethnicity. In the light of the above example, it can thus be concluded that nations are build on the spirit of nationalism and not on ethnic backgrounds.
In a practice extensively chosen by governments, state nationalism holds the country as a whole, thus outdoing ethnic divisions. It is the establishment of public outlook in support of the government and it is applied by the state to marshal support for its strategies. In most cases, the strategies cause disagreements and fuel animosity among different ethnic groups. However, it worked well in some nations in bringing about social and cultural cohesion in the countries.
Nations are constructed based on the spirit of nationalism. Nationalism brings together people from different cultural backgrounds (Breuilly 1993). Some aspects such as a common official national language are good examples of ways used to bring people from different cultures together. In many states, a national language has been developed to help eliminate the cultures that are exhibited by different groups. In the United States, for example, the English language has been recognised as the official national language and every citizen is expected to be in a position to communicate in the language.
In addition to the declaration of the English language as the national language, the country also came up with policies aimed at accommodating the cultures of the aliens and immigrants living there including the issuance of American identity cards to the immigrants (Morris & Morton 1998). In Kenya and Tanzania, Swahili has been embraced and recognised as the official national language. The adoption of a common language integrates people from different linguistic groups and eliminates ethnicity in a bid to have the nations build from one point by all citizens.
In the light of the above discussion on the formation of nations, it is evident that the traditional nations were formed on ethnic platforms whereby the dominant communities dictated governance in a country. However, modern nations have seen the minorities embraced and considered as part of the countries’ decision-making. With the emergence of nationalism, most nations have embraced pluralism of culture and religion as opposed to the uniform culture and religions that overwhelmed. Therefore, in the light of this understanding, it is clear that nations are constructed as opposed to being made from authentic ethnic origins.
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