Friday, June 1, 2007


I have been thinking about nationalism and national identity, but don’t quite know how to craft an entry on it. I guess it’s more that I’ve been noticing and observing than that I’ve been developing a thesis on the matter.

In Quebec City, we saw several exhibits about the people of Quebec, and francophones across North America, and their quest to be a “people” – one movie had a recent immigrant to Quebec talking about how the word “nationalism” conjures up images of Nazi Germany, but he felt that that Quebec had a different kind of nationalism. Obviously Quebec is not Nazi Germany – but if nationalism is about defining “us,” can it ever be truly free of discrimination?

Norway is a country that is both very old and very young. While the ancestors of modern Norwegians have lived there for hundreds (thousands?) of years, the country had been controlled by Denmark or Sweden for something like 400 years until 1905. When they got complete independence, one of the first things they did was bring in a Danish prince to be their king. Apparently this was a requisite element of statehood in turn-of-the-twentieth-century Europe.

Elements of Norway’s national pride shows up in various ways – in the massive turn-out on the streets of Oslo on Constitution Day (including otherwise painfully fashionable young women in traditional dress); in the mention that the clock on the Oslo City Hall is 4 cm bigger than Big Ben; and, like France and the Netherlands, in the narrative surrounding the resistance to German occupation during WWII.

All of these things I’ve observed speak to a community’s desire to define itself to both itself and outsiders. These characterizations are generally myth and sometimes caricature, but I think it’s a natural impulse. Is it good for a society? It is benign? Or is it harmful – can nationalism exist with xenophobia?

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