Sub State and Supra State Allegiances

A nation is always something smaller than mankind and bigger than an ethnic group or a geographical region. It lives from drawing boundaries, recognizing borders and operating categories of inclusion and exclusion. At the same time, identifying with one's "nation" is increasingly experienced as at once too big and too small to mesh with one's individual sense of (not) belonging. This applies to the disaffected youth in the banlieu of La Haine or the drug addicts in Trainspotting as much as to the cosmopolitan locals of Chocolat, the coma-prone mother in Goodbye Lenin and the bungling wannabe bank-robbers in Shouf Shouf Hamm!

However, in order to grasp what is happening even in these films of the "New European Cinema", one needs to take a step back perhaps, and return to the origins of the post-national nationalisms, by which the "Fortress Europe" believes it is besieged. For as far as these new nationalisms are concerned, the general consensus seems to be that their contradictory and modern nature can best be grasped if one posits the presence of forces that put pressure on the typical conjunction of nation and state familiar in Europe, certainly since Napoleon and the early 19th century, including the notion of sovereignty that became international law with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 that ended the Thirty Years War in continental Europe in the wake of the Reformation.

To take the question of the combination of nation and state first: if, for a variety of reasons, in the political balance of modern Europe the idea of "nation" and the idea of "state" are drifting apart, then what we see in the social realm is the formation of "nation" groupings (or senses of belonging) that are either substate or supra-state, i.e., that articulate themselves above or below, or next to the nation state. In certain parts of Europe, notably around the Mediterranean and the Adriatic, this has led to separatist movements such as in the Basque country, on Corsica, and to the much more violent ethnic conflicts in the former Yugoslavia. In Britain, the 1990s brought devolution for Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. However, in the sphere of the media, the massive push towards deregulation, privatization, centralization of ownership and global reach, has produced a dynamics of dispersal and at the same time new clustering that is very different from the geographically based, often fiercely blood-and-soil-centered sub-state nationalisms. These latter, paradoxically, are at once sus-tained and con-tained by the European Union, when we consider how much talk there is, on the one hand, of "a Europe of the regions," and on the other, how all forms of de jure separatism, and especially those that go about it by violent means, are countered and condemned. Instead of violence, the European Union supports job creation via regional development and cultural autonomy as the substitutes for political autonomy.

What destabilizes the notion of the nation today, then, are two, apparently contradictory tendencies and yet interrelated challenges. On the one hand, the nation has become an unstable category because more and more so-called substate groups aspire to becoming a nation: the Palestinians, the Kurds, the Tamils, the Czechs split from the Slovaks, the Corsicans, the Croats, the Slovenes, the Basques, the Chechens, and so on. On the other hand, many citizens of what for the past two centuries or so have been the nation states of Western Europe no longer feel that it is the 'nation' they owe particular allegiance to. They sense that the nation itself has become too big a category and hence they think of themselves as more represented by their region, by their religion, and in many cases, they prefer to identify themselves by their lifestyle, their leisure pursuits or their professional lives; in the name of which they travel all over the world, they become expatriates in Spain, Tuscany or the Dordogne, work somewhere in the European Union or find permanent positions in Australia or the US. For this group, the notion of Europe as a nation would be an impossibility, but even the idea of a European super-state carries no particular emotional charge.

We could call these the leisure-nationalists, and here the media do play a part. Hence my reference to the arrival of deregulated television, notably in Britain the setting up of Channel Four, which as one of its possibly unintended consequences did to some extent re-articulate the nation as different consumer groups, living in the same country but not necessarily feeling "national" about it. In the "Break-Up of Britain" debate which was conducted in the 1990s, by writers such as Tom Nairn, Linda Colley, or television journalists like Jeremy Paxman, it became clear how differently people, especially in England, perceived the "structure of feeling" (to use Raymond Williams' phrase) that bound them to England. It was no longer class, as it had been for so long, but neither was it nation. What had broken down, in favor of a new sense of social mobility, was the old alliance of working class and region, of internationalist and socialist aspirations on one side of the class divide, opposed to the upper (middle) class elite, living in the city, but celebrating the nation around "the village green, cricket and warm beer," as a former British prime minister once put it. Instructive in this moment of disarticulation of the nation was the recurring, part cynical, part resigned refrain that "we are all becoming more like Americans" -which, of course, does bring us back to matters of the cinema and cultural colonization, except that in Britain it has none of the bitter edge it has in France or elsewhere in Europe.6

The consequence of such post-national feelings of allegiance and identification with the nation in some of its parts, but no longer as an organic, deep-rooted totality, may be that we have to revise more fundamentally also the way we think about the social contract that ensures solidarity and defines citizenship. For the other, even more commented upon sub-nation, as opposed to supra-nation formation is, of course, made up of those who do not feel allegiance to the nation-state in the first place, because they are immigrants, refugees or asylum seekers, and who live within their own diasporic communities and closed family or faith circles, cut off from the social fabric at large through lack of familiarity with either language or culture or both. Also sub-nation in their allegiance are sections of the second-generation diaspora who, while sharing the language and possessing the skills to navigate their society, nonetheless do not feel they have a stake in maintaining the social fabric, sensing themselves to be excluded or knowing themselves to be discriminated against, while also having become estranged from the nation of their parents. In the best of cases, where they have found the spaces that allow them to negotiate difference, they are what might be called hyphenated members of the nation, or hyphenated nationals, meaning that their identity can come from a double occupancy which here functions as a divided allegiance: to the nation-state into which they were born, and to the homeland from which (one or both of) their parents came. Since all major European countries (France, Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, but also Italy and Denmark) now find themselves with large ethnic and national minorities, the general disarticulation of the nation state along the lines just sketched, their lack of integration and "assimilation" or their separate identity and cultural autonomy have become major issues of public debate and controversy, while also raising the question already touched upon, namely what the limits are of culture as symbolic action in such a context, and under what circumstances do other, more direct forms of agency take over, as in the Netherlands, where, on the face of it, Theo van Gogh was murdered for making a film, even if, as I have tried to show, the symbolic dimension of the act inscribes itself in a media reality, where tabloid journalism, state warfare and sub-state acts of terrorism differ perhaps more in degree than in kind.

The hyphenation of identity produced by immigration, migration and exile makes those affected by it appear in stark contrast to another group of hyphenated nationals, hyphenated at the supra-state level. These are the cosmopolitan elites, i.e., intellectuals, businessmen, entrepreneurs, financiers, politicians, academics, artists, architects, who move freely between London, Paris and New York, or between Berlin, Milan and Warsaw. While their number may be comparatively small, their influence and role in the world economy is, however, so significant that they are able to set major trends in urban developments, in the labour market and employment, as well as in the spheres of entertainment and leisure. Their activities and movements, thus, also contribute to the social crisis of the nation-states, when we think of them as employees of multinational companies, for instance, which operate as states within the state, and are able to move entire industries into other, low-wage countries. Unlike the sub-state hyphenated nationals, the political power of the cosmopolitan elites consolidates the traditional hierarchies of the nation state, rather than flattening them: it even extends the pyramids of power into international institutions and into global spheres of influence.

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