Module II. The European Multinational and Multicultural Identity: assets and tensions, immigration and integration policies

2.2. Alternatives to the Nation State

Formulating a proposal for a common European identity  is not a new task. It was faced before, when all the nations of Europe strove to develop their particular individuality - and at the same time to invent the nation. The British historian Eric HOBSBAWM rightly spoke of a process of "invention of tradition" to describe the passionate, collective enthusiasm for the nation's past, while for his part the American historian Benedict ANDERSON showed how nations themselves were inventing in the very invention of a common past as "imagined communities". 4

All European nations and the USA, too, invented their nations in the nineteenth century. At that time, they did not tire of each testifying to their common memories in order to create for the present the community of destiny and solidarity called nation. Thus they revived legends of a misty past, Germanic, Celtic and Slav heroic deeds, battles lost and won at Hastings, Lützen, Trafalgar, Leipzig and Waterloo. Wars against Islam in the Balkans, near Vienna and the Reconquista contributed as much to the discovery of identity as shaking off foreign rule did, e.g. in the Netherlands, in Switzerland or in Italy or Greece.

This great zeal in reviving past deeds, sufferings and common rejoicings on which to build a nation and legitimize its continued existence in the future has found lively expression in more or less all the arts. Thus painting, sculpture, architecture, literature and music, besides the writing of history served as a means of creating in broad layers of society an identification with a nation, which - on looking closer was a mythical fiction, and nevertheless developed a huge historically real power.

When especially in the second half of the nineteenth century attempts were made to explain differences between nations by differences between races and ethnic groups, dangerous ideologies and emotions were set in the hearts and minds of men. And although as early as 1882 Ernest RENAN expressly warned against demanding identity between the national state chase on the one hand and certain racial, ethnic and religious groups on the other, we know that such fallacies led to the bloodiest wars and mass-murders in the history of mankind.

A revival of the conception of a national state as the best form of organization for large human groups cannot be a desirable goal in Europe today. Even in recent times attempts in this direction have led to political murders and civil strife in Northern Ireland, in the Basque country, Cyprus and in the Balkans, but have brought neither peace nor prosperity.

Even so, in some EU member countries increasingly voices are raised demanding openly a revival of nationalist thinking and seeing in a "Europe without frontiers" a threat to their national characteristics.

4 Ohlendorf, Edmund. European Identity as a subject for teaching and learning. EDUVINET, 1998.

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