THE SHAPE OF IDENTITY – part 3

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As previously explained, the EU created a recategorized nation-type identity which aimed, among others, to help the integration of all members of the Union, invite to cooperation and decrease intergroup bias, by that increasing positive attitudes towards other groups. However, not all national groups feel equally attached to the European identity. One of the reasons why some of them may feel threatened by identifying with this identity lies in the threat to their distinctiveness. Eastern European countries are culturally different from the West, which created the Union in the first place. Their identification with the European identity may be perceived as complying with ‘their’ rules and losing the identity of one’s own group.

Another reason that can hinder the adoption of a superordinate identity is the attitude or belief of one (or both) group(s) that this superordinate category is supposed to bear the characteristics of their identity, that is, to portray their values and qualities. If the groups disagree about these aspects, they may find it hard to identify with the new category. The groups may also feel threatened by potential loss of their identity characteristics, such as Eastern European nations in the area of the EU. This may also be one of the reasons for the migrant crisis. It can even be heard among the spokespeople of the groups that articulate their feelings of threat that the migrants carry the islamisation of Europe with them, meaning that the new society would have to adopt their values and that they will not be integrated into our existing culture.

The right-wing parties that have been rising during the last two years in many European countries and gaining more power often manipulate with this fear of attack on identity. These groups, like Vox in Spain or AfD in Germany, are openly calling for stopping of immigration and ‘salvaging their nations from the claws of evil migrants who are taking over their resources, but also their culture’. Except, globalisation is inevitable and these manipulations damage the society as a whole. Where could this newly-risen toxic nationalism lead?

A Dire Love Triangle (I): the EU, Russia & Ukraine

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I. The path to Ukraine: EU’s overstretching phenomena 

The post-soviet space saw from 1991 the struggle for two different projects in Europe: Wider Europe, led by the EU’s enlargement project, and Greater Europe, led by the Russian Federation, a defeated power knocking on need’s door. As the enlargement project emerged as the only possibility pushed largely in the former Soviet space and ignoring Russia, the country entered the decade of humiliations: ‘stretching from Lisbon to Vladivostok’ didn’t become an option.

Within that logic and with the EU’s blessing, the relationship between the former Soviet space and Russia quickly deteriorated. Within Wider Europe, the EU developed the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) as a previous step to membership and launched its most geopolitical branch: the Eastern Partnership (EaP). In 2004, the ‘big-bang enlargement’  gave full membership to  8 Eastern European countries.  However, this expansion effort has had consequences within the consolidation and democratization of EU institutions, particularly regarding Poland and Hungary. EU’s winner complex and enlargement at all costs in Russia’s ‘near abroad’ has made tangible the widening vs. the deepening dilemma in the European Union.

Regarding the ENP, many Eastern countries such as Ukraine have institutionalized the European destiny for decades, fueled by EU’s policy and promises through the EaP and hatred against Russia. Following this path and according to the  Strategy of Ukraine’s Integration to the European Union, Ukraine would have gained EU membership by 2007. However, it didn’t; and today one might wonder if there are any indicators of any EU plan to further integrate Ukraine.

The year 2014 heightened tensions within Europe to a point of no return. Following the events of the Maidan, Crimea’s annexation by Russia and the war in East and Southeast Ukraine, the EU finally realized that it had been overstretching, and thus pushed for a reform of the ENP, acknowledging that ‘the EU cannot alone solve the many challenges of the region (…) there are limits to its leverage’. It has further emphasized, intra-EU, the need to consolidate the democratic principles and common rule of law of those already members.

However, this state of affairs posits great challenges for the EU and the European continent. Is membership still an option for EaP countries? What kind of relationship does the EU want to have with Russia? What do we do with the situation in Crimea? What are the EU failures in relation to the situation in Ukraine?

 

 

THE SHAPE OF IDENTITY – part 2

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Following the definition of the nation, the European Union built (or rather defined) a new form of identity, through the use of historical myths referring to a common Christian heritage, a common political and legal history going back to the Roman period and the tradition of humanism (Jakobs & Meier, 1998). Moreover, different symbols were engaged in developing this identity in people, including flag, anthem, motto and rituals such as the celebration of the Europe Day and European elections. Since a nation is imagined (Anderson, 1983), in order to create the sense of belonging and make it a part of the reality of a group, it needs to be materialized somehow (Finell et al., 2013). These myths, symbols and rituals are serving a purpose of nation building.

Why was it important to build a European nation? Firstly formed as an economic union, the EU outgrew its boundaries and was promoted into a specific political-economic concept, which, among many other goals, set promoting peace and avoiding conflicts within its territory as sine qua non. In order to increase the support and attachment of its citizens, it had to build a superordinate group identity, which would be shared among them. It is well known in social psychology that negative attitudes, and to it related behaviours, towards other groups can be decreased by inducing a shared identity. When people identify themselves as members of the same group, they are readier to cooperate and intergroup bias is reduced. Hence, the European identity was born.

Source: Eurobarometer

As is explained in the first part of this series of texts, a person has multiple social identities. Of special importance in relation to the European identity are very diverse national identities. Since the questions of relationships between national and European identities is of great importance, the EU itself started measuring the attachment to different group identities of its citizens through Eurobarometer. The data for 2018 shows that citizens of different countries feel different level of attachment to the European identity, ranging from 89% in Luxembourg to 51% in Bulgaria. Also, more than a half respondents define themselves first in the terms of their nation, and then as Europeans. In some countries, such as Greece, 47% identify only by their nation. There are also differences regarding education, class, gender and economic situation.

How are these differences related to the ongoing issues of the uprise of nationalist parties and migrant crisis? Read more about what happens when recategorization fails and national identities become threatened next week.

THE SHAPE OF IDENTITY – part 1

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It is in human nature to determine oneself as a member of social groups. Social identity is one of the strongest parts of our being. If somebody asks you Who are you? you will probably answer the question by placing yourself into different groups you belong to. Ethnic or national identity is among the most important social identities, beside class and gender. What makes this complex social identity? Smith (1992) defines a nation “as a named human population sharing a historical territory, common memories and myths of origin, standardized public culture, a common economy and territorial mobility, and common legal rights and duties for all members of the collective”. In this sense, the national identity means accepting the national culture, politics, history, language, territory, conformity with these aspects and acting according to them.

On the soil of Europe, a new identity has emerged with the creation of the European Union – the European identity. It has been a research and discussion topic for some time now, since it is not clear does it refer only to the feeling (and the fact) of territorial belonging to the European continent or is it becoming a specific psychological construct which tends to become very important with entering the EU. The importance of this social group is constantly high, mainly because the EU is not only an abstract construct, but the aspect that affects everyday life of the people. The EU brings its part of history, economical and territorial changes, many benefits, but also its obligations, responsibilities and plans for the future. Smith’s definition of nation could almost entirely be rewritten when talking about the European nation – it is a named human population sharing a historical territory, common memories and myths of origin, a common economy and territorial mobility and common legal rights and duties for all members of the collective. What is obviously still missing, or at least is not well defined, is the cultural component. The reason for this is that the EU is made of the abundance of different cultures, with their own mythology, language, folklore, so it stands united under a name, but is it the same as united under a nation?

What is the reality of the European identity and how is it related to national identities? Read more about it next week on our blog.

Do you believe in life after Merkel?

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Angela Merkel is a name well known to the whole world. The head of the leading Europe’s and one of the top world’s economies and the defender of the free world stepped down from the position of the leader of her party after losing support of her voters in 2018, due to migrant crisis. After 16 years of building one of the most powerful countries in the world, this woman will hand the baton over. What makes it so hard to imagine the world without her in this position?

©Reuters

Since she has been elected chancellor, first time in 2005, the world has faced several serious challenges that impacted many countries, especially the EU. The first of them she had to deal with is the Eurozone crisis that started in 2009, whose handling was most impacted by Merkel. Although the measures taken echoed the most in Germany, she defended them by (probably) the fact – ‘If the euro fails, Europe fails’.

The second huge and still ongoing is the migrant crisis that started in 2015. This time, Merkel had to deal with several nations that pushed back by not wanting to take in refugees fleeing from Africa and the Middle East. After her call for solidarity did not help the situation, Germany alone approved asylum for 140,000 refugees. At first, the migrants were welcomed and helped by German citizens; however, after organized mass sexual assaults in New Year’s Eve 2015-16, the trust in migrants rapidly decreased and the outburst of nationalist movements started, leading to Merkel losing voters support and stepping away from the possibility to be elected chancellor again.

After she became the head of the state, German economy saw rapid increase and unemployment rates dropped, investments in developing countries led to increased export, Germany impacted many EU countries’ economy policies and it was Merkel’s diplomacy and skills to choose competent collaborators that enabled this.

What will happen after the elections in 2021? How will Europe and the world look like after the most powerful woman in the world leaves the stand? The rise of the right-wing parties across Europe certainly threatens its unity. International relations will definitely gain different colours. How is the world preparing for that? Are the pillars she set strong enough to bear the upcoming challenges? One thing is for sure: the world will not be the same after her.

‘No nation can confine itself… to considering only its own concerns… it will sooner or later inflict harm’

Angela Merkel

What is Peace anyway?

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Today is World Peace Day.

Except there is no peace for 69 countries in the world. Four ongoing wars have casualties toll above 10,000 people. Not all of them are soldiers. Some of the wars are intrastate, some are interstate. Many more cold wars are being lead. Armed conflicts or not, they all have one thing in common.

They are the opposite of peace.

Photo by Nowshad Arefin on Unsplash

But what is peace anyway? And how is it achieved? Some authors consider peace to be an outcome of the process of reconciliation. Some consider it to be a process that leads to reconciliation. It is one of the imperatives of international relations. But defining it is so difficult. There have been research that have shown that peace is defined in different terms in different regions of the world. Some of the factors are common across all or most of the regions (e.g. absence of armed conflict), but many are context specific and dependent (e.g. absence of terrorism). That means that we have to abandon talking about peace in abstract terms and create models for building and keeping peace for each specific conflict, society, context.

When Johan Galtung established the first peace research journal in 1964, he went along and defined two types of peace: negative peace, that involves the absence of violence, and positive peace, which is the integration of human society (Galtung, 1964: 2), these being two separate dimensions. For example, in the case of Bosnia & Herzegovina, negative peace is achieved, however positive peace is still lacking. On the other hand, this year Sweden celebrates 215 years without a war. Yet, it scores 18 on Global Peace Index, while, for example, New Zealand proudly takes 2nd place, but their definition of peace has certainly changed in the light of the latest terrorist attack.

We must define how peace feels, smells, looks like, how we would recognize it, what we want from it, in each specific case and context, in order to be able to achieve it. Generic definitions and imposition of abstract concepts cannot lead us to achieving peace. We may call it peacebuilding, conflict resolution, social reconstruction, normalization of relations, conflict transformation, what is important is to know exactly what is meant by it and to be striving for accomplishing it.

Because conflicts don’t work.

The G7 and ‘the business civilization’?

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The 45th G7 summit was celebrated in Biarritz from the 24th until the 26th of August. A summit in which the most economically advanced countries or ‘the club of rich democracies’ discussed current world issues. Among others, the summit focused on the events in Hong Kong, the situation with Russia following its suspension in 2014, Iran’s nuclear issues and the wildfires in the Amazonas rainforest. Although some media platforms echoed the ideological ‘sharp differences’ among the participants at the summit, others have read beyond ideology and have posited the G7 within ‘civilization logics’.

 The ‘civilizational turn’ in IR started with Huntington’s  Clash of Civilizations? (1993) after the end of the Cold War. A pioneer in using ‘civilization’ as an analytic category to understand the world to come, a wide array of literature has been produced to understand the re-organization of the world beyond big ideologies. This literature understands civilizations as ‘elite-centered social systems that are integrated into a global context’ (Katzenstein, 2015: 5). It is in this regard that Cox (2000) affirms the existence of modern-day civilization: ‘the business civilization’. This civilization would be tangible at events such as ‘the annual World Economic Forum at Davos’ (2000: 224), or G- summits, ‘cutting across pre-existing historical civilizations in different parts of the world’.

The civilizational frame might be useful despite the ideological differences and the pragmatic disagreements. This group of economically advanced states participate in all liberal institutions and dominate the world’s finance through institutions such as the IMF or the World Bank. They control the global market economy and have mechanisms for the imposition of sanctions and a normative capacity.

 Without any formal organization, this business civilization is based on Western-centric –Anglo and Euro— models of political and economic power. Therefore, those elites that want to be part of it have to play into the logics of the organizations and principles of the so-called ‘liberal world order’, by trying to imitate it. Such has been historically the case of Japan.

 It is unlikely thus that despite their ideological differences, the club of rich democracies will stop operating; and perhaps by understanding the civilizational logics imbricated in events such as the G7 we can have a better look at the state of affairs of the current world order.

On forgiveness or Who is to be forgiven and why not

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Tijana KaricPassionate about Social Psychology and Conflict Studies. Trying to make the world better step by step. Finding new solutions to old problems.