Ethnicity versus the Nation-State

“National Socialism sought … nothing less than to supplant organized religion and become, in effect, the official religion of the ‘new order’ Germany aspired to create.”

R.N. Prasher

Humans need to belong but humans have never belonged to humanity. Language evolution, acculturation, adaptation and religion dynamics are some of the reasons due to which a new tribe is calved from the parent human glacier that isnow supposed to be too static to accommodate the new matrix. When the present is perceived as hell, the new tribe wanders in search of Eden. Erich Fromm has described it as a longing for the “sweet bondage of paradise”. In this perennial struggle between the desire to be free and the lust for belonging, the latter invariably wins. Yet, the prison called paradise is never secure; urge for freedom constantly threatens to demolish its walls and the only way humans know to secure their paradise is to fight the threat posed by this urge. Thus it is that the putative Edens and Utopias always have to fight against those harbouring adesire for freedom. The fault of the Belarusians languishing in the prisons of Lukoshenkois that they rose against the Eden promised by him. Putin’s version of the paradise was threatened by Ukrainians who opted for Freedom and revolted against the promise of utopia that was founded on ever-increasing restraints. Tiananmen Square was expression of freedom from the bondage that Communist Party of China has the temerity to call “democracy”

Ethnicity, the bundle of language, religion and other baggage of “culture” is the “sweet bondage of paradise” that has been confronting the nation-states and causing fissiparous tendencies as Russians and Ukrainians are experiencing at the moment. The bondage of the nation state is not a natural bond. Experience has shown that humans constitute themselves into a nation for dominance bya particular religion, language, so-called race or some other aspect of ethnicity. The simplest nations are theocracies that are based on a single religion but they too face friction between languages and other paraphernalia of culture. Take the case of Pakistan, an Islamic State. Why do Baluchis, Sindhis, Pashtuns or the people of Gilgit-Baltistan feel uncomfortable with their parent glacier? Language, the schism between sub-sects of Islam, dress code, even hair styles and shape of headgear lead to the desire to wander away. Just a few decades ago, they had walked away from India to their new paradise for some of these reasons but the new Eden is now considered a hell from which they want to drift away. There is always a paradise on the horizon beckoning with the promise that by belonging to it you have nothing to lose but your freedom though the word used may be “chains”.

Both ethnicity and nationalism have a desire to subsume the other. The Wall of Separation between the church and the state was supposed to be a bulwark against a nation-state being devoured by religion. Secularism tends to make a converse supposition; if there are enough holes in the Wall of Separation, all religions can pass through with equal ease and the Wall will not be there while appearing to be there. Secularism recognizes the existence of religion in public space but denies each religion’s claim that it is the best.Thus, the fundamental premise of secularism leads to conflict with a fundamental hypothesis of most of the religions. Hence, secularism has not safeguarded the nation-state anywhere and secular states are as likely to suffer from religion-induced fissiparous tendenciesas any theocratic state. The failing of the Wall of Separation comes from the fact that every ideology too is a religion claiming that it is the best of all but passes through the Wall designed to block only “religions”. In their book “Secret Germany”, Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh say of Hitler’s ideology, “National Socialism sought … nothing less than to supplant organized religion and become, in effect, the official religion of the ‘new order’ Germany aspired to create.” Communism had all the characteristics of a religion in the Soviet Union and continues to have in China. Xi has promised his people a paradise from want and only sacrifice they have to make is their desire for freedom. Thus, even the Wall of Separation gives no protection from religion masquerading as ideology. We see the feebly protesting US Democrats being dragged by the socialists towards their Utopia, the Wall of Separation betweenthe church and the state being no obstacle to the ever-deeper penetration ofthe nation by the socialist ideology. The path to socialism is invariably through the jungle of anarchy and any protection afforded by the entrenched class is sought to be neutralized by measures like “defunding the police” frequently demandedby the socialists among US Democrats. Whatever police is still left is hamstrung by “no bail, no jail” policy that releases the criminals back on the streets the same day without any surety or guarantee of their good conduct.

The Soviet Union is believed to have disintegrated because of bread lines and economic failure. Some give credit to Gorbachev for his policies of perestroika and glasnost. What generally tends to get ignored is that the Soviet Union comprised more than 150 ethnicities held together only by the illusion of socialist utopia. As the illusion faded, so did the Union and the glacier calved prolifically and quickly.Yet, size is not important as can be seen with the fate of the not-so-large Yugoslavia. Its rapid and violent disintegration showed the threat faced by multi-ethnic nations, big or small. Both Russia and China are multi-ethnic nations dominated by a single group, white Russian speaking Orthodox Christians in the former and the Mandarin speaking, Yellow-Emperor worshipping Han in the later. Yet, both Putin and Xi see their Gulag countries as Eden and deem it a sin to let anyone obstruct another nation’s merger with their paradise. Putin wants all the components of the Soviet Union back under his thumb irrespective of whether they fit in the dominant matrix. Xi eyes not only Taiwan but large parts of territories of India and other neighbours along with virtually whole of the South China Sea confident that soon they will all be transformed into Mandarin speaking Han as has been the fate of the Manchus.On a smaller scale, Erdogan wants to annihilate the Kurds but keep their territory. The likes of Erdogan, Putin and Xi shut their eyes to the lurking danger; when the dominant groups try to devour the rest, the subjugated try to walk away in search of their own paradise. The primordial couple was left in the Garden of Eden with some pleasures and enough prohibitions that were soon broken by them as any freedom loving people would do. Their pursuance of freedom from restraint was the primordial sin and the paradise was lost. It is in this background of the continuous strife of anti-freedom Utopias against the tribes of supporters of essential freedoms, that the democratic Ukraine’s invasion by Putin and the threatened invasion of the vibrant democracy of Taiwan by China shall be seen in this column next week.

The writer RN Prasher is a retired IAS officer of Haryana cadre | Personal Opinions

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