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National Identity Essay

2123 words - 9 pages

When conjuring the idea of decolonisation, the usual imagery is a patriotic struggle fought by a dominated people against an imperial power in order to liberate their nation. In this perception, the nationalist identity seems to be well-defined, pre-existing to the decolonisation process and the main factor explaining it – but, in reality, it is not as straightforward as it seems to be. The essay will first discuss the contribution of nationalist factors, as national identity and nationalist violence, and then investigate the impact of two major international factors: a situation of war (against other major powers) and the change in international norms regarding imperialism legitimacy. The ...view middle of the document...

For Gordon Wood, ‘it was the Revolution, and only the Revolution, that made them one people’ (Wood, 1993, p. 336). In the case of the Algerian war of independence, natives were not a monolithic, homogeneous group: society was a mosaic of tribes with a wide range of attitudes towards French domination. In fact, nationalism emerged among immigrant workers in Paris, starting to identify themselves as ‘North Africans’: they founded in 1926 the first nationalist party, the Étoile nord-africaine, calling for social revolution (Unit 20, p. 127). The demand for autonomy was held in contempt by colonial authorities, leading to a more militant stance, with the rise of the Algerian Liberation movement (FLN) using guerrilla tactics. But the Algerian national identity was still in competition with forms of allegiance to France: several prominent moderates were still pleading for a Franco-Muslim reconciliation, while the French made efforts to win ‘hearts and minds’ by providing free medical care (Unit 20, p. 135). The FLN had to eliminate rivals and moderates to gain prominence, ensuring that ‘the French had nobody else to negotiate with’, becoming the sole organised force able to rule Algeria as a nation after obtaining independence (Unit 20, p. 135). A contrast can be made with the decolonisation of Angola: the Marxist MPLA was not able to unite the different tribes and to get the upper hand on rival movements as the FNLA and the UNITA, leading to a protracted conflict between them after the independence (Unit 20, p. 149-153). The situation is different in the case of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which was an aggregation of several peoples with well-defined and competing identities (Unit 18, p. 47). But these national identities were also in competition with the imperial identity: loyalty to the Emperor Franz Joseph was a strong unifying factor and the success of his diamond jubilee in 1908 prompted The Times to write that the empire was ‘a nation without knowing it’ (The Times, 1908, p. 7). Nevertheless, nationalist issues, along with irredentism and panslavism, quickly resurged and contributed to the final dislocation of the empire (Unit 18, p. 72). In short, a growing sense of national identity can be observed in all decolonisation processes, influencing the pace of the process by helping to mobilise forces against imperial rule – but it must also be noted that national identity is also the consequence of the struggle. Furthermore, it has a significant impact on the outcome of the process, favouring the emergence of a united nation, while its weakness can lead to the outbreak of civil war between rival factions.
Another element is the use of violence, often perceived as necessary to achieve independence. In his work The Wretched of the Earth, Frantz Fanon argues that ‘decolonisation is always a violent event’: in his very words, the colonial world is a ‘Manichaean world’ divided into binaries of coloniser/colonised and the end of the colonial system can...

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