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lunes, 11 de noviembre de 2013

¿Are nations imagined communities based on invented traditions? (Por Ramón de la Sota)

Communities are groups of people that share a common language, culture, beliefs, traditions, occupations, or a combination of these. However, not all communities become nations, and not all nations become states. Furthermore, not all states are composed of one nation, and not all nations are composed of one community. To define and classify these concepts is a very difficult task, because it touches the very basis of our civilised society as we know it today.

When does a community become a nation? When has a nation the right to become a state? In the past, these questions used to be resolved exclusively by the use of force, and even today we have still seen these questions resolved by the use of force, as in the case of the break-up of Yugoslavia. We need mechanisms to resolve these issues by other means other than by force, but these are still lacking, even within the European Union. Countries like Spain pretend to use the European Union as a lever to block any attempt by Catalans or Basques to reach statehood by wielding the threat of expulsion from the European Union. Other countries such as Great Britain have broken new ground in the resolution of these conflicts by permitting that the question of Scottish independence be put to the Scottish people. This is a great step forward because it sets a very powerful precedent for the establishment of mechanisms to resolve these issues.

Nevertheless, all communities have their traditions, and many of these traditions are based on myths. These myths are based on historical events distorted through time, or invented long ago, but their impact can be very powerful.

However, powerful forces can do away with invented traditions and myths, and impose new ones in their stead. Either by conquest, imposition or absorption, the powerful will denigrate, ridicule, and otherwise abolish the traditions and myths of the weak, and substitute them with a new set of traditions and myths.

The concept of "nation" was invented by the French Revolution. Before the Revolution France was not a "nation". It was a kingdom composed of various very old historical communities (Guyenne, Gascony, Aquitaine, Brittany etc.), some with their own language and culture, and all with their different traditions and myths. The Revolution did away with all this. It invented the concept of the "French Nation", redesigned the map of France, did away with the old communities, and invented the "departments" which had nothing to do with the previous history of these communities, or, indeed, with the history of France.

Since then, the French Republic has done everything in its power to destroy the myths and traditions of these old communities , as well as their culture and languages. The Republican justification for this cultural genocide was that the people of France had to be "liberated" from their atavistic and backward beliefs, because only through the Republic, which is one and indivisible, with one language, the French language, and one culture, could progress towards the ideal of the "universal man" be guaranteed. The result was that whereas in the Great War the majority of the millions of French soldiers who died fighting for France did not speak French as a first language, today hardly anybody in France speaks the old languages of France. Indeed, if these French soldiers were to rise up from their graves and were to see what the Republic has done to their beloved languages and cultures, the languages and cultures of "old France", they would be furious.

The French Republic has its own traditions and myths with which they have substituted the previous ones. The so called "Gallic individualism" is a myth. After 200 years of the Republican education system, the only differences that exist within France are the climate, and the food. All else is identical, uniform, standard and highly regulated. The Republic does not allow "individualism" any room. "Nos ancêtres les gaulois" is another myth. Caesar exterminated 1.2 million inhabitants in Gallia. A huge proportion. But these and their survivors were Celts, and they ended up in Brittany. Indeed, that great French myth Vercingetorix was a Celt. Certainly not a Franc. The modern French are descendants from Germanic tribes that did not inhabit Gallia in Caesar's time.

The country "par excellence" where myths have been invented is, indeed, Spain. The Goths, the ancestors of the Castilians, started migrating into Spain in 416, but they only settled in Spain in 507, after they were defeated by the Francs and expelled from France. The Arabs landed in Spain in 711, scarcely 200 years later. ¿Does that give the Goths (and their descendants, the Castilians) all that much more right to Spain than the Arabs, or is this just a myth?

There is a further question that needs answering. ¿Was Spain really conquered by the Arabs, or is this another myth? At the start of the VIII century, Christianity was divided between the "Trinitarians", who believed in the holy trinity, which represented the official religion of the Empire (Byzantium) , and as such was used as a means of defending the unity of the Empire, and the "Unitarians", who believed in only one god, but who were divided in a number of different sects. In Spain, the Gothic leadership had very recently accepted the Trinity, but the vast majority of the people remained Unitarian and followed the teachings of Arius of Alexandria (256-336 AD), which meant that the people were subjected to religious persecution.

That persecution ceased when the Arabs started landing in Spain because they themselves were Unitarian ("There is only one God, and Mahomet is his Prophet"). The rapid "conquest" of Spain was not the work of the "miraculous Arab light cavalry" but rather the consequence of the welcome the Arabs received as liberators from Roman religious oppression. The vivid example of this is the transformation of the Cathedral of Cordoba into a Mosque by followers of Arianism who had espoused Islam. In military terms it was definitely not a conquest.

When the Castilians in the north started attacking the south, they very conveniently called it the "reconquest", and a new myth was born. Furthermore, and in order to bring God to their side in a more practical manner, they invented the myth of "Santiago Matamoros" who supposedly is buried in Santiago de Compostela, and who has given rise to pilgrimages throughout the ages.

The problem with this myth is that there is no indication whatsoever that Santiago ever went to Spain, dead or alive. Both Claudio Sanchez Albornoz and Miguel de Unamuno are quite adamant on this. In fact they both maintain the validity of the thesis that the person actually buried in Santiago is Priscilianus , the heretic who used to celebrate mass with milk and grapes.

There is, however, a difference between these myths and, lets say, the British myth of Boadicea, who incidentally was just a Celtic as Vercingetorix and was known by the Welsh as as Buddug. The difference lies in the influence that the great Spanish mystics San Juan de la Cruz (1542-1591) and Santa Teresa de Avila (1515-1582), and the darker and more dangerous influence of the Great Inquisitor Torquemada(1420-1498), have had in the Castilian psyche with regards to these myths. The result has been a kind of "mystic nationalism" which is shared by both the right and the left in Spain, and in comparison to which, British nationalism would seem to be of the much healthier football hooligan type.

In modern times, this Spanish "mystic nationalism" has crystallised around the Constitution of Cadiz of 1812. The influence of the French Revolution had finally arrived, and in Cadiz the representatives of parts of Spain declared the existence of the "Spanish Nation", one and indivisible, and declared the same aims as those of the French (except cutting off the King's head!), namely to unify the country, impose one language, one culture, one Parliament etc.

The result of all this is the strange, but for some very real, description which Ortega y Gasset gives of Spain, which he refers to as "a unity of destiny in the universe". This definition of Spanish is what makes Spanish nationalism so peculiar as it embodies all of its mystic roots, and makes it so difficult to handle, or as easy to reason with, as reasoning with Don Quijote, and as dangerous to reason with, as reasoning with the Inquisition, or worse. You cannot reason with a mystical political conception that denies the freedom of choice: to be or not to be Spanish. This is what makes the Spanish incapable of solving their Gibraltar dilemma. The rights of a human being to want to be something else is simply not conceivable. And history shows that the Spanish reaction to the formulation of such a question can vary from the merely unreasonable to the violently aggressive, depending on the prevailing political context.

Indeed, the president of the Spanish Bishops' Conference, Cardinal Rouco Varela, head of the Catholic Church of Spain, has stated that it is immoral for a Basque not to want to be Spanish. And in his campaign to bring the Basque clergy more closely under Spanish control he has even denounced a prominent religious writer(Father Pagola) to the inquisition accusing him of "arianism" !

The utilisation of the Catholic Chuch by Spain against the catholic Basques is not new. During the Spanish civil war, the heads of the Spanish Church almost succeeded in their attempt to convince the Vatican to excommunicate the Basques for choosing to defend their civic freedoms against Franco's so-called crusade.

What is particularly worrying, however, is the repeated attempts by Cardinal Rouco Varela to get the Vatican to declare Queen Isabella (Isabel la Catolica) a Saint. That she introduced the Inquisition into Spain and persecuted and expelled the Jews, confiscating their properties, would seem to be in full compliance with the mystic content of Spanish nationalism. Dangerous indeed, and a bad omen for the future.

The British have also many myths and traditions, some of which are simply untrue. They call themselves Anglo-Saxon, and also claim Norman and Viking ancestry, but these are myths. According to Professor Oppenheimer ("The Origins of the British"), the Anglo-Saxon invasions only contributed a tiny fraction (5%) to the English gene pool. And two thirds reveal an unbroken line of genetic descent from south-western Europe which is also shared by the Basques. Why SW Europe. Well, because that area constituted the major population refuge during the last ice age from which the entire western Europe was repopulated.