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ETHNICITY, NATIONALISM, AND NATION-STATES Ethnicity, nationalism, nations, and nation-states were, and still remain, one of the most powerful and emotionally charged political, social, ideological, and cultural forces of the last two centuries. Practically all, or almost all, major events in the world history during the last two hundred years: revolutions and counter-revolutions, the emergence of modern nation-states, colonialism, the two world wars and numerous regional and local wars and conflicts that are still going on in different parts of the world, national-liberation movements, decolonization process, and many others, were in one way, or another, connected with nationalism, or were influenced by nationalism. Ethnic groups and ethnicity All over the world individuals have multiple identities. In contemporary societies, in addition to identities based on kinship, an individual may be a member of a political party, a trade union, a golf club, a religious congregation, and so on. One of almost universal identities is the ethnic one, connected with perceived roots of shared culture and history. The word “perceived” cannot be overemphasized. With regard to ethnicity, social reality is simply what people believe. Ethnic groups are self-conscious collectivities that perceive themselves different from other similar ones. They have some specific cultural characteristics which serve segregation functions, and their members claim common descent and/or shared historical experience. Just like anything else in a society, ethnic groups are not natural. They are social constructs. Ethnic groups are products of intergroup relations. If there were only one human group
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in the world there would be no ethnic groups at all. Their very existence is based on universal “we” – “they” opposition. An ethnic group is a collectivity that perceives itself as culturally and historically different from other ones. Cultural differences may be significant (like language, religion, family organization, etc.), or of a minor order. This is irrelevant. Besides, not all cultural differences are perceived as ethnic ones. Really important are only those cultural differences which serve as symbolic markers separating one ethnic group from other ones. Members of a given ethnic group usually believe and claim that they share unique cultural characteristics which other ethnic groups lack. These characteristics serve a segregating role. However, shared culture alone does not imply a membership in an ethnic group. Likewise, real or perceived cultural differences alone are not enough to make an ethnic group. First, ethnic cultures are far from being homogeneous, especially in our age of globalization. Second, members of different ethnic groups may share the same culture; at any rate many of its characteristics.
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