Banal Catalans and Bossi Italians

National Identities
October 26, 2001

Launched in 1999, National Identities seeks to serve as a platform for scholars from a wide range of disciplines who analyse and discuss the invention, construction, use and mutation of identities, while breaking down borders dividing academic disciplines. The raft of articles so far published ranges from national identity in multicultural Australia to Mexican federalism and the origins of nationhood. Here I focus on five articles that provide a good sample of the material covered in this excellent journal.

The representation of national identity through music is an area of growing academic interest. David Burnand and Benedict Sarnaker explore how film music has articulated national identity since the 1930s. They start with the stereotypical musical depictions of "Red Indians" in westerns, such as John Ford's Stagecoach (1939), that attempt to emphasise the Other. Then they move to a "more authentic" Native American style, such as the background music to A Man Called Horse (1970). They argue that its soundtrack was influenced by a growing interest in "world music" and increasing political correctness in the 1970s.

Living in a nation and administering it might not be so wonderful as "imagining it", as Benedict Anderson put it, and certainly stateless nations and regions are well represented in the journal. John Agnew and Carlo Brusa consider the nature and development of Umberto Bossi's Northern League and the move towards creating Padania in northern Italy within the context of formation of political identity. The authors blow away the myth that the phenomenon was akin to the Poujadism of 1950s France; they view the Northern League as the first example of an "authentic postmodernist territorial political movement" aiming to create a sense of cultural and economic difference within the established state of Italy. The key image in this postmodern creation myth is of Bossi, in September 1996, flying around northern Italy in a helicopter with a chalice containing the "sacred water" of the River Po.

Kathryn Crameri's "Banal Catalanism" analyses the relationship between Catalonia and Spain by applying Michael Billig's theory of "banal nationalism" to a "historic nation" rather than to a nation-state. A symbolic example of "banal nationalism" is shown by attitudes towards La Senyara, the Catalan flag. Under Franco (1936-75), the flag was illegal and seen as dangerous, but during the transitional period after the dictator's death, it became a "joyous rallying point". Latterly, its symbolic power has been reduced through its juxtaposition with the flags of the other 16 Spanish autonomous regions - unlike the Ikurriña, the Basque flag, which "can still symbolise a terrorist threat". There is a certain frisson at fiestas when the three colours of the Ikurriña are displayed on banners bearing the English legend: "Tourists, remember, you are not in Spain but in the Basque Country".

In western Europe, the state, with exceptions, has preceded the nation. In southeastern Europe, by contrast, nations were shaped without the enabling structure of the state and with their identity largely determined by language à la Herder. Martyn Rady, concentrating on the use of ethnic maps, considers the changing attitudes to this region, which in the first half of the 19th century was much less investigated than most of Asia and America despite its proximity to western Europe. In the mid-19th century in southeastern Europe, new learned societies were formed, and an awareness of national identity based on linguistic criteria and a romantic nationalism arose. Accurate maps served the needs of international diplomacy, yet by revealing the ethnic diversity of the Balkans, Austrian and German cartographers demonstrated the difficulty of establishing nation-states.

Finally, how do states deal with their own national crimes without forfeiting their legitimacy? Peter Carrier investigates the different approaches of presidents Francois Mitterrand and Jacques Chirac in their efforts to help France come to terms with the mass deportation of Jews from Paris in July 1942. If Le Syndrome de Vichy (1987), a seminal work by the historian Henry Rousso, interpreted French attitudes towards Vichy as a pathologoical obsession, then the presidential speeches about the deportation, when set against the background of the trials of Paul Touvier (1994) and Maurice Papon (1997-98), seem to mark the end of the obsession and the beginning of Vichy as history. Rather like Francois Furet's 1981 pronouncement that the French revolution is over, so the bones of Vichy have finally been laid to rest.

National Identities is a welcome complement to journals such as Nations and Nationalism and Nationalities Papers. It will be useful to those working in a range of academic disciplines, especially those trying to understand how identity is represented through a variety of media.

Robert C. Hudson is senior lecturer in European studies, University of Derby.

National Identities

Editor - Peter Catterall, David Kaplan, Elfie Rembold and Christopher Vernon
ISBN - ISSN: 1460 8944
Publisher - Carfax (three times a year,
Price - £37.00 (individuals) £109.00 (institutions)

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