Politics of Western Europe: Blood and Belonging


This is a critique of the book, Blood and Belonging, by Michael Ignatieff. This paper will explain the subject of the book and its relevance, discuss Michael Ignatieff's methods and conclusions on the subject and finally include a personal critique of the book by the author of this paper.

The author of the book travels on what he terms "the six journeys." On these "journeys" he encounters different cultures, as he travels to six different coinciding areas of the world. He examines the unique expression of nationalism that each populace displays by interviewing various members of that particular society. The six areas that he travels to are specifically chosen for the clarity which nationalism is expressed in society. Nationalism is a factor contributing toward both present possible future instability in these areas.

These areas are former Yugoslavia (specifically Croatia and Serbia), Germany, Ukraine, Quebec, Kurdistan and Northern Ireland. According to Ignatieff, in Croatia and Serbia there is a desire for a separate identity between the two nations. The fear of losing one's national identity has caused ethnic hatred. A terror so strong and historically persistent, it has driven people to a desperate state to do anything. This is a large contributor to the reasons for the extreme violence present there today. The author states, "A Croat, thus, is someone who is not a Serb. A Serb is someone who is not a Croat." This quotation profoundly expresses the short-sighted mentality present in their conflict.

In his travels in Germany, the author points out an important question. Does the nation make the state, or the state the nation? This question by far does not stop here, especially when Germany is the subject. The essence of the German people is seen by some as aggressive and offensive, thus the existence of the German problem. If the nation makes the state then Germany will always be a threat. If the state makes the nation, then the aggressive nature of the German nation, which lead the world into two global wars, can be harnessed and redirected. The question has its roots and answers in the recent reunification of Germany.

The Ukraine is concerned with not being Russian. It is here Ignatieff receives a complete vision of what nationalism is. He states, "I understand what nationalism really is: the dream that a whole nation could be like a congregation; singing the same hymns, listening to the same gospel, sharing the same emotions, linked not only to each other but to the dead buried beneath their feet."

Quebec is a model that presents a possible future of the state system. Ignatieff uses the example of Quebec to illustrate the relationship between nationalism and federalism. He implies that "if federalism fails in Canada it can fail anywhere." If the balance between "ethnic and civil principles" is not maintained in Canada, who is not an impoverished country and has a large, successful economy; then perhaps the modern world has not transcended the grasps of nationalism.

The Kurds represent a nation without a state, who find themselves surrounded by other nations who are more aggressive nationalists. The term Kurdistan is a definition of the areas used by Ignatieff to explain the area of major Kurdish populace concentration. There is no real borders, no flag, no government and Kurds must acknowledge the state in which they reside (i.e., - Syria, Turkey, Iran and Iraq), of which, is not Kurdistan.

Finally, the sixth journey ends in Northern Ireland. He makes the observation that this is the ideal place to conclude his project. Northern Ireland contains a recurrence of the themes that seemed so prevalent in the other journeys. In Ireland ethnicity, religion and politics are all bound into one expression or identity. These are also evident in the five previous studies.

Is Michael Ignatieff's work relevant? The answer to this question is, yes it is. The issue is important. Nationalism presents itself as a phenomenon. The questions of why people need to retain a cultural identity and the way they go about preserving it is still unanswerable. Evermore unfathomable is the violence permeated through nationalistic expressions, which are "necessary" by the parties involved. The very existence of the enigma created by nationalism dictates the need to explore the subject in more depth.

The situations in the book are not isolated events. Nationalism exists in every state all over the world. There