According to Encyclopedia Britannica, “Nationalism is an ideology that emphasizes loyalty, devotion, or allegiance to a nation or nation-state and holds that such obligations outweigh other individual or group interests.” Also, “…significant nationalist movements generally did not arise until the late 18th century. The American and French revolutions (1775–83 and 1787–99, respectively) were both expressions of political nationalism.”
As it is clear, nationalism, national independence, and self-determination are modern political inventions and very recent in the context of the long human history. While the appearance of nation-state could have been unavoidable, necessary and practical given the increase of the world’s population, the industrial revolution, steam engine and modern transportation, in the post-modern world it faces some real challenges as well as many of its fundamental aspects are in question. Also, this could have some serious implications if the national independence is proven to be outdated.
In order to understand better the concept of national independence and its meaning, the best way is to approach this topic, in my view, in what it means in practical terms and the way an average citizen or voter understands it. Since nationalism is all about the allegiance of individuals of a nation to the independent state, it is only fair politically and philosophically to let the average citizen speak on this topic, as I am one of them, rather then dwelling upon theoretical and complicated philosophical and political arguments.
As of today, all residents of the world are citizens of a country or state except for a tiny minority such as people living in remote areas or nomads who are completely cut off from regular societies, or in special cases, such as groups of Palestinian population who live in Palestine are considered stateless. Stateless people are considered also many Muslim mercenaries who have participated in the Syrian war, who were stripped of their citizenships – their only native citizenships. Apart from these special cases, all people of the world live in a state where they are citizens, pay taxes, are subject of its laws, and also vote – with the exception of some cases.
The Perception of Independence
An average citizen would describe a national independent state as follows: a territory with borders, a flag, a head of state, a government and its head, a parliament or an independent legislative body, a judicial system and laws, the independent military, independent intelligence service, police service, and many other civilian services, which all revolve around the principle, in Abraham Lincoln’s words, “of the people, by the people, for the people.” In other words, all of these political institutions and services are created to serve the people, who, on the other hand, are allegiant to the state, and it is them who choose and elect their leaders and officials; it is the people who participate actively in politics and the welfare of their country. Most importantly, the people’s will overrides any other power. It is they who elect the members of parliament and vote for many other officials and councilors and aspects of the state, such as referendum.
Moreover, for an average citizen, a national independent state is a political shelter that guarantees citizens equality before law, fair treatment and respect for all citizens, where the government guarantees citizens food, healthcare, education, protection of their lives and properties and security. Again, security and food are the most basic objectives of a government of an independent country.
In reality, there is no national independence, de facto and de jury, at least the way an average citizen understands and perceives it. The world functions as a single country, run by a single central government, be they the international organizations, such as United Nations and its specialized agencies – Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), International Labour Organization (ILO), International Maritime Organization (IMO), International Monetary Fund (IMF), International Telecommunication Union (ITU), United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), Universal Postal Union (UPU), World Bank Group (WBG), World Health Organization (WHO), World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), World Meteorological Organization (WMO), World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), and World Trade Organization (WTO), or be they the military organizations such as NATO, or other informal and secret organizations, such as military bases and agreements, multi national corporations, international monopolies, NGOs etc.
In reality, the military of any country is not allowed to be independent, or in some cases, it is not allowed to be established at all, such as the case of Germany. The military is the cornerstone and the most distinctive feature of an independent country the way people imagine it. For example, the fact that Iraq faced economic sections during 1990s and finally was invaded and destroyed by the United States in 2003 in the justification of stopping it from developing and making weapons of mass destruction (WMD) means that the military of a country cannot be independent and countries cannot make weapons independently. These are facts, not merely opinions. The United States of America does not allow the military of any country to be independent, the same way as it would not allow a state in America, such as Texas, or a province in Canada, have an independent army.
Another example is Iran. It faces international sanctions due to its ambitions to pursue civilian and military nuclear goals. So far, these are descriptive statements, not normative ones. I am not saying whether Iran should be allowed to resume its nuclear programs or not, whether it is an independent state or not, whether nuclear bombs exist or not; I am just referring to what is public and official. Thus, officially, countries are not allowed to develop nuclear weapons independently from the United States of America. For this reason, the President of the United States of America, Donald Trump, met with the Supreme Leader of North Korea, Grand Marshal Kim Jong-un, exactly to stop developing nuclear weapons.
If the military of a country is not independent, and not having the right to have independent and uncontrolled military generals and the right to make weapons independently, these are clear-cut elements which compromise the whole concept of national independence, the way the average citizens – the one who pay taxes and vote – perceive it.
In addition, the modern economy of a country is not independent in reality. The government can, and in many times is forced to, borrow money from the international financial institutions without even getting an approval from people. As a result, those who lend money, such as IMF and other international banks and financial institutions, enjoy the right to dictate the monetary and financial policies of independent countries, such as the inflation rate, taxes, prices of energetical products etc. For example, I was watching a few days ago the Deputy Minister of Finance in Albania, when talking about the high prices of fuel, he said that taxes and fuel excise are in accordance with the requirements of EU and other international financial institutions. Imagine, taxes are the realm of international political and financial institutions, not the independent right of a national government.
Countries also are not allowed officially by the United States or UN to have independent economic policies and agendas. Countries are not allowed to develop independently strategic sectors of the economy, such as pharmaceutical products, agriculture, energy, and technology. These threaten the “national interests” of the United States. Sudan, for example, was not allowed to develop the sector of pharmaceutical products, or Somalia was not allowed to develop its agriculture. The same goes for Albania; regardless of having considerable arable land, not only is agriculture not protected and supported by the Government, but it is actually discouraged and sabotaged, by not guaranteeing even the domestic market for farmer’s products. Countries are not allowed to develop certain sectors of the economy, such as agriculture and pharmaceutical products, which would make a country sustainable and not dependent on other countries because this always threatens the interests of the United States of America.
Moreover, education of a country is not independent in reality. Countries are not and cannot be allowed to develop their own independent education and science. This always either threatens the interests of the United States of America, or human rights concerns are raised. For example, a few years ago, the US Secretary said in front of a congress committee that he has required from the government of Saudi Arabia to change its school curricula and remove many of its school books related to religion of Islam. According to the Secretary, Saudi Arabia had promised to start to educate a new generation of religious clergy who are moderate and who can please the US interests. Again, this is a clear-cut example of how education is not independent, without mentioning other informal and secret agendas of controlling countries’ schools and universities. Education is a matter of debate nowadays in every country; curricula are changing; the USA is getting more and more involved and concerned about human rights and gender issues in schools; ministers of education are getting more power and imposing on schools some programs and curricula that even teachers are not pleased with – as if pushing ahead some agendas.
In the majority of countries – not to say all as I don’t want to speak beyond my observation, universities are no more than a waste of time and places of keeping students busy and oppressing talents. They lack objectives and quality. They lack ideology and vision. They lack commitment. They lack transparency. They lack academic research and science. When students graduate, they are more dumb and ignorant than they are before entering the doors of universities. Speaking of scientific research, this is another area that countries are monitored closely by the United States of America. They cannot pursue independent scientific research as this always threatens the American interests. The realm of science and academic research are the most controlled and censored ones to the extent that people cannot even begin to imagine. There are institutions and mechanisms to control universities, such as accreditation, patents, publication of scientific researches etc.
By the same token, the governmental institutions and branches are not nationally independent in reality. A prime minister to be considered legitimized has to be recognized and approved by the United States of America, even if hypothetically he or she is democratically elected. In fact, this never happens because the USA controls the whole political process from the beginning. Also, the judicial system is controlled by the United States of America. For example, the judicial reform that has been taking place in Albania has been and still is monitored and supervised by the US Embassy in Tirana, Albania. Laws, for the most part, are almost identical in every country, with the exception of some aspects of civil law and certain elements of the criminal code. Even Saudi Arabia is changing its civil law, making it more compatible with the western ones, as the United States of America is concerned about human rights.
Speaking of political control, we all remember the case of Egypt, when a democratically elected president came to power with an overwhelming win in the presidential election of 2012 after the so-called Arab Spring, which was considered the first democratic presidential election of Egypt’s history. Because Mohamed Morsi was a devoted Muslim, who represented the average devoted Muslims of Egypt, and because he was supported by Freedom and Justice Party of the Muslim Brotherhood Movement, this political change was seen with much concern by the United States of America, not to say that the whole process was allowed to happen just to undermine any Muslim political movement; in other words, to give a lesson to any Muslim who dares. Without even completing a year in office, Mohamed Morsi was deposed during the 2013 coup d’état organized by the General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi – who has studied in the Great Britain and the United States of America and who became also the director of military intelligence in 2010. In short, a democratically elected president of Egypt was overthrown by a military general – the minister of defense at that particular time, and the move was praised and supported by the United States of America. The message was clear, that no Muslim movement would be allowed to take the power in any Arab country no matter how many people support it. Egypt, as any other country, is not independent in the sense that it cannot elect democratically anyone to be president except the one who is approved by the Untied States of America.
The same happened in Ukraine and Venezuela. Viktor Yanukovych was elected democratically as the president of Ukraine in 2010. Because he rejected the Ukrainian-European Association Agreement, he was ousted from office during the coup d’état called ‘the Revolution of Dignity’ or ‘Maidan Revolution.’ In Venezuela, President Nicolás Maduro was re-elected in 2019 against Juan Guaidó who was supported by the United States. Actually, Juan Guaidó was recognized by the United States of America, Canada and European Union as the legitimate president of Venezuela despite the fact of having lost the election. The American interference in Venezuela culminated with a coup d’état attempt, but it resulted unsuccessful.
In addition, the boarders of a country have to be recognized internationally; otherwise, any claimed territorial independence, encroachment into other countries or integration of two countries are politically invalid, which cannot happen anyway without the permission, formally or informally, of the United States of America. Any movement for such a purpose would be considered terrorist, separatist, and illegal. Even national uprisings against national governments, revolutions and insurgencies are not allowed by the United States of America to happen independently. If the people of a country take arms and seek justice, this could result to no political change because any political change without the approval of the United States of America is invalid and meaningless.
To wrap up, in reality, the military, the economy, financial institutions, education and science and religion institutions, elections and political processes, judiciary and laws, borders and national aspirations of countries to join together are not independent. They are either controlled formally by international institutions and other political mechanisms, or the United States of America steps in whenever its interests are threatened.
Therefore, there is no such a thing called national independence in the real sense. Indeed, countries are political and administrative units, which have a head of state and government, a boarder – sometimes disputed anyway, a flag, customs, a national anthem, but these do not make a country independent. In the continuum of power, such as municipal and regional governments, a country is one further step, no more. It exists only for administrative and practical purposes. When nationalism appeared at the end of 18th century up until the beginning of 20th century, national independence could have had some more romantic values and real political aspects, as the concept was still new and people associated it with their aspirations for a better life, but nationalism and national independence was no more than a political mechanism utilized by the super powers during a certain period of time. As of today, its political meaning has changed.
Implications and Fallacies
One might argue that there is nothing wrong to have a world where countries cooperate with each other, where the economies are inter-connected and complement each other, where countries benefit from each other’s scientific research, where countries interfere militarily when they see that there is injustice going on in another country, where the judiciary is monitored by super powers and international institutions, where the military of small or mischievous countries is under control. Cooperation is always a goal that we all strive for. Also, no country is self-sufficient and sustainable, so they are dependent on each other. Some countries can make certain products more efficiently and at lower cost while others are rich in natural resources; some countries have better skilled workers while others could be better at some certain sectors, such as agriculture. We are all part of a whole.
In my opinion, cooperation is not wrong at all. It is highly commendable. There is nothing wrong even if the world is run by one single governmental body or one super power, where the military of a small country is controlled, where education and science are in accordance with bigger agendas, where the prime minister or the president of a country has to be recognized by an international body even if elected democratically so everything goes according to a plan, where parliaments have to be subordinate to an international body, where the judiciary has to be monitored so to guarantee a certain level of fairness and human rights, where laws should be uniformly written and applied, where policies have to be coordinated. Control, coordination, calculation, management and plans and centralization of power are not wrong, one might argue, especially given the limited amount of natural resources. There is nothing wrong if countries are concerned about human rights, too. However, this will have implications if reality is as described above.
If there is no independence any longer, at least the way people perceive it or they used to perceive it, this will raise many serious questions. While nations could have fought in the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries for national independence, as it represented their struggle for some basic freedoms and a better life, there would no reason or essential justification any longer for people to fight for independence at all, where the national independence either has ceased to exist or it has changed fundamentally – it is merely an administrative unit in a world run by one single government.
Until the recent past, people have fought for independence. In 1999, Kosovo was involved in a bloody war with the Former Republic of Yugoslavia where many people died in the name of national independence on both sides. Thousands of Bosnians were killed by the same justification. The conflict of Kashmir is all about national independence. The autonomous Catalan region of Spain seeks to separate from Spain and form an independent country. But, if there is no independence, why all these wars in the name of a political mirage? These are just some examples. If counties are merely some administrative units, is it worth then to fight for a non-existent concept?
If national independence has lost its original functions and meaning, then borders that we see today are merely administrative borders. The life of people and their rights wouldn’t change if the borders change. For example, South Sudan is one of the most recent independent countries. It gained its independence in 2011 without war. This is a good example of how independence could be gained without war and how it actually doesn’t change the life of people fundamentally because the global policies for Sudanese remain the same. The same should have happened in Kosovo. The same should happen in Kashmir. As for the Catalan region, its people should know that independence is just a change of borders in a world run by one government. Is it then worth fighting for and risking our lives?
In conclusion, the independence of countries has either changed its function and meaning essentially, or it no longer exists the way people portray it and fight for. In the modern sense, countries are simply administrative units, with borders and national symbols, but they operate under international institutions and agencies, as well under the super powers, which we all agree that it is the United State of America. It is true that the world government – if we may call it so, has different policies for each administrative unit – called country, but this does not make these administrative units ‘independent’ at all, the way the average citizen – who pays taxes and votes and fights for, portrays it. In short, it is not worth fighting for a mirage that does not exit and does not change anything.
As it is clear, formally and informally, countries are not independent. They are subject of international laws and conventions. They are held accountable by the international institutions and by the United States of America. By many people, the United States of America is called the world’s police in the real sense.
In my view, the concept of national independence has evolved over the last two centuries. In the 19th century up until the beginning of the 20th century, it has been used by the British Empire – as one of the most important powers of that time, to encroach into other powers and empires. Nationalism was an effective way of convincing people fight against their own imperial governments and break apart. The former territories of the Ottoman Empire were taken part by part by the British Empire, all in the name of nationalism. It was one of the smartest ways of expanding its power. The former territories of the Ottoman Empire were eventually all occupied by the British Empire, including the Balkans and Turkey. WWI marked the end of the Ottoman Empire at the hand of the British Empire, which ruled by that time almost the whole world. It was an empire where the sun never set.
Once the Ottoman Empire fell and was abolished officially on March 3, 1924, and other old empires and powers collapsed, such as the Russian Empire, WWI produced one big winner and a new world order. The winner was the British Empire along with the United States of America. Up until this time, nationalism and wars for national independence were used as a mechanism to destroy the old world order and give rise to a more powerful Global British Empire.
When I refer to the world or global government, I use it interchangeably with the United State of America, the British Empire, the super power. To a certain degree, these are interchangeable and confusing at the same time. It is confusing because the world is run by one single government, but it is designed to appear different. While de facto and de jury the world is run by one government, it lacks transparency.
Speaking of lack of transparency, the concept of nationalism after WWII has assumed a different function. Countries are a political mechanism of administering the world, maintaining the power of the British Empire, and camouflaging its presence, as well as avoiding the responsibility. National independence has proved to be a better and more efficient political mechanism than colonisation. People are more isolated and more controlled. Their natural resources can be exploited easier and at a lower price, while the blame and responsibility always fall upon a national government which has been appointed anyway and can be changed frequently.
The modern concept of independence is all about the image and the maintenance of power, not a real political mechanism to give people rights and guarantee a better life – food a security. In many cases, it facilitates just the opposite.
I conclude with the end of the famous poem of Wilfred Owen, “Dulce et Decorum est”, who has learned the old lie of nationalism in the frontiers of war, not from books.
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
(it is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country)
March 27, 2022