National Identities in CEE – country case studies

Alena Chudžiková, Dominika Kasprowicz, Michal Vít1

Czech Republic: Michal Vít, Vendula Ženatá

Germany: Leonie Liemich

Hungary: Milan Páp, Pavlína Janebová

Poland: Dominika Kasprowicz

Slovakia: Alena Chudžiková

The following analysis covers three case studies relevant for the time period of the years 2005 – 2013 in the CEE region, namely the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia. The case studies for each country cover the most relevant topics of political and public discussion as well.

Introduction

Although most of selected cases focus on country specific cases studies, the mutual linkage cannot be omitted. The initial intention was to strictly distinguish the case studies; nevertheless some of analysis tend to focus on specific environment with deeper focus.

The Slovak political discussion among others in case of national identity is dominated by the Robert Fico’s Smer. Therefore, the whole discussion is framed by this one strong personality. The opposition parliament parties are not able to constitute a united opposition in terms of day-to-day politics; and surprisingly, not in Fico’s national framing. In addition to that, all issues are much interconnected; therefore, the strict distinction would not be able to enhance the complex topic of national identity.

The case of Germany is the opposite case of national identity framing. The public as well as political discussion is much more focused public mainstream versus extremism environment around NPD. However the NPD cannot be omitted out of analysis, the parliament parties national identity perceptions have been convergent in past decade a lot. As the election manifestos analysis shows, to distinguish dominating cleavage is difficult, even if the day-to-day politics can be perceived by differently, e.g. by media. Therefore, similarly to Slovak parties, the individual case studies cover the whole political spectrum instead the two individual parties’ positions.

The Czech and Polish case studies follow the clear issues’ distinction. Generally speaking, even if both political environments are very complex, the case studies show that in both countries the picture is more differentiated. Contrary to Slovakia and Germany, it is easier to divide to political spectrum according to policies the parties support, reject, or have to react on.

Concept of National Identity and Nationalism

In the case of political party analysis, this approach refers to the objectivist methods (e.g. Ernst Gellner, or Miroslav Hroch) focusing on historical understanding of the researched state. In this regard, one should consider the specific features of nation-building, such as national revival events and the reflection of these movements by political parties as well as the origin of the (national) states. Contrary to this understanding, Anderson2 focuses on nations as an imagined political c ommunities existing in the minds and memories of the nationalized subjects (individuals) and should be thought of in constructivist rather than essentialist manner. One cannot ‘have’ a nationality in the essentialist sense; nation is neither natural, nor genetically or biologically determined attribute that one is born with. Calhoun3 argues that nation exists only when individuals share certain representations and interpretations of a community and perceive themselves through the framework of belonging to a community called nation that is attributed autonomy and other rights. For a nation to exist there must be a consensus on the content of the nation and national identity. It is important to mention that the present country specific case studies are not aspiring to be an exhaustive analysis of the political discourses on national identity in individual countries. It is merely a pilot exploration striving to sketch the major issues related to the construction of national identity in the political discourses.

The term nationalism covers a wide scope of definitions that focus mostly on the national building processes. The current discussion on use of term nationalism focuses on critical use as a societal and scientific issue. However, it is difficult to distinguish the clear line between nationalism and national identity, and their use in the political process (e.g. in the case of election). Therefore, one can emphasize the term national identity as a political tool that represents a specific environment of the territory. The strength of using national identity depends on the specific national environment (e.g. national minorities, historical experience), external influences or economic conditions. To analyse parties’ national identity perception, one can follow policy fields and dimensions of public opinion framing: how they use national identity related issues; how and if they enhance the feeling of unity, if unity is their goal at al; evoking a sense of existential threat and danger, using national mythology to create a feeling of unity; the use of national signs, including national heroes, to develop a national myth and a clear understanding of the nation's boarders; the development of national culture and traditions that d is vigilant against external influences; serving of state to all of its citizens and equality of cultures with no declared support for any specific one; cultural and ethnic diversity within society and cooperation with other nations.

Assumptions

The issue of national identity is often labelled as a strategic political tool used to attract voters in the Central-East Europe. Nonetheless, political parties claim that this is not because of their certain strategy but rather a result of certain cultural and societal conditions of their state. Therefore, a deeper understanding of political parties’ national identity perception is needed. For better orientation within the topic, the article starts with a short introduction of the understanding of national identity. It is very popular to call parties nationalistic or national populist; but how to approach with same methodology?

The role of political parties is not only to represent interests of its voters; it is also the other way around: political parties undoubtedly shape the public discourse. The key question is whether parties use the issue of national identity as a given or if they use it primarily as a tool to attract voters. Even though this question remains unanswered, deeper insights into a party’s perception may clarify not only the party's positions but also the role of national identity among its various priorities.

The assumption we share is that it is not an inborn trait and that a person's national identity results also from the presence of elements from the "common points" in people's daily lives: national s ymbols, language, national colors, the nation's history etc. (see i.e. Billing 1995). In the project special emphasis is being put on political parties as entities that exploit the „common points” in order to clarify and/or strengthen their political message and in result to influence both the stances and behaviors of possible electorates. The exploitation of national-identity-shaping-issues frequently becomes a distinguishing mark for parties and political milieus. The exploitation itself here is seem simply as communication procedures that have been chosen by politicians to reach the target groups.

Framework of Political Communication

The starting point for the analysis is Communication Model provided by J. Dan Rothwell, where eight terms of communication has been distinguished:

  1. Noise - interference with effective transmission and reception of a message.
  2. Sender - the initiator and encoder of a message
  3. Receiver - the one that receives the message (the listener) and the decoder of a message
  4. Decode - translates the senders spoken idea/message into something the receiver understands by using their knowledge of language from personal experience.
  5. Encode - puts the idea into spoken language while putting their own meaning into the word/message.
  6. Channel - the medium through which the message travels such as through oral communication (radio, television, phone, in person) or written communication (letters, email, text messages)
  7. Feedback - the receivers verbal and nonverbal responses to a message such as a nod for understanding (nonverbal), a raised eyebrow for being confused (nonverbal), or asking a question to clarify the message (verbal).
  8. Message - the verbal and nonverbal components of language that is sent to the receiver by the sender which conveys an idea.

All eight terms are necessary elements of communication procedures also control over that eight spheres is important in order to determine the effectiveness of the communication. In the context of our project the unit of analysis becomes the eight element – the message (components of the language that conveys the idea). Focusing on the message element in the political communication over the elements that influence the collective (national) identity author aims in exploring mostly inconsistencies, disagreements, oppositions – elements that fuel public discussions and strongly shape the political cleavages.

Data Used for Analysis

Public speeches were transcribed verbatim. All texts were then read and re-read in order to identify dominant topics associated with the nation, nationhood, national identity. In the course of this initial analysis three dominant topics for each country were identified. The analysis focus on the strategies of the topics’ communication, (re)production and re-interpretation by relevant political party. In each individual country, not all selected parties endorsed each of the identified topics which is why only relevant parties’ discourses on each of the topics are mentioned. The focus lied upon i nsinuations, meanings and the ideological statements based on the content:

What notion and understanding of nation, national identity and the Other respective acts convey? How are the relations between the nation (in-group) and the Other (out-group) constructed?4

The main data sources are:

publicly given speeches, official party materials, blogs of party members, Facebook communications channels.

The focus is given on the party language, if the party:

  • Sets an agenda for public discourse
  • Create a new policy issue for instance due to election campaign
  • Has to defend against political opponent
  • Deliberately develops the national identity related issues as a part of party strategy

The individual case studies have been set as follows:

The Czech Republic

  1. Sudety area: the role of regions with former German majority;
    Parties: KSČM, TOP 09
  2. Roma minority: the Anti-Roma riots took place across the Czech Republic before the 2013 election campaign.
    Parties: Úsvit přímé demokracie Tomia Okamury, Greens
  3. Common currency Euro
    Parties: ČSSD, ODS

Poland

  1. Smolensk plane crash;
    Parties: PO and PiS
  2. Role of the EU-integration in Polish politics
    Parties: PO and PiS

Slovakia

  1. Slovaks as the constituting nation and national minorities
  2. Historical myths and traditions in nation building initiatives
  3. Slovakia in the international community

Hungary

  1. Diaspora Politics;
    Parties: Fidesz and MSZP
  2. Roma and Sinti Issue;
    Parties: Jobbik and LMP
  3. Anti-European Sentiments;
    Parties: MSZP and Jobbik

Germany

  1. Strengthening European integration and European integration process;
  2. Integration of immigrants to the German society and
  3. Fight against racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia.

1 Coresponding contact: Michal Vít, EUROPEUM, mvit@europeum.org
2 Anderson, B. (1991). Imagined Communities: reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism. London and New York: Verso.
3 Calhoun, C. (1997). Nationalism. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
4 Jäger, S. (2001). Discourse and knowledge: theoretical and methodological aspects of a critical discourse and dispositive analysis. In R. Wodak & M. Meyer (Eds), Methods of critical discourse analysis (pp. 32-62). London, New Delhi and Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications Ltd.