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  • Nickolas Vaccaro

The Nation, National Identity, and the Transcendence of Language

​The question of national identity, and the questions of national sovereignty and territorial integrity which arise from the question of national identity, all of which are central to the Russo-Ukrainian War, must be defined categorically, addressed and resolved universally, if this war, and the historical conflict of which it is born, is to end at last — if at last life, the human right to live, is placed above everything else, above all ideas and philosophies and politics, if at last the guiltless masses cease to bleed for the ideas of the fanatical few. 

Language — as it is the expression of a people, their distinct political and cultural voice that emerges out of historical conflict, settlement and political struggle — prescribes the individual to a people sharing the language and, consequently, to the history, artistic and literary expression and political struggle of that people. These facets of society — historical and political consciousness, artistic and intellectual expression — as much as they exist within language and are born from language, create for the people of that language a collective understanding of self, of shared history and present-day politics — a collective world-gaze which, as distinct from those of other societies, drives a distinct expression through art and politics. This drive for expression (and thus for existence), as it is directed by collective history, creates a collective people’s culture and concept of nationhood or national identity.  

Being born of a people collected together through shared historical and political experience, with a shared world-gaze, national identity has its original root in language. After language, a people, then a collective consciousness, then a world-gaze, then a culture and politics, then a society and national identity come to be. A nation, then, comes into being after all the aforementioned as a political, practical, differentiation of that people and history and culture, of that society and language, from all others. A political state emerges out of that people, a society forms, geographical borders are defined — and so a nation, as a practical institution for the preservation and protection of a people and history and culture and the language that binds and births all these, comes to be. 

Thus, a people’s national identity, and the language in which it exists, precede and transcend the nation which is a political and purely practical institution that holds within it a people and their identity and language but can in no sense be equated to these or conceived to inform these. 

Russia — as Nazi Germany in the last century and all fascistic and fanatical societies that place the realization of a political or historical-religious mystical vision before life and the individual’s right to live — has premised its aggression in Ukraine and violation of the practical structure of nation (and national borders) on the suggested Russian national identity of inhabitants of eastern Ukraine, a claim deriving from the Russian language usage of those inhabitants. Russia would annex Ukrainian national territory and establish a Russian nation, in the practical structure of a nation, after violating Ukraine’s nation structure; denying a people’s and the individual’s foremost right to live which precedes any notion of national identity, history or language; and thus rejecting the necessity of a nation as a practical structure functioning, in the first place, to preserve a people, to protect human life. 

Russia’s hypocrisy in first violating the (Ukrainian) nation structure, dismissing the foremost value of human life, only to erect a Russian nation structure over mass graves and razed cities — neither to preserve a people nor to protect human life, but first and foremost to establish a new and false national identity — must be denounced, socially and politically, and prosecuted, legally, in the strongest terms and with greatest urgency. For, as any fascistic war, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, reverses the purpose of the political and practical nation structure from firstly preserving a people and thus human life to firstly preserving a national identity, culture, history and language. This reversed nation structure is false — for neither can national identity exist without human life nor should it, as any political ideology or philosophy, be valued before human life or be built on its oppression and sacrifice. 

We, living not a hundred years since the Holocaust, since the second World War, since the Bosnian and Rwandan genocides — we, inheritors of the last century’s evil, our forefathers’ evil, began our century’s first war in Europe and have turned deaf to the historical cry of all those millions oppressed and persecuted and slaughtered. And we commit the same sin, carry into our century the same evil: to value ideas and ideology before life, history and politics before life, national identity before life, land before life; to oppress, conquer and triumph; to deny, again and again, that others have the right to live, the right to life, that they are human.

The war must end, but only with the victory of the nation over national identity, life over ideology, Ukraine over Russia. And as language, as a people and their collective identity and distinct world-gaze, as national identity, transcend the practical nation structure, they must not remain passive to their nation’s bleeding, to its strife for survival — for the nation protects a people, preserves language and history and identity. And without the nation, without just politics and incorruptible law, without principle and courage, we, the people of the world, against evil, in our struggle to life, for all our visions and histories and philosophies, are nothing.

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