Emotional content and politics of national identity

Galin Gornev, Pepka Boyadjieva, Kristina Petkova.

Bulgarian case

The authors analyse the strengthening constructivist implications in the development of the closely related concepts of (the sense of) individual, social and, especially, national identity. Along with the natural break with the essentialist approach, the examination of national identity through constructivist lenses necessarily revives the research interest in the emotional factors and contributes to coming to the fore of the “identity politics”. For their part, these developments make fully logical the inclusion of “national identity” and closely related “national self-esteem” in the research on the tensions and asymmetries, immanent to the highly aggressive environment of the world system of nation states.

It is argued that in such aggressive conditions rigid status hierarchies tend to emerge contributing to steadily recurring emotional differences between “great” (“regimes of pride”) and “small” (“regimes of shame”) nation states. Following the same pattern, the efforts of the “small” countries to implement their own identity politics by renegotiating their statuses in the world system come up against still powerful systemic resistance.

At the same time, the authors assume that this protective tendency is opposed by two types of increasingly emancipating processes. First, the globalization processes already entered a more advanced stage, where the very character and intensity of the trans-national mobility and communication have emancipating impact on both inferiority and superiority (national) complexes. And second, the climax of the world system of nation states is, most probably, left behind along with the most rigid hierarchical relations between the countries of different ranges. Here the overall liberating effects are also twofold: on the one hand, new room is open for the adaptive manoeuvres of the (small) nation states, their national identities, in particular; on the other hand, the very meaning of the universal status hierarchies created during the era of nationalism is gradually losing its existential ground.

Thus, the changing constellation of the global forces creates better chances for the identity politics of the smaller countries and, in the concluding part of the article, the analysis focuses on Bulgaria as an intriguing example. According to the results of the sociological survey on Bulgarian national identity recently carried out by the authors, there are some indications of a real national inferiority complex in the country. In this sense, the authors consider necessary a concerted national effort at identity renegotiation, where an important role has to be played by a visionary political leadership.