Author: Dr Sakul Kundra

Nationalist movements commenced fully during the mid-19th century and were widespread internationally in the 20th century.

The concept of nationalism is associated with national flags, anthems, heritage, languages and all forms of ideas related to a nation.

In simple terms, it is closer to "patriotism" or a love of one's nation. Nationalism takes into account varied facets of cultural, political, historical and emotional aspects of a nation.

Around the world, especially the Pacific Islands, have witnessed several nationalist movements having different aims, origin and course of action in order to achieve autonomy, sovereignty or independence against colonial powers.

This article highlights the ideology of nationalism, its meaning and impact. Different forms of nationalism in the Pacific are elaborated by David Robie in his book Blood on their Banner: Nationalist Struggles in the South Pacific, discussing varied form of nationalism in the Pacific and Graham Hassall's article Nationalism and ethnic conflict in the Pacific Islands highlights the discourse of nationalism in the Pacific Islands.

Origin of nationalism

Earlier, only the thoughts of principalities or kingdom existed and inhabitants of a country were subject and their political identity was basically towards the allegiance to a ruler or ruling dynasty, rather than any sense of national identity.

As per the scholars, the origin of modern nation and idea of nationalism emerged from the 1789 French Revolution where the revolutionaries revolted against Louis XVI and emerged with the sense of a French nation; a nation governing itself with the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity.

Nationalism meaning and

its spread across the world

Before discussing nationalism, one needs to understand the meaning of nation as per Andrew Heywood's Global Politics explain the meaning of nation. He stated "Nations (from the Latin nasci, meaning 'to be born') are complex phenomena that are shaped by a collection of cultural, political and psychological factors".

Whereas some scholars believe nationalism is a love, devotion and patriotism towards one's country; it helps to develop a bond of love and unity among fellow countrymen towards their country.

Others state it is "an emotive identification with a nation and a political project to secure and independent nation-state for a nation".

It also creates a sense of competition among countries to do better than the other in every aspeczt, ie Fiji lifting the 2016 Rio Olympic sevens rugby gold medal by defeating all participating nations.

Nationalism spread from Europe across multinational empires and later in 1850s helped in the unification of Germany and Italy.

At the end of 19th century it became popular movement with the national symbols ie signs of flags, anthems, poetry, literature, ceremonies and holidays. The ideology of nationalism was used during colonial expansion which led to a conflict of interest to conquer colonies and eventually led to World War I.

The restrictions imposed on defeating powers led to frustration and bitterness so there was a rise of fascist powers ie Germany, Italy and Japan which promised to restore the lost national pride for their nation by adopting the policies of expansion.

Thus, nationalism played a primary role during the period between two world wars, and also acted as an ideology of opposition in developing nations such as Asia and Africa against the colonial rulers.

Nationalism was a factor which led to World War II but its outcome disintegrated the earlier powers such as British, French, Dutch and Portuguese.

This gave strength to anti-colonial national movements in colonised powers to get freedom and liberation not just in Asia, Africa but also in Pacific Islands. Nationalism also remained a factor of competition and supremacy during the period of Cold War between the US and USSR.

These various forms of nationalism are summarised by Heywood as varieties of nationalism such as liberal, conservative, expansionist and anticolonial.

Strength and weaknesses

Andrew Heywood's other book Politics discusses on positive front, national identity is based on the culture, history, language and heritage; countries having higher nationalism are considered to be more economically prosperous; nationalism motivates for the overall economic development of the nation.

This also enhances less corruption and responsibility shared by every citizen. Nationalism unites the people for the cause of prosperity and development; and also the pride for their own country encourages people to work harder for national progress.

The idea of nationalism unites people against a common threat to their nation in respect to natural disaster, social upheaval, economic or political crisis and foreign attack. Nationalism helps the country at the time of crisis, facing aftermath and healing the past wounds.

Citizens grow trust over each other, and give respect to the nation's economy, constitution, judiciary, environment, social structure and political institutions. Nationalism gives an expression of identity and people take a stand in order to defend the right of one's nation.

This helps to unify the people, grow the nation and prosperity of an economy. In regard to social impact of nationalism, it motivates citizens to innovate and perform par excellence for the nation.

On a personal front, nationalism gives the right to citizens to participate in politics, join the military, hold any government office and show solidarity among others and have a sense of belonging to one's nation.

Negatively, nationalism can lead to division of society based on superiority complex over other citizens, which may lead to racial divisions. This can create division in society and sometimes violent clashes.

Heywood stated, "it has contributed to the outbreak of wars and revolutions. It has caused the birth of new states, the disintegration of empires and the redrawing of borders; and it has been used to reshape existing regimes as well as to bolster them".


To sum up, nationalism is divided into various theories, firstly, primordialist and sociobiological theories, secondly, instrumentalist theories and lastly, modernisation theories.

Scholars, such as Benedict Anderson, said the idea of a nation as an imagined community is where members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow members, meet them or even hear of them whereas Eric Hobsbawn stated that nations are invented traditions where nationalism created a nation rather than the other way round.

Therefore, nationalism is a complex ideology but had played a pivotal role in history. It has been significant in contemporary times and will be probably be more magnified in future.

Source: The Fiji Times Online

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