Stefano Bianchini is currently Professor of East European Politics and History at the University of Bologna and Rector’s delegate for relations with Eastern Europe. He is also a visiting professor of the State University of St. Petersburg and the co-director of the European Regional Master in Democracy and Human Rights for SEE (ERMA) awarding a double diploma of the Universities of Sarajevo and Bologna since 2001. Between 2004 and 2015 he was the director of the two-years Interdisciplinary Master of Arts in East European Studies (MIREES), a joint diploma of the Universities of Bologna, St. Petersburg and Vytautas Magnus at Kaunas. He was also an advisor and expert witness for the ICTY as well as the promoter and lecturer of several summer schools worldwide on topics such as nationalism, reconciliation, EU enlargements, challenges for global leadership. He also taught leadership communication and voice coaching, by applying the expertise stemming from his previous professional actor’s career in theatre at PGLF Jordan. Furthermore, he is a member of a number of international association as for example ASEES, ISA, and the Association for Studies of Nationalities (ASN) based at the Harriman Institute, Columbia University, New York where he was a Vice-President and currently serves as a member of the Executive Committee.
He is the author of more than 200 articles, essays, edited books, and monographs, among those Liquid Nationalism and State Partitions in Europe, Edward Elgar, London-New York, 2017; Eastern Europe and the Challenges of Modernity 1800-2000, Routledge, Abingdon-New York, 2015; Partitions: Reshaping States and Minds, written with Sanjay Chaturvedi, Rada Ivekovic and Ranabir Samaddar (Frank Cass, 2005); Sarajevo, Le Radici dell’odio: Identità e Destino dei Popoli Balcanici (Edizioni Associate, 2003); La Question Yougoslave (Castermann, 1996).
Sam Potolicchio: What's liquid nationalism?
Bianchini: Liquid nationalism is a notion that was inspired to me by Zygmunt Bauman. Nationalism in fact is not a static ideology or a mere political program; rather, it is a notion, which has produced opposite views in interpretation as well as a plurality of diversifying impacts during its historical trajectory. As a result, like the ice melt into the water under specific conditions, similarly nationalism – in distinct historical circumstances – liquefies pre-existing social links, sense of belonging, cultural awareness of individuals and groups, by re-establishing new forms of solidification that might again liquefy, following further unexpected mechanisms and legal, territorial, institutional and cultural demands. According to the contexts and the power politics developments, nationalism has encouraged either integration of regions and micro-states or secessionisms and ethnic or regional separations; nationalism has produced demands for freedom and equality, as well as claims for collective “purity protection”, rejections of otherness, racism, anti-Semitism, and xenophobia. Therefore, in my view, such a complex phenomenon can be explained only if we regard it comprehensively and diachronically. Given its mutant nature, it (still) affects forms of communications, traditional habits, social relations (in a broader sense, from rural life to gender, from families to classes). By liquefying their social meanings, it creates the conditions for new solid bodies. Consequently, they establish new interactions whose qualities, however, may again liquefy owing to the time-space compression. In other words, nationalism is a liquid form of politics which encompasses state ideologies and yearnings of liberty; revolutionary ideas and endless claims for independence worldwide. In its developments, it has justified (and still legitimizes) violence, race superiority, ethnic cleaning, incorporation of territories, by coalescing with patriotism and religiosity, even at the cost of distorting their values. The dynamic of these multiple flows, I think, can effectively be represented by the concepts of “liquidity” and “fluidity”.
Potolicchio: Why do you refer to partitions in a discussion about Europe?
Bianchini: Europe was, and still is affected by a wide range of aspirations for independence in connection with its cultural varieties of territories and populations. Partitions may occur for economic, religious, ethnic, linguistic reasons or power politics disputations. The recent history of Europe is full of examples in this sense, from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth partition to the Irish experience, from the collapse of the empires (Central European, Russian, Ottoman or Colonial ones) to the post-communist liquefaction of the socialist federations. Most recently similar trends are affecting the EU (with the Brexit), the United Kingdom, Spain, and Ukraine. What is surprising to me is that the category of “state partition” is not popular, if not neglected by the European literature, while it is extensively elaborated in India, South-East Asia or among British scholars with Indian origin, who apply the category mainly to the post-colonial events in Asia. If you look the Universities’ syllabi of the courses that refer to “state partitions”, you will see how the focus is on Asia, while Europe is rarely mentioned. In the last two decades, I had the chance to make joint researches with colleagues and friends interested to scrutinize the concept with interdisciplinary approaches, but to a large extent these colleagues gave priority to Asian studies, with few exceptions that concerned the bloody collapse of Yugoslavia and, more recently, Scotland. For this reason, I decided to concentrate on Europe and bridge a crucial gap in the international literature.
Potolicchio: What's the most important idea you would want the Secretary General of the UN to take away from your book?
Bianchini: Good and difficult question. I think that treating world relations on the basis of the “nation-state framework of reference” is by now obsolete and vain. Macro-regional integration in a globalized and interdependent world is now the new frontier for the humanity. I would be glad to hear from the General Secretary of the UN and political leaders worldwide that diversity management and deliberation are to be pursued in order to build new political forms and institutions able to accept syncretic cultures, métissages, cultural nomadism, gender diversity, secularism as key social values and the funding normativity of human societies.
Potolicchio: What's the question nobody has asked you in your studies of nationalism and how would you answer the question?
Bianchini: Very rarely people raised to me the issue of the relations between nationalism and democracy. Probably because this relation is taken for granted, due to the rooted belief that national freedom is, or should be, an expression of democracy. Nevertheless, this nexus is also contested, because it is unclear who or what is granting the respect of the “democratic will” of a group. The recent, contested arguments about the referenda in Crimea and Catalonia are a patent evidence of that. Still, this aspect, in some way, was asked me in some conversations about my studies. On the contrary, no one raised to me the question to what extent “state partition” and nationalist appeals affect the “nature” of democracy, and particularly the individual rights to express dissent, rejection of homologation and homogeneity, without being treated as “enemies of the people”. The aggressive and intimidating behavior of nationalism is still powerfully operating, for example, in Croatia; it was vividly impacting on intellectuals and ordinary people on the eve of the Yugoslav collapse and even more during the conflict. International diplomacy never invited anti-war organization to peace negotiations, nor Western leadership requested free and fair elections at the federal level in Yugoslavia in 1990 in order to negotiate peacefully the future of the country within a democratic institutional framework. My answer to these unexplored questions is that anticommunist bias were so deeply rooted in the Western politics, that its leadership did not care about the prospective impact of the precedents they were legitimizing. Furthermore, the unilateral universalism of the West is now producing counter-balancing effects and rejections, therefore increasing the world disorder, while neo-nationalist stances and a general decline of the international governance are encouraging aspirations to new geopolitical designs and demands for partitions, not necessarily only in Europe (see, for example, the Kurds, Uyghurs, Kashmiri, Tamil, Berbers…)
Potolicchio: What's an underdiscussed geopolitical problem surrounding nationalism?
Bianchini: In our time, nationalism is the most relevant (although not the unique) vector of “state partitions”, which deeply affect the stability of Europe, not only in terms of states and territories, but also – if not mostly – in terms of regional and local life, by reproducing micro-partitions within cities, towns and regions, with devastating effects on family links, friendship ties, social and cultural relations. These aspects are often undermined by the broader political narrative which concentrates on the freedom/oppression dichotomy (in some cases, even alleged dichotomy). As an example, just few days ago, it was published on a Balkan web the story of a family (two brothers and the father) that the war severely divided, to such an extent that each of them served militarily in the Croatian, Bosniak, and Serbian Army respectively, with evident awful implications for their sentiments. In the end only one of them survived... In other words, this human dimension of “state partition” is rarely considered by political narratives. Indeed, the implications of state partition for the everyday life of people is largely underdiscussed. Still, erecting borders where they did not exist before might have serious consequences for the access to an hospital, emergency services, school attendance, communication networks… This is, however, the most neglected dimension of the state partition implementation narratives.
Potolicchio: What's a counterintuitive prediction you have about the future geopolitics?
Bianchini: At the moment, my prediction is based on the assumption that the “nation-state” is facing a long, painful and contentious phase of liquefaction. The challenges of globalization have a crucial impact on this process. Suffice here to mention the implications of the demographic decline of the northern hemisphere of the earth, the migration flows, the climate change, the economic and energy interferences, the unbalances between the declining Western moral authority and the raising of multiple geopolitical players. All of these events have a crucial impact on the existing societies, whose heterogeneity is doomed to growth, in patent conflict with the alleged homogeneity of the “nation-state” . Furthermore, the mobility of people, IT connections, medicine developments, multilinguism, the new geographies emerging from low cost flights and high speed railways, the diversification-with-coexistence of religious beliefs, all that does contribute to minimize the role of State borders, while increasing the diversity of the existing societies.
However, these changes will not be accepted peacefully. Evidences show that resistance is growing. This can lead to transnational conflicts and severe social polarizations between globalized and neo-nationalist stances, between highly (and transnational) educated people and local monolingual, poorly educated populations. Such a potentially conflictual dichotomy may affect not so much the relations among states (as it was the case in the so far historical experience), how much the domestic stability of the societies and the peaceful development of democracy. In fact, democracy will be increasingly expected to come to terms with its profound nature, that is whether it should remain limited within culturally, ethnically and/or religiously homogenous communities (to be, however, still constructed), or should it expand to answer the needs of diversified societies, by managing diversities, granting syncretism, intercultural interdependence and evolution, métissages, neo-nomadism, multi-religious faiths, gender and sexual orientations, and multiple lifestyle rights that globalization is stimulating worldwide. Admittedly, the evolution of this dichotomy remains unpredictable. It may lead to wars, social unrests, and new state partitions, even if the existing patterns of dependencies and the current social links are under liquefaction. It will take time, with a long updating of evidences and data, before being able to forecast when and how new solid bodies will replace the current fluidity.