UCL News


'Nation in Formation'

12 March 2008


'Nation in Formation' dust jacket ssees.ucl.ac.uk/public.htm" target="_self">'Nation in Formation: Inclusion and Exclusion in Central & Eastern Europe'

Since the toppling of communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe nearly 20 years ago and the consequent rise of several new countries, the people of the region have been confronted with a unique set of questions relating to national identity - what defines it in the absence of traditional geographical borders and whether and how it can be reformulated.

This volume of essays, the fruit of the 2006 7th International Postgraduate Conference held at the UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies, examines the multifarious ways in which citizens of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Chechnya, Romania and others have handled the uncertainty over national identification as the dictates of socialist ideology fell away in favour of market-driven democratisation and the forces of globalisation.

In an effort to explore the nature of 'belonging' in Central and Eastern Europe, topics such as turbofolk music in Croatia and the outsider in contemporary Macedonian short prose rub shoulders with the history of abortion in communist Russia and the transformation of parental leave in the Czech Republic.

The 13 papers, three of which are by UCL staff and postgraduate students, are grouped into five chapters: Making history: where ideology meets identity; Nationalism in multiethnic Russia: rhetoric and reality; Memory, exile and trauma through literature; Constructing 'belonging' through symbols; and Gender: from the socialist mother to the new gender roles.

The diversity of the subject matter bears witness to the pervasiveness of questions of identity in everyday life. All the papers however are posited on a constructivist definition of identity formation; that is, that there is a large degree of choice involved in self-identification. This choice, explains Dr Christopher Gerry (one of the editors) in the introduction, takes the form of a constant realigning of loyalties according to the combination of labels one is able to subscribe to - such as linguistic, political and behavioural associations - as well as the overt selection of motifs and myths which different interest groups use to shape interpretations of the past they share.

Dr Gerry summarises the fascination and importance of the book's focus: "This contemporary understanding of identity contrasts sharply with the Soviet approach to identity in which nations are seen as eternal, immutable actors determined by ethnic grouping… The developments in this region are of particular interest, not least because they provide the most natural of testing grounds for theories suggesting the 'death of the nation'."

'Nation in Formation' is edited by Catherine Baker, Christopher J Gerry, Barbara Madaj, Liz Mellish and Jana Nahodilová (all from the UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies, which published the book). Follow the link above to purchase a copy from the the school's Publications Office.