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Nation Reification or “Nationalizing Nationalism” from the Perspective of International Law

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National reification takes place when the state defines itself as a tool to protect the interests of a particular ethnic group and tries to create a homogeneous society unified on the basis of linguistic, cultural, historical, ideological and religious principles. This inevitably leads to the monopolization of politics (common good) by the majority’s culture, and at the same time, to the marginalization and exclusion of the minority’s culture and its obliteration in the future. This marginalization does not imply a discrimination because the minority is not denied civil rights, but its political activity from now on implies an engagement with the majority’s culture. This effect appears in waves. The first wave preceded World War II; the second wave started in the nineties and affected the new post-Soviet and Eastern European countries. National reification is closely related to the principle of democracy; since the minority retains this obviously ineffective right to participate, all other forms of protest become inaccessible to it. National reification is an objective and general tendency of the modern day. It fills the legitimacy deficit and not only “launches” a new state, but also generates internal threats that justify its existence. As a result, from the very first days, a new state is being created as a totalitarian and emergency one that can use extreme, but justified and legitimate measures. The principle of self-determination cannot be used against the process of national reification as it implies an obligation of conduct and has a narrow scope. Moreover, its beneficiaries, by not being states, are deprived of the procedural tools needed to protect their rights. It could be interpreted differently: we should recognize the right to secession for the nations faced with the choice of obeying or losing identity. This interpretation, however, is an unrealizable utopia. Human rights are completely helpless in the face of national reification or, rather, are indifferent to it. The reason is a fundamental denial of the collective principle. Therefore, international law does not solve the problem of national reification. On the contrary, all the structures of the modern order (statehood, legitimacy, democracy, human rights, international law, etc.) generate this problem. The solution of the problem is vitally important and, at the same time, extremely difficult. It cannot be cosmetic, but should affect the very foundations of international law.

About the Authors

Vladislav Tolstykh
Moscow State Institute of International Relations
Russian Federation

Professor, department of international Law

76 Vernadskogo Av., Moscow, 119454

Joni Aasi
An-Najah University
Palestinian Territory, Occupied

Professor of Public Law and Political science 

Omar ibn Al-khattab st., PO Box 7, Nablus, west Bank, Palestine


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For citation:

Tolstykh V., Aasi J. Nation Reification or “Nationalizing Nationalism” from the Perspective of International Law. Russian Law Journal. 2020;8(3):64-83.

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ISSN 2312-3605 (Online)