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Daniele Conversi: Genocide, Ethnic Cleansing and Nationalism

23.2.2008, Consigliato da Marcello Flores

PDF Allegato

Genocide and nationalism share common
etymological roots: genocide derives from
the ancient Greek genos (stirp, race, kind, category,
overlapping with class, tribe and people),
subsequently leading to the Latin gens.1
Nationalism comes from the Latin verb nascor,
nasci , natus sum (to be born), later leading to
the substantive natio, nationis. The suffix -cide,
from the Latin caedo, caedere, cecidi, caesus
(to cut (down) or kill), has been added onto
the Greek root.2 The world itself was coined
in 1944 by the Polish-born US jurist Raphael
Lemkin (1944: 19). A new term needed indeed
to be minted as humanity emerged from a
crime without historical antecedents, the
Holocaust (Hebrew, Shoah). Since the combination
of genocide and nationalism characterized
the darkest era of human history and
occurred during the past century, both are
often associated with modernity and rapidly
modernizing societies.Moreover, both relate to
a third set of terms also describing common
descent and membership in a single ‘extended
family’: ethnicity, ‘ethnie’ and ethnic group.
In its original Greek connotation, ethnos was
already associated with the idea of shared
descent and lineage.3 The term ‘ethnic cleansing’
has various origins, but its contemporary
popular usage is a verbatim translation of
the Serbian etnicko ciscenje, which began to
be used widely in the global media since
the 1990s. Initially, it was a more ‘benign’
way to describe the same unspeakable event,
genocide.
The exaltation of a dominant nation as superior
to all others, particularly subaltern groups,
inevitably leads to a series of discriminatory
acts against competing nations, ranging from
assimilation and marginalization to genocide.
The role of central governments and the military
appears to be crucial in most instances of
genocide, together with media censorship and
popular misinformation.
Since they developed often simultaneously, a
crucial question arises: how intense is the relationship
between nationalism and genocide?
Nationalism is the doctrine that ‘the rulers
should belong to the same ethnic (that is,
national) group as the ruled’ (Gellner 1983: 1).
The doctrine assumes that a ruler belonging to
an alien nationality or ethnic group is illegitimate
(Connor 2004). However, the inverse
formula is a sure recipe for ethnic cleansing,
forced assimilation, mass deportation and
genocide: to claim that the inhabitants of a specific
constituency must share the same ethnic
lineage of its leaders is to give carte blanche to
mass expulsion and the drastic re-drawing of.............

 

 

 

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