Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Raymond Taras's "Nationhood, Migration and Global Politics"

Raymond Taras is Professor of Political Science at Tulane University. In 2019 he is Fulbright Distinguished Chair at Australian National University in Canberra.

Taras applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Nationhood, Migration and Global Politics: An Introduction, and reported the following:
This book considers six separate cases of migrants seeking to integrate into receiving societies in the northern and southern hemispheres: Russia, Britain, the US, India, South Africa, and Peru. I set up a migration politics test: how different these societies are with their prerequisites for achieving social cohesion – the glue that binds nativists with recent migrant arrivals. I even resort to comparing the national anthems of these six states to determine which is most exclusionary and which is least.

As luck would have it, however, page 99 falls on endnotes to the Russia case, a country that I have studied painstakingly since the 1970s. I am shamefaced to admit that the first endnote on page 99 is to my 1990s volume, edited with media illuminatus and puppet model Ian Bremmer, on Nations and Politics in the Soviet Successor States.

I spent inordinate time deconstructing Winston Churchill’s often-cited puzzle which he identified in a BBC radio broadcast on 1 October 1939. The devastating beginnings of World War II had struck Poland hardest. Britain was sidelined fighting a phony war while Russia was kept busy thanks to the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact that kept the Red Army occupied swallowing up chunks of Poland and parts of eastern Europe. Churchill decided to keep his options open in October and proclaimed that Russia “is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest.” Churchill himself indulged therefore in cryptic signaling.

So much for Russia in my study of nationhood. The greater part of this cross-national research concerns migrants who are viewed as belonging or not belonging to receiving societies. Prejudices run deep in many countries, sometimes in favor of assisting certain migrant communities but in others rejecting them out of hand. Overall, the list of “unwelcome people” has grown since my book was published. For example, in Latin America alone there are groups of Brazilians, Colombians, and Mexicans in northern border towns rallying against the influx of refugees.

I define nationhood, predictably enough, on page 1: “It abandons ideas of monoculturalism and assimilationism that were previously demanded of society and which had insisted on blind loyalty by immigrants to the majority culture. Nationhood was being nudged from a primordial, ethnic understanding of the nation towards a civic one.” Following cues from a number of writers, I claim that nationhood and nation should no longer be viewed as synonyms, that nationhood should have a distinct meaning underscoring reciprocity and affinity between nativists and recently-arrived immigrants. The end goal is to form an organic whole, that is, a socially cohesive society.

Compulsively I have to return to Russia. In concluding his broadcast, in a rarely-referenced addendum Churchill cautioned how “It cannot be in accordance with the interest of the safety of Russia that Germany should plant itself upon the shores of the Black Sea.” Put simply, “That would be contrary to the historic life-interests of Russia.” Is this not an example of Vladimir Putin’s Realpolitik over NATO enlargement, that is, if we assume that NATO comprises something more ominous than a bunch of wild and
crazy democracy-loving states? Recent books by realists John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt make the case that it is the liberal hegemonists that are more warlike than realists.

What is the tie-in with migration? Vladimir Vladimirovich appears to be up to an old trick to boost his economy: encouraging in-migration to the country in order to create a reserve army of cheap labor. The country now trails only the US worldwide in terms of the numbers of migrant arrivals. But immigration alone, never mind diversity, does not add up to nationhood unless there is some form of social and labor market integration on migrants’ part. Can a popular, inescapably Russian backlash against occur, as has happened in so many countries in Europe and abroad, to Putin’s revised immigration policy? A nation no more is what may confront Russia in the near future should Putin be serious about this approach.
Learn more about Nationhood, Migration and Global Politics at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue