Imagined Nation – England after Britain

imagined nation national identity england britain englishness britishness
Nach den Schotten fragen sich auch die Engländer, wer sie sind und ob das Vereinigte Königreich wohl in der Zukunft ihre Heimat sein wird. Diese Frage diskutiert Herausgeber Mark Perryman mit Autoren wie Billy Bragg, Rupa Huq, Tom Nairn oder Paul Gilroy in einem neuen Buch zum Thema Englishness (im Kontrast zu Gordon Browns verzweifelter Britishness-Kampagne). Ich leiste einen kleinen Beitrag zu dem Buch, indem ich unter anderem die Identitäts- und Immigrationsdebatte in Deutschland beschreibe. Unten steht ein Auszug aus meinem Text. Ein weiterer, persönlicherer Abschnitt hier, mehr zum Buch hier.

The most intriguing bit for me in my current stay here in England was to learn that there is an identity debate going on in this country right now. Wasn’t that something for Germans, a people who had always been inclined to brooding? A late nation whose identity had been crushed by having to come to terms with the greatest atrocities in the history of mankind and then being a divided country part of which was again a dictatorship. If national identity is a process of amnesia, or as Ernest Renan in his lecture “What is a Nation?? famously put it, ‘the essential element of a nation is that all its individuals must have many things in common but it must also have forgotten many things’, then the Germans would never have a chance of being a nation again, since their crimes were too outrageous ever to be forgotten. But England? The oldest democracy which was on the right side of history for most of the time? ‘It is a mark of self-confidence: the English have not spent a great deal of time defining themselves because they haven’t needed to. Is it necessary to do so now?’ asks the Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman.
Germans are experts on debates about national identity, so perhaps it is richly appropriate that we should be asked to contribute to yours. Our very own Leitkulturdebatte (debate about defining culture) peaked around the turn of the millennium. Interestingly the term was coined by an immigrant scholar, Bassam Tibi, and it was not so much brought to bear on Germany alone but on European or Western identity as a whole. “The values for the desirable Leitkultur must come from cultural modernity and they are: democracy, laicism, enlightenment, human rights and civil society.? It was then adopted particularly by conservative politicians in a German debate about immigration and integration. It also catered well for a popular appetite for self-discovery. Nabelschau (navel-gazing) is one of the terms used to criticize this supposedly typically German inclination. (…)
There are none of the exclusions there used to be when Germany was in denial of being a nation founded on waves of immigration. But there has to be a certain disposition, a will for identification, by all those we should be making welcome to join in. This identification does not function along the lines of ethnicity, ancestry or ‘blood’ any more, but around the acceptance of achievements such as democracy, women’s rights, free speech, free trade, entrepreneurship, social security, functioning public services and infrastructures, tax solidarity, consensus, charity, volunteering, tolerance. This sounds very much like an expanded and more detailed list of Bassam Tibi’s Leitkultur elements. But there is a bit more, and that is at least a sense of a national heritage or culture. Culture in the sense that T.S. Eliot understood it in Notes Towards a Definition of Culture, where he listed “Derby Day, Henley Regatta, Cowes, the twelfth of August, a cup final, the dog races, the pin table, the dart board, Wensleydale cheese, boiled cabbage cut into sections, beetroot in vinegar, nineteenth century Gothic churches and the music of Elgar? as elements of English culture. This identification is less about integration, which means more or less having to give up other inherited cultures, but more about a sense of inclusion, inviting others to bring inherited cultures to add something new to the continually, but also carefully negotiated Leitkultur without alienating those unfamiliar with these new additions, nor suppressing what is perceived as the original culture. Is not our present Leitkultur nothing but an amalgamation of past inclusions? I agree with what Billy Bragg wrote in his book The Progressive Patriot about “the urge of the majority to assert itself“ and what can happen if that urge breaks out from a real or imagined suppression and „is taken to the extreme?. Nazi Germany is one of his examples for the terrible consequences such an outburst can have.

Autor: Markus Hesselmann

Tagesspiegel-Korrespondent Markus Hesselmann über Britisches, Allzubritisches aus der Metropole des Pop, des Fußballs, der Kunst und der Politik.

8 Gedanken zu „Imagined Nation – England after Britain“

  1. Would you believe! After living 36 years in berlin and with the fixe idee to try to discover the origins of the holocaust in the way of german history, i`ve just come back to asking myself what (my) English- Britishness is. And Hey Presto! they`re doing the same thing at home. And of all things a Tagesspiegel Redakteur is voll dabei!

  2. Forgot to mention „Sonderweg“!. Or how the fuck are you going to judge this, if you don`t have any idea of that „Deutsche Wesen“ ( on which die Welt genesen soll) and e.g „Jerusalem“?

  3. You write: This identification does not function along the lines of ethnicity, ancestry or ‘blood’ any more…

    What a shame that isn’t reflected in German law.

  4. @lesliehodges

    At this moment the ‚Deutsche Wesen‘ has its eyes on the EU in order to make ‚die Welt genesen‘. This German ‚Sonderweg‘ looks quite succesful at the moment. Instead of only asking themselves what Englishness (or Britishness) shall mean in the future, the English need a clear vision of Europe and England’s (or Britain’s) place in it.

  5. @Katy: My argument here is not a legal, but a cultural one. And I am confident to say that in the cultural perception of most of my generation and maybe even more of younger German generations the identification with Germany does not function along the lines of ethnicity, ancestry or blood any more. But even in German law, there is at least a bit of a progess. Please see:

  6. Habt ihr mein Zeug noch bekommen?@mathias rakcae: Die Vortre4ge/Workshops waren Klasse. Vielleicht geht weitere Diskussion im (OpenID) Forum von Xing@oliver: Ich denke, dass das Thema nicht genug „gepredigt“ werden kann. Wie wir z.B. beim Thema Maut erleben kf6nnen/konnten, wird die f6ffentliche Diskussion he4ufig auch fcberlagert von so „wichtigen“ Dingen wie Me4ngeln in der Durchffchrung oder Durchffchrungsplanung. Datenschutzrelevante Meinungen und Stimmen gehen hierin einfach unter. In meiner Wahrnehmung wird, sobald das Thema zur Sprache kommt, einfach eine zweite lautere Diskussion erf6ffnet, die z.B. Terrorbeke4mpfung nach vorn tre4gt.Das Problem liegt, denke ich zu einem Teil eben auch darin dass die so genannte f6ffentliche Diskussion eben nicht in der d6ffentlichkeit, sondern in den Medien stattfindet, und dort he4ufig eben auch nur blankes Unwissen vorherrscht.Aktuelles Beispiel: Der Vorstodf von Sche4uble zu den biometrischen Daten in Pe4ssen. Die Schlagzeile dazu: Polizei fordert Zugriff auf Ausweisdaten.

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