Posted on November 23rd, 2021


Tamil Separatist Movement says it is entitled to ask for a separate state because the Ceylon Tamils are a separate nation”. The concept “nation’ is not a legally recognized concept, nor is it recognized in international law. International law only recognizes the sovereign state. International law does not recognize imaginary nations either.

The word ‘nation ‘came from the Latin’ natio’ meaning a human group of same origin.  The word came into political use in Europe in the 19th century. Analysts observed that European scholars used   the word ‘nation’ anyway they wished, in the 19th century and they are doing the same in the 20th century.

Here is an assortment of definitions, which will indicate the contradictory positions taken, regarding the word ‘nation’. .Karl Deutsch defined a ‘nation’ as “a people in possession of a state”.  Peter Alter suggests that a nation is a politically mobilized people”. Walker Connor suggests that ‘nation’ is a ” self-defined group~. Pilsudski said that it is the state which makes the nation, not the other way round.

 Joseph Stalin, (1912) said that ‘A nation is a historically evolved, stable, community of language, territory, economic life, and psychological makeup manifested in a community of culture’.  To crown it all, Benedict Anderson (1983) said   nation is an “imagined community’. This means that the United Nations is a Union of Imagined Nations.

The nation states of Europe came into existence only about 200 years ago. Up to the 19 century, Europe was governed by two large empires which covered the whole of the European continent. The largest of these were the Holy Roman Empire, which formally ended in 1803, the Ottoman Empire which lasted till World War 1. (1914-1918)

 Within the Holy Roman Empire there were several ruling dynasties such as the Hapsburgs, who divided into the Spanish Hapsburgs and the Austrian Hapsburgs. Europe at this time consisted of a mass of small principalities, dukedoms, bishoprics, fiefs, each with a separate administration. Germany alone consisted of about 360 independent states. The various states went with various royal houses, like private property.  They were exchanged among the various ruling houses, through royal marriage alliances.

Some nations formed slowly. France was the earliest but slowest to turn into sovereign state. It took nearly 4 centuries. From the 10 century France had a continuous hereditary monarchy and a political centre in Paris. From here, over time, the kings annexed adjacent territory, such as Burgundy, Brittany, Normandy, and Toulouse, to form today’s Republic of France.

England had little difficulty in declaring itself a nation, in the 16 century because it was an island. Similarly Spain and Netherlands both jutted out to sea and had one border each with mainland Europe. Once that border was settled, they were on their way to becoming sovereign states. Italy and Germany unified through wars of unification starting in 1848. German unification was completed in 1871.Italy settled the matter during World War I.

Political unification did not automatically create a ‘nation state’. In Italy,   Massimo d’Azeglio’s, Prime Minister of Sardinia, said “We have made Italy, now we have to make Italians”. Bismarck, Chancellor of the newly united Germany, had to create a unified German state from the bunch of independent princely states that were brought under the King of Prussia.

Hobsbaum pointed out that the real push towards nation states was not cultural, it was economic. There was a significant expansion of trade and commerce in Europe during this time. There was an increase in the   number of cities, also trading and business houses and the middle class expanded. Roads and bridges led to better communication.  In Germany, an important milestone in its unification was the creation of the Zollverein, a customs union which included all the German states. Customs barriers between the states were eliminated and a common tariff created, leading to a sort of commercial union.

Europe in the 18 century was also notable for significant advances in political philosophy. It was the age of Voltaire, Montesquieu, Rousseau and Adam Smith. These thinkers commented, inter alia, on economy and government. Their writings which actually reflected the utter backwardness of Europe   were thereafter treated as universal pronouncements of staggering importance and studied all over the world.

The French Revolution of 1789 and the administration reforms of Napoleon also influenced political thinking. The idea of nation state and constitutional government became popular. In 1848 there was a wave of activity all over Europe, with demands for state constitutions.

Countries which were under western rule used the European concept of nation to formulate a reason for demanding independence from the imperial powers. Ceylon did not need to declare it a nation to obtain independence.  It had been a well recognized monarchical state before, but the Tamil Separatist Movement took the opportunity to declare that it was a separate nation.

The Communist Party of Ceylon supported the Tamils. In 1944 Communist Party presented a memorandum on a federal constitution to the Ceylon National Congress. They said that the Tamils were historically evolved nation, living in a contiguous territory in their traditional homeland, speaking a common language, with a community of culture. They were entitled to self determination. The definition is straight out of Stalin’s definition in his Marxism and the national question” observed analysts.  The memorandum had been drafted by Pieter Keuneman and A Vaidilingam. (continued)

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.



Copyright © 2022 All Rights Reserved. Powered by Wordpress