Contested domains: National identity and conflict in Russia and South Africa

This document discusses the differences and similarities between nationalistic concepts in Russia and South Africa. The author mentions F. Van Zyl Slabbert classification of South African ideologies and draws comparisons between the nationalities question in South Africa and in Russia, describing Lenin’s and Stalin’s definitions of nationhood and how they fit into Slabbert’s classification. The founders of the Russian socialist state thought that nations would disappear under socialism. Perestroika did not change the pattern, but reinforced it. Soviet citizens saw the opposition to the regime in nationalism, not democracy. In South Africa, the position of intellectuals was the opposite, trying to prove that ethnicity was ‘invented.’ The concepts of nation by Neville Alexander, the ANC, SACP, PAC, AZAPO, Black Consciousness and Inkatha are examined. With all these conceptual differences there is evidence to support Van Zyl Slabbert’s idea of a messy, syncretic and tolerant, multi-identity national ideology appearing in the political arena. Lessons may be drawn from the Russian experience for South Africa. Ethnic identity in a multi-identity society needs constant review, and no structure can protect these identities by itself. The Soviet belief that once socialism is achieved the ethnicity problem will disappear re-emerges in South Africa. Many believe that once democracy is achieved, ethnicity would cease to be a problem. The national ideal can be achieved only by peace and democracy.