Thursday, August 28, 2008

On students, revolutions and nationalism...

When I was an undergraduate, I mostly devoted myself to studying really hard so that I can get good grades. Some years later, when I became a graduate student, I understood a lot about the context of my undergraduate years. Among others, it forcefully hit me that I was a nationalist. That I have never really critically engaged with this idea that there is a nation, and I am a part of it, thus sharing its features. Living in a multicultural country, I never registered the signs of multiculturalism. I should have: I would always travel past the Greek cultural center on my way downtown. I have heard a lot about the Gypsies - and would not shy away from calling them Gypsies to their face (not to mention the fear of being 'stolen' by one of 'them' or of having my gold earrings violently pulled from my ears by Gypsies...). And every now and then, stories of mixed ethnicity in my family were retold at family reunions.

Yet, I never registered them with a critical eye. They never told me that there is something else beyond the nation to which I was belonging. Hey, they never told me that my nation was to be questioned, dissected, or interrogated. I was a believer. But then I switched sides, and I 'blame' it all on grad school. My colleagues and professors made me want to look for more, made me think of those things I took for granted. I read, I learned, I started paying attention - first and foremost to myself. And I became convinced that - just as in 1848, students actively stirred the social unrest and participated in the shaping of their cities - students nowadays will once again shape their societies by challenging and deconstructing racism, intolerance, xenophobia, sexism, nationalism and so on. I embraced the May 1968 events with the (somehow bizarre) optimism that universities are the last bastion of critical thinking.

As I'm now doing some reading on nationalism, my own story as a student came back to mind. The article I'm just reading - Jon E. Fox (2006) "Consuming the Nation" - briefly reflects on the role of students in nationalist movements. Students, writes fox, are the "torchbearers of their respective nations". Yes, with the caveat that some of them do change into the critiques and challengers of nations altogether.

Photo credits: Somewhere on the internet...

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