Nationalities

(By Chelsea Bracci)

The English word “nation” came into use during the 14th century and is derived from the Old French word nacion, from the Latin word natio (nātĭō) meaning “that which has been born” (Online Etymology Dictionary). Nation originally was used to reference to the basic organizational form of early European universities. A “nation” was created when a group of students from a certain region or country came together for mutual protection and welfare while residing in other countries for their studies (Britannica). The term “nationality” did not come into use until the 1690’s. During the 1820’s nationality began to be associated with race and ethnicity, and by the 1830’s nationality took on the meaning of “separate existence as a nation” (Online Etymology Dictionary).

Today, the word nation is used in reference to a community of people who share a common language, culture, ethnicity, descent, and/ or history (Collins English Dictionary). According to this definition the nation is not defined by physical borders. Such nations which have no physical boundaries include the Basques, Kurds, Tamils, and Scots.  However a nation can also be defined as a group of people who inhabit a common area and government despite their ethnicities. In this instance nationality has come to refer to membership within these nations. Individuals can also be considered nationals of groups who are under the control of larger governments such as the tribes of Native Americans located within the borders of the United States.

While it is still considered the right of each state to determine who is considered a national, the United Nations has taken steps to protect the rights of individuals to their nationality. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10th, 1948 and consisted of 30 articles which are considered to be the first global expression of human rights on a global scale. Article 15 states that “Everyone has the right to a nationality,” and “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality” (Britannica).

The term national is broader than citizen and can include both citizens and non-citizens.  The most prominent distinguishing feature between citizenship and nationality is that citizens alone have the right to participate in the state’s political life. Such rights include voting in elections as well as running for positions within the political structure of the state. In many countries nationality is legally distinct from citizenship in that nationality is a necessary but not sufficient condition to exercise full political rights. An example of this distinction is the United States Nationality Law which defines those persons born in the United States’ outlying possessions as United States nationals but not citizens (Britannica).

Nationality can be determined in three different ways: jus soli, jus sanguinis, and through the process of naturalization. To determine nationality by jus sanguinis is to base nationality off of “the right of blood” or ethnicity, while jus soli is the determination of nationality based on birthright or “right to soil”. In many countries nationality is based on cultural and familial self-determination rather than on relations with the current government. One such example is the Kurds who identify themselves as Kurdish even though no sovereign Kurdish state exists. Within the Soviet Union and former Yugoslavia, nationality is used in reference to ethnic groups and local affiliations within those states which existed during the Soviet period (Britannica). In the jus soli system of determining nationality, where a child is born determines the child’s nationality not the nationality of the parents. A minority of countries observe jus soli and no European country grants unconditional birthright citizenship (Migration Information Services). Naturalization is the process by which an individual, who was not a citizen of a country at the time of birth, applies to receive citizenship and nationality. The basic requirements of most naturalization processes are that the applicant be a full time resident for a certain period of time, obey and uphold the laws of the state.  Some states require the applicant to take an oath of allegiance as well or forbid naturalized nationals to hold dual citizenship.

The Soviet Union took on the role of modernizer when approaching nationality in the areas under its control. In both public and private life the Soviet National Policy pushed for the modernization of these native societies through intervention transformation, and mutual self-definition (Northrop). Policy steps included codifying languages and setting up publishing houses so that these societies could begin to produce literary and cultural materials. This also often included creating national histories, which were at time superficial, in order to strengthen what they considered to be the true national identity of a society (Weeks). The problems that arose out of these programs are tied to the assumption held by Western Europe, Russia, and other imperialist powers that populations are naturally divided into “nations” that share a language, origin, and culture (Esenova). In Central Asia, the Soviet Union viewed it as a “primitive region that had to be wrested out of its timeless past and thrown headlong into the modern (Soviet) era” (Northrop). The Soviet Union did not understand the complexities of these native societies and many times these measures, such as the unveiling campaign, were met with fierce resistance in Central Asia.

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