Transcript: Michael Ignatieff on Nationalism | Oct 13, 1994

Steve sits in the studio. He's slim, clean-shaven, in his thirties, with curly brown hair. He wears a blue suit, and a dark red shirt. Behind him, a wall screen reads “Studio 2.”

Steve is in his mid thirties and has brown curly hair. He wears a blue suit with a red shirt.

Steve says LET'S GO BACK FIVE YEARS.
THE BERLIN WALL COMES DOWN.
THE WHOLE WORLD IS GETTING
EXCITED BECAUSE IT LOOKS LIKE
THIS POTENTIAL BLOOMING FOR
LIBERAL DEMOCRACIES EVERYWHERE.
AND NOW, I GATHER, THE IN- THE IN
CONCLUSION IS THAT IT'S BEEN
A MISERABLE FAILURE AND THE
WHOLE WORLD IS TURNING INTO
WORLD WAR III IN TINY LITTLE
PROXY WARS EVERYWHERE.
CAN'T WE ALSO CONCLUDE,
THOUGH, MICHAEL, THAT DESPITE
THIS OUTBURST OF NATIONALISM,
THE WORLD REALLY IS A SAFER
PLACE TODAY, AND
WE FEEL SAFER?

Michael is in his mid forties, has straight brown hair, and is clean-shaven. He wears a grey jacket and a white shirt.

Michael says OH, YEAH.
ABSOLUTELY.
IT'S NOT A NEGATIVE STORY.
YOU HAVE TO ALSO REMEMBER,
FOR EVERY YUGOSLAVIA,
THERE'S A POLAND CLIMBING
TOWARDS MARKET PROSPERITY.
THERE'S A HUNGARY
DOING THE SAME.
THERE'S A CZECHOSLOVAKIA.
CZECH REPUBLIC DOING EXTREMELY
WELL, ECONOMICALLY AND
ANCHORING DEMOCRATIC
INSTITUTIONS.
FOR EVERY FAILURE,
THERE'S A SUCCESS STORY.
SO IT'S A VERY MIXED PICTURE.
AND YUGOSLAVIA HAS BECOME
A KIND OF METAPHOR FOR
DISSOLUTION EVERYWHERE.
BUT IT ISN'T A STORY OF
DISSOLUTION EVERYWHERE.
YUGOSLAVIA IS A
PARTICULAR CASE.
AND PARTS OF THE, KIND
OF SOUTHERN RIM OF THE
SOVIET EMPIRE ARE BAD.
BUT THERE ARE LOTS
OF GOOD STORIES.

Steve says I LOVE YOUR LINE ABOUT
YUGOSLAVIA HERE.
YOUR REVELATION ABOUT
THE NEW WORLD ORDER.
PARAMILITARIES DRUNK ON PLUM
BRANDY AND ETHNIC PARANOIA,
TRADING SHOTS WITH EACH
OTHER ACROSS A WASTELAND.
THAT'S REALLY WHAT
IT'S ALL ABOUT, EH?

Michael says WELL, IT'S WHAT
IT FELT LIKE.
IN THE BALKANS.
I'M A, I’M A NICE, MIDDLE GLASS
CANADIAN BOY WHO HAS LED
A SPOILED, SHELTERED LIFE.
AND I MUST SAY I FOUND
MYSELF OFTEN DEEPLY,
DEEPLY FRIGHTENED IN THE
NEW WORLD ORDER.
BECAUSE WE'RE ALL USED
TO LIVING IN STATES.
WE'RE ALL USED TO LIVING IN
A WORLD WHERE THERE ARE COPS
AND COURTS AND IF YOU GET IN A
JAM, YOU CAN MAKE A PHONE CALL.
SUDDENLY, YOU WERE IN A WORLD
OUT THERE, IN YUGOSLAVIA, IN
KURDISTAN, IN PARTS, EVEN OF
EAST GERMANY, WHEN I WAS WITH
NEO NAZI GANGS WHERE YOU
SUDDENLY THOUGHT, NOT ONLY,
THERE'S NO ONE IN CHARGE HERE,
BUT THERE IS NO ONE TO CALL.
AND I THINK THAT'S AN
EXPERIENCE THAT IN THE
WORLD OF SAFETY, HERE
IN CANADA, WE HAVE SUCH
TROUBLE UNDERSTANDING.
WHEN WE LOOK AT THE VIOLENCE
OUT THERE, WHAT WE OFTEN FAIL
TO UNDERSTAND IS HOW DEEPLY
FRIGHTENED PEOPLE ARE.
THEY'RE IN MORTAL PERIL.
AND WHEN PEOPLE ARE SCARED,
THEY OFTEN GET VIOLENT.
MY SENSE OF YUGOSLAVIA, FOR
EXAMPLE, IS THAT A LOT OF THE
VIOLENCE HAS TO DO WITH
TOTALLY TERRIFIED AND
TERRORIZED PEOPLE IN
A HOBBESIAN WORLD.
IN A WAR OF ALL AGAINST ALL.
AND THAT IS THE WAY THE WORLD
LOOKS BEYOND THE ZONES OF
SAFETY WE LIVE IN.
AND THAT'S WHAT THE
BOOK IS A TRIP THROUGH.

Steve says ALL RIGHT, LET'S STAY WITH
YUGOSLAVIA FOR A SECOND.
THE CRITICS OR THE ENEMIES OF
SERBIA WILL SAY THAT THIS IS
A PERFECT EXAMPLE OF PEOPLE
ACTING LIKE ROBOTS WHEN A
POLITICAL LEADER TRIED TO
RADICALISE THEM WITH SOME
OLD-FASHIONED
NATIONALIST BUMPH.
AND I'M THINKING OF THE SPEECH
SERBIAN PRESIDENT MILOSEVIC
GAVE IN KOSOVO WHERE HE SAID
NO ONE'S GOING TO BE ALLOWED
TO BEAT YOU EVER AGAIN.
HAVE WE COME SO LITTLE
DISTANCE AS PEOPLE AROUND THE
WORLD, SOME WOULD ASK, THAT
POLITICAL LEADERS CAN STILL
GET OUR DANDER UP AND UNLEASH
SUCH TERRIBLE THINGS JUST BY
APPEALING TO OUR NATIONALISM,
WHICH UNDER OTHER
CIRCUMSTANCES, THAT
WOULD NEVER WORK.
WHY DOES IT WORK NOW?

Michael says I THINK IT WORKED IN
YUGOSLAVIA SIMPLY BECAUSE
THERE WAS NO OTHER PRINCIPLE
YOU COULD MOBILISE PEOPLE WITH.
YOU'RE DEALING WITH A SOCIETY
WHERE COMMUNISM SIMPLY
DESTROYED ANY VESTIGES OF
DEMOCRATIC EXPERIENCE, ANY
PRINCIPLES OF WHAT YOU COULD
CALL CIVIC MOBILIZATION.
YOU COULDN'T MOBILISE
PEOPLE AS COMMON CITIZENS.
YOU COULD ONLY MOBILISE
THEM AS SERBS, OR AS CROATS,
OR AS SLOVENIANS.
I MEAN IN CANADA, YOU CAN STILL
MOBILISE PEOPLE AS CITIZENS,
AS OPPOSED TO AS ALBERTANS,
AS OPPOSED TO QUEBECERS,
I MEAN, I HOPE.
IT'S SIMPLY BECAUSE THERE
WAS A DESERT OUT THERE.
THERE WAS NO ALTERNATIVE
LANGUAGE TO NATIONALISM.
AND THAT'S WHERE
IT'S DANGEROUS.
BUT WHERE YOU HAVE GOOD
LIBERAL CIVIC TRADITIONS, LIKE
IN THE CZECH REPUBLIC, FOR
EXAMPLE, YOU DON'T GET THAT.

Steve says ALTHOUGH THAT
COUNTRY BROKE UP, TOO.

Michael says IT BROKE UP, TOO, BUT I THINK
PEOPLE GET THE IMPRESSION
THAT THE WORLD HAS SUDDENLY
GONE MAD OUT THERE.
THE WORLD HASN'T
GONE MAD OUT THERE.
NATIONALISM DOESN'T
ALWAYS WORK.
FOR EXAMPLE, I DON'T THINK
IT'LL WORK IN QUEBEC.
I THINK IN THE END, FACED WITH
A CHOICE, BUT IN A STRAIGHT
NATIONALIST APPEAL, AND A
STRAIGHT CIVIC APPEAL, APPEAL
THAT SAYS LET'S SHARE A STATE
WITH SOME PEOPLE OF ANOTHER
LANGUAGE GROUP, LET'S KEEP THE
BIG SHOW ON THE ROAD THAT'S
BEEN GOING FOR 130 YEARS,
PRAGMATICALLY, CAUTIOUSLY,
PERHAPS EVEN CYNICALLY,
QUEBECERS WILL DECIDE FOR
THE CIVIC RATHER THAN THE
NATIONALIST ARGUMENT.
THE NATIONALIST ARGUMENT
DOESN'T ALWAYS WIN
AND DOESN'T ALWAYS WORK.

Steve says DON'T YOU FIND IT INTERESTING
THAT PRIME MINISTER CHRETIEN
IS GOING EXACTLY THE
WAY YOU JUST SUGGESTED?
HE'S NOT RISING TO
THE BAIT AT ALL.
HE'S REFUSING TO ARGUE THE
OLD-FASHIONED NATIONALIST
ARGUMENTS THAT HAVE GOTTEN SO
MANY PEOPLE IN THE BALKANS
IN TROUBLE.

Michael says ABSOLUTELY.
I THINK IF THE CANADIAN
POLITICAL ELITE CAN KEEP VERY
COOL, LOWER THE TEMPERATURE, GET
PEOPLE THINKING OF CONSEQUENCES,
GET PEOPLE ACTUALLY THINKING
ABOUT THEIR POCKETBOOKS,
KEEP THINKING ABOUT
THEIR REAL LIFE.
I MEAN, THE PROBLEM WITH
NATIONALISM IS THAT IT'S
A LANGUAGE OF FANTASY.
LANGUAGE IS A FANTASY,
LANGUAGE IS ROMANCE.
NARRATIVES OF NOBLE DREAMS
ARE VERY, VERY INTOXICATING.
AND THE ONLY WAY YOU CAN
COUNTER IT IN PRACTICAL TERMS IS
GET PEOPLE THINKING ABOUT THE
GROUND UNDER WHICH THEY STAND.
IF YOU CAN DO THAT,
YOU CAN WIN A VOTE.
I'M VERY OPTIMISTIC
IN THE CANADIAN CASE.

Steve says LET ME HARKEN BACK TO
SOMETHING YOU SAID A MOMENT AGO.
YOU DESCRIBED YOURSELF AS
A MIDDLE CLASS, CANADIAN,
RELATIVELY SPOILED, THAT'S NOT
EXACTLY THE CASE, MICHAEL.
YOU'VE LIVED ALL OVER THE
WORLD, YOU'VE WORKED ALL
OVER THE WORLD.
YOU'RE ONE OF THE MOST
COSMOPOLITAN CANADIANS GOING
THESE DAYS.
AND YET, THIS NEW NATIONALISM
SURPRISES EVEN YOU.
AND YOU'VE SEEN IT.
YOU'VE BEEN ALL
OVER THE PLACE.
WHY THE SURPRISE?

Michael says WELL, I THINK THE SURPRISE
COMES FROM THIS FACT.
IF YOU HAVE A PASSPORT,
AND I HAVE A PASSPORT.
IT'S A CANADIAN PASSPORT.
YOU TEND TO TAKE YOUR NATIONAL
IDENTITY FOR GRANTED.
YOU TEND TO TAKE THE
SECURITIES THAT A NATION STATE
GIVES YOU, THE PROTECTION, THE
SENSE THAT THERE'S ALWAYS
SOMEONE YOU CAN RING
WHEN YOU'RE IN A JAM.
YOU TAKE THAT FOR GRANTED.
YOU FORGET THAT THERE ARE
ONLY ABOUT 15 NATION STATES
IN THE WORLD THAT
ACTUALLY WORK VERY WELL.

Steve says AND WE'RE ONE
OF THEM, I HOPE.

Michael says AND WE'RE IN ONE OF THEM.
FOR ALL ITS FAILINGS,
WE'RE IN ONE OF THEM.
FOR MOST OF THE WORLD'S
POPULATIONS, THEY LIVE IN
STATES THAT ARE EITHER FALLING
APART, DON'T WORK VERY WELL,
OR ACTIVELY TYRANNIZE THEM.
OR, AND THIS IS THE
NATIONALIST CASE, THEY ARE
LIVING IN STATES WHERE THEY
ARE TYRANNISED OVER BY SOME
ETHNIC MAJORITY OR OTHER.
AND THEY ARE IN SITUATIONS
WHERE THEY HAVE NO
SELF-DETERMINATION.
THEY ARE NOT MASTERS
IN THEIR OWN HOUSE.
WE FORGET THAT THAT'S THE
CONDITION FOR MOST OF THE
WORLD'S POPULATION.
AND THAT'S WHY
NATIONALISM HAS A FUTURE.
BECAUSE NATIONALISM
ADDRESSES THAT.
Steve says THAT'S SO DEPRESSING.

Michael says WELL, NATIONALISM SAYS TO
THEM, YOU'VE GOT TO BE MASTERS
IN OUR OWN HOUSE.

Steve says SO WE ARE JUST DESTINED, MAYBE
WITH THE EXCEPTION OF THE
15 COUNTRIES YOU DESCRIBED,
WE'RE DESTINED TO BE A BUNCH OF,
WHAT, YOU KNOW, CRAZED MORONS LED AROUND
BY POLITICIANS ON LEASHES
WHENEVER THEY WANT
TO FERMENT CRAZINESS?

Michael says NO, WE'RE NOT.
I DON'T TAKE A
PESSIMISTIC CONCLUSION.
WHAT THE WORLD HAS TO HAVE
IS STABLE STATE STRUCTURES
THAT PROTECT PEOPLE.
THAT'S WHAT PEOPLE
NEED ABOVE ALL.
THEY NEED PROTECTION.
THEY NEED SECURITY.
STATE STRUCTURES THAT CAN DO
THAT HAVE A LIFE AND A FUTURE.
BUT THERE'S NO USE PRETENDING THAT
WE CAN LIVE IN A WORLD ORDER
IN WHICH ETHNIC MINORITIES ARE
BEING CONSTANTLY OPPRESSED BY
ETHNIC MAJORITIES.
NATIONALISM WILL CONTINUE
AS LONG AS THAT OCCURS.
WHAT WE HAVE TO FIND IS A
FORM OF STATE GOVERNMENT
OR STATE ORDER THAT ALLOWS
ETHNIC GROUPS TO HAVE
SELF-DETERMINATION IN
THE STATES THAT MATTER.
THIS IS WHY THE CANADIAN STORY
IS SO IMPORTANT, SO CRUCIAL.
IF WE CAN SHOW THAT YOU
CAN HAVE TWO NATIONS,
AND I REGARD THE
QUEBECOIS AS A NATION.
IF WE CAN HAVE TWO NATIONS
SHARING A SINGLE STATE,
WE CAN PROVE THAT YOU DO
NOT HAVE TO FRAGMENT STATE
STRUCTURES IN ORDER TO GIVE
NATIONS SELF-DETERMINATION.
IN OTHER WORDS, WE CAN HAVE
A SITUATION IN WHICH WE CAN
COLLABORATE IN THE BUSINESS OF
MAINTAINING A STATE STRUCTURE.
IF WE FAIL, THE WHOLE
WORLD IS GOING TO DRAW ONE
OVERWHELMING LESSON.
WHICH IS THAT EVERY NATION IN THE
WORLD HAS TO HAVE ITS STATE.
IF EVERY NATION IN THE WORLD
HAS TO HAVE ITS STATE,
WE WILL HAVE 5,000
STATES, INSTEAD OF 300.
AND THAT IS A
RECIPE FOR CHAOS.

Steve says ON THAT EXTREMELY HOPEFUL
NOTE, LET ME THANK YOU
FOR COMING IN TODAY.
APPRECIATE IT.

Michael says PLEASURE.

Watch: Michael Ignatieff on Nationalism