Is our nation fact or fiction?
What culture! What politics!
Such jackassery could only happen in Guyana

by Festus L. Brotherson, Jr.
Guyana Chronicle
January 28, 2001

THERE is a lyrical, catharsis-type bent to French philosopher Ernest Renan's definings of the concept of nation.

He says, "A nation is a soul, a spiritual principle. Only two things constitute this soul, this spiritual principle.

"One is in the past, the other is in the present. One is the possession in common of a rich legacy of remembrances; the other is the actual consent, the desire to live together, the will to continue to value the heritage which all hold in common."

On both counts, landmasses that were hastily joined together by the colonisers, which they then palmed off as nations with the ceremonial pomp of political independence, intended to add legitimacy to their own hasty departures at the prodding of the United States, fail as nations according to Renan's criteria.

In fact, one wonders if Guyana is a nation at all.

By many other criteria as well, our country is challenged to live up to definitions of nation whether these be esoteric a la Renan's standards or Max

Weber's prestige community model where nation is "endowed with a sense of cultural mission."

Karl Deutsch offered a more esoteric or workingman's definition. The nation exists where there is "the presence of sufficient communication facilities with enough complementarity to produce the overall result."

And Clifford Geertz was among many who introduced competing ethnic and civic components in nationalism and the nation.

More common place today, we define nation as nation-state to capture the process of Third World evolutionary development of the first and governance and rulership of the landmasses in the second. Thus, a nation is more loosely defined as a political community with common historical and cultural characteristics that inhabit clearly defined territories.

In addition, the latter requirement is absent in cases where the Palestinian nation is said to exist in the diaspora just like the Jewish nation did before the grant of territory.

There might, therefore, be some legitimacy in pointing to a Caribbean nation in the diaspora.

Question: again, is Guyana a nation and are Guyanese in the diaspora an integral part of that nation who should enjoy full rights?

Nation-state is identified as a distinct, politically defined territory that constitutes its own state. It has relatively coherent culture, economy, and ethnic and other social identities.

Again, the question is posed: does Guyana qualify?

Some people tell me "no!" on both counts in rather strong language; especially in social gatherings where the focus is on "liming and talking up stuff."

They might be right.

Consider our politics and culture. These should play out in a way that strengthen nation, uplift nationhood and inculcate positive ethnocentric elements of nationalism. However, this is exactly what has not been happening for a long time.

When people invite me to make presentations on Caribbean or Guyanese culture, I usually begin by asking rhetorically, "What culture?"

In many respects, both Guyana and the Caribbean live the myth of rich culture when there is none!

Similarly, in the political realm, the politics we play is extremely backward - harmful in a Jim Jones' kind of maniacal suicide bent rather than in a consensus-building or problem-solving way.

We owe these deficiencies solely to our unenlightened, often self-appointed and bigoted political leaders whose leadership reference and actions in political life are spawned by a Pavlovian panting-dog-type attraction to violence as the preferred mode of behaviour for advancement.

The calls fit the scorched earth ideology adumbrated by the once highly feared Shining Path guerillas of Peru led by madman Arturo Guzman!

Recently, in our own Guyana, we have had scorched earth pledges to make the nation-state "ungovernable," or to incite a "slow fire" approach to dissent and warnings of "grave consequences," if the ruling government does not agree to rulership by committee until the March 19 elections.

These sawdust Caesars are poised to "rescue the nation" once they succeed in first destroying it!

Such jackassery could only happen in Guyana and the iconoclastic behaviour is clearly counter-productive to nation building.

We recently saw this strange vision of the nation seemingly bent on self-destruction in a court ruling that the December 1997 elections were null and void based on a strange constitutional technicality.

As time has passed and solid sobriety has set in, more and more opinion leaders are denouncing the ruling itself as unconstitutional!

There is more on culture that is uncomplementary to nation, nationhood and nationalism.

We have a culture that is best described as an enigmatic potpourri or amalgam of fragmentation, collectivism and parochialism. It is to some extent typical for Third World states to exhibit such dangerous shortcomings, e.g. Burundi and Rwanda in Sub-Saharan Africa.

However, it remains puzzling that a territory like Guyana's, which has a large and very fertile landmass in relation to a very small population, and significant mineral wealth, etc., would be so impoverished in an unrelenting way over four decades since political independence.

So, I ask again: "what culture?"

In terms of the lack of it in the Caribbean, Eric Hobsbawn described the region as "a curious terrestrial space station from which the fragments of various races, torn from the worlds of their ancestors and aware both of their origins and of the impossibility of returning to them, can watch the remainder of the world with unaccustomed detachment."

And what about the country's politics? We know that politics everywhere reflects the culture of a time and place, and that political activity reflects cultural expectations. We also know that politics is best understood by the mythical Janus God model that shows integration and conflict as two sides of the same coin.

Guyana's politics, however, does not stress integration at all -- at least not in practice. The racial and ethnocentric elements are highlighted as the defining issues in statecraft and usually intensify rather than ameliorate conflict.

As Woshinsky notes, "Many societies exacerbate conflict through the political process, eventually insuring the escalation of natural human disagreement into bloodied armed confrontation between fanatically opposed groupings."

Sadly, this is my country, my misery; our country, our misery.

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