The concept “nation” is used as an analytical category of community identities (cultural and ethnic) and as a descriptive term for characterizing a history of a human community, which also might include an epoch and culture. This does not automatically imply that a nation is substantial, homogeneous or stable; neither it implies that the essence of the nation is something fixed, especially, in modern times, where are a high mobility and increasing emigration and immigration (Smith, 2011). In the theoretical field, there are different approaches towards the concept and, thus, different definitions. In the following paragraphs, three definitions are examined; a “nation” defined by Anthony D. Smith, Benedict Anderson, and Yael Tamir.
Benedict Anderson defines a nation as “an imagined political community- and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign” (Anderson, 2006, pp6); it is imagined because it is very unlikely that the members of the particular nation will meet and know most of the community; however, in their minds they have an image of this shared community (Anderson, 2006). For Anderson, a nation is not just an imagined community, but it is also a political community, therefore, political activity is involved.
For Anthony D. Smith, a nation is “a named and self-defined human community whose members cultivate shared myths, memories, symbols, values and traditions, identify with a historic homeland, create and disseminate a distinctive public culture, and observe shared customs and common laws” (Smith, 2011, pp227; Smith, 1992, p60). Thus, according to Smith, a nation is a group of people who belong to and live in a nation- state, share cultural (language, religion), social and historical ideas and artefacts. People are having a sense of a community, which is different from other communities.
Smith mentions that a nation is first and foremost a social and cultural community; a common culture shared by the members through the interaction is the first criteria for the existence of a nation. Also, this community is dependent of the state by laws and several regulations; however, historical experience of the Soviet Union shows that a nation also can exist without a state (Smith, 1994), it is- a state is not a crucial factor for a nation. Even if usually concepts a state and a nation overlap in terms of a common territory and citizenship, according to Smith, a nation as a political community exists only if it embodies a common culture and a common social will (common goals) (Smith, 1992). For Smith, shared myths, memories, symbols and traditions are components which bonds and unites a (nation) community. These components should be transparent- they should be passed to next generations in order to maintain the national character of the group (Smith, 1992).
As Smith analyses the nation and its role in the 90s- the state has become more powerful for maintaining and controlling national boundaries, which increased greatly after 1945. At the same time media is playing a massive role for the minority groups- media has raised the level of consciousness and expectations for minority groups. The third component for shaping national identity is a mass education, which is “forcing” different people to employ the official language and preaching its official national symbols and history (Smith, 1992). State is clearly having a power to influence and shape nations character through the education, national TV and regulations for maintaining and controlling national boundaries; however, in modern times, with global migration and cultural interaction in different aspects, plurality of nations has developed, and it is harder for state to control these boundaries. Different integration policies are applied in order to maintain some cultural characteristics of the respective nation- state (Smith, 1998).
In his article, Yael Tamir (1995) refers to and reflects on the previous definitions (both above), and in the end he comes up with his definition of the “nation”, which is: (a nation is) “a community whose members share feelings of fraternity, substantial distinctiveness, and exclusivity, as well as beliefs in a common ancestry and a continuous genealogy. Members of such a community are aware not only that they share these feelings and beliefs but that they have an active interest in the preservation and well-being of their community. They thus seek to secure for themselves a public sphere where they can express their identity, practice their culture, and educate their youth” (Tamir, 1995, pp425). Thus, a nation’s members do believe in a common ancestry and common group’s interests; they are conscious about their uniqueness culturally, historically and language wise, and they have some perception of a common homeland (Tamir, 1995).
A nation is united with a common descent and fate; nation’s members feel like their personal success and well- being is closely connected with the prosperity of the group as whole. Group members are able to relate their self- esteem, identity and accomplishments with other members of the group and these feelings are exclusively connected with the particular nation (community). Distinctiveness of the national and local communities is complicated; while the characteristics of the nation can be applied to the local community (Latvian- Russian characteristics to Rigan), but other way around might be harder to distinguish (Tamir, 1995). In modern world it is rarely seen that there would be a homogenous cultural or ethnic group in the nation, which certainly complicates the nation- state identity and boundary making (Jones& Smith, 1991).