Prior to 1950s and 60s, ethnicity preserved its original understanding referring to “ethnics” as pagans; it was used in a religious or denominational sense; however, in the 60s and 70s “ethnicity” was used in academics with multiple meanings. Due to different historical heritages, “European audience was more inclined to adopt ethnicity as a substitute for nationhood which is articulated in terms of a presumed commonality in shared territory or descent” (Malesevic, 2002, p274). Even with its historical commonness character, ethnic national identity does not say that the very basis of the nation is physical kinship, it is rather the sense of cultural affinities embodied in a myth of the common descent and shared historical memories (Smith, 1998).
These different heritages include myths, symbols and a specific communication in the certain territory. Symbols represent shared experiences and values; myths explain meanings of these experiences and exemplify values. These symbols and myths are important as long as they resonate with the members of the group. Some of these symbols or myths might not be passed to the next generation or they simply lose their importance; in the result, the particular group is changing its cultural meanings and representations of symbols, myths, memories and values (Smith, 1998). As any other identity, ethnic or cultural national identity is also not fixed, its borders might move and change its shape. The group exists as long as these borders exists.
It is perceived that different social groups possess different cultural characteristics such as common language, the style, descent, religion or physical markers, which make them unique and different from others. In this sense ethnic culture is perceived as something relatively stable and definite, and these cultural markers are viewed as group’s property- no one else can have it. This cultural difference is created and recognized in the interaction with others, where common cultural and political meanings are established. In the academics, the focal point of the studies about ethnicity has shifted from the study of its contents (language, historical groups, etc.) to the study of its boundaries and collective interaction (Malesevic, 2002).
Ethnic identity is perceived as something rather fixed, however, state also can define it by legislative and institutional regulations, which might have some destructive effects. When the state asks a person to define his ethnic identity in census or other state documents, it becomes a sort of oppression, because it is forcing people to put themselves in involuntary associations. These situations might cause social change in the state in terms of the national identity (Malesevic, 2002).
As mentioned before, state has a strong say in building a certain national identity. By implementing certain educational programmes, the school also might play an important role in the sense of ethnic identity (Idris, et.all, 2012).
Ethnic groups have not been organized, coordinated or having a leader, they can exist and function without it, and they would not become less “real” because of this absence. What is real, is a sense of this collectivity. As other collective identities, they are imagined, but real because people do build up their social lives around this idea of groupness (Jenkins, 2008; Mitchel, 1974).
Race, ethnicity and nation is a way to identify oneself and interpret one’s and at the same time group’s needs, problems and interests; these identities are internationally accepted without a consideration whether they are real or not; whether there are significant differences in customs, beliefs and traditions (Mitchell, 1974). These identities are “both institutionalized and informal of recognizing, identifying, and classifying other people, of construing sameness and difference, and of “coding” and making sense of their actions” (Brubaker, 2009, p34). Any group identification is representing and organizing certain social knowledge and giving some explanation to one’s own and other’s actions; furthermore, these national, ethnic and racial identities are reproduced from day to day (Brubaker, 2009). Ethnic distinctions might be fuzzy and boundaries- soft, allowing individuals to have multiple identities and switch their identities according to the situation (Wimmer, 2008b).
In cases, when an individual recognizes his or her ethnic identity and belonging to the group, there is a strong emotional attachment to these ethnic categories (Brubaker, 2004); existence of the boundary does not make the group fixed. Also, when ethnic boundaries are having a high importance, it is more likely that political organizations will be formed between the ethnic groups (Wimmer, 2008b).
Even if there is a great importance of the language emphasized (language as an ethnic group marker), one cannot become a member of this ethnic group just by learning the language (Gil- White, 1999). Of course, language is a crucial part for the group identity, but without other components, language cannot form the whole ethnic identity.
The question of how ethnic identity is gained is also up, when there is an inter- ethnic marriage and what is the ethnic identity of their child; in some cultures, father’s ethnic identity is the most important one and it defines the identity of the child; in other cultures, it is mother’s ethnic identity that is transparent to the children (Gil- White, 1999). However, according to social identity theory, ethnic identity is gained through the socialization in one’s life; the theory does not automatically define the ethnic identity of the child from inter- ethnic family, however, by interacting with both parents and other individuals in the society, a person develops his own understanding of his identity. This identity might not be the same as neither of his or her parents- a new ethnic identity might develop. Similar question arises to the second and third generations of immigrant groups, where new ethnic identities might develop.
1.1.1. National identity problem
In the modern world, where international migration and democratic states are becoming stronger, traditional nation state and its boarders is tested. From one hand, because of the high economic modernization, there is an attempt to define a cultural identity to heighten societal consciousness (Chun, 1996; He, 2002). From another hand, to maintain political stability, liberal democracy states are trying to achieve cultural equality (Wilcox, 2004).
To maintain a stable liberal democracy, states have to think of how to integrate minority and immigrant groups; however, because of the increasing cultural consciousness of the groups, it is getting harder to achieve this cultural plurality and equality (Wilcox, 2004). “By forcing all its different peoples to employ a single civic language and by preaching allegiance to national symbols and historical myths, the state’s elites may actually stir up resentment and bitterness at the neglect of minority cultures and the suppression of minority peoples’ histories” (Smith, 1992).
The more different communities are in their language, culture, geographic and economic conditions and their social structure, the less likely they will be agreeing on “other’s” commands and ruling. Physical or mental distance is a large part of the cultural, social and economic perceptions of the similarity and difference (Deutsch, 1981).
The first channel of the communication between the state and citizens are official events; these events are supported by laws. By choosing particular events as a national festivity or celebration, the state is sending a message. Second channel- mass media that is in some ways controlling the information citizens get about political, social or economic issues and topics (Deutsch, 1962).
In order for democracy to exist, membership boundaries should be stable, and the composition of the citizenship boundaries should remain the same (Bomhof, 2011). Citizenship is the official document and marker of a national belonging, which in a modern world aims to gain a horizontal solidarity among those, who share the same citizenship. According to this, everyone who share the same citizenship, has the same cultural and political rights; also, citizenship is kind of a marker of the identity (Chun, 1996; Wilcox, 2004). However, majority of the immigration states prefer, some insist, that immigrants and ethnic minorities of the state become culturally assimilate and share national identity despite having difficulties to gain the citizenship or having cultural or economic deprivation (Vasta, 2013).
In multicultural states, it is possible that people might have differentiated unities; they might agree with others on some issues (e.g., economic policy) and not to others (e.g., cultural or immigration policies) (Vasta, 2013). Furthermore, because of historical reasons, the same symbols and rituals of the collective national identity might not have the same meaning to all cultural groups in the state; some symbols or celebrations (for instance, Christmas to Christians) might be important to one group while meaning nothing to others (strong atheists) (Wilcox, 2004).
Different cultural communities develop social connections in everyday life activities associated with the work or leisure time. Such interactions form or discredit certain perceptions and stereotypes of the others; by establishing common interests in local and national political decision- making, minority groups and immigrants feel more welcomed and develop their sense of belonging to the polity and community, which is maintaining stability of the democracy in the state (Wilcox, 2004). If there is absence of such interaction, certain groups of people do not identify themselves with the nation- state they live in and they seek to create their own identity, which is usually based on culture or ethnicity (Bomhof, 2011).
The national identity problem is understood as a phenomenon in which certain sections of national populations do not identify themselves with the respective nation- state; these sections of national population seek to create their own political identity through the reconstruction of cultural and ethnic identities. The identity problem also might include a problem of the control over territories and resources, and the issue of redrawing boundaries (He, 2002).
As mentioned before, there are two kind of citizenship regimes- civic and ethnic. During the time most countries have implemented the civic side of this distinction (Bail, 2008), however, there still is an idea that a nation is based on ethnic background and history.
State borders provide its inhabitants with a concrete, local and powerful experience of the state; these borders are shaped and enforced by citizenship. However, not only institutional part is important, also state’s social communication and decision making on inclusion and exclusion matters (Lamont& Molnar, 2002). Other boundaries are made by the language and culture of the state, which are crucial to the integration of immigrants and minority groups (Bail, 2008; Williams, 1989).
Some find multiple citizenship as a response and solution to the national identity problem; multiple citizenship in a larger scale might form a cosmopolitan global community. Such a solution would give a look at the national identity problem as a global issue rather than national (He, 2002).