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October 20, 2014

On the Sochi Winter Olympics and nationalism

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As the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics descend on the Russian city of Sochi, the world will witness the grandest displays of nationalism in the modern world. It’s a time of celebratory unity and collective disappointments.

The construct of the nation-state and its latent functions is a notion easily taken for granted. While most view the nation-state as simply bureaucracy writ large, it also performs a profound symbolic purpose.

Few realize how at the dusk of religious supremacy the nation-state provided what Benedict Anderson has described as a “secular transformation of fatality into continuity, contingency into meaning”. This afforded citizens a vested interest in the state, creating an “imagined community” which combines kinship, eternity and place.

In this way, the nation serves as the antithesis to religious fatalism, granting its citizenry participation in the shaping of their political realities. This shift comprised the foundation of the modern liberal-democratic world system.

This territorializing of our shared identity continues to be both sources of commonality and conflict. Perhaps the Olympic Games provides a peaceful outlet for such sentiments. With the anniversary of The Great War looming, however, it may serve us well to remember how brute nationalism and fear of the foreign “other” can have dire consequences.