Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Multiple Identities

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There are traits and characteristics that describe a person or group of people. However, each person or group has its own unique characteristics. The many countries within Europe have their own unique traits. These defining characteristics contribute to the creation of an identity. An identity is a notion that one can associate themselves with. Many examples of such principles are religion, language, culture, gender, social status and nationality. The idea of identity is based upon the Us-other dichotomy and is created on the assumption that the Us-group is superior to the Other-group. A person or group of people that can identify themselves with more than one idea leads to the concept of multiple identities. Roberta Guerrina describes multiple identities as, “a set of concentric circles. The closer a circle is to the centre, the closer this particular feature of an individual’s identity is to his/her self ”. Multiple identities can be reinforcing but can also lead to conflicts between different levels of the individual’s identity. There are many characteristics that define Europe today, many of which multiple identities have shaped. From the forming of communities, to the forming of nations, and to the forming of the European Union, multiple identities can be seen having a great impact on life throughout Europe. Conquests, revolts, and the changing of boundaries can be seen to be a consequence of many people with different identities coexisting on the same land. This is also playing a significant role as the force of globalization is growing and creating new and diversified identities throughout Europe, thus leading to a more tolerant and inclusive society.

Every person craves a sense of belonging. A person defines their identity based upon their personal beliefs and surroundings. There is a double dimension in the notion of multiple identities. Identity is how a person can relate to and comprehend the world around them. Family, ethnic group, occupational group, nationality, tribe, gender and social class are a few of the major groups of belonging. These units are the fundamental forces that affect a person. There are many instances where a person holds more than one identity pertaining to the same matter. These can be reinforcing, but can also lead to conflict within. A person can belong to the Us-group; while at the same time belong to the Other. The disagreement that arises from the conflict of interest is at the heart of Europe, and can be seen throughout history. This sense of belonging has shaped Europe into what it has become today through many processes.

The multiple identities within Europe had a great impact on the individual countries of Europe. There are many allegiances that one may choose to participate in. These allegiances often overlapped each other; these groups of association often affect different parts of the Europeans livelihood. The religious groups and communal influences upon the people of Europe played a significant role in the growth of Europe’s many nations. Over the years, the religious and communal beliefs of the people further developed the lands within European borders. During the early centuries, the multiple religious identities played a major role in the development of the geographical borders. The conflict between the religious identities, as many others, arose from the Us-Other dichotomy. After the era of Christendom, the Christian religion separated into many of its different sectors. The detachment of the individual branches leads to the feeling of superiority between the Us and Other groups and the conflicts that arose because of these feeling forever changed the state-wide borders within Europe. Yet, the communal influences within the people also greatly contributed to the transformation of the country borders within Europe. In the earlier times, the people felt a loyalty and sense of community that often lead to conflicts of interest because of feelings of inferiority and superiority. During the early modern periods, the identity for most people was centered on their own town. People felt a sense of community within and were suspicious of neighbouring towns even though they were in the same realm. However, these communities within had commonalities, like common enemies. This sense of multiple identities shaped Europe from the beginning. As the concept of a nation began to emerge in the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth century, many of the sub national identities were submerged and taken over by nationalism. The concept of nationalism was not very successful at the beginning because the union of many communities which were thrown together at random by dynastic marriages, and broadly dispersed across the map of Europe each had their own identities and were unwilling to be inclusive of the Other. The holdings of the Emperor Charles V in the sixteenth century are a classic example. They included populations with entirely different laws, customs, languages, and cultures. The multiple identities affected the national borders within Europe, yet the conflict of interest that arose from the multiple identities was cause for many disputes.

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Many battles were caused by the conflict of interest that arose from the Us-Other dichotomy created by the existence of multiple identities. Various consequences resulted from these battles, a population could drive the other out of the desired land, or they could separate the territory between them with new boundaries. In addition the victor would stay and breed with the original population, resulting in a mixture of cultures, customs and languages. These new combinations resulted in multiple identities for many.

All of these conflicts left a lasting impression on Europe. Examples of this can be seen through the conquest of Europe by the Romans. They brought their culture all over Europe, but most of the existing identities didn’t disappear. This desire from the people not to let their identities vanish often led to a revolt. Armin, a Germanic tribe leader united tribes and conquered a part of the Roman Empire, Germania, thus creating new boundaries and new identities. The same schemes repeat all throughout history, with the Barbarian migrations, the Franks, the Vikings, the Empire of Charlemagne, the Papal Domination, Old regime, conquests, invasions, persecutions, dominations, flux of populations, and creations of new boundaries. The multiple religious identities led to other conflicts and oppositions about faith with the age of religious discord and the Reformation.

The two last major conflicts in Europe, the two World Wars, were also the consequence of multiple identities and the rising of the national identity. The diversity of identities, defined by opposition to the others, was the starting mechanism leading to the clash. Furthermore, all these identities are still sources of conflicts nowadays. The Independence of the Irish republic, the conflicts in ex-Yugoslavia, the terrorists in Corsica are examples of tensions still existing due to people with multiple identities living on the same land.

Multiple identities have changed the shape of Europe and are still changing it drastically with growing force of globalization. Identities have been multiplied and diversified as a result of globalization and it has lead to a more tolerant and more inclusive society. The multitude of social, political, economic and cultural forces arising from this can be currently seen throughout Europe. Today, many “sub-national” or regional identities are emerging from the national identities. People can express a Basque or Celtic identity. They can be Catalan and Spanish, Jew and French, coming from Yorkshire and, simultaneously, declare themselves to be from Europe. It is what is called the “hybrid state”. Demands for greater recognition of national identity, if not yet total separation, are on the rise; for example, Scotland, and in Belgium, Walloons and Flemings are increasingly at odds, while in France the Bretons, the Basques, the Corsicans, and German-speaking Alsatians are reviving their own ethnic traditions and customs. In Spain, Catalonia, the Basque country and Galicia are increasingly resentful of the central government in Madrid. Multiple identities are emerging and eroding the nation’s monopoly of social identity. The economic needs of Europe are causing the nations to surrender part of its sovereignty, and therefore identity to a new entity, the European Union. Many, like the Scots and the Catalans hope that the joining to the European Union will open the way to the devolution of local powers and recognition of the multiple identities compressed under the European nationalist system. The whole concept of the European Union brings about another identity. People are already identifying themselves as European rather than French, German or Italian. This leads to a more inclusive society, one where many cultures can exist and overlap one where multiple identities exist; however the exclusion force can also be seen through the changes that the countries have to undergo in order to join the EU. The European Union has created a new identity, a larger one than has been seen in Europe in a long time, one that every person in Europe will one day become part of, and hopefully be the key to a stronger and more tolerant society.

Multiple identities have shaped Europe throughout the centuries. People with many different identities living in the same land have caused great changes in Europe. European history was made by a succession of conquests, invasions and revolts, carried by the feeling of belonging to a group defined in opposition with others, carried by the multiple identities coexisting on a single territory. The Europe we know today is the result of these numerous fluctuations in the shape of the boundaries, the transfers of population and influences carried in by invaders. Europe has seen much bloodshed as a result of multiple identities; however, with the force of globalization, the many multiple identities are showing signs of tolerance for each other and will thus hopefully create a bright future for the European society.

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