Dr. Iavor Rangelov – Resurgent Nationalism: Is Law an Answer?

Written by Esther Fernando

The Transitional Justice Network held a discussion at New York Law School earlier this year with Dr. Iavor Rangelov, Global Security Research Fellow at the London School of Economics & Political Science. Dr. Rangelov highlighted the relationship between key concepts of nationalism and the goals of international law.

Dr. Rangelov started off the discussion with an insight on his book Nationalism and the Rule of Law: Lessons from the Balkans and Beyond (Cambridge University Press 2014), which focuses on the development for understanding the communications of nationalism and the rule of law by analyzing the principles of citizenship, transitional justice, and international justice. What triggered his interest in the subject was the role of globalization and the variety of its responses, most of which have become ineffective in the legacy of war, not only in war crimes, but also in the entrenchment of certain politics. The involvement of nationalism and globalization in response to international crisis are just the several evaluations conducted throughout his research.

Dr. Rangelov discussed how law itself can often be an issue when it becomes an instrument for the pursuit of nationalist projects. Can law then be part of the answer in addressing insurgent nationalism and assist in developing it? It is possible, but there are broader implications in the legal approaches within public discourses and politics.

Although there are different types of ideologies associated with nationalist actors, there is a line of thinking of the new nationalism, which references old types of nationalism. According to Dr. Rangelov, nationalism can be seen as a type of discourse based on the legitimation of state power and there is a tendency to think that there exist both good and bad nationalism. The old form of nationalism involved a degree of discrimination and exclusion and was often created in war with other states – states make war and war makes states. With the decline of interstate war, nationalism has an intention to involve exclusivists’ identities. The question then arises as to how nationalism is reproduced in politics, discourses, and local practices. These considerations become important in understanding the form and intentions rule of law can take in nationalism. New nationalism occurred in a variety of places, including the Balkans in the 1990s with the occurrence of ethnic cleansing and genocide, and continues in the rise of nationalist movements, as we see in the west, particularly in immigration matters.

In his research, Dr. Rangelov examines a variety of ways in which states entrench and stabilize different forms of discrimination and exclusion by looking at different types of laws, specifically, immigration, citizenship, and constitutional law, in which he discovers the different forms of membership. In regards to ethnic citizenship, there are various modes of membership defining ethnic terms enshrined in law, which you find in transitional states in Europe, Israel, and even Japan. In the current conditions of globalization, citizenship is deflated, and so it becomes a major arena for nations to shape identities. This is displayed across the world where immigrants have to go through transformations to become nationals. There is a symbolic appropriation of citizenship as a resource in the state of shaping identities.

The next part of the conversation concentrated on the question as to when is law part of the answer. The answer is perceived as the dark side of nationalism – when it encourages critical public discussion. According to Dr. Rangelov, the courts are not able to answer questions of public identity. Queries of public identities are addressed through public discussions. There are debates pertaining to the interpretations of previous abuses. For instance, in Turkey, the debate focused on whether the atrocities actually occurred – the Armenian genocide in Turkey becomes an instrument of nationalist mobilization. Creating public discussions introduces opportunities to target situations and implement them into nationalism.

In assessing the relationship of nationalism and the rule of law, one must go behind the State because that is where all the interesting developments take place. International legal norms and structures develop as responses to nationalism. In response to international legal justice, Dr. Rangelov looked at the establishment of the Nuremberg trials and the revival of international criminal justice fifty years later in the midst of the war in Bosnia with the creation of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. It can be argued that both respond to nationalism and war, with the goal to suppress certain manifestations of nationalism and to criminalize their methods. By the mid-90s, the response to one of the crisis in the former Yugoslavia was the establishment by the United Nations Security Council of the tribunal, where the aim was to suppress a certain type of nationalism and to criminalize its objective of ethnic cleansing. What later becomes the subject matter is genocide. Dr. Rangelov argues that in both the international rule of law and the international paradigm, the response to nationalist projects was to suppress and criminalize such goals and methods.

Dr. Rangelov ended the event by observing the idea of pluralization to understand the implications of a society that address international justice by arguing that such repercussions, such as the impact of Yugoslavia tribunal, could be understood by looking at three fields: public discourse, politics, and law or legal order. There is an importance of determining how different social actors use the existence of the courts. For example, in public discourse as a result of the establishment of tribunal, one can see several different types of transnational discourses emerging, such as the liberal discourse, which sees the tribunal as an attempt to address the human rights abuse from the war and an attempt to pave the way for the construction of the moderate order, which is based on the rule of law. Pluralization is vital because it emerges against all odds and challenges the logic of globalization.

Video of Dr. Iavor Rangelov’s discussion can be accessed by clicking here.

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