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National Myths: Makers and Destroyers of Nations


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National Myths: Makers and Destroyers of Nations

Once upon a time in a faraway land, there existed a great kingdom. It was the greatest dynasty in the world, renowned for its benevolent and valorous people. It was ruled by kings and queens who loved their people more than they loved themselves and their power. This great nation had been chosen to rule the world from heaven above and was a symbol of justice. It was the richest kingdom in the whole wide world that the landscape was evergreen, its cattle big as mammoth and enough to feed the world, and its homes ornamented with gold – it was simply a heaven on earth. Yet it shared its boundaries with a nation that was its archenemy. One sad day, this evil neighboring kingdom sent out a great army to destroy the noble nation for it was envious of their affluence. In the great battle of good versus evil, the enemy was triumphant. From that moment onward, up until the present, the great nation had lived in suffering under the oppression of the tyrants. Well, this is truly a sad story, but it was exactly that – a story. It is a fictional story found in the heart of every narrative of every nation.

Sorel defines myth as a symbolic method of transferring rationality into the language of the masses in order to justify present reality and mobilize the people. Myths serve our lives in various ways. They have the power to inspire both individuals and societies by showing how great human beings had been in the past when they were performing great deeds. Societies have their own mythologies, showing how the society came into existence while paying homage to the assumed heroes, heroines or victories of the society. Whether such myths have or have not a factual basis, they serve as the glue that holds the members of a certain nation together. However, there are dangers in trusting social myths too much or too often. They may be a reason for grudges held against other societies or inspiration for the unacceptable act of reestablishing a past utopia, or more accurately a dystopia, in which a certain society is put on the pedestal at the expense of others. 

A national myth is a legendary story of a nation which explains the present reality by combining historical facts with fiction. Polosin V. S. states that there are common features of national mythologies and presents the following as the dominant ones. (1) The archetype of the Great Motherland, symbolizing the origin and the purpose of people as a macro-family; (2) The history, idealized as the frame plot of the universe, and the space, idealized as the geographic center of the Universe; (3) A system of symbols that by means of archetypal key-benchmark (the image of Motherland) will decode the mythical collective experience (‘the must’) and relate to it ‘the desirable’; (4) Archetype of superman-Arch father (ancestor of the national elite, the Hero patron), embodies the image of the Hero-superman, based on the national elite and folk archetypes (Polosin, 1999, p. 94). I find the above features to be remarkably accurate because they represent the national mythologies of almost every nation.

When a national myth is used for political purposes so as to move the mass, it becomes a political myth. Tsuladze A. defines the political myth as “a myth used to implement political objectives: struggle for power, implementation of the political rule.” There are specific components of political myths that are similar to a national myth. A political myth portrays a fictitious past world of fairness, a historical moment remotely supported by national history, a moment of severe injury that led to their present predicament, a utopian future, and deep antagonism with others. When social injuries are transformed into political myths, they have no logical basis but are only based on faith. When our brains are trapped in a belief that has no factual foundation, it makes our actions the outcome of emotions and feelings. We have seen the tragic result of ethnic conflicts when a certain ethnic group accuses others of past grievance based on emotion and ill-treats them. It is difficult to solve because the cause is imaginary, making our fight against shadows.

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This makes us wonder why politicians use political myths instead of factual arguments. The reason is simple: they want to compensate for the authority they lack by obtaining the image of a savior. The politician can use myth to create a fictional cause and effect for social problems by speaking of legends of past glories, and finally present oneself as a savior of the nation. Accordingly, the politician is pictured as the representation of justice and order. In addition, since the scope of myth is vast it provides the opportunity to reshape it and fit the hidden agenda. Kolev argues that in a political myth, “not the Truth but the Victory becomes the dominant idea; not humanity but the nation becomes the main value.” The dire outcome of a political myth is evident in history; as we can see from the conflicts in Myanmar, in the dark times of Rwanda, or the present conflicts in Ethiopia. It is; therefore, essential for the people to realize the game of politicians and not be tricked.

For politicians to gain acceptance they do not seek actual individuals or people but mass or crowd. According to Моskovichi, the mass is a psychic community that operates unconsciously, without reason, to provide support and obedience to their leader. Thus, leaders use myths to rally the mass into action by appealing to their emotion and blind faith. When a nation is stable, leaders do not use political myth; however, they use it when there is political instability. As evident in our country, politicians use such myths when they are in desperate need of gullible support. So it is important to realize that political myths are created artificially, consciously and purposefully based on collective aspirations and hopes that are consciously cultivated by politicians. At the end of the day, we should recognize the fact that national myths are indispensable from the history of nations. The main question is whether we use them to unite the nation or divide it. Hyubner shows the positive aspect of national myth by calling it the ‘soul of people’ and stating, “A nation is understood through the prism of the myth and determined through archetypal understanding of the history.” Since it is inseparable from the nation, let us use our national myth as a source of unity instead of disintegration.

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