It was the fate of [Eastern European] borderland nations always to know yourself through the stories of others, to realize yourself only with the help of others. —Anne Applebaum in “Between East and West: Across the Borderlands of Europe”
I think about this often… The complex impacts of geography, culture, and history on identity.
In fact, at a recent racism awareness training session in New England we watched THE COLOR OF FEAR, where they discuss a central concept of North American “White” racial identity as being privileged to NOT have to think about race in society. (Sort of the dominant “default” or “normal” status.)
On the other hand, it seems like in Central & Eastern Europe, “white” slavic people tend to define themselves almost entirely in relation (or comparison) to other ethnic groups.
THE COLOR OF FEAR clip = http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-vAbpJW_xEc
@Marek: I would differentiate racial, ethnic, and national identity. The salience of each differs by country, culture, and continent. Central/Eastern Europeans identify by ethnicity and nation because those are the categories most relevant there. In fact, the definition of every nation begins with a negative: what we are not. Slovaks = not Hungarian, not Czech. Ukrainians = not Russian, not Ruthenian, not Polish. Americans = not English. Race is much more salient in the U.S., for historical reasons. I don’t pretend to know enough about it to comment.
The quote from Anne Applebaum’s book (review coming soon) referred specifically to Ukrainians, but it applies in many areas of Central/Eastern Europe. If history is written by the victors, Central/Eastern Europeans have been under one Empire or another, living many different histories. I recently reviewed Anna Porter’s “The Ghosts of Europe” where she shows that history is not settled in Central Europe, except now it’s factions within these countries themselves who argue over what happened.