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Karlo Basta

Jan 17, 2022

The Symbolic State

Minority Recognition, Majority Backlash, and Secession in Multinational Countries

McGill-Queen's University Press 2021

In his new book, The Symbolic State: Minority Recognition, Majority Backlash, and Secession in Multinational Countries (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2021), Karlo Basta argues that the nation-state is a double sleight of hand, naturalizing both the nation and the state encompassing it. No such naturalization is possible in multinational states. To explain why these states experience political crises that bring their very existence into question, standard accounts point to conflicts over resources, security, and power. This book turns the spotlight on institutional symbolism. When minority nations in multinational states press for more self-government, they are not only looking to protect their interests. They are asking to be recognized as political communities in their own right. Yet satisfying their demands for recognition threatens to provoke a reaction from members of majority nations who see such changes as a symbolic repudiation of their own vision of politics. Secessionist crises flare up when majority backlash reverses symbolic concessions to minority nations. Through a synoptic historical sweep of Canada, Spain, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia, The Symbolic State shows us that institutions may be more important for what they mean than for what they do. 

Karlo Basta is a Lecturer at the School of Social and Political Science at the University of Edinburgh and co-director of the Centre on Constitutional Change.

Christian Axboe Nielsen is associate professor of history and human security at Aarhus University in Denmark.

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Christian Axboe Nielsen is associate professor of history and human security at Aarhus University in Denmark.

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