The transition from the nation state to a plurinational state

Jubenal Quispe, June 29

When the descendants of the conquistadores founded the Republic of Bolivia in 1825, they copied the European political, economic, cultural, philosophical, theological, juridical, anthropological and administrative model and applied it to what they called Bolivia.

Politically, they copied the 16th century European nation-state project and applied it to the plurinational reality of the Audiencia de Charcas [the highest court of the Spanish Crown in what is now Sucre, Bolivia, previously Upper Peru, under the authority of the Viceroy of Lima].

The nation-state theory holds that each nation creates its own state. “Nation” is understood as the group of persons that historically make up a territory, with common bloodlines, language, spirituality, and philosophy, and that aspire to self-determination.

In single-nation societies, such as Germany or France, the nation-state theory was functional. The Germans and French founded their states (Germany and France, respectively) because these peoples each came from one nation. But this theory could not apply to Spain, with its plurinational character. Why else do you think the Basque nation is now demanding political recognition? For Bolivia, a plurinational country, the nation-state theory did not, does not and will not be applicable. In this country there cohabit various nations that did not participate in or feel represented by the monocultural Bolivian state. Not to mention the “Bolivian nation”! So is there a Bolivian nation? And if not, will there be a Bolivian nation-state?

The Bolivian state, a reflection of the intellectual ineptitude of its ancestors, was created to fit the interests and ambitions of the Creoles and mestizos. Initially, it lived on tribute from the indigenous peoples. And the ruling class accumulated its wealth by robbing the original inhabitants of their lands.

The nation-state political project failed in Bolivia because there was no Bolivian nation that could sustain it and the first nations were excluded, without a state. This is the sad contradiction of Bolivia, albeit camouflaged, the origin of the terminal weaknesses that it suffers today.

The descendants of the conquistadores attempted to overcome this contradiction with the claim that they were building the illusory Bolivian nation. With this in mind, they attempted to exterminate the indigenous nations through slavery and internal colonialism in the 19th century and even beyond. But since the indigenous resistance overcame all anthropological predictions, they turned to building the Bolivian nation “by educating them in Western culture”. In the latter half of the 19th century, they called this “national integration”. To be Bolivian, the indigenous peoples were required to integrate themselves in the dominant Bolivian Western culture. This meant denying their identity as indigenous peoples. What function do you think was fulfilled by the three educational reforms and compulsory military service? And why, do you think, is it only the Indians who in fact have to perform this military service for the fatherland that, for many of them, does not exist? The Creoles don’t need to rid themselves of their culture — to renounce their original cultural identity — in order to acquire full citizenship. They are already citizens, through their fortuitous character as a class.

This attempt to build a Bolivian nation failed, however. The Bolivian state continued to lack a nation that would legitimate it. And the first nations are still without a state. This is the cause of the dysfunctionality of the Bolivian state. In the everyday reality the monocultural Bolivian nation state is for many an illusion, as is the Bolivian nation.

What is to be done? Split up the country, so that each nation founds its own nation state? No. The solution is to found a plurinational state. This means that all the nations living together in Bolivia are recognized as having equal status, by agreeing to create a single plurinational state that represents and expresses the different identities in all public and private institutions and policies. In this way alone will it be possible to construct a nation of nations, but with a single state, with territorial autonomy at various levels. Plurinational does not mean pluristate. The peoples of Bolivia now have an historic opportunity to build their future by going beyond the model of the Eurocentric political theories that subordinated the original nations.

The plurinational state proposal is the sole option that can save Bolivia from disintegration. To persist in the failed nation-state project, with a non-existent nation, is to accelerate the death of Bolivia as a country.

The times have changed. The indigenous nations are no longer prepared to continue existing without a state. Still less are they prepared to renounce their identity in order to be accepted as citizens in a country that detests them. Those clairvoyants of the end of history predicted that the peoples, with the demise of “actually existing socialism”, were condemned to bow to the “universal” theories of liberal political philosophy. Today, the peoples of Bolivia are shouting out to the world: “Neither liberalism nor socialism. We only want to coexist united in our diversity!”

We are witnesses to the burial of the paradigmatic Western myths. It was said to be impossible to break with the myth of the nation state, but that myth is beginning to be surpassed in the plurinational collective imagination of the peoples. They said there is only one divine law, and only one legal system, but legal pluralism is coming back in all the nooks and crannies of plurinational countries like Bolivia. They said that only the dominant language and lineal rationality conferred citizenship, but linguistic pluralism and ritual symbolism are asserting themselves everywhere.

The transition from the failed nation-state project to the plurinational state is an historic challenge that fate has placed before us. It is our overriding responsibility to convert our challenges into opportunities for Bolivia and for the world. Not to resist the changes that will transform our history. The fear of change is nothing but the manifestation of an inability to be creative, and in the end will only result in existential angst.

Translated from Bolpress

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