2005-09-23

Finska posla

The United States is not the only country where pseudoscience seeks recognition as a leading arbiter of knowledge. The Croatian minister of science and education (and sports!), Dragan Primorac, is under attack in Nature magazine for his interesting theories on the genetic makeup of various European ethnicities. He proposes that Croats are only marginally related to other Slavic groups, and are instead heirs to an ancient Asian civilisation, and also closely related to Finns. Alison Abbott's article in Nature quotes Primorac's advisor Vladimir Paar as assessing that this genetic-national theory assures that "Croats will be recognised as one of the oldest nations in Europe, and that Hungarians have more Slavic genetic markers than Croats." A physicist, Paar also shows his unique talent for distinguishing among humans by calling Primorac "the most competent person in the world." Primorac's ministry has issued a statement denying that this exercise in creative genetics, however dear to the minister, represents official policy. Meanwhile, Primorac himself has been busy adminstering electric shocks to Boris Becker.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Far be it from me to defend Mr. Primorac or his theories about race and nationhood, but he's not totally wrong about some things. In general, it's far from self-evident that Croats as a group and the much larger and even fuzzier category called "Slavs" -- scattered across Eurasia from the Adriatic to the Urals and beyond -- have all that much in common, other than some shared linguistic features.

Nationalists still insist on the romantic myth that the "narod" is a fixed entity, distinct, primordial and immutable in its essence. But anthropologists, linguists, geneticists and other scholars have long ago come to a different conclusion. Those elements that most people think of as the distinctive "markers" of national identity -- language, beliefs, folksongs, folktales, costume, food and other material culture, self-identification, a tradition of common descent, etc. -- are to a considerable extent independent variables.

Each of these variables has been subject to change over time, to all kinds of external influences, to shifts, recombinations and admixtures. Scholars speak of an ongoing and complex process of ethnogenesis and identity formation, of nations as "imagined communities" that have only relatively recently settled on a widely accepted common narrative of national identity, the product of mass literacy, of a standardized history curriculum, of ideas propagated by popular writers and the media.

The fact is, Hungarians do have much more in common with their Slavic neighbors in the Balkans than they do with their putative relatives on the far-away eastern shores of the Baltic. A Hungarian scientist (with the very Slavic name Sajnovics) established as early as 1770 that Hungarians, Finns and Lapplanders (Saami) all speak languages that are distantly but clearly related to each other, but not to any of the other well-known European languages. That linguistic relationship is still accepted by scholars today. But it is also quite clear that Hungarians, Finns and Lapps do not share either a common genetic/biological descent, nor a shared history, beliefs, food, or much else that links them -- other than the remarkable linguistic similarities between their respective languages.

AR

Eric Gordy said...

Well, sure. But that isn't defending him, since his argument about he distribution of "markers" relies on the completely unenable thesis that this thing that gets called a nation has some genetic basis. One thing I can add -- Primorac claims as a source an earlier article in Science, but the VOA article (it's linked in the quotation from Paar) notes that the article in question does not contain the information he cites.

Anonymous said...

There are some genetic markers common to Hungarians, Finns and Lapps (and Estonians). Frex, there's the "Tat-C" complex, which may be Ugric in origin... /or/ may be from a Paleolithic northern European population; it's also found among Poles and Slovaks.

But yeah, it appears that *genetically*, Hungarians are almost entirely "European". (As are Finns.)

-- I got no problem with race and nationality as social constructs. Race somewhat is, and nationality (of course) totally is.

That said, the Croats clearly have a lot more in common with Serbs, Bosnians and Slovenes than they do with Austrians, Hungarians or Italians. Not just language... everything from table manners to body language to gender attitudes to driving habits to how to dress babies.

Croats have been striving to distinguish themselves from their Slav cousins for a long time now, and in a variety of ways. (You may recall the Ustashe's insistance that the Croats were really a Gothic tribe who had "adopted a Slavic dialect".) It's interesting, if a little depressing, to see that it still has a grip on the national imagination.


Doug M.

coturnix said...

Google "Milos Bogdanovic" for a Serbian version of genetic nationalism (and creationism as well).

Eric Gordy said...

Thanks for the tip, Bora ... here's one link:

http://arhiva.glas-javnosti.co.yu/arhiva/2004/07/27/srpski/T04072601.shtml

There's an illustration with a broken link, but I know the picture, it's a graphic display of the features of various "types." We got a placemat version of it as a horrifying gift for a philosopher of science friend.

Seesaw said...

My God will this ever end when we on Balkan are concerned???

Yakima_Gulag said...

what seesaw said! oooooooj!