Mykhailo Volokhai –
The ‘Blue Flower’ of Afrikaner Nationalism: How It Grew and Blossomed
Afrikaner nationalism has historically been appealing to a bright image of the Boers of the past, righteous Christian men of the old days. This image has been one of the founding elements of the social and political outlook of Afrikaners and later the ideology of Apartheid, portraying the collection of all the virtues a good white South African should embrace. Isaiah Berlin called it a ‘blue flower’, an artifact sacred but obscure and delusional that could exist solely in the form of a myth, never actually manifested in reality. This study seeks to trace the development of the concept of an old South Africa as it has been present in the South African political discourse of the first half of the twentieth century. The central idea of the research is that prior to 1961, Afrikaner people, while still searching for their true identity and remaining under the influence of European Romantic thought, had formulated a mystical image of past South Africa, which they were unsuccessfully trying to get back to. Methodologically, the study abstains from a classical approach of racial and social determinism so widely used in the South Africa-related scholarship of the day and seeks the creation of a more novel methodological vision rooted in the historicist and genealogical traditions of the twentieth century, falling for Hermeneutics when it comes to the analysis of the political texts largely represented by the parliamentary and public speeches and writings of the South African political figures.
I am a third-year Ph.D. student at Jagiellonian University. Currently, I work on my doctoral research which is called to determine the evolution of the South African Security Doctrine in the period between 1948 and 1989. Methodologically, the study departs from the practical vision of the strategic studies and views the issue of the rise and development of the doctrine as a more political thing, treating the doctrine itself as more a philosophical idea, a cultural, social, and intellectual fruit of the Afrikaner people. Hence, the methodological approach selected differs from an additional one in the field and is targeted at historicism, cultural study, and the analysis of the thinking process of the key political figures of South Africa as well as the processes which have been determining this process.
Recently, I finished a study on the concept of liberty as it was seen in the British Commonwealth prior to 1949. In the paper I have been defending an argument that the concept of liberty formulated in British colonial politics was constructed in such a way as to significantly limit the freedoms of the Dominions, helping the Commonwealth to become a more sophisticated colonial tool and not a supranational egalitarian institution closer to the European Union in its ideological and normative principles. Earlier this year I also finished an archival inquiry into the South African – Portuguese diplomatic and security relations of the 1940s and 1950s, a scientific domain usually left aside by many scholars. In the upcoming academic year, I plan to undertake a series of new visits to South Africa (thanks to a new grant I have received), which would enable me to shed light on South Africa’s policy of the 1970s detente, another obscure and problematic element of the country’s security policy in the Apartheid years.
Currently, I work on a theoretical study, as a historian of ideas, trying to analyze the development of philosophical thought of South Africa’s Prime Minister Jan Smuts, its origins, practical implications, and the interplay with his political position.
Previously, I was able to participate in many other conferences where I have been discussing the outcomes of my research, like in the case of the concept of liberty in the Commonwealth, or pointed out some new interesting directions in the field, such as studying the change in the image of the Civil War in the Irish politics of the 1960s. Finally, last year I was granted membership in the Royal Society of South Africa.