Today, there is a lot of talk about identity. Identity is supposed to be something that connects us to the past—that we carry inside us through the present towards the future. When we speak about our identity, we mean not only our own personal past but also our ancestry, the culture in which we were raised, the people to which we belong. Can we abandon our identity? It seems that such an operation is impossible. Even if we have migrated into a different country and culture then it is still possible to trace our route back to its origin and thus reconstruct our identity. Our identity connects us to the countries, peoples and communities that share the same identity here and now. But then the next question emerges: Can our identity abandon us—and disappear?
Among the examples of such recently disappeared identities are Soviet and Yugoslavian identities. Some generations were raised in these countries. But today, if somebody who, let us say, left the Soviet Union in the 1980s would like to rediscover his or her roots they will find that these roots were uprooted. These countries do not exist anymore. Nor do the Soviet people themselves exist anymore—the former USSR was divided into many nations and ethnicities. Today, the Soviet identity is not considered anymore as identity but as, so to say, an anti-identity—a means to suppress and destroy the true cultural identities of nations and ethnicities that were involved in the socialist experiment. In the case of the Soviet Union, these true identities are supposed to have existed until 1917. In the Yugoslavian case—until WWII. That means that a person living here would need to make quite a leap back in time to discard their anti-identity and to rediscover their true identity—becoming Russian, Georgian, Serb, Croat, etc. This person’s real socialist past becomes erased together with its territory and people and substituted by a fictional passé antérieur.
However, one cannot say that socialism disappeared without a trace. Socialism was a project. It was directed toward the construction of the communist society of the future. And it was an adopted project—Marxism had its origin in Western and not Eastern Europe. The socialist identity was also understood as a project: the socialist subject had to purify itself from all the vestiges of the capitalist past to reach its true identity. Thus, today, in the post-socialist countries, rediscovery and return of the pre-socialist, anterior past identities also take the form of a project that is directed toward the future when these identities are expected to be definitively purified from all socialist distortions. However, this turning of an anterior past identity into a project is not only a post-socialist phenomenon. It has a long tradition.
Let us take Christianity as an even earlier example. Christianity is a project. It seeks its legitimation not in the past but in the future—in the apocalyptic revelation. For the European nations the Christian project was an adopted project—after all, the original Christian promise of the final revelation was given not in Europe. That is why there is an old European tradition—culminating in the French Enlightenment—to reject Christianity as a non-European, “Middle Eastern” religion that does not correspond to the cultural identity of the European nations. Already the Renaissance was a return to the pre-Christian ancient Greek culture. And the French Revolution was a revival of the Roman virtue. Here the Christian identity was understood as a distortion of the true European identity. But the return to this identity necessarily took the character of a project —and a project as potentially infinite as the Christian project. Indeed, the full liberation of European mankind from its subjugation under the Christian “superstition” was from the beginning thought of as a process that will take many generations to be realized—and the speed of this process to be determined by specific cultural conditions of different European nations. Can we say that, today, we are at the end of this project? Obviously, not. The total secularization of European nations still seems to be a thing of the future. And one cannot exclude the possibility that Christianity will be also “rediscovered” just as Islam was rediscovered in Iran and other Muslim countries. And one should not forget: a return to socialism remains equally possible.
In other words, identity is not a thing of the past but a project of the future. It is not inherited but found in historical annals and implemented here and now. In the changing world we permanently lose our identities. The only way to regain them is to go back beyond our personal past and actual upbringing into the anterior past. In order for identity not to disappear, identity must take the form of revival—of the anterior past transposed into the future.