A nation is a large group of people with strong bonds of identity - an "imagined community," a tribe on a grand scale. The nation may have a claim to statehood or self-rule, but it does not necessarily enjoy a state of its own. National identity is typically based on shared culture, religion, history, language or ethnicity, though disputes arise as to who is truly a member of the national community or even whether the "nation" exists at all (do you have to speak French to be Québécois? are Wales and Tibet nations?). Nations seem so compelling, so "real," and so much a part of the political and cultural landscape, that people think they have lasted forever. In reality, they come into being and dissolve with changing historical circumstances - sometimes over a relatively short period of time, like Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. Why, then, does national identity give rise to such extremely strong feelings? And why would so many be ready to "die for the nation" in time of war? Because of migration, most modern states include within their borders diverse communities that challenge the idea of national homogeneity and give rise to the community of citizenship, rather than membership in the nation. In the age of global transportation and communication, new identities arise to challenge the "nation," but the pull of nationalism remains a powerful force to be reckoned with - and a glue that binds states together and helps many people (for better and for worse) make sense out of a confusing reality.
Source: Global Policy Forum