Saturday, 22 December 2012

The Demise of Nationalism?

As usual, when times get rough, we are looking for somebody to blame. And as is even more common, we assign blame to everyone else but us; with us denoting either a person, a group, a city or a whole nation. Out of this need to reassure ourselves that we did nothing wrong and some other hidden agendas are behind what has happened, we end up breeding prejudices. One of the best examples of this situation is the rise of the Nazist and Fascist movements in the early 20th century in Europe.

Many people have noticed that a resurgence of nationalist movements in Europe has appeared over 2012; notably Arthur Mas's for Catalonian independence, a Scottish independence movement which now appears to be have flattened out, and Greece's Golden Dawn. Although other statements against Europe or specific nations of the EU have been made by politicians over the year, we should count them more as political tricks and games rather than anything else.

Nevertheless, what we should first do is separate the aforementioned movements with regards to their incentives, motivation and purpose. No-one would dare to accuse Arthur Mas or the Scots for racism or xenophobia; yet, these are prevailing issues in the Golden Dawn ideology. Thus, the above three movements should be separated in two groups: the independence movement and the nationalism movement, with the latter having Golden Dawn as its a member.

As Simon Kuper at the Financial Times observes, "The nation-state is shrinking to just a flag, some sports teams and a pile of debts (...) Mas et al aim to ditch old redundant nation-states in order to create new redundant nation-states".

In a wide sense he is true: independent nation-states will soon turn out to be as obsolete as typewriters. Soon a new generation of politicians will emerge; a generation which has lived its life in a Europe where people were free to travel to any country within the Union they desired, where most of the countries had the same currency, where no import taxes exist, where initiatives like the Erasmus, Comenius or the Socrates programs helped them experience life in another country and have many friends and acquaintances living abroad. Then indeed the nation-state will become just a flag, some sports teams and a pile of debts. This is not to say that people with stop saying that they are Germans, Austrians or Lithuanians. Nevertheless, this would be similar to stating that you live in a specific address, at a specific house. The reason for this is simple: when nothing is threatening you then you have nothing to unite against, and nothing for which you would be willing to fight for. As a result, you have less and less reasons to identify yourself with a notion or an ideology.

A comic on the news commenting on the fact that a 45-year old academic researcher,
with extreme nationalist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic motives, planned to blow up the Polish parliament

Harry Cooper is stating that Eurosceptic movements have began emerging all around Europe, and agrees that "(...) people, when experiencing insecurity or fear, like to blame things they are familiar with. It's easy for the Greeks to blame Germany or focus their anger on Angela Merkel. She is believed to be personally responsible for inflicting such painful austerity measures. The simmering resentment that Catalans have against the Spanish central government has been around since Franco focused power in Madrid. In Holland, fear of immigrants has been replaced by hostility to Europe (...)" The rationale behind all these is easy to be found: people in power (i.e. politicians) do not want to see their powers reduced and someone over at Brussels deciding for them, especially if that decision would damage their interests. Nobody would argue that removing all power from the national governments would be stupid, as well as nobody would argue that giving all power to them would be equally insane. As we are currently living in a transitional period where the future of the EU is currently being shaped, without any previous experience to be based upon, it makes sense that people would be frustrated to see the existing status quo altered. The same had happened many times in the past, and research has shown that people are very slow to adjust to changes. Yet, the following generation is always doing better than the previous one.

People of Catalonia feel like they should be independent, and so do the Scots. Yet, in the future it would not mean much, since nations would be just where you currently reside. Matters like who gets the most out of the local government budget can be easily settled from within, either by granting cities or regions with more autonomy or with more flexibility. 

Returning to the separation from paragraph 3, we would see that what should be avoided is xenophobia, homophobia and racism, key elements of the nationalist movements and not of the independence ones. Right-wing extremists like Jean-Marie Le Pen's National Front in France and Golden Dawn in Greece represent people who are openly against gay persons, same-sex marriage, immigration and promote ideas like protectionism, and zero tolerance in law and order issues. To discuss whether the above are right or wrong is beyond the point of this article; however, it would appear that what nationalist movements are promoting is isolation instead of solidarity.

People have seen something that was never before witnessed: the continent which gave birth to nationalization is agreeing to unite all nations under a commons shield. Those who have seen how much good the EU has done over the years would not dare to even consider that this was not pure improvement. In a continent where wars had been raging every 5-6 years we have had 45 years of peace. The above issues cannot be easily resolved. Yet, no issue, outside the cold world of mathematical equations, ever was resolved if you come to think about it. Nevertheless, what we can see throughout our history is that collaboration has led to much greater results than isolation. It is up to us to make the decision.

Nationalist movements will most likely never cease to exist. They will build their reputation on insecurity, uncertainty and false promises. People are always going to feel like they are being mistreated whether they are or not. It seems that as long as people behave like people they will look for somebody to blame and for somebody to give them hope, even if it is a false one. This would not be a problem until the portion of people feeling like that become large enough to cause stir. When it does, it is time to reevaluate on what we did that angered them, and try to fix things. Injustices are bound to happen. We just have to understand when we did something wrong and fix it.

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