The global rise of nationalism: the case of Europe

Since the beginning of a turmoil wave that swept across the Middle East and North Africa region urging millions of people to flee, migration and asylum policies have come to dominate the European media agenda. Arguably, one of the most emotionally charged was a discussion in the media on the looming clash of civilisations. Fears were raised that Europe would soon lose herself in this battle and become absorbed in the growing numbers of newcomers from the Orient.

The refugee crisis brought Europe back to the issues hastily buried to hail the advent of a new Europe “united in diversity”, a Europe that has overcome a protracted disease called nationalism and moved towards a construction of a single European civic identity.

The open-minded cosmopolitan

The good and open-minded cosmopolitan who created a nation-less self-identification is most certainly a product of this common-European construction. The cosmopolitan defines himself as a “citizen of this world”, can speak several foreign languages and has many foreign friends. He is also likely to have graduated, although there might not be a direct correlation between the level of education and rejection of nationalism.

Most European universities now require students to spend at least one semester abroad, pursue an internship in the developing countries, or arrange academic exchanges with students coming from all around the world, leading to greater connections, co-operation, new friendships and close relationships. This has increasingly contributed to creating the cosmopolitan; in fact, one could already speak of the Erasmus generation, the alumni of Erasmus Mundus and other exchange programs, who have spent their young years in a multicultural environment. Even though in the beginning such a multicultural environment was most likely artificially constructed, it showed that this environment is resilient.

Over a short span of time, the new open-minded cosmopolitan has become real, and his nationless self-identification translates into actions beyond the national thinking. The arrival of the many people seeking refuge in Europe illustrated this. For it was the new ‘creations’ of Europe who were standing at the train stations to welcome refugees, volunteering  to collect food and warm clothes, providing help to state institutions, and hosting people in their flats.

Therefore, it is unlikely that refugees coming to Europe did spur a rebirth of nationalism in Europe. The old, the bad, and the ugly nationalist never really left Europe, and has recently come out of shade to heroically protect the land from “foreign intruders”. Before recently he was discarded as a shameful remnant of the past.

The nationalist of today

Today’s nationalist is a romantic: he bravely challenges the “rotten system” imposing liberal-leftist thinking, he has lost trust in the media who sold themselves to those in power, and even though he knows he is not welcome, he stands tall. The modern nationalist goes against the stream, and this solely attributes him a special charm. His ideals are noble and almost flawless; he only wishes good for his land and his people (the use of possessives in this discourse makes a see-through reference to ownership, namely, a discussion on who owns the land). True, he recognises a difference between the nations, and precisely for this reason, he calls for separation to avoid possible conflicts due to “insurmountable” cultural differences.

Nationalism in Europe

Shortly after the Second World War, witnessing horrors of mass murders and the Holocaust, an apogee of cruelty and the gravest crime against humanity, to be a nationalist was a shame. The Nuremberg Process, the division of Germany, a process of denazification all seemed to have put an end nationalism, criminalising the use of extremist symbols and slogans, hence saying a decisive “never again” to the nationalist thinking. However, the rise of right-spectrum movements in Europe – Pegida (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West), Génération Identitaire (Identitarian Generation), and the popularity growth of right-wing parties, AfD (Alternative für Deutschland), Marine Le Pen’s National Front, indicate that the taboo on the nationalist thinking has long been lifted.

Returning to the New Europe and the construction of a single European civic identity, one could recognise that the fears and concerns of those lagging behind the calls to embrace diversity and welcome everyone regardless of a national origin, were not addressed at the right time. True, it is unacceptable to launch a discussion on nationalism, still, to attend to existing concerns, start a dialogue with the less enthusiastic, and offer more information on the different cultures and regions was important. For instance, projects teaching about Islam, the MENA region and Muslim countries only recently got off the ground, while the need was there since at least 9/11, 2001.

Changing direction of nationalism

The discontented voices were ignored as a shameful relic amid the loud proclamation of universal values. Alienated and radicalised, the nationalist started to reassemble himself from the ashes of World War II, and stepped up lately. Strikingly, the nationalist aptly dealt with the theme of shame changing its direction; if earlier it was a shame to be a nationalist, now, in his logic, it has become a shame to be a betrayer of own’s nation and serve the interests of foreign powers.

Both the cosmopolitan and the nationalist are recent creations of Europe, quite real in their actions. One possible approach to stop the spread of nationalism is to revisit the theme of shame in the context of present fears and concerns. It is important to uncover what lies behind the fear of difference, to discuss whether difference and nationality create conflicts. Equally critical is to explore thinking beyond national lines and ask questions on whether one’s behaviour is more determined by nationality or personality, and whether there is such a thing as national mentality or character. Finally, there is a need to explain why it is shameful to make generalisations and attributions to any nation, or consider some nations superior or exceptional. These issues need to be considered before we can indeed triumph the advent of a New civic Europe.