Comments, Globe, In Focus

Nationalisms yesterday and today

Those currently achieving political prominence in the Old Continent have little or nothing to do with national recognition of poor people on the peripheries, victims of the growth of capitalism. The flags of internationalism await more favourable times.


Juan Diego García


Here, in the periphery of the global system, nationalism often goes hand in hand with social battles fought by the poorest and most oppressed sections of society who aim to bring recognition to class conflict.

But in Europe, in general the rebirth of nationalism is often bound to the worst forms of xenophobia and racism. In the best of cases, it expresses the most prosperous regions’ rejection, by the way of separation from the national state to which they belong, of the supposed exploitation to which they are subjected by the central power in order to benefit the least developed regions.

Pathological nationalism which finds its strongest voice in parties which are either veiled or openly neo-nazi, have gained considerable followings in France, Germany, the UK, Holland, Austria and Italy and are particularly aggressive in some of the countries in Eastern Europe, former members of the Soviet block.

The case of Hungary is the most exaggerated but truthfully almost no nation in the Old Continent appears to be exempt from this phenomenon; in Ukraine, for example, the Nazi extreme right control the principal resources of the new power that supports the West.

In some cases these nationalist parties are in government, in others they are the opposition, but they are never simply passing fads or minor phenomenon, so it’s now common to hear voices which denounce the hegemony in ways that are very similar to the fascism of old. These parties are not short on reasons, often repeating many things.

Today, as before, they appear on one side from the traditional social bases of the extreme right that come from groups with a low level of political culture, from those most affected by the economic crisis and, of course, the small middle class that always accepted the attacking groups of fascist capitalism, the typical shopkeeper of the neighbourhood, the lifelong fanatic anti-communist.

On the other hand, discretely, they are always ready to use the big groups in power who see in them the clumsy hand that does their dirty work in order to impose their predominance without palliatives. “Millions support me”, said Hitler (in votes yes, but above all in the millions from almighty capital).

There is of course another nationalism that reclaims its own identity in the face of threats (imagined or real) from the global society in which certain inserted groups are found and which denounce the plundering (supposed, almost always) of their resources in favour of other less developed regions.

They are those dubbed “euro-sceptic” conservatives – a group that is acquiring increasing prominence as a result of the current crisis of the European model of regional integration – or those who decline renouncing their involvement in the community project if they demand the separation of their nation from the corresponding national state; they are Catalonia, the Basque Country, Scotland, Padania (the north of Italy), or Flanders in Belgium, to mention the most outstanding cases.

The conservative Eurosceptics proclaim that their nations give too much to the European Union in order to favour, above all, the “lazy” citizens of Southern Europe while the separatists respond, almost always to the richest nation-regions of their respective states and sustain similar arguments at the heart: they give too much to other regions, they are literally “plundered” by them.

But in strict terms this argument of repression of the tenets of distinct identity (language, customs, traditions, etc) has no real basis; not in modern day Europe, at least in the West referred to.

Something else is happening in Eastern Europe, in the former nations of the Soviet bloc, where various forms of repression are appearing, above all of the minority Russian communities there.

Neither is it true that Catalonia, the Basque Country, Padania or Scotland are “plundered” by “imperialism” of the central states. Therefore the nationalism of the small country against the power of the central state is not healthy when it’s no more than the flag of the richest regions that don’t want to share with the rest.

It’s happening, among other reasons, because the supposed exploitation is not there, and rather, it’s happening to the contrary in harmony with the logic inherent to the capitalist system.

Even though these rich regions contribute more to the central state than the poor ones, their generosity is seen as amply compensated by constant flow and much more by the saving that goes from the less developed regions to the most developed (and not only of money through the financial system but also through the emigration to the centres of the most developed areas and the work these people provide).

Is this the case in Catalonia or the Basque Country in Spain? Surely it is. Padania is not the poorest region of Spain, neither is Scotland the least developed of the United Kingdom or Flanders the least prosperous of Belgium.

In this context the appropriate thing to do would be to look for compatibility between the defense of separate identities and solidarity between peoples and nations in a Ecumenical process (in the original sense of the Greek term), in a more modern way than narrow nationalisms, limiting and impoverishing provincialisms, demonstrating against hegemonic aspirations or any modern form of colonialism.

In effect, selective nationalism is practised with equally damaging fervour by the central states, France for example, and the case of Spain stands out due to the fascist tradition yet to be overcome by the right.

Reaching a harmonious relationship between nations within a state and those in the bosom of the European Union, such as the one laid out in the beginnings of the project of continental integration, is an objective that neo-liberal strategies have been destroying little by little and with more intensity in the context of the current crisis.

Neither is there a strong left wing component that defends it.

The alternatives to progress through demonstration and after the disaster in Greece are a proposition that seems more like a wish than a reality.

Meanwhile, nationalist sentiment in its diverse forms seems to dominate the social and political landscape of the Old Continent. The flags of internationalism await more favourable times.

(Translated by Duncan Cordy) – Photos: Pixabay

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