The Changing Face of Nationalism


Nationalistic movements are rising around Europe which led to polarization and distrust between the political parties and voters. Their demands are almost identical and same around the subcontinent: stronger national identity, less intervention and regulations from supranational institutions, such as EU and last but not least, less immigration. But there are very different trends within the modern nationalist movements which were less known to the earlier times.

The new wave of nationalism underlines and points out of their potential unity, under the one banner and one objective. Modern nationalist parties often conduct discussions about common issues and objectives and communicate with one another very actively. This trend is interesting because during the XIX and XX centuries it was rare to see such an active link between nationalist around Europe. Oppose to this history knows that often one nationalistic movement saw another as a main scapegoat and enemy, thereby hostile rhetoric, angst and hate speech were prominent. Even when nationalism as an ideology formed and emerged, during the French revolution, it was meant to be a tool for self-determination and unity against foreign enemies (or the enemies of the Republic). But now these components changed and grew in bigger scale – local problems became the European or the Western one, objectives can be achievable with cooperation and the foes and culprits are almost the same for every one of them. Nationalists trying to show that they care for whole Europe, rather than a single nation.

Nationalism nowadays is not a tool for unifying of the single nation under the one goal, but a mean to unify different nations in the name of related cultures, religion, history and enemies. This is a crucial dimension because and points that politics, history and culture are becoming a much more important matter than ethnicity. And yes, this also connects our second subject – immigration as a common issue.

The modern, Western nationalism rose up mainly into the eastern and southern Europe and then spread into the Western part. This does not imply that in the Western part of Europe nationalistic movements did not exist or did not gain the ground, but wave definitely started in the East as early as late 1980’s. After the dissolution Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Warsaw Pact block, political and economic hope emerged. There were expectations that near future would be bright and the economy would rise quickly, but unfortunately hope fade away swiftly. The economy did increase, but not so easy, some countries used loans and bailouts to carry on progressive trend and catch up to the West. Even now, most of Eastern and Southern Europe is still backwards compared to the West. This trend is noticeable not just an international but national level too. For example, Germany, which unified in 1990 is still divided economically – the eastern part is much less prosperous than the west. Disappointment created conditions for anger and the new wave of nationalism came up. Afterwards, the ideology spread widely, in terms of border-less Europe.

For the nationalist movements, there are several and common enemies to point out. The stronger supranational organization, such as EU, which with its gradual centralisation and powerful institutions, considered undesirable and even threatening force by them. They often demand more freedom and fewer regulations from the EU. Because of these attitudes, nationalist attract other Eurosceptics and create an umbrella against the EU. National identity is a crucial issue for the nationalist, therefore they see centralised EU as a potential threat for the small or less powerful nations. Eurosceptics often point their finger to Germany and France as an only nation who can create the European agenda without questioning other members.

As we mentioned above, immigration apart from any issue is the single biggest fuel for the movements around Europe. For their point of view, Europe is a homeland which needs to protect from the influx of immigrants and their foreign culture, but this also connects to the economy: if an immigrant comes and gets the job, then s/he gets the place which could belong to the local citizen. In the 1960s and 1970s stable, booming economies often used immigration as a mean to find essential workers around the globe, but modern economic difficulties halt that process and prompt protective measures from the governments. Some EU member states already felt financial crisis, which rekindled nationalistic or eurosceptic sentiments. This is a case for Greece where not just an EU scepticism grew but even neo-nazi political movements emerged.

Other EU member states which did not stop to grow, for example, Poland, which has one of the best economic growth rate in Europe, trying to avoid any kind of crisis and keep the economy grow but nationalism still has significant power within the country. In that case, more than the economy, we should study and understand the historical perspectives and narratives of the nation and understand the importance of the identity. Nationalists often underline that migrants, which often come from the middle east or Africa carry their own values which do not match current European values.

Let’s get back to our example above – Poland. Catholicism has a very important role in the nation. The members of the nationalist movement in Poland often describe the country’s values based on Catholicism, which is compatible with common European values, but incompatible non-christian values. It does not matter how secular nation is, often national identity has roots very deep within religion. Beyond it, Poland’s troubled history, which filled with wars for survival and integrity, conflicts its neighbours, especially Russia and Germany, shaped the country’s strong identity. Therefore when we describe different cases we can find different reasons why this or that nation and groups within has dispositions toward the nationalism, but the main interesting point is that almost all of them describes positive outcome almost the same way.

All of these different conditions create tense reality for the future of the nationalistic movements in Europe. Their demands are often too holistic, wide and requiring almost upheaval within European politics. Polarization is a big issue when we refer to nationalism because the latter is the demanding ideology and less trying to integrate foreigners. Anti-secular ideas and associate of neo-nazi groups, which often refer to themselves as nationalists is another big problem for the modern nationalism. However, nationalism as an ideology is definitely changing face within Europe and adapt much wide, European, occidental, Christianity-based identity, which scarcely existed during the era of early nationalism. Nowadays it does not focus on the single nation, rather have an agenda for the whole of Europe. This can point out that European identity infiltrates not just centrist ideologies but also far from the centre and political battleground has become much wider than it was.

Giorgi Koberidze
Senior Fellow

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