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Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Where dangerous nationalism emerges, common sense leaves through the side door.

They flutter behind you your possible pasts,
Some bright-eyed and crazy, some frightened and lost.
A warning to anyone still in command
Of their possible future, to take care.

Nationalism in a mild form is not necessarily a bad thing.

Nationalism can be a strong force, which bonds the citizens of a country together. It reminds them of their common symbols and values and it lets them share feelings of joy and solidarity. In this form, nationalism is a positive force that makes people feel proud and happy about their country. 

This is the kind of nationalism that can be enjoyed during large sports events, like the international football championships, the Grand Slam tennis championships or the Olympic Games. It gives joy to people and it rather triggers fraternization between different groups of people than verbal or physical aggression (although there have been exceptions sometimes, unfortunately).

In a divided country with two or more very different population groups, like for instance Belgium or Canada, a mild nationalism is in the end the power that bonds the country together. It reduces the differences between people and emphasizes the common ground on which they live.

However, it becomes a whole different story when nationalism turns into an overdone glorification of the own people, history, shared symbols and values. 

Shared feelings that a certain group of people or a whole country and its people are predestined and superior, come almost always at the expense of degrading and excluding (groups of) people in other countries or within one’s own country. That is when nationalism can become a destructive force, which can cause violence against other people and eventually could lead to civil wars and wars between nations.

For many people with a clear view on history, it is no secret that we live in very (I would say dangerously) nationalist times.

Three years ago, at the very beginning of this blog, I noticed an uprising of Dutch nationalism in commercials. Although seemingly innocent, this development was in a sense more disturbing to me than the mindless shouting of the right-wing populist parties all over Europe, as it showed me that nationalism became much more mainstream than it had been before. And from generally accepted nationalism to dangerous nationalism is sometimes only a few steps:

Of course nationalism and xenophobia in politics were already a well-known phenomena, with the FPÖ in Austria (Freedom Party Austria led by Jörg Haider),  “Vlaams belang” (Flemish interest, the nationalistic party in Belgium, led by Filip de Winter) and the PVV (Party for Freedom in The Netherlands, led by Geert Wilders). But these parties could be dismissed as side-issues.

But when commercials and marketing in general start to bang the nationalistic drum, there is really something going on. Marketing men investigate the results when they try something. And it seems they liked what they tried.

I hope we can avoid the pivotal point where a “healthy”, normal nationalism turns into a “you are second-rate people, because you are not Dutch” kind of nationalism. We do have some bad experiences with it.

Three years later, I think we can conclude that nationalism in The Netherlands and other European countries has proved to be more than just a passing trend.

A constant factor during the last three years has been the increasingly annoyed and aggressive tone of voice of Dutch and other European people against: 

  • The European Union itself and its officials;
  • The peripheral members of the European Union (aka the PIIGS-countries Portugal, Spain and especially Greece);
  • The latest (candidate) members of the European Union: Slovenia, Bulgaria, Romania and the other countries in former Yugoslavia;
  • Groups of people in the European countries itself, which were not considered to be native or belonging to the ‘moral majority’;
    • The “lower class” foreign workers from especially the East-European countries;
    • The Antilleans and Moroccans, who were the favorite ‘perpetrators’ and ranting targets of the Dutch populists and an increasing group of dissatisfied and disappointed, often elderly people;
    • The Roma in Romania and Bulgaria, the Mid-African people and Algerians in France, the South-Italians in Italy and other ethnic groups in countries all over Europe.

Suffice it to say that The Netherlands is currently light-years removed from the very tolerant and open country, which it was in the nineties of last century. 

Political discussions upon certain ethnic groups took a gloomy turn during the last decade and, on occasions, groups of people within the Dutch society have been disqualified and rejected in a way, that would not have been considered acceptable in the nineties. 

It is the so-called moral majority of average, increasingly dissatisfied citizens, which considers this to be an acceptable development right now. And in my humble opinion, The Netherlands does not stand alone in this negative development. Similar developments have also been going on in other European countries.

The biggest danger of nationalism does not lie in the people at the forefront of the news: the politicians, the opinion leaders and the media, who spread and/or advocate the (dangerously) nationalist message. These people and institutions are relatively powerless, as long as few people listen to their messages and endorse their (hidden) objectives. No, the biggest danger looms when this moral majority of citizens in a country starts to silently or openly agree with the messages and propaganda from the nationalists and populists.

When this large group of people starts to think that the nationalists’ outings are indeed the single truth and do not resist against these populist messengers anymore, things can go seriously wrong. Then the nationalists become an important political factor within a country or large group of people.
Their self-glorifying and often discriminative messages start to poison the whole society top-down and bottom-up and also the relations with other countries. 

In my humble opinion, this is what is happening now  on various places in the world. The protractedly poor economy in Europe and its consequences – general impoverishment among large groups of people from the lowest societal classes, mass unemployment and diminishing chances for a prosperous future for many youngsters, at the beginning of their career – are a strong catalyst for such nationalist feelings and feelings of resentment against other groups and countries. 

The longer that a serious economic downturn lasts, the more and more momentum will be gained by politicians and movements, which spread these nationalist thoughts. After all, there is always somebody who must be blamed for the economic misery and for everything that is wrong in a country: 

  • The political elites who formerly ruled the country; 
  • Certain ethnic groups; 
  • And – everybody’s favorite – the "nameless, shamelessly sponging, paper producing, anonymous apparatchiks" in Europe.

What also happens is that unscrupulous politicians put the focus on other countries:

  • “They are corrupted, lazy crooks and criminals, who have stolen our tax-money and sit in the sun all day” (Remember Greece?! - EL);
  • “Not a single cent will be paid to the Greeks anymore” (Greece);

  • “We tell Europe to go to hell, with their &#$@$^&% demands and conditions” (Various populists withi the EU);
  • “They don’t pay the bills for our gas and they even steal gas from us” (Ukraine vs Russia);
  • “We demand that everybody in the Ukraine speaks solely Ukrainian. Russian is an outlawed language from now on” (Ukraine vs Russia);
  • “If a was in one room with Vladimir Putin and I would have a gun, I would put a bullet in his %$&^$ head” (Ukraine vs Russia);
  • “Crimea was given to the Ukraine for the wrong reasons, but it really belongs to Russia. And now we want it back to wipe out this historical error” (Ukraine vs Russia);

  • “We need to protect the native Russians in Ukraine, just like the ones in Georgia, Letland, Lithuania and Estonia” (could have been said by Vladimir Putin?)

In times like these, with a strongly elevated, dangerous nationalism, the smallest spark can cause havoc on a massive scale.

The worst example of this seems to be Eastern Europe, in which Ukraine is on its way to prepare for an all-out civil war and perhaps even a bloody war with “big brother” Russia.
This war-in-the-making is seemingly started for the silliest of objective reasons, sparked by the tidal waves of dangerous nationalism that are flooding the Ukraine and especially Russia.

It would be virtually impossible for Vladimir Putin to execute his current, blatant ‘great Russia policy’, when the moral majority of the Russians would not think that their country deserves an important role in world politics and should become a real superpower again. 

Russia seems to be an proper case, in which the population suffers from aggrieved feelings of superiority, while overestimating its own powers, in combination with economic backwardedness and despair. Roughly the same emotions seem to rule (in a different way) in Ukraine.

The more the US and the EU react against the Russian desire to be taken seriously on the "world stage", the stronger the feelings of superiority and resentment of the common Russians become. A very dangerous mix.

At the same time, the NATO, the United States and the European Union are acting like ‘rebels without a cause’ in this situation. 

The NATO, as well as the US and the EU, know that they should not enter into a direct confrontation with Russia and they know extremely well that they can't afford an all-out war within Europe. Nevertheless, it feels… oh so good to give "that arrogant Russian S.O.B. Vladimir Putin" a good spankin’! 

“We will show him who’s boss here and who rules the waves!”; this is the attitude than can be seen at every European and American politician and can be read from almost every line in the newspapers about this subject. There is little room for contemplation and for a de-escalating policy, when it comes to this topic.

How this explosive mix of frustrated nationalism turns out, we will ‘enjoy’ in the coming weeks and months. And as far as I’m concerned, things might turn nasty very quickly, as - like I stated in the last paragraph - nobody really works on de-escalating the situation: neither Russia and the Ukraine, nor Europe, the United States or the NATO as a whole.

And even when this conflict blows over very quickly, the current level of dangerous nationalism everywhere might very soon spark a new conflict within Europe and other places in the world.

In the current situation in Eastern Europe, one thing already became blatantly clear: where dangerous nationalism emerges, common sense leaves through the side door. You bet it does…!!

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