European Nationalism on the Rise: Is ‘Progressivism’ Dead?

Europe (TFC) – So, right-wing politics seem to be on the rise in Europe; the question is:  what changed? Moreover:  was it ever that great to begin with?

Many have been critical of the idea of Scandinavian countries like Sweden often projected as some kind of bastion of progressive left-wing politics, imagined as being free from rape, sexism and racism. With Sweden having one of the highest reported rates of rape and rampant racism, it begs the question:  Was it ever that great to begin with? Are these ideals completely imaginary?

The rise in right-wing politics (and nationalism) are generally framed in the following three ways:

1. The rise of the right is a response to the mounting refugee crisis and the general appeal that EU states/citizens don’t see themselves as responsible for nor able to accommodate such refugees, and thus state sovereignty as a virtue is taking hold;

2. A cultural abhorrence towards Muslims and Islam is causing a ‘Clash of Civilisations’;

3. The EU is already stretched thin, strapped of resources and therefore cannot take care of ‘outsiders’.


With countries like Britain threatening to leave the EU, how does this reality fit into this model?

Many have wondered if this threat is empty, however with a latest poll suggesting that voters are swayed (52-48) in favour of exiting, the intention seems very real. In spite of the fact that this will send Britain spiraling towards recession once again, costing hundreds of thousands of jobs, the option to leave is still immensely popular. Here is where we can simply say “nationalism” and leave it that. However, that is only part of the larger context: nationalism is being capitalised off of by the right based on the attitudes of citizens.

Image Source: Nicolas Raymond, Flickr, Creative Commons EU Grunge Flag Grunge textured flag of the European Union on vintage paper

Image Source: Nicolas Raymond, Flickr, Creative Commons
EU Grunge Flag
Grunge textured flag of the European Union on vintage paper

The British economy has not recovered quickly enough for citizens, in fact the recovery has been deafeningly slower than during previous recessions/depressions (that same can be said for the recovery rate of many other EU nations). As a result, the point has been made by The Washington Post that, as a general consensus, Europeans do not feel that there is enough wealth and resources “to go around”. In Ireland, the main complaint whenever the topic of refugees comes up is that “We can’t even take care of our own, so how can we take care of refugees?”

However, does a lack of a quick economic recovery predict the rise of right wing leaders? Especially if their claim is that by closing borders (to immigrants and refugees alike) all or most economic/social/cultural problems will be solved. This seems too easy. The right is praying upon everyone’s greatest concerns, coming up with ‘quick fixes’ that will not solve any long term economic issues, nor will these solutions foster long term growth.

This cannot explain the rise of the right in totality. It does in part, but not completely. This argument certainly does not explain the fragmentary trend in the EU which is in line with right wing doctrine. Thus, perhaps they are praying on something that was already there to begin with: fear and nationalism.

Crisis in Greece

The EU fragmented once Greece was told that their mistakes were their own, the ownness being on Greece alone. A prime example of nationalism, the EU and its heavy weights saw themselves as ‘off the hook’ for organising a more successful, healthy Greece (other than through ‘tough love’ austerity cuts) because it was a ‘Greece problem’ rather than an ‘EU problem’. Rather, they were more interested in creating a Greece that was no longer a burden.

In essence, once the burden was created, the structure quickly fragmented and thus the EU functions on successes and winners and only those. And with that, there is no “European Union”, only individual states vying for themselves. Just like that, the circle is broken. Greece made the same financial mistakes we all, as individuals, made:  propping our lives up with credit (let alone an entire country).

While we can cast all kinds of moral judgement on Greece, the conclusion is still the same:  if your state fails, you fall, alone. Never-mind, why they gave the credit to Greece in the first place.

This is not to simplify the global financial system and the billions of dollars with it to the point of absurdity–but who will be repaying Greece’s debt in the long term? This is the most important issue here.

The suggestion has been made countless times: debt relief will promote the quickest recovery. Even though this is obvious, this was not the solution and will never be the solution. Why? Because EU states are not concerned with helping the citizens of another country. Greece has been given the message:  suffer these austerity cuts, or we will not help you; subject yourself to these terms, terms which will constitute the longest road, or you cannot stay.

The subtext underneath the entirety of such a rationalised system is that:  the EU, or shall I say the states within it do not care about quality of human life at large, suffering, or the poor outside of their national borders–ideals about unity are quickly tossed aside in this system. As boarders quickly begin to shut, what matters most are the financial markets themselves (which do not exist in isolation from one another, but within a globalised system) imagined as states, as nations, as individual units separate from one another, selfish and self-interested.

The “Clash of Civilisation” and the Outsider

The truth of the matter is: attitudes towards immigrants have always been bad. Yes, the political discussions regarding immigrants go through cycles based on general economic and financial well-being, but the fact of the matter is that attitudes towards immigrants are always shaky. “Outsiders” are always seen as threats.

By blaming all economic and financial ills on immigrants, the right chooses an easy method of gaining power. However, simply calling this a ‘cheap tactic’ would be to falsify the changing attitudes of individuals themselves. It is obvious that the only way for right wing politicians to take power is for the people to give it to them. Thus, the only means of counter-acting this, is for other mainstream politicians (actors) to take the time to address these concerns (and yes, apparently people are genuinely afraid of Islam). Often, the right takes power by vocalising what everyone is thinking but afraid to say and frames the solution in an absurdly simple manner, sprinkled with nationalism.

When we look at the most wealthy parts of the world, some of us forget about the decades of exploitation, colonisation, genocide and rape of the other half of it. How could this ever be considered perfection? How can we look at the wealthy and forget about the poor and the dead men, women, and children labeled as ‘collateral damage’? And yet time and time again, the poor are forgotten in Greece, in Syria, and elsewhere. It is the poor who always suffer because they have the least options and the least say. When they immigrate, people are forced to remember what they would rather not look at, confronted with the other half of existence.

The reality is that when Europe stops naval gazing, breeching the confines of its insular world, it is forced to look out at a world it has actively helped to create and it quivers in fear.