Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Rising Nationalism

I have previously written that I find 'nationalism' worrying, partly because i grew up and spent a large part of my life in a country divided by it, and finally isolated and, some would argue, now destroyed by it. So I watch the arguments made by English, Scottish, Welsh, Irish, Russian, Ukrainian and other 'nationalists' with some concern. It is my experience that the frontmen of 'nationalist' movements are often xenophobes, small minded men seeking power with a vision focused on a goal which may look desirable, but which is often unsustainable in the longer term.

It seems to permeate every society and it is probably the number one cause of conflict in the world. I know it is fashionable to blame religion, but when one really looks hard at the underlying causes, religion is frequently invoked as a 'cloak' beneath which a rather poisonous agenda is concealed. We are currently seeing something of this sort in the Middle East, in Eastern Ukraine and in the Crimea. Mr Putin is arguing in the Ukraine and the Crimea that "Russian citizens" are being threatened and that Russian Orthodox Churches being attacked by "separatists" and "agitators" and that this gives him the right to "protect" the ethnic Russians. Conveniently he ignores the fact that the Crimean crisis was sparked by Russian speakers overthrowing the interrim government set up in the wake of the overthrow of the Janukowski regime, and that the "concerned Russian citizens", according to many reports, were actually soldiers and sailors from the Russian bases there.

The real cost of the wests "Peace Dividend" now comes to the fore. We have cut back our defence capability to the point that we are now impotent. If Putin did decide to launch a takeover of the Ukraine, the Baltic States and the rest of Europe, we couldn't stop him. At least, we couldn't do so without resorting to nuclear strikes and we all know where that will lead. So, the peace campaigners of the 1960s and 70s could end up getting their wish. We could be 'Red' without even much of an effort from the Kremlin at the present rate of progress. And that leads me back to my starting point - nationalism. Possibly the only thing holding Mr Putin in check at the moment is the fact that within his "Federation" there are a large number of ethnic minorities, and each one cherishes some hope of one day being able to return to the "land of their fathers" from which they or their parents were often forcibly exiled under the Stalinist Regime.

In the west we already confront the problem of internal splits and divisions over ideology, over distribution of wealth and now of narrow nationalist interests promoted, quite often, by politicians who know they can never be big players or wield the kind of power they would like - so they focus on stirring up fear and discontent among their supporters and on attracting others to their cause. Then they can carve out a little fiefdom for themselves and pretend to be more important than they really are. Again and again we can see this on the pages of history, and repeatedly the majority of folk - who were usually quite happy with whatever dispensation existed - suffer the consequences when it all goes sour.

Many times I have asked myself why so many fall for these pipe dreams touted by people who are sometimes fairly obviously not on the same page as the rest of humanity. Partly, I suspect, it is because we like the status quo in terms of our own security, our cultural heritage (which is often a rather romanticised and sanitised version of the truth) and, whether we like to admit it or not, being associated with people from our own culture, skin colour and so on. We have a tendency when feeling insecure, to revert to our 'tribal' roots. So, the man bashing the loudest and most 'patriotic' sounding drum will be attractive to some of us at least. Never mind that his vision my, on closer scrutiny, be toxic, or that it may detrimental to everyone else's interests. It makes for a comfortable feeling at the moment - so we go with it and we don't dig too deeply, and we certainly don't ask questions. Those of us who do, generally find ourselves being reviled, "sent to Coventry", and even being forced out of society altogether.

Much of the anti-EU vitriol one sees regularly in the UK media falls into the category of narrow 'nationalism' and that is born out by the comments one sees whenever anything pro-EU is uttered or published. Perhaps one of the most stupid statements I come across regularly on reading anything about the EU - either for or against it seems - are statements like "it is the Fourth Reich", or "we beat them in 1939-45 and we'll do it again". Both of which make me wonder which planet the commentators live on and how many moons they can see at night. I could cite many, many more equally silly and sometimes downright stupid comments and statements, all of which lead back to a very narrow and nationalistic point of view. What troubles me as we contemplate the upheavals in Iraq, Syria, Egypt, the Ukraine and elsewhere is that these forces appear to be on the rise. In the Middle East the 'nationalism' is being masked by the involvement of Islamist idiots who want to bring about a new Caliphate, but the real underlying problems in Iraq, Syria and Turkey are nationalist/tribal and not religious.

I'm sure our politicians know all of this, but they choose to play along with the "it's all religious" view of the Middle East, even though it is now exposed by Mr Putin's Crimean and Ukrainian ambitions. The really scary aspect is that I believe our western political elites are frightened. They don't know what to do about it. The political systems and the bureaucracies they have created are no longer in touch with the electorates. Their 'governance' is being questioned on all sides by ordinary people, and those people want a return to a simpler, more locally based form of governance. We want to take power away from faceless bureaucrats and representation away from Party Hacks who pass unhindered from universtoty activism, via "Special Adviser" and Civil Service, to Member of Parliament/Congress or whatever. We want an end to the political classes looking after their cronies in commerce and industry and letting everyone else sink or swim. So we turn to small minded nationalism and localism - with all its attendant dangers.

My experience of 'nationalist' politics makes me wary of it, and of those who espouse it. I do not like the power wielded by bureaucrats, and I detest the self-serving politicians who seem to infest every government. I recognise the need to have a strong and representative government in place, and I also recognise the need to manage economies and the welfare of the populace, and therein lays my real dilemma - how best to achieve that without producing either the extreme localist nationalism, or the remote, overweaning 'internationalism' that appear to be the only alternatives at present.

Perhaps it is time we actually sat down and started considering where we are going as we allow small, petty, local politicians to drag us toward greater fragmentation in the west, while elsewhere the opposite is in progress, swallowing the small nationalist minorities one by one.

Answers, please, on a postcard.


  1. The Monk, as so often, makes many good points here, I must say, however, that while I do not like the tactics being deployed, I do have some sympathy for Mr Putin. Since the 1945change from WW2 to Cold-War, the USSR kept a series of "buffer states" between itself and the West. When the CCCP dissolved, Russia maintained this policy and the two west-facing buffer states are Belarus and Ukraine. (The Monk makes the unforgivable mistake of placing the definite article before the latter, the locals would react as Rupert Bear would...) Russia has enough to contend with having a pseudo hostile eastern boundary with China, although Kazakhstan provides a massive buffer as do the Caucasus states, wanting these buffers to prevent its citizens being able to walk into the capitalist west is understandable to me.

    Notwithstanding the current Ukrainian issues, the wider point the Monk makes is interesting to ponder upon. Perhaps best paraphrased by WS Gilbert as "When everyone is somebody, then no one's anybody" the reaction of many to "globalisation" is nationalism.

    Perhaps the only modern country not to suffer from this any more than it always has through interstate rivalry is the USA, probably because much of its population truly believes that the world ends at its borders. I believe that some truly believe that they need their nuclear arsenal to prevent invasion across the Canadian border.

    Nationalism in European countries has seen quite a rise since the Euro-Zone came into being. Nationalism in the Middle East appears to be along post-colonial lines, we were somewhat more experienced than some other countries in letting slip the colonial noose, however, most would agree that France, despite some good planning, did not leave Syria in a good place when it withdrew, any more than it did Vietnam.

    Nationalism is about identity, and that can also mean religious identity in some cases. Identity is what gives humans self-worth, a persons identity in national terms is a complex issue. My Mother's family were Scots, I was born in Newcastle upon Tyne, however my inner self identifies as Scottish. I can understand the Scottish Nationalist debate and the desire to identify as a nation rather than as a European region or England's northernmost county. I think the September vote will be a huge damp squib, but being able to hold the referendum is important to many people. I have no time, however, for the rabid ranting of the "Yes" campaigners who seem to be under the impression that they are slaves in bondage and have been since 1707. They should visit some of the post-industrial areas in the North East of England before acting in the way that they do.

    Nationalism is about identity, globalisation is about removing many of the factors that identify, perhaps politicians should take a little more notice and I concur fully with the Monks closing paragraphs.

    1. Mae culpa on the 'article' before Ukraine, O sage. I shall blame it on the German language habit which speaks of all nations with an article ...