Nationalisms : the fear of others

The European Parliament yesterday called for the “Article 7 of the Treaty of the European Union” disciplinary procedure to be brought against Hungary, justifying this decision by precise legal excesses in a whole series of areas: justice, associations, press, minority …

This article points to a “clear risk of a serious breach by a Member State of (Union) values”. These are specified in Article 2 of the Treaty: “respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law … respect for human rights, including human rights persons belonging to minorities”, and more generally, attachment to “a society characterized by pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men”

Let us hope that this approach will not be perceived by some of our fellow citizens as denying the concerns – sometimes irrational but often legitimate – expressed by their votes. It would indeed be disastrous to be content to recall the “values” of Europe, without tackling the necessary responses to the anxieties that are expressed, elections after elections.

A deep trend …

The Swedish parliamentary elections, even if we are far from the 25% forecast by many pollsters, have seen a nationalist and deeply xenophobic party (the “Sverigedemokraterna” in Swedish) win 17.6% of the vote. This score, the highest in the history of this party, will be enough to cause serious headaches to traditional parties in the formation of a new government.

Similarly, the Bavarian vote of 14 October could challenge the control exercised by the Christlich-soziale union (CSU) on regional policy and test the growing strength of the populist Alternative für Deutschland, third party at the national level.

Support for populist parties is on the rise in Europe. Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) is now the third largest political party in Germany, with, for the first time, seats in the Bundestag. The Italian Lega, defined above all by its opposition to immigration, is also the third party in the country and (co) runs the government since the national elections in the spring. And in the 2017 presidential election, the French National Front (renamed since National Rally) won a third of the vote, almost doubling its 2002 results, the first time it had reached the second round of the poll.

.. still a strong divide in our populations …

Nationalist populism has long been thought to be rooted in citizens’ economic anguish, but a recent survey by the Pew Research Center significantly nuances this approach.

About three quarters of those who have a positive opinion of Alternative für Deutschland (77%) and Swedish Sverigedemokraterna (75%) consider the economic situation of their country good. This optimistic view is only slightly weaker than that of the other Germans (87%) and Swedes (91%).

What is true is that the people who support so-called “populist” parties are much more nostalgic than their counterparts: 62% of the supporters of the French National Front say that life in France is today less good than 50 years ago (compared to 41% of other French adults, which is a very high level). In Germany, 44% of people with a positive opinion of populist movements have the same feeling for Germany (compared to only 16% of other Germans). Supporters of populist parties in Sweden, the Netherlands and the UK are also nostalgic for a time he thinks he was better at.

But the most disturbing result of the investigation is the importance in modern European populism of the rise of what might be called “nativism”. To the question of whether it is important to be born in their own country to be one of them, 74% of members of the National Front respond with the positive (against 42% of other French adults). A similar gap exists in Germany, where those with a favorable opinion of the AfD (75%) say that one has to be born in Germany to be a true German (against 44% for the other Germans).

When asked whether it is important for the families of their country to be really German, French or Dutch, about three quarters of the supporters of these parties answer in the affirmative. Only half or less of other French, German and Dutch adults agree. The same proportions apply when one finally asks whether Islam is fundamentally incompatible with the culture and values ​​of their country.

Ethnocentrism also plays a role in the current European political landscape: about six people out of ten (61%), a majority of supporters of the National Front (56%) and nearly half of the adherents (47%) of the Partij voor de Dutch Vrijheid (PVV) believe that their culture is superior to that of others. This sense of cultural superiority is much less present in those with negative views of these parties.

… except in Italy, exception or precursor.

These different figures underline that a strong divide still crosses European public opinions.

Italy is an exception here. In this country, the nationalist, ethnocentric and economic sentiments of the supporters of the League seem to be shared by those who have a negative opinion of this party, suggesting that right-wing populist opinions do not remain everywhere confined to the margins of the European political spectrum.

In Italy, about three quarters (76%) of Lega supporters, but also two thirds (66%) of other Italians, believe that you have to be born in Italy to be truly Italian. Similarly, while 86% of SU supporters believe that it is important to have an Italian family to be truly Italian, 72% of other Italians also express this belief. In the same way, the ethnocentric views of the partisans of the League are hardly different from the views of those who do not give him their favors.

For the moment, the system of European parties seems to be exploding everywhere. Simon Hix, professor of comparative European politics at the London School of Economics – one of the most brilliant observers of European politics I know – points it out in a tweet about Sunday’s Swedish election : “Yep. For me, the biggest take home from the Swedish election is not the further rise of populists, but the stunning volatility and party system fragmentation. The “Dutchification” of European politics (is that a word?)” (@simonjhix, September 10 2018)

In a recent post, I denounced the « neo-fascism » of Matteo Salvini. To be quite honest, it is impossible to know whether the nationalist, ethnocentric and populist sentiment widely shared by the Italians is the product of Italy’s recent history or a foretaste of the politics of other European countries.

What is certain is that if the current opinions of the extreme right of our nations – which I summed up a bit in the headline of this column – spread more widely among our fellow citizens, European politics would enter into a new era.


Iconography: The seizure of Edessa in Syria by the Byzantine army and the Arabic counterattack, manuscript of the Synopsis, known as “Madrid Skylitzes”, from the name of a Greek historian of the late 11th century, (Sicily, 12th century), © Biblioteca Nacional de Espana, Madrid, 


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