Newspaper article International New York Times

Fostering National Identity but Not Nationalism

Newspaper article International New York Times

Fostering National Identity but Not Nationalism

Article excerpt

Scotland's referendum on independence posed some difficult questions about the meaning of Europe.

Was the Scottish independence referendum an exercise in resurgent nationalism threatening the European Union? Or was it the recognition by a small nation that it could enjoy the benefits and security of a transnational union directly, and not as part of a "great" British nation?

The debate has been lively since the Scots voted 55 percent to 45 percent against dissolving their 307-year-old union with England. Some commentators have pointed to the strong showing of the Scottish separatists as another manifestation, different but nonetheless alarming, of a revival of nationalism across Europe that has spawned populist and anti-European Union, anti-immigration parties like the U.K. Independence Party or the National Front in France. Yet the Scots, like the Ukrainians, or the Catalans, are in many ways the opposite of the anti-European Union forces. Many of their activists were inspired by the example of a country like Slovakia, which broke away from a larger state but now enjoys the free-trade benefits of the European Union and membership in NATO.

Still, "nationalism" has some troubling echoes in Europe. The 20th century demonstrated what nationalism gone wild can wreak, and post-Soviet national conflicts like the Balkan wars in the 1990s or Vladimir Putin's aggressive irredentism today have revived old fears.

In the wake of World War II, Jean Monnet, later hailed as the architect of the European project, concluded that only European unity would preclude another cataclysm. "Make men work together," was his mantra. "Show them that beyond their differences and geographical boundaries there lies a common interest." Yet the same Western governments that saw the European Union as the solution for centuries of tribal bloodshed have not been consistent in their attitudes toward supranational groupings elsewhere. They cheered the breakup of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia into 22 separate countries, but condemned efforts by Abkhazians and Ossetians to break out of Georgia.

The fact is, nationalism -- as national history, language, culture, myth and faith -- is an integral part of people's identity, for good or ill. It can bond people in noble endeavors like resistance to tyranny, and it can foster xenophobic hatred of the "other. …

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