Discuss the Threats to Security Posed By Nationalism

Introduction

Nationalism is a political movement which has two characteristics: political ideology, which drives nationalist movements; and, Ethnic and cultural ideology that roots for own independent states. At times, these two characteristics would be linked together. However, it should be noted that the characteristics would have some distinctions owing to how they are applied in western countries which have more political nationalism and eastern countries which have more cultural nationalism (Spencer, 2002, p. 96).

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It is shocking to see how far right parties have gained power in elections conducted in recent years across Europe. Today in the EU parliament, there are eight far right parties that form a Eurosceptic group. More politicians are using nationalist movements to gain power. The UKIP party is known for funding far right movements across Britain in order to command more support. “Citizenship, globalization and supranationalism have brought about an identity crisis in European publics” (Ellinas, 2010, p. 22). The people that join parties like UKIP argue that they feel sick of being brainwashed by the left and the globalisation whose results have been high immigration, multiculturalism, feminism, and gay rights. The party’s main targets are unqualified White unemployed British men aged 45 years and above (Stellings, 2015).

From Italy to France and Germany to the UK, the far right parties have taken centre stage in European politics. More people pledge their support for the far right parties because of their belief that the EU is in crisis. Some of the factors they would cite for their belief are economic instability, refugee waves, high immigrations, and Islamisation in the Union. “Nationalism is an elaborated ideology” (Spencer, 2002, p. 45). In the past, leaders of countries used nationalism to mobilize people for war. Today, something similar is happening but in a less violent way. Politicians strive to get more power. Therefore, they use all kinds of tools, nationalism being the tool in this instance.

Nationalism has always been associated with violence. It is responsible for the most destructive wars of human history. Both the First and the Second World Wars were purely out of Nationalism. In order to achieve its aims, Nationalism (social movement) sometimes resorts to acts of violence. Nationalist movements usually contain a large number of conservatives. However, more recently it has started recruiting more far right and fascist organisations like it was back in the 30s and 40s when each European country had a fascist organisation or the country itself was under the fascism regime. In the 21st Century, far right and fascist organisations are once again sprouting. This is in spite of the thought that fascism had died because of the social progress that has so far been made. Notably, significant number of people now votes for far right movements that are similar with fascism in the 30s and 40s.

The proponents of nationalism usually hold the same values and are loyal to their respective ethnic groups. If another minority ethnic or cultural group somehow affects a country in a way, nationalism, guided by the majority, would seek to change the situation through political actions that could possibly turn violent. “Nationalism embodies a social fever; it is an activity aimed at changing the current state of affairs. This change is intended through political action and is directed at enlarging a population’s self-control (autonomy, independence, secession) or controlling other peoples (ethnic cleansing, domination, expansion)” (Hagendoorn, 2000, p. 5).

As has been pointed out, Nationalists do use violence to achieve their political aims. For instance, the far-right group dubbed “Britain First” is famous for invading mosques and abusing ethnic groups. Although they claim to be a peaceful Christian organisation whose main goal is to ban Islam from the UK, their actions speak the opposite. The group’s army consists of mainly racists, football hooligans, ex-offenders, and Islamophobics that harass ordinary citizens. Organisations similar to “Britain First” are hundreds of thousands in number across Europe. Pegida, the far right organisation in Germany, is one of such groups that started out as a small group in 2014. Now, it boasts of thousands of nationalists across the country. As a matter of fact, it is one of the fastest growing far right organisations in Germany (Connolly, 2015). Just like “Britain First”, Pegida claims to be a peaceful organisation that is only against Islam and radicalisation. However, the group is well known for making violent demonstrations which create chaos in the country.

In this modern era, Europe does not get sudden military attacks as it used to in the past. One of the factors for this is that the continent is more united than ever. Most of the countries in Europe are now members of the EU; therefore, they are fully protected by NATO and other institutions. However, there are European countries that are not EU members and do not have any agreements with the Union. Examples of such countries include Ukraine, former republics of Yugoslavia, Belarus and Moldova. These countries are at risk of war. The first reason for this is that they are not politically stable. Moreover, they do not strongly protect human rights. Belarus is known for having the last surviving dictatorship in Europe. The president has been in office since 1994 despite the country holding official elections. In every election, the president surprisingly and infamously gets re-elected. The country’s government is very harsh to the opposition. In every election, the government throws hundreds of oppositionists in prison. Second and the most important point is the issue of ethnic conflicts in the countries. During the 90s, Yugoslavia fell apart because of ethnic tensions. People of former Yugoslavia simply could not live as different ethnicities together. Therefore, each region asked for greater autonomy. Serbs could not get along with Bosnians because Serbs are orthodox and Bosnians Muslims. Croats and Slovenians also could not get along with the Serbs because they are mostly Roman Catholics. Each constitution formed its own army that mostly cosseted of nationalists who wanted to break away from Yugoslavia. This 10-year long war not only resulted into new independent countries but also the deaths of hundreds of thousands people.

Ukraine is one country that suffers from both political instability and ethnic conflicts. When the Soviet Union collapsed, Ukraine became an independent country. However, since then, the country has struggled with its domestic politics. It has experienced mass protests and violence because of calls for a wider democratic space. Noteworthy, Ukraine is one of the largest countries in Europe with one of the largest corruption indices in the world. According to Transparency International, the country is ranked 142nd out of 175 countries (International, 2015). It experiences political malpractices such as election frauds whereby the local authorities rig elections so as to secure a specific candidate’s majority in exchange for bribe or for getting government support for their business interests. Moreover, the country has a large ethnic Russian population. Most of the eastern parts of the country are predominantly Russian.

According to Ukrainian Census, 17.3% of the country’s population are Russian speaking inhabitants. Ukrainian and Russian cultures are very close but the people do not get along well. Therefore, nationalism is high in Ukraine mainly because of the west and east division. People from Western Ukraine tend to be more pro-European and tend vote for pro-western governments. On the other hand, people from Eastern Ukraine tend to be more pro-Russian and tend vote in Moscow’s interests. Russian-speaking people mostly support Russian interests and some of them even want to join Russia. Ukrainians mostly in the Western parts of the country are more liberal. They believe that they can function without the Russians and as such; they don’t want to be ruled by Russia anymore. This has culminated into ethnic conflicts. Right wing nationalist parties are rising from both sides. The western Ukraine backs far right party Svoboda which is a considered fascist and anti-Semitic party. Some of its logos have neo-Nazi symbols. It also has seats in the government and significant seats in local governments too. Parties like Svoboda are linked with oligarchy that is very common in Russia and Eastern European countries where rich people pay large amounts of money to the parties in exchange for political power.

In Eastern Ukraine, pro-Russian nationalists are very active. The Donetsk Republic Party which was established as an organisation in 2005 is now the majority party in Donetsk and founder of the Donetsk Peoples Republic. After Euromaidan, pro-Russian rebels that believe in Russian nationalism seized the territory and proclaimed to the DPR. The territory is funded by Moscow and oligarchs who believe they would benefit from the territory. The conflict between the two sides has created war in Ukraine. The country is now in a state of emergency. Some of the parts of Eastern Ukraine are controlled by the rebels. The violence between the rebels and the Ukrainian army has left some areas completely destroyed. Hundreds of schools, hospitals and civilian houses have been destroyed in the war. Ukrainian security is in crisis. The Ukrainian borders are no longer controlled by customs. The outcome has been the annexation of Crimea by Russia. In addition, many people from Eastern Ukraine are suffering fatalities. They are in urgent need of help. There are hundreds of thousands that are jobless. The elderly and children have been left helpless. According Europa.eu, “five million people in the country are in need of humanitarian aid due to the combined impact of conflict, displacement and extreme poverty” (department, 2015). Nationalism not only made Ukraine to be more independent but also more ruined.

Nationalism in today’s world is different from what it was thirty years ago, for instance. It has moved from cultural to political. If nationalism becomes more like a political idea then it can detriment democracy.  In this regard, today nationalism seems to be very dangerous if it gets involved politically. The result can be political dislocation, unrests, violence, and wars. Internationally, the state can lose its place in international cooperation and be sanctioned. Consequently, the country would lose many trade agreements and even be subjected to travel restrictions. The country’s economy would thus suffer a huge damage. For example, during the Ukrainian crisis, many countries imposed sanctions against Russia mainly because of the annexation of Crimea. This caused significant problems to the Russian economy such as collapse in oil prices and devaluation of the Russian currency (Thompson, 2015).

Domestically, civil war can be a threat to a state’s security. Notably, civil war would be a result of nationalism. A civil war would occur if nationalists are challenged by the state to reach independence as was the case of Yugoslavian wars and more recently in Ukraine where nationalists fought for greater autonomy. If a state is wealthy and has political stability, there would be less likelihood of wars. The situation would however be opposite for politically unstable and developing nationalist states. Although in Western Europe nationalism is on the rise, the risk of civil war is limited because these countries promote democracy and more human rights. An ideal example is the Scottish independence referendum in 2014 which was peacefully conducted and “could offer a lesson in the civilised way to handle separatism” (Rachman, 2014).  “During 1989-91 the sudden demise of Marxist-Leninist systems greatly enlarged the number of states where nationalism was openly expressed, nationalist tendencies were strong beneath the surface of political life throughout the USSR and its Eastern European satellites” (Hutchinson, 2001, p. 182).

Eastern European countries are at a higher risk of security threats because nationalism there is more ethnic and cultural. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, many Eastern European countries experienced rising nationalism. During the 1990s, in countries with large Russian-speaking populations, nationalism sometimes went very violent because one side would be for the transition for capitalism and the other would be sympathetic towards socialism and against the transition. In Latvia, there were large violent riots and unrests made by pro-Latvian far right movements such as People’s Movement for Latvia and, pro-Russian far right organisation National Bolsheviks especially on 9th May, the Soviet Union Victory Day, where the Russian-speaking population gathers to celebrate the event. However, the peaceful event usually ends up in large demonstrations that turn violent because the far right Latvian nationalist side would also be present. The same applies to the Latvian Legion Day when Latvian veterans who served the Nazi Waffern to fight for the freedom from the Soviet Union are celebrated. This event also turns violent because it usually brings both nationalist sides to make the demonstrations (Aliyeva, 2015).

As has been seen, Nationalism can pose various threats to state’s security. It is however worth noting that nationalism varies; therefore, threats posed to security by nationalism also vary. In Western countries, the biggest threat is political dislocation where far right parties gain massive victories in governments. This is due to the mass immigration and the recent migrant crisis. More politicians use this as a tool of getting political power because today, it seems to be a very easy way. First, it is a threat to security because it brings mass violence in the state. Second, far right parties promote racism and xenophobia. Many of the right organisations openly use racist slurs and wave racist posters. Third, it is bad for the EU in general. Recently, the EU has experienced financial crisis. It has high national debts, the migrant crisis and now the recent Brexit where the UK will hold a referendum in June 2016 whether to leave the EU or not. Nationalism has contributed to this significantly because it has helped Eurosceptic parties to gain seats in the EU Parliament. This clearly is a threat to EU’s security because this can mean the whole project of European integrations is slowly dying.

In Eastern and Central Europe, security threats are ethnic violence and war because in the countries in the regions, governments usually isolate ethnic minorities from the rest. In the 1990s, there were ethnic tensions that led to conflicts and later to the war that resulted in the breakup of Yugoslavia. Then in the 21st Century, several unrests happened in Georgia and more recently in Ukraine. Political parties are also usually divided. “Voters make more pragmatic voting decisions, and consider the personality of the candidates and party leaders, salient political issues or the ideology of political actors to a greater extent than in Western democracies”. Most often, there are always conflicts between supporters and opponents of the old regime and in some cases, countries experience armed conflicts. For instance, in Ukraine and Baltic States, there are many Russian-leaning political parties that in some countries are in government to protect and support Russian-speaking citizens of those countries. In spite of this, nationalists elect more far right radical parties in government. This results into unstable political situations in Eastern and Central European countries. “Many officially registered political parties cannot be categorised since many of them do not possess any orderly system of political views, ideology and programs” (Hagendoorn, 2000, p. 478). In Ukraine, after the unrests, the nationalist and anti-Russian party Svoboda made significant achievements in the elections especially in local governments. Nevertheless, Russian nationalism is present as well in the eastern parts of Ukraine. There is an argument that there is nationalism in Russian foreign policy. “Russian foreign policy has become increasingly driven by its domestic imperatives” (Laruelle & Umland, 2014, p. 15). It is believed that many Russian-speaking political organisations and the separatist movements that control some regions of Ukraine are funded by Kremlin. Russian president Putin even admitted that Russian military forces were present during the Ukrainian crisis and he many times has spoken about supporting Russian-speaking people outside Russia (Oliphant, 2015).

Conclusion

Given the above points, Eastern Europe and some Central European countries currently are facing conflicts between ethnicities and these conflicts are security concerns. The fights in Ukraine have negatively changed the security environment in Europe. As a result, the EU and the USA have put sanctions against Russia. Additionally, NATO has increased its military presence in Eastern Europe especially in countries that border Russia. It is known that many EU countries and the US are accusing Russia for causing the aggression in the east. All in all, political instability due national conflicts in Central and Eastern Europe creates a concern about radical nationalism that pushes for more authoritarian power. As a result, states become vulnerable with weak governments.

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