Europe and the old nationalisms (Part 2)
Europe the way separatist imagine it.

First of all:  where are separatists from? Are they coming from the current incompetence run by nation-centered governments which are unable to deal with global issues, such as global warming or the financial market institutions?

While everyday Europeans' lives change at a fast pace pushed mainly by the technological development such as social networks, the national Parliaments and governments seem to live stuck in the past. Of course, during the last century there have always been changes regarding the political parties, the laws or the rights and duties. Nevertheless the competences and essential aims of the main democratic institutions have remained the same: politicians meet daily in the Parliaments to make or end laws that (supposedly) concern their electors.

The justification of separatism

Back in that time that formula worked quite well for many reasons. Think about it: during the 19th century, centralization of national Parliaments and governments was necessary to bring policymakers together around the same buildings particularly in a time when there were no paved roads, cars and airplanes did not yet exist, and technologies like Skype or Internet were both utopian amusements. Therefore, physical distances were in the past larger and costly, as  was communication and data transmission among people. Thus the consolidation of national power into central decision-making buildings was at least economically justified.

In any case, the aid to ease the mobility of the political class was not the unique reason that gave rise to the centralization of the national Parliaments in democratic countries. As Jeremy Rifkin[1] put it, the old "nation-states are imaginary communities, artificial constructs created mainly by economic and political elites with the purpose of expanding national markets and secure the old western colonialism (...)". Hence not only the centralization allowed politicians to meeting in a central point but also gave them the possibility to take over both the wealth of nations and its military force.  

What is a nation?

In this sense, someone might argue that the old nation-states attempt to keep the union among the population and also enrich and protect the diversity of cultures. Well, at that point we should have a look again at the illustration of "The Europe of separatists" and ask ourselves: is there a ‘unique and genuine sort of classifying nationalities’? What does the term "nation" really mean? Have nation-states remained the same throughout the history of mankind? Have they ever changed? To what extent can we be sure they are not changing whatsoever?      

Again, Jeremy Rifkin notes that the key of the proliferation of nation-states was on their capacity to provide a new collective identity to the people, especially on those individuals who had been leading the matters in private properties as well as controlling the (supposedly) self-regulated markets so far. Therefore, only when looking back in time we may appreciate the romantic sense that nationalities currently convey to us was actually a sort of self-interested machinery to make citizens rely on the new empowerment of nation-states. That was not an easy one: to get docile citizens to trust them, the nation-states ought to seize their emotional support to count on them for different tasks such as collective jobs, tax collection and also the formation of armies that would defend the national businesses in the future.

At that point Jeremy Rifkin asks himself how nation-states could convince millions of people who had just emancipated after the Enlightenment period – an era when Europe did emphasize reason and individualism rather than tradition and romantic ideals. Put it another way: how could nation-states persuade citizens to resign a part of their autonomy and liberty they had reached until then? We find the answer in the narratives that nation-states did convey mainly based on attractive and common pasts as well as by giving them out identities and common fates. It is no coincidence that after the unification of Italy, the nineteenth-century politician, painter and novelist Massimo d’Azeglio – previously the prime minister of Piamonte– asserted that "We have made Italy, now we must make Italians".[2]

Is it a coincidence that the whole of nation-states share myths based on their origins plus heroes, heroines and also idealistic past times with tests and trials that perpetuate themselves through baroque rituals? I don’t think so. Again, Jeremy Rifkin claims, "In a most secular and disenchanted world, national-state had to create a more convincing new image about a town (or a country) that share a noble past and was destined to a future of greatness".  

Separatism or Globalization?

Finally, I would like to get back to the previous infographic. Why do we have to think of nationalisms as separatist or secessionist territories? Instead I propose another point of view: one that allows us to think of nationalisms in terms of what sociologists call "glocalization". It consists of strengthening ties among citizens and neighbourhoods at a local level, while assigning more responsibilities – for example competences - to a supranational entity (for example the EU). This new perspective not only overcomes the romantic and old concept of nation-states but also goes further and gives us a sort of tools to start fixing some economic and social today’s controversies between Europe and nation-states. Nevertheless this is going to be analyzed in the third part of the "Europe and the old nationalisms" that will be published soon on OneEurope.

Edited by: Réka Blazsek

[1] J. Rifkin, "The Empathic Civilization", 2010.
R.B.Lyman Jr., "Barbarism and Religion: Late Roman and Early Medieval Childhood", p.76.