Posts Tagged ‘Nationalism’
The New European Politics of National Resentment
Europe is in the throes of a major economic and political crisis. The later, overused, word barely covers the depths of despair felt by those facing mass unemployment, wage cuts and the devastation and privatisation of public services. Protests against austerity have united radical lefts, trade unions and the peoples. They have yet to succeed.
In the absence of any substantial – ‘actually existing’ – alternative to the austerity consensus of Christian and Social Democracy, reactionary currents have gained ground. Nationalists, such as the UK Independence Party, UKIP, the weevils of British politics, have had a strong echo, encouraging popular anger against the European Union. Overtly xenophobic parties, the Front National in France (17,9% in the first round the 2012 French presidential elections) and a host of others in Western and Eastern Europe, have gained ground. The Greek Golden Dawn has gone backwards so far that it has revived the far right’s tradition of bullying private militias.
But it is another reaction that has caught attention today. The victory of the right-of- centre party of Artur Mas, Convergència i Unió (CiU) in the Catalonian regional elections opens the way to a referendum on national independence. In Belgium the New Flemish Alliance (Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie, N-VA) of Bart Wever appears on the way to complete Flemish autonomy, if not the dissolution of the kingdom. The Scottish Parliament has decided to hold a popular vote about the country’s future that could lead to the ‘break up of Britain’. In Italy the Lega Nord, Northern League, stands for the rights of North Italy’s ‘Padania’ against the South. It has lost momentum in recent years following its collaboration with Berlusconi, but may well revive.
Are these different populist protests against Europe’s oligarchs? That is, part of broader demands for “localism”. Tory Ferdinand Mount is a critic of “centralisation and top-down control” He calls for, “giving power back to the people” on the “human scale”(The New Few 2012). Are these movements in any way aimed at the “distribution of power to the many, the taming of the oligarchs, and the opening of opportunities to the worst off.”? (Page 219) It can be quickly seen, that some on the left, notably the Catalan left, Esquerra Republicana which looks set to work with the victorious CiU, and the warring factions of Scottish socialism, do indeed consider the push for independence in their lands as opportunities for such moves.
Most of these movements are however not principally concerned with reviving an idealised municipal government past or the voluntary associations that made up David Cameron’s vision of the Big Society. The route they take, from hard-right to apparently ‘social democratic’ Scottish nationalists, is towards what Mount described elsewhere as the “”visible symbols of national community and unity” (Mind the Gap. 2005) But as Mount would recognise, all these movements are intensely concerned with control over money. From UKIP’s jibes about Brussels to the Catalan, Flemish and Northern Italian regionalists, they are preoccupied not just with bureaucratic waste, but the feckless use of public funds by their improvident – Southern – neighbours. Scottish nationalists, for reasons which are all too obvious, show less interest in this, but continue to rail against the UK-wide distribution of revenues taken from ‘their’ oil and gas,
If there is any common thread between these, often very different, parties and the tides of opinion that bolster their position, it is resentment. They are not movements of national liberation, comparable to Irish republicanism, the fight for Norwegian independence from Denmark, or the forces that created national states following the break up of the Hapsburg Empire, the “prison of the nations”. Perhaps the Flemish nationalists are unique in holding an annual trek around francophone Brussels, pissing on every lamppost to mark out Dutch speaking territory (okay, I made the urine bit up). But the impulse to define and protect ‘their’ people, our ain folk is widely shared. Read the rest of this entry »
Two Very Stupid Friends.
“The Stupidest Right in the World” (‘La droite la plus bête du monde’). Describing Cameron’s Tories Jean-Pierre Jouyet, did not mince his words on France-Inter this morning.
The British P.M rejection of any agreement with the EU continues to echo. Jouyet, the ’Eurocrat’, was careful to talk of the UK party in power, and not the British people. The observation is based on the judgement that Cameron has got absolutely nothing from slamming the door to Europe. Apart from the warm words of his supporters.
Jouyet applied to the UK Conservatives a phrase often used in France to describe their own Right-wing parties.
Undoubtably he is unaware of the 19th century English nickname for the Tories, “the stupid party”.
The full quote, from John Stuart Mill, goes, “Although it is not true that all conservatives are stupid people, it is true that most stupid people are conservative.”
We would adjust this: “Although it’s not true that all conservatives are stupidly anti-European, it is true that most stupid people are.”
The Tory argument was that, “European Union proposals pose a grave threat to Britain’s financial services industry.” (here) - as supported by Ipswich MP Benedict Gummer (Gummer’s expertise in the business-world derives from his experience working for Dad in a ‘Consultancy’ firm based in Queen Anne’s Gate – Sancroft).
In the Observer, Will Hutton summarised the fault-lines in the position of the British Government and their baying anti-EU supporters,
Much of British finance in whose name Cameron exercised his veto – routine banking, insurance and accounting – was wholly unaffected by any treaty change. The financial services industry in Britain constitutes 7.5% of GDP and employs a million people; the City represents perhaps a third of that and, in turn, that part threatened – if it was threatened at all – some fraction of that. This is a tiny economic interest. If the coalition is serious about rebalancing the British economy, it is preposterous to place a fragment of the City at the forefront of our national priorities.
Unfortunately that is exactly what Cameron has done domestically. ‘Financial services’ have played a key role creating the Market State. Clegg may moan on his partners’ attitude to a new EU treaty (and no doubt the Euro). But the priorities and influence of this fraction of the City have tumbled down throughout the state. They have determined the pattern of sell-offs and transfers affecting the entire system of governance - from welfare to municipalities. The City profits directly from these – at the expense of public services.
We. do not see any patriotic squeals from the Tory Backbenchers about that.
The detestation of the EU is largely irrational – even if very real. Britain enhances its power and de facto sovereignty through membership; it loses it by becoming the creature of the financial markets and the City of London so beloved by Conservatives. If the EU suggests policies we don’t like, there are opt-outs and compromises galore, hardly the anti-democratic monster of sceptic imagination.
If this loathing is more emotional than anything else, it is culturally deep-rooted on the British Right.
But as hypocritical as you could possibly find.
As Hutton says,
None of the eurosceptics baying for a referendum objects to Mayfair, Kensington and Knightsbridge becoming ghost towns owned by foreigners, nor to swaths of our great companies and brands falling into foreign ownership. This loss of control and autonomy is fine. But to make common cause with our European neighbours to enlarge our capacity to act in the world causes collective heart failure.
Is this entirely irrational?
Many of the leading anti-European ideologues and much of the anti-EU media are in foreign hands, from Murdoch to the ally of The US Tea-Party, former Defence Minister, Liam Fox. They represent the interests of global capital,a nd politically the American Right. They hate ‘socialist’ – Christian Democratic and Social Democratic - Europe for its regulatory stand that they perceive as against their money-making interests. The Tory right are in this sense, the true “parti de l’étranger.”
Some lackwits on the left think that the European Union is just a capitalist club.
There have been long-standing reasons to oppose the way the EU is structured, from its competition policy to its failure to raise social standards, and even, in some cases, helping weaken them by encouraging the break up of socially owned enterprises.
The slash and burn attack on the social state and the wholesale privatisations in Greece show the EU at its worst.
Today there are reasons to be opposed to any treaty which enshrines strict Budget controls. And giving power over state financial regulation to the European Courts.
There are, to say the least, reasons to be opposed to a non-democratic European Union – because we support an open democratic social Union!
We want the left to coem to open up the EU to our priorities not the bankers.
We cannot do this by betting on a fictitious “sovereignty” of the UK Parliament – dwarfed by the City Cameron defends.
This has to come from something with the weight of a United Continent – A European Social Republic.
At the moment our thoughts are elsewhere.
There are even greater reasons to hate in our innards the xenophobic anti–European right.
In politics and culture alone we are European through-and-through.
British democratic socialism is deeply influenced by German and French socialism – to cite but two lands.
And our first, and perhaps greatest, National Poet, Chaucer?
G.K.Chesterton once described him, “he was profoundly English, and therefore partly French.”
Chaucer was also somewhat Italian – as anybody who reads the Canturbury Tales knows.
We Know Who Ate All The Mosselen-friet.
The country’s French language public radio station, La Première, was full of apocalyptic talking heads this morning.
Without Leterme it seems uncertain that any coalition that would unite a Flemish constituency and the Socialist-led Francophones is possible.
This follows the failure to form a Belgian federal government since well over year (Since the 13th of June 2010,Here).
The stumbling block remains the refusal of the hard-right populist NV-A (Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie) and its leader, Bart de Wever. to agree on anything other than the break up of the federal system. Or as the Flemish nationalists colourfully put, to stop paying for lazy Walloons. Elio di Rupo, from the Socialists, has repeatedly failed to find common ground with Wever’s economic liberalism, support for austerity, and separatist agenda.
Now the Flemish nationalists can, no doubt, shout ‘België barst!’ to their hearts content.
The Sorrow of Beligum.
100 Days after General Elections Belgium is still without a Federal government.
The country is always ruled by coalitions, between, Flemish and French, and political parties (and ‘families’) of the centre, left, and right. The balance towards one side is what matters. In the Federal Parliament and Senate this has been complicated by increasing support from Dutch-speakers for their own, separate, state. This year, the process of Cabinet Formation, always laborious, has dragged on and on.
After his victory in Flemish territory the nationalist separatist Bart De Wever (N-VA) began negotiations with the Parti Socialiste. PS leader Elio di Rupo was thought likely to become the next Prime Minister. He, after all, is part of a ‘family’ that spans both linguistic communities. Nevertheless, negotiations between free-market nationalists and federalist social democrats promised to be difficult.
Wever’s Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie (N-VA) wants an independent Flanders. The unemployed in the Francophone Wallonia are, they claim, subsidised by the hard-working Flemish. The principal sticking point in Cabinet negotiations it the N-VA’s demand that the Federal Budget (relating to social security and health) be broken up so that the prosperous North does not contribute to the poor South.
As with nationalists everywhere this is dressed up in foggy rhetoric about oppression. The French-speakers are accused of a range of faults. Some are true (the historic dominance of Francophones and disregard for the Dutch language and people). Others are fantasies (such as the claim that their region was downtrodden to the level of a colony). From this range of ‘historic’ grievances (some going back to the Middle Ages) a poisonous cocktail has been mixed.
Politics becomes centred on these issues. They have institutional effects. A long-term objective of the Flemish is to capture French-speaking speaking Brussels (officially bi-lingual) for its ‘historic’ rulers - the Flemish. A range of petty municipal authorities in the Flemish local districts that lie around part of the Capital increasingly impose rules against French. Unspoken is the fact that most of the high immigrant population in the urban areas are French and not Dutch speakers.
There is talk of a ‘corridor’ to link Brussels to Wallonia to break out of this ‘encerclement’.
Today Le Soir reports that government negotiations have begun again. The main public Radio, La Première, carried interviews this morning with Francophone politicians. Most seemed to think that the NV-A was making the running. There is a continual drift towards a ‘confederal’ state – two effectively independent countries with symbolic unity under the Monarchy. Albert ll would remain King but little else would be held in common.
There are the same fiscal pressures on Belgium as on Britain. Cuts in public spending loom. The Flemish Bart De Wever will make sure that ‘his’ people will suffer less than the Walloons. Faced with similar pressures One can see similar nationalist and regionalist self-interest being asserted across Europe.
Nationalism aligned to the free-market will ensure that efforts to fight fiscal austerity in Belgium will be thwarted.
Lest Flanders Forget: 11 Julie!
Today is the Day of the Flemish Community – Belgium. That is, De Feestdag van Vlaanderen. *
As a forward-looking nationality,
11 July is the National Day of the people of Flanders. On Flanders Day we mark the anniversary of the Battle of the Golden Spurs in 1302 when an army of Flemish townspeople set to the flight the knights of the king of France.
The battle takes its name from the hundreds of knights’ spurs that lay on the battlefield, the Groeningekouter, outside Kortrijk afterwards.
The victory was an important one as it prevented Flanders from being incorporated into the kingdom of France and allowed it to continue to develop as a separate entity.
In his 11 July address the Flemish Premier is expected to speak of the need to press through state reforms and realise a Copernican Revolution under which powers are transferred from the federal state to the regions and gravity too moves from the federal government to the regional governments.
The Prime Minister of the Flemish Region, Kris Peeters, speaks today.
In his 11 July address the Flemish Premier is expected to speak of the need to press through state reforms and realise a Copernican Revolution under which powers are transferred from the federal state to the regions and gravity too moves from the federal government to the regional governments. (More Here)
In the French version this goes,
Cette révolution selon Peeters s’articule autour de 4 principes: un gouvernement fédéral qui vient en soutien de la politique flamande, une réforme profonde de l’Etat qui doit donner aux entités fédérées des compétences homogènes, un renforcement du lien avec Bruxelles et une collaboration durable entre toutes les entités.
To Peeters, this revolution will be elaborated around four principles. A federal government which helps Flemish policies and politics, a deep reform of the state, to make it have equitable responsibilities, a reinforced link with Brussels (that is, Flemish power over the capital’s administration, TC), and long-term co-operation between the different political institutions. (More Here)
Briefly, moves towards a confederal rather than a federal state.
Another nationalist movement is on the up. Yesterday around a million people demonstrated for the cause of Catalonia (Here).
According to El País the street protest was at the Spanish Constitutional Council’s decision to refuse recognition of Catalonia as a full-blooded ‘nation’, and to block any attempt to make the Catalan language legally predominant in the region.
Catalans have very good historical reasons to detest Spanish state centralism.
However, Catalan nationalism of a more recent vintage is hardly of the left – as the career of Pujol demonstrates. It is of public notoriety that, like the Flemish, one of the reasons for a revival of their national feeling is the widespread veiw that they (a rich region) are paying for the poorer ones – the Spanish ‘African’ south.
Many aspects of cultural autonomy, such as promoting people’s langauge rights, are fundamentally desirable. From the standpoint of equality and free expression they get a wide degree of support, and, for the left, are important . But political separation – fragmentation Europe into smaller and smaller states, run by a political cliques that live off resentment at neighbours, is hardly the way forward for any kind of progressive.
* The Belgium Francophone national holiday on September the 23rd commemorates the 1830 Uprising. The result was to throw the troops of the Dutch-headed Royalty out of the country, creating a separate state – Belgium. Which became a monarchy under strong British influence. (Here and Here)