26 May 2014

Nationalism resurgent, from Donetsk to Donegal

From Friday to Sunday the member countries of the European Union held elections for the EU Parliament, and the results have aptly been described as a political earthquake.  Almost everywhere, parties opposing the EU and favoring re-assertion of national sovereignty made spectacular gains.  Let's look at the EU's four big countries first.

In Britain, Nigel Farage's UK Independence Party (UKIP) easily took first place with about 28% of the vote, with the two mainstream parties (Labour and the Conservatives) getting about 25% each -- the first time in modern history that a nationwide British election was not won by one of the two.  (Imagine a third party getting more votes than either Democrats or Republicans in a nationwide US election.)  The UKIP even won one seat in Scotland, where it has not previously done well.  As its name suggests, the party's signature issue is withdrawal of Britain from the EU, but it is also the only large party committed to deep cuts in immigration -- a hot-button issue in Britain.

In France the results were similar, with Marine Le Pen's Front National winning about 25%, the UMP (mainstream right) about 20%, and the Socialists (currently in power in France) just 15%.  The FN has an awkward history; formerly, under the leadership of Le Pen's father Jean-Marie, it was a crank party pushing hard-line Catholicism and anti-Semitism.  Marine has refashioned it into a nationalist party with broad appeal, focused on opposing the EU and immigration, similar to the UKIP.

In Germany, the Euroskeptic party Alternative für Deutschland won 7% of the vote -- much less impressive than the UKIP or FN, but the AfD was founded only one year ago and has had far less time to develop itself.  It's also less radical, calling for more sovereignty but not separation from or dissolution of the EU, and thus offers less of an alternative than the UKIP or FN.

In Italy, the mainstream left won the biggest share of the vote, but three Euroskeptic groups won almost a third between them -- the Five Star Movement at 22%, the Northern League at 6%, and a leftist coalition at 4%.  As with the AfD, these groups are less radical, favoring lesser measures such as a referendum on the euro currency rather than withdrawal from the EU.

Several smaller countries saw similar nationalist surges, with the People's Party coming in first with 26% in Denmark and the far-left, anti-austerity Syriza winning in Greece.  Ireland had no true anti-EU party to vote for, but protest votes went to the anti-austerity Sinn Féin, which surged.  Only in the Netherlands were the nationalists disappointed.

Just about every MSM story you read about this will use terms like "extreme right" to describe these parties, a distortion I addressed in some detail here.  This is why I emphasize that some of the Euroskeptic parties such as Syriza are actually leftist, even radically so.  (Real right-wing extremists like the BNP didn't do well.)  One of the major drivers of Euroskepticism is mass rejection of the austerity policies which the EU has imposed -- policies which prioritize deficit reduction despite catastrophically-high unemployment in much of Europe, similar to the policies which the Republicans advocate for the US.  Rejecting such policies is not "right wing" in any meaningful sense.  The other major driver is opposition to immigration.  The main objection, though, is to Muslim immigration, which has introduced a religious-extremist element -- somewhat like our Christian Right, but more violence-prone -- into highly secular societies.  The fact that Europe is already densely populated is also an issue.  Hostility to migration between European countries is more troubling -- those in Britain who object to immigrants from other EU countries, for example, are often unaware that even greater numbers of Britons live and work elsewhere in Europe.

The UKIP is particular has been subject to a smear campaign to slur it as racist and anti-gay.  It's true that it formerly opposed gay marriage, but it recently reversed that stance and expelled a notorious homophobe, and has been vetting candidates more carefully.

The real issue, though, is national sovereignty, and the rejection of rule by an unaccountable supra-national regime.  Spain years ago and France more recently elected socialist governments, only to find that they could not govern as socialists because the EU kept imposing the same old austerity policies.  The British find that they can't reduce immigration no matter which party they vote for, because policy in that area -- even on expulsion of dangerous foreign criminals -- is imposed by the EU.  The nationalist wave is not really right-wing or left-wing, but rather populist.

And the wave extends beyond the EU.  In Ukraine, also on Sunday, voters elected Petro Poroshenko as President.  Poroshenko's platform emphasized national unity, downplaying the traditional split between pro-West and pro-Russia elements -- but he firmly rejects Putin's annexation of Crimea, and has promised to end the increasingly-violent conflict in the eastern Donetsk region fomented by Putinist thugs (update: he's delivering).  Reject Russian domination; unite Ukrainians of both factions; hold the nation together.

Nationalism has been written off many times -- supposedly superseded by Communism, by religious identity, by globalization, even by the hopelessly artificial EU.  It looks like a good bet to outlast all those pretenders.

[Pictured above:  Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen, Petro Poroshenko]

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