Radical populist nationalism and the discourse of hatred
By Paul Gordon The three years from 2014 to 2017 will undoubtedly go down in the history books as three particularly turbulent years in recent British and Spanish affairs. This period of political instability began in 2014 with the Scottish independence referendum campaign which shattered the relative tranquility and peacefulness of Scottish daily life similarly to what has sadly happened in Cataluña recently with the independence campaign there as well. Many families and friends were suddenly divided down the middle, just like in a civil war, between those in favour of maintaining national unity and those determined to break up age old national entities spurred along by a wave of radical nationalist populism unleashed in western Europe in the early years of this new century. If this is how the new century has begun, what has the rest of the century in store for us and our children?
State busting, to use that expression, has become the new political fashion of the moment in Europe. Suddenly what we had assumed to be our relatively prosperous and stable countries have been subjected to very powerful destabilizing centrifugal influences from within our own borders; frequently aided and financed by shadowy foreign interests anxious to follow the old maxim of divide and rule. Before the late 1990s nobody really used to pay much attention to the Scottish Nationalist Party or to radical Catalan separatism. In my native Scotland when I was younger the SNP were regarded as eccentric “Tartan Tories” that nobody really took seriously who were obsessed about the medieval legends of William Wallace and Robert Bruce. They did not represent a credible political alternative for most ordinary Scottish voters and were seen to be on the margins of normal politics and life. Up until 2007 Labour and, to a lesser extent since, the Tories had traditionally dominated Scottish politics. In the Scottish Parliamentary elections of that year, a new era began in Scottish and British politics with the first SNP administration, albeit a minority one propped up with Tory support, to take office in the recently established Scottish regional government based in Edinburgh. From that moment until the present the SNP has managed to remain in power in Edinburgh, with and without a majority, in charge of Scotlands´ regional government administration. A new era of radical nationalist politics had begun which was to lead to the 2014 Scottish independence referendum agreed to by David Cameron.
Although most Scots rejected independence and the SNP have begun to lose electoral support the threat of a second indyref still looms ominously on the Scottish political horizon as long as the SNP remain in control of Scotlands´ regional government and to the distinct possibility of an extreme or hard Brexit supported by the May London Tory government. After their resounding defeat in the 2014 indyref the prospect of a hard Brexit has been a godsend from the heavens for the SNP which they have tried to use to their political advantage at every opportunity.
In post-1978 Spain most Catalans have generally not supported extreme radical separatism from Spain either, even although many have voted for the nationalist Convergència i Unió party. Up until 2010 and the period of leadership by Artur Mas, Convergència i Unió actively cooperated in facilitating the governability of Spain by supporting the two main Madrid based national parties in the central government under the leadership of Felipe González and José María Aznar. However, after 2010 Convergència i Unió suddenly changed direction away from the centre ground and started to support radical separatism for Cataluña.
Since then the political situation in Cataluña has become progressively more radical and polarized ultimately leading to the illegal referendum held on October 1 of this year and the very short lived unilateral declaration of independence in the Catalan Parliament on October 27 and the imposition of direct rule from Madrid the following day.
The regional elections called for the December 21 are an excellent opportunity for all Catalan voters to participate in free and fair elections to decide the immediate future, given that a majority of Catalan voters, who are not separatist, did not participate in the October 1 illegal independence referendum.
The Brexit referendum also marked another important point in the consolidation of this wave of radical populist nationalism and division sweeping across many parts of Europe. Brexit will undoubtedly go down as a watershed moment in British history when, because of the dismal quality of the British political class and a lack of good leadership, the country’s political elite failed to carry out their duty to clearly explain to the public the long term national interest in the Brexit referendum campaign and instead squabbled amongst themselves for short term personal and party interests. If the Brexit process goes wrong and there are real negative economic consequences, the British public could well turn on the political establishment in despair. The corrosive action of radical populist nationalism attacked the weakest point of European unity, Britain, where for decades Euroscepticism has been promoted as being fashionable in many elite circles and handed down to the masses via the popular press for them to support.
The first signs of the cancerous fever of radical nationalism in contemporary post-1945 Europe appeared in the socalled Yugoslav wars associated in the popular mind with the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia which had been largely under Serb domination.
The post-1945 belle époque was over. The violent disintegration of Yugoslavia coincided with the miraculous fall of the Berlin Wall and of the liberation of Eastern Europe from half a century under oppressive Soviet rule from Moscow.
An important consequence of the fall of Soviet domination in Eastern Europe has been that post-communist Russia has not been willing to fully accept the permanent loss of its traditional Eastern European backyard and zone of influence to the EU and NATO.
With the fall of the “Iron Curtain” across the European continent in the early 1990s at first it seemed that a new era of freedom and hope had opened up for Europe after a twentieth century characterized by warfare, violence and destruction on an industrial scale never seen before in history. A Pandoras´ box with unimaginable consequences was opened which has destabilised European affairs ever since the collapse of the Soviet Empire. As Jean Claude Juncker, the EU Commission President, commented recently radical populist nationalism threatens to rip many European states to pieces with dire economic and social consequences and create a Europe, not of 28 or 27, but of 95. From a Machiavellian point of view, the return of Europe to feudalism and division would be beneficial for other world powers who would occupy the vacuum and see their influence in the world increase.
A radical nationalist discourse which offers the peoples of Europe a future of hatred and division instead of hope, unity and progress is not what Europe deserves and we have a duty not to allow it to take over our countries.
We must not forget the hard lessons of the recent past. The biggest tragedy of European history, the Second World War, finished only seventy-two years ago. This Sunday, November 12, is Remembrance Sunday in the UK, let us wear the red poppy with pride, but may it serve also as a powerful reminder of the terrible consequences of radical nationalism which led Europe to two world wars and almost total destruction in less than twenty years and the death of millions of Europeans.
Paul Gordon is a representative of European Movement UK in Spain