April 4, 2008
I think it is not a false oversimplification that the European Union is an antidote to European nationalism. Probably it has been so successful in preventing violent ethnic rivalry that some Europeans forgot what a strong force nationalism can be. It has just stopped the world’s strongest miliatary allience in implementing its enlargement strategy.
Nationalism had been a powerful force to integrate strong states with committed citizens in Western Europe. Identification with a nation allows for bigger, stronger communities than families or municipalities. This force also lead to the massacres of rival nations, deportation of millions. Countless European people were denied of carriers and proper education if their mother tongue was different from the dominant ethnic group’s in their state. This is what the European Union was meant to prevent.
Some Americans and Central Europeans ironically point out that Western Europe was successful in curbing nationalism because the nationalist agenda had been completed by the founding: all important ethnic minorities were killed, deported or assimilated in Western Europe, so nationalism has reached a natural limit anyway. This is not the case in Central Europe and Southeastern Europe, where the building of nation-states, or even the concept of some nations started just when Western Europe has finished. Until 1918 the Habsburg and the Ottoman Empires integrated this region in polities that did not identify themselves with an ethnic group or the concept of a nation. People who more or less understood each other just started to realize in the last generation that they speak different languages.
Nationalism is still a very powerful force, and it appears that such supra-national institutions as the European Union or the NATO are helpless when it appears within their institutions. The EU and NATO are based on consensus-seeking and the almost theoretical veto right of member states who never use for nationalistic causes.
The EU have not found a remedy to the nationalistic claims on Cyprus since it has accepted the application from a state where the two ethnic groups cannot live together within the internationally recognized sovereign territory. The Greek-speaking majority of the island has vetoed a UN-endorsed unification plan on the eve of EU membership, and the EU has imported a nationalistic rivalry into its institutions. The disagreement of a small and a medium-sized town population, and veto rights excersized for nationalistic purposes has put an extreme work overload on the EU bureaucracy and prevented to sign agreements with its biggest neighbor and member applicant, Turkey. The price of this intanssss cannot be estimated yet.
Today NATO could not implement its accession strategy because Greece has vetoed the membership of Macedonia. The classical nationalist rivalry between Greece and Macedonia, with allegations of territorial claims, have culminated in absurd 17-year long discussion on the acceptance of the name of a country. Looking at only the discussion available in English between the two groups show emotions, rhetoric and violence of the 19th century Western Europe. See hidden territorial claims in a weather-report, reverted territorial claims in connection with other territorial claims. This has always been always a recipe for war, deportation and deprivation.
I think that the EU and NATO should not allow this discussion to enter into the decision-making process of these supra-national institutions, and it should not allow that their bureaucracies and diplomatic forces spend more time and energy on trying to make two European states agreeing on the name of a country.
The New York Times editorial board is right to say that “The decision shames Greece and it dishonors NATO, which has far more serious problems and challenges to worry about […] President Bush and European leaders should have worked harder at finding a solution to this corrosive problem before Greece exercised its veto”. I also think the EU should be quicker to learn this lesson from the US via NATO.
In 2000 the EU has proven that it is able to put an co-ordinated and strong pressure on a member state when it believes that nationalism and xenophobia may sneak into the institution through a national government. That time a new Central European member state, Austria, had elected a xenophobic party into the national government. Some believe that the pressure put on Austria was not justified, because the Freedom Party did not cause trouble in Austria’s government. Others say that the pressure prevented the corruption of the institutions in Austria and the EU. I believe that this kind of pressure would be needed to insist that the EU or NATO will never spend any more time on the name of the country usually called Macedonia. I think that the ‘name-issue’ of Macedonia is just a start, its not just a naming game. If this will remain an European issue, the nationalistic forces behind it will put territorial claims and other nasty issues from this agenda on the table.Author : Dániel Antal