Friday, December 9, 2022
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Rafael Calduch Cervera

​Nationalisms and the Far Right in Europe

Professor of International Public Law and International Relations

Since the last decade of the 20th century, in Europe we have been witnessing a rebirth of nationalisms that threaten the political stability of democracies and the integration process itself. Frequently, although not exclusively, the nationalist discourse is hoisted by political parties of a radical and conservative Right that aspires to get into government in these countries to restore the power of certain minority elites, historically eroded by the implantation of the universal vote and the action of the parties of the masses. However, this recurrent reality raises three significant questions: Why now? Why do the Radical Right parties resort to nationalist discourses? and: Can they succeed in their aspirations for power?

Viktor orban

To answer these questions, we first have to specify the meaning we attribute to the term "nationalism" to be able to later specify its scope and effects on the life of nations. Of course, we should not confuse nationalism with the existence of a national conscience or a national feeling. In fact, wherever a nation exists, each of the individuals that comprise it will have a conscience and experience the feeling of belonging to that particular national community. The combination of both elements is essential to give generational continuity to the nation's collective identity.

If I have stopped to point out the difference between both terms with that of nationalism, it is precisely because nationalism, as a political ideology, instrumentalises national consciousness and sentiment to achieve collective mobilisation through an unconditional association between the continuity of the nation and the existence of an independent and sovereign state, in which the national group is exclusive, or at least dominant, and always be led by a minority that takes up the representation and direction of the nation.


For this ideology to be effective in its political mobilisation, it has not only to defend the identity between a nation and a state of its own where the national elite dominates the mechanisms of political, economic and cultural power, but it has to also apply discrimination, both internal and external, to all collectives that do not belong to the nation, including the State in which the national community is in a minority. In other words, nationalism is a destabilizing political ideology, internally and internationally, because it aspires to political and cultural homogeneity based on a single criterion: the allegiance to the nation.

It is the existence of nationalisms, not the existence of nations, that hinders the political solution to the problem of minorities within many European countries. 

In short, nationalisms, as discriminatory political ideologies, carry with them the germ of totalitarianism. Whether this germ develops or remains dormant depends not so much on the nationalist discourse, but on the social, political and cultural context in which each nation finds itself in that particular period in its historical trajectory.

After these necessary clarifications, we are now able to answer the initial questions. On the causes that explain the resurgence of nationalism, in the first place we have to point out the end of the bipolarity that together with the communicative revolution, provoked by Internet and worldwide accessibility thanks to mobile devices, that has opened the way for a historically new process that we call globalisation of which a new form of socialization of a virtual nature is part, favoured by social networks, which is distorting and sometimes destroying the cultural foundations of nations. 

The leadership of national elites is threatened and react using nationalist discourses.

Secondly, the economic crisis has created favourable social conditions for the crisis of legitimacy of the governments and state institutions that have been the ruin of the middle classes. This has fuelled the search for ideologies and political options that reaffirm national consciousness and sentiment as an alternative to the uprooting provoked by the ruling groups.


No less significant is the social and cultural pressure of the immigrant minorities established in European countries and that are becoming more politically active and economically demanding. The massive arrival at the borders of displaced people from the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa, together with the attacks of jihadist terrorism in recent years, have turned media attention and political debate on these minorities and their degree of real integration in host European societies.

Finally, the advances in European integration made as a reaction to the economic crisis, particularly in the financial sector, have induced anti-pro-European reactions for fear of the loss of the diminished sovereignty of countries, an opportunity used by some parties to mobilize the general public with nationalist discourses. 

The case of the role played by the UKIP party in the referendum on Brexit is a paradigm example.

At this historical conjuncture, some parties of the most radical Right have found the opportunity to launch two old electoral mobilisation strategies: populism and nationalism. The objective in both cases is the same: to enter into power of the democratic and legal State to change its foundations and turn it into an authoritarian regime with a merely democratic appearance. However, while populism uses a transversal and integrating discourse, nationalism resorts to an identity and discriminatory discourse.

Both strategies have led to a clear division in and between the parties of the Far Right. In effect, parties such as Golden Dawn in Greece; the National Front in France; Fuerza Nueva in Italy or the National Democratic Party in Germany, are representative examples of this trend.


But there are also far-Right parties that resort to a populist discourse to strengthen their electoral base and their chances of reaching government. The cases of Berlusconi's Fuerza Italia; UKIP in the United Kingdom; the Liberal Party of Austria; the Fidesz of Viktor Orban in Hungary; Geert Wilders' Freedom Party in the Netherlands or Alternative for Germany, comprise this political current in Europe.

The analysis of the results of both trends of the European Far Right lead us to conclude that their chances of reaching power with absolute majorities are non-existent in the short or medium term, particularly in countries with well-established democracies. 

Any opportunity necessarily passes through coalition governments that, logically, impose limits on their authoritarian, xenophobic and anti-Europeanist programmes.

The real threat of the far-right parties in Europe follow a nationalist or populist strategy, resulting from their ability to provoke political instability, social violence and economic stagnation, taking advantage of the historical conjunctures of each country. This is a real threat that the political parties of the masses, be they on the Left, the centre or the moderate Right, and this should be taken into consideration when defining their programmes and applying their policies if they do not want to be forced to align with each other to avoid the rise of the radical ultra-Right or, worse still, to to have to go into coalition with it so as not to lose power. still, to to have to go into coalition with it so as not to lose power.



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