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RISE OF NATIONALISM IN

EASTERN EUROPE
Contemporary European Politcs

Coordinator : Andreas Funk

Ileana Cont (16012437)


2C
The purpose of this essay is to present and analyse the rising problem of nationalism in a number
of Central and East European countries, such as Poland, Hungary and Romania. It is hard to deny
that, at this very moment, nationalism plays a major role in the European politics (Smoljanovic,
2018). The nationalistic ideology continues to shape global politics today and is faced with a
unique set of challenges, such as migration and diaspora. Moreover, the discussion of
globalisation, together with regional integration, has also pushed governments to revise their
nation-building rhetoric. This is important since the implications of nation-states authority and
legitimacy are seeking to square national autonomy with deep involvement in regional alliances,
trading networks and international organisations. In addition, sub-state nationalists continue to
compete for people’s loyalty and support (Sutherland, 2012). This essay will connect nationalism
in Eastern countries with a number of causes, such as globalisation, migration and sovereignty of
the Member States, to get a better understanding of the causes of this political current.

Nationalism, according to John Baylis, is the idea that membership of the nation provides the
overriding focus of political identity and loyalty, which in turn demands national self-
determination (John Baylis, 2014, p. 388). Self-determination usually means independent
statehood. However, nationalists might settle for something less, such as autonomy within a federal
state (John Baylis, 2014, p. 389). Nationalism in Europe has been spreading more and more since
2015. Throughout Europe, right-wing populists- the key promoters of nationalist ideas- have lately
captured record-high levels of electoral support.
Its most obvious manifestations are, firstly, a stronger determination on the part of governments
to defend their national self-interest within the European Union (EU) and, secondly, the rise of
right-wing populist nativism. Both developments reflect profound political and social trends. There
is a general mistrust of political elites, partly in Brussels but mainly at national level. More
specifically, European voters of the moderate centre-left are losing faith in the capacity of 20th
century-style social democracy to deliver economic security and protect identity (Barber, 2016).

First of all, it needs to be acknowledged the fact that the causes of nationalism have changed over
the course of years. Nationalism as it is known today has different features as the one from the late
20th century. While in the late 20th century it can be said that the purpose of nationalism was derived
from communism with the idea that an isolation of the culture was necessary for prosperity,
nowadays nationalism is a political current to be applied against the power of globalization. An

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explanation of this statement will be analysed further: Nationalism and the nation-state are two
political concepts that have a single political purpose: the creation of a common identity between
governors and governed inside a society that is constantly changing under modernity (Copilas,
n.d). This statement summarises the ideal form of nationalism and its beliefs during the late 20th
century. Therefore, it can be said that the culture itself was the only way for an individual to belong
to the nation, and that nationalism, combined with communism, has managed to provide a fracture
in the East and West of Europe, an isolation between the countries (Ofiteru, 2015). However,
nowadays, the story is different: it is more useful to focus on the relationship between
“…nationalism and the ‘cosmopolitan challenge’, meaning the set of trends ranging from
migration and the creation of diasporas to the even wider phenomena of transnationalism,
regionalism and globalisation” (Sutherland, 2012). Nationalism is trending as a tool to be used
against the subject of globalisation. It is a matter of distributing power and conserving the national
identity, rather than the idea of a general isolation from the rest of the countries.

One of the examples to support the claim that nationalism is on the rise in Eastern Europe is the
2018 election in Hungary. The predominant idea that Viktor Orban, the new Prime Minister of
Hungary, had during his election campaign was immigration. Ever since the European migrant
crisis began three years ago, Orban has been one of the continent’s loudest anti-immigrant voices,
refusing to take part in the EU’s settlement scheme and presenting himself as a defender of
Hungary’s national, Christian identity (Gore, 2018). The idea promoted by him is the following:
grant the national priority in a borderless globalized existence. That's how Prime Minister Viktor
Orban and his Fidesz party have redefined the values for Hungary, attempting to simplify an
increasingly complicated world that is also increasingly collectively regarded as threatening
(Wagener, 2018). The Prime Minister’s nationalistic view has been proved more than numerous
times through his intentions towards Hungary’s position regarding immigrants. He managed to
achieve a turnout of 69% in his election due to his imposing actions taken against the refugees
fleeing from countries, such as Syria, to Europe. He said to a German tabloid Bild that Muslims
refugees are not to be seen as refugees, but as Muslim invaders (Agerholm, 2018). His stance
against the Muslim refugees has been based on his idea that there is an inevitable parallel between
the two societies and that Christian and Muslim communities will never unite (Agerholm, 2018).
The continuously debate about the Christian community and the values of Hungary is a proof that
needs to be taken into consideration when analysing a matter such as nationalism. He also stated

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that the difference between Hungary’s and Germany’s approach on the matter of refugees is that
Germany’s acceptance of refugees is wanted, while Hungary does not desire to help the refugees
neither under the pressure of the EU (Agerholm, 2018). A more in depth analyse will be discussed
in a further example of this essay.

Another example of the countries most influenced by the nationalist propaganda is Romania. It
needs to be taken into consideration that the form of nationalism seen today has little to do with
the one from the 1990s. The purpose of nationalism then was promoted by the xenophobic
messages, anti-integration and the idea that we are not ‘selling our country’. These messages were
only after the idea of having a ‘closed’ country towards capitalism in order to postpone
synchronising with the Western part and their set of values. Nowadays, politicians believe in
nationalism through the thoughts that it will not allow for their power to be distributed to
supranational bodies, such as the EU. Romania’s government, in trying to soften anti-corruption
laws, is fanning the flames of nationalism (FOX news, 2017).The main areas of concern are a
number of changes in the penal code and the code of criminal procedure. These grant the
government greater political opportunity to influence the judiciary, while also curtailing the
independence of judges and public prosecutors, thereby undermining the separation of powers.
Moreover, the legal reform doesn't just focus on the work of the police and the judges, or that of
the anti-corruption authority and its head, it also addresses reporting on corruption cases, and
investigative journalism in general. A higher, politically appointed body will be given the right to
proceed against unfavorable decisions by public prosecutors and judges. At the same time, people
under suspicion will have to be informed when they become the object of an investigation. They
will also be allowed to be present when witnesses are questioned. Furthermore, it will be possible
to close down an investigation if politically appointed senior public prosecutors deem it unfounded
or illegal (Janku, 2017). However, the pressures from Brussels, the protesters and the seven
European Union states coalition, namely France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark,
Finland, and Sweden, against Romania have been able to postpone the government from pursuing
with the laws. This only shows that nationalism is a threat to democracy, a response towards the
power of globalization and to the Nation States that are fearing from the supranational bodies,
namely the EU. In addition, this particular example only analyses Romania as a country with strong
claims to the subject in matter, meaning globalization, that uses corruption as a response to the

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power and control of the supranational bodies. Therefore, corruption is one of the forms that
nationalism takes in order to prevent the country from being undermined in its sovereignty.
Second of all, according to Sutherland, globalisation denotes an increase in the speed and impact
of cultural, technological, economic and financial flows that is qualitatively different in scale to
the important global exchanges taking place in centuries past through trade and tribute, colonialism
and cultural links (Sutherland, 2012). On one hand, globalisation and nationalism are too wide-
ranging to detect either a positive or a negative correlation between the two. On the other hand,
Mary Kaldor argues that nationalism in the 21st century has evolved to a point where it can be
labelled as ‘new nationalism’ that is distinguished from the fact that it will contribute to a wild,
anarchic form of globalisation, characterised by violence and inequality (Lewis, 2007). However,
the truth is always to be found in the middle. As mentioned before, one possible correlation
between globalisation and nationalism is through the ‘cosmopolitan challenge’. The sense of it is
given by phenomena like migration and diaspora. The multidimensional impact of the
cosmopolitan challenge on many individuals is what makes our present era qualitatively different
from the past. Cosmopolitanism is therefore used deliberately as an analytical concept with global
scope, as opposed to the more limited, cross-border links evoked by the terms ‘international’ and
‘transnational’ (Sutherland, 2012). However, the cosmopolitan challenge does not mean that all
individuals are affected in a direct way, but it created a potential mean to influence an identity that
many hold dear, namely national identity (Sutherland, 2012). Therefore, migration represents an
issue that nationalism is trying to solve.

The term migrant can be understood as "…any person who lives temporarily or permanently in a
country where he or she was not born and has acquired some significant social ties to this country”
(UNESCO, 2017). Turning to the concept of migration, it is the crossing of the boundary of a
political or administrative unit for a certain minimum period of time. It includes the movement of
refugees, displaced persons, uprooted people as well as economic migrants (UNESCO, 2017). The
core idea is that growing social, economic, and cultural interconnectedness epitomized by the
concept of ‘globalization’ has facilitated migration in ever greater numbers between an
increasingly diverse and geographically distant array of destination and origin countries. Other
factors that seem to explain surging migration are increasing international and domestic
inequalities, the persistent demand for high‐ and low‐skilled migrant labor in the segmented labor
markets of wealthy societies, and the lack of opportunities, population growth, oppression, and

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violent conflict in developing countries. Several of these factors, such as growing labor market
segmentation and domestic inequality, are affected by the same political trends toward market
liberalization and economic deregulation that have also boosted the economic globalization (Hass,
2014). Therefore, migration, along with globalisation, has created a fear for countries, such as
Hungary, who see this issue as a threat to the national identity of their citizens. The turn to
nationalism for countries who feel as if migrants are stealing their identity has been easy and
explicable in the sense of defending what is entitled to them as natives. This can be justified by
the example of Hungary refusing to take in refugees, even though EU strictly ordered them to do
so. This example can be also seen from the point of view of the supranational bodies that are
gaining more power. The next paragraph will focus on this issue in details.

In addition, sovereignty, in political theory, is the ultimate overseer or authority in the decision-
making process of the state and in the maintenance of order. In its traditional meaning, sovereignty
names supreme, indivisible and absolute power within the bounded territory of a state. However,
at the same time, nation states continue to invoke the principle of sovereignty and promote it as
the only defense against the perceived dangers of terrorism, immigration, economic crises
triggered by the unfettered forces of global capital and other threats attributed to porous borders
(Erlenbusch, 2012). The political aspect of globalization can be defined as increasing focus on the
global structures and processes of rule-making, problem solving, the maintenance of security and
order in the world system through global platforms. It also includes the increasing importance of
international organizations. Globalization challenges the supreme authority, monopoly control over
the people, and sovereignty of the state in the traditional sense, though the global system
acknowledges the sovereignty of states. Therefore, sovereignty denotes legal equality of states and
prohibits interference of a foreign state in another state’s internal affairs (Faiaz, 2016). Even so,
taking a close look at the impact of European law on the ‘sovereignty' of the Member States is one
of the most controversial aspects of its working (Law Teachers, 2013). A clear example of a clash
in between these two issues stated above is the relocation plan of refugees throughout Europe and
Hungary’s, Romania’s, Poland’s and Czech Republic’s refusal to offer asylum to any of them. The
relocation plan was launched by the EU in 2015 in response to the large influx of migrants and
refugees, in order to relieve pressure on Greece and Italy where the vast majority was arriving (n.d,
2017). However, the countries listed above voted against accepting the mandatory quotas of
refugees. The Eurosceptic governments in Poland and Hungary have refused to take in anyone

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under a plan agreed by a majority of EU leaders in 2015 to relocate migrants from frontline states
Italy and Greece to help ease their burden (Wintour, EU takes action against eastern states for
refusing to take refugees, 2017). Czech Republic initially accepted 12 people but said that it would
not welcome more. Romania, on the other hand, under the pressure of the EU, said it can take in a
maximum 1,785 of migrants in a voluntary scheme to help ease pressures on the European Union
(Reuters, 2015). For the reason of non-compliance, the European Commission has decided to
launch infringement procedure against these three member states in the hope that they will
reconsider their position and contribute fairly (Wintour, EU takes action against eastern states for
refusing to take refugees, 2017). However, Hungary’s Prime Minister said firmly that he rejects
the mandatory relocation quota and that he will not give in into this matter (Wintour, EU takes
action against eastern states for refusing to take refugees, 2017). Therefore, it can be clearly seen
that the question of sovereignty can be a valid reason for countries, such as Hungary and Poland,
to try and protect as much as they can their national identity.

In conclusion, it can be said that globalisation contributes to the rise of nationalism in Eastern
countries along with some other factors that help establish a more conservative vision upon the
national identity of the Member States. The three main branches discussed previously, namely
globalisation, migration, and sovereignty, are arguing that the return of nationalism takes a more
powerful coverage in Eastern Europe. Even if the form of nationalism today is different from the
one in the late 20th century, the purpose of it today is the same one as before, namely to protect the
national identity of a country. The essay analyses and explains why countries, such as Romania
and Hungary, are more prone to the idea of nationalism as a response to globalisation. By tackling
globalisation in relation with migration and sovereignty, it is shown that these countries are
responding in a defensive way, that being nationalism. Their responses take different covers and
explanations, depending on the subject in matter, but they also present a united opinion when the
same challenge threatens the majority of the block of ex-communist countries. The best example
to give here is the relocation quota as a method to ease the refugees flow on countries, such as Italy
or Greece. However, there is little doubt that globalisation challenges our definitions of who we
are and where we come from, and this is unlikely to change within the first decades of the
21st century. Therefore, nationalist ideals that provide a stable basis for individual and collective
self-identity, with an arsenal of cultural, political, military and even academic history to support
them, will continue to be at the very heart of the political process in the 21st century (Lewis, 2007).

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