Hume, extolling the virtues of the European Union,
once declared us to be living in "a post-nationalist
only it were true. His remark encapsulated a most
laudable political ideal, but unfortunately as a
declaration of fact it was, and remains, way short
of the mark.
we do indeed live in a Europe where differences
between nations are not settled on muddy fields
in France or Belgium or in skies over Germany or
Britain, but, thankfully, across tables in Brussels
and Strasbourg. Admittedly then, if viewed strictly
as work-in-progress and in the context of it being
less than 60 years since the final curtain fell
on the last great conflict in Europe, the EU can
only be adjudged, thus far, to have been very successful.
many differences remain and, almost invariably,
they are rooted in conflicting national self-interests,
leaving potential still for the whole project to
tear itself apart.
danger lies in the opposite direction.
EU project may prove so "successful" that
we finish up building some kind of supra-national
European state which, in a fit of European nationalistic
fervour and muscle-flexing, might lead us down the
road of directly and continually challenging the
national interests of that other great congress
of states, the US.
that is a danger of the future.
more immediate problem lies in the fact that, while
nationalism on a macro level poses little or no
immediate threat to the prevailing peace between
nation states in Europe, at a micro level and to
varying degrees it continues to pollute the body
politic and cause disharmony within those states.
migrants and political refugees who have flocked
to the EU from, in particular, eastern Europe, Africa
and former Soviet Union republics, have quickly
discovered that, beneath the high rhetoric, at ground
level narrow nationalism is still alive and, sometimes
quite literally, kicking. Even workers taking advantage
of freedom of movement between member states frequently
find little in the way of welcome from their fellow
in 1922, that little reprobate, Benito Mussolini,
described perfectly the fantasy that so often drives
this micro-nationalism: "We have created our
myth. The myth is a faith, it is a passion. It is
not necessary that it be a reality. Our myth is
the Nation, our myth is the greatness of the Nation.
And to this myth, to this grandeur, that we wish
to translate into a complete reality, we subordinate
all the rest."
to this utopian dream of what the nation is, or
should be, and efforts to "translate [ that]
into a complete reality" most commonly manifest
themselves as intolerance of anything, or anyone,
deemed not to fit in with imaginary national characteristics.
that covers an awful lot of people.
of the list will always be the "foreigner"
and particularly the one who doesn't have the "right"
colour or hasn't quite mastered the language. Next
come the enemies within: those who don't worship
the right God (or do, but worship Him in the wrong
way), don't vote for the right party, don't have
the right sexuality, ask the wrong questions and
don't buy into the myth, and on and on it goes.
Though it masquerades as such, nationalism is not
patriotism or love of country and culture: it isn't
love of any kind.
is the opposite: it is a hatred that seeks to eradicate
difference and attack those that don't conform to
closer to home, neither, I might add, is it Irish
republicanism: nationalism might, at times, have
the language of genuine republicanism, but never
the ideals. Granted, Irish republicanism and nationalism
did find common cause, for a time, in the notion
of national self-determination for Ireland.
the Belfast Agreement, in establishing the concept
of co-determination, solved the problems inherent
in trying to apply to Ireland a model originally
tailored for places where, irrespective of whatever
else they disagreed upon, the people were at least
of one mind in wanting national self-governance.
republicanism no longer has any reason to hitch
its wagon to the nationalist creed, for the people
have spoken. In Northern Ireland, we live in a world
of competing nationalisms with, in truth, most adherents
being harmless enough souls. (That neither Britain
nor Ireland ever was, or is ever likely to be, anything
like the utopian singularity dreamt of and pursued
by the more extreme disciples, matters not a whit
to them.) But the ideology is far from harmless.
is, by definition, exclusive, fragmenting and divisive.
It abhors difference and non-
encourages intolerance and always seeks to dominate.
has for centuries been periodically torn apart by
one or another nationalism seeking to assert itself,
and is nowadays more diverse than could ever have
been imagined, yet we are still saddled with this
dangerous, self-worshipping ideology.
Hume may have been consciously trying to give a
lead when claiming "a post-nationalist age",
or maybe it was just wishful thinking. It doesn't
really matter. The important thing is that we keep
striving for it.