Throwing outsiders overboard: the rise of nationalism in Europe

A big march took place in Vilnius on the day of Restoration of Lithuania’s Independence. (Image from community.livejournal.com/lithuanian_news/)
Amid far-right parties’ run of success in a number of EU countries and recent talk about the failure of multiculturalism in Europe, the reason behind the surge of nationalism across the EU seems to lie deeper than cultural and religious differences.

In March 1990, Lithuania, the largest of the three former Soviet Baltic states, regained its independence. In March 2011, it is going to mark the 21st anniversary of the event by holding a rally in the capital Vilnius, with “Lithuania for Lithuanians” expected to be one of the dominant slogans.

Lithuania is a multicultural country and has been such for a long time. Besides Lithuanians who, according to the 2001 census, constitute more than 83% of the population, it is home to Poles, Russians, Belarusians, Ukrainians, Jews, Germans, Tatars and Latvians.

The 1897 census in Vilnius found that natives accounted for only 2.1% of the population in their own country’s capital, and were a minority, especially compared to 40% of Jews, 30% of Poles and 20% of Russians.

Meanwhile, the rally in March will not be the first to be held in Lithuania under such controversial slogans. And this is given the fact that Lithuania is the least nationalistic country among the three former Soviet Baltic republics, as Dmitry Babich, a political analyst for RIA Novosti media agency told RT.

“This was the only republic where the native population constituted a comfortable majority when the USSR collapsed. There were about 80% of ethnic Lithuanians there. That is why Latvian and Estonian nationalists are traditionally more ‘hysterical’,” he says.

In times of economic decline – and the economic crisis has struck the Baltic countries very heavily – the wave of nationalistic moods tends to grow, Babich points out.

“But actually such moods were always there – in Lithuania less than in Latvia and Estonia, but they existed,” he adds. “By the way, people in Russia know little about it, but in reality, problems between the Russians and the natives in Lithuania are less serious than problems between the Poles and the Lithuanians.”

Kirill Koktysh, a political analyst from Russia's State University of International Relations, says it’s a law: nationalism is on the rise everywhere where the standards of living are pitching down.

“As the global economic crisis is continuing and global markets are collapsing, the level of life of the absolute majority of people is deteriorating,” Koktysh says. “In this situation, when consumption is minimizing, a question arises – who should be the first one to suffer the living standards’ decrease? There’s a search for ‘the ones to blame’, for those who can be ‘thrown overboard’. And the first way out is to declare people of some non-native origin to be ‘unnecessary’. This is a common thing. One of the brightest examples is the situation in Germany in the 1930s.”

The analyst says one and the same process is taking place across Europe, differing only by its extent in each country.

“We may say that Germany has better financial standing than France, and Eastern Europe is in a much worse situation than France. It’s all relative to each other,“ Koktysh says. “Where life is worst of all, the nationalistic moods are on a higher rise. We talk just about different stages of one and the same process.”

As for the connection between the surge of nationalism and the failure of multiculturalism in Europe, the line really can be drawn, but the failure itself is wrongly approached both in Russia – and sometimes in Europe, too, says Babich.

“Listen to what Angela Merkel says, what David Cameron has said in his recent speech,” the political analyst says. “They are irritated, not so much by the strong national identity of the Muslims, as by the absence of identity of the European nations.”

“But multiculturalism is possible, this is not a utopia,” he added. “History knows several successful multicultural countries and one example was Soviet Abkhazia. People belonging to tens of nationalities lived there – Persians, Armenians, Russians, Abkhazians, Georgians – and they lived not separately. They lived together in communities.”

­Maria Gulimova, RT