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Nationalisms in the 21st century: From Europe to the Americas

“Nationalism is war,” François Mitterrand declared in 1995, as a conclusion to a long speech setting out the objectives of the French presidency of the European Union. Uttered in a context of European integration, then taken up again since by many French politicians, including François Hollande and more recently Emmanuel Macron, in reaction to the rise of the extreme right, this association between nationalism and war must be understood in the West as the direct consequence of the two world wars that marked the 20th century. Because it inspired the military regimes that we know in Germany, Italy and Japan, nationalism has since then been discredited by a whole generation, born during or in the wake of WWII.

Not only does nationalism no longer seem to represent a taboo for the new generations, but the rise in power of extreme right-wing parties and populist movements over the last ten years also seems to point to a resurgence of this ideology −all the more flagrant as it coincides with the decline of the traditional political parties in many Western countries.

However, the nationalism we are witnessing today is not the same as that of the 1930s. It takes on different forms, at different regional and national levels, which it seems relevant to try to understand and define, in its multiple meanings, from one political and cultural context to another.

Historical framework

Presented as “one of the most powerful political forces of the twentieth century”, nationalism is a geopolitical fact that allows us to understand many situations and many conflicts in the world today (Heater and Berridge 2016). Indeed, it has led to many reconfigurations of the political space following the two World Wars and the Cold War (Brubaker 1996-4).Born in Europe with the "People's Spring" of 1848, nationalism developed as a consequence of the Congress of Vienna (1814-15), which had chosen to ignore the liberal and national aspirations of the people. In Italy, Belgium, Ireland, Greece, Hungary and Poland, the rejection of government by foreign dynasties developed and took the form of nationalist agitation in more or less violent forms. Giuseppe Mazzini, in Italy, was a key figure in this movement, while John Stuart Mill (“Considerations on Representative Government”, 1861) and Ernest Renan (“What is a Nation?”, 1882), a few years later, attempted to theorize the question of what constitutes a nation……

Theoretical considerations

Whether a nation is seen as a differentiating factor (Bekus, 2010) or as an “imagined community” (Anderson, 1993), the bond that unites members of the same nation is a matter of debate among scholars. On the one hand, some emphasize ethnocultural interpretations, defining the basis of the nation from objective characteristics such as culture, language, history or ideology (Adams in Bekus 2010). On the other hand, others offer modernist interpretations, which see the nation as a conscious construct, anchored in the present and independent of the past (Bekus, 2010). Disciplines also have their own approach with, on the one hand, historians, who analyze nationalism as a political force and, on the other hand, ethnologists, who tend to build it around the notion of ethnicity (Löfgren in Martigny 2010)……

Objectives

Because nationalism first emerged in Europe before being "exported" to the New World through the nation-state model and in a context of colonization, the phenomenon will be approached in a comparative manner.

First of all, Europe finds itself in the grip of antithetical forces: the desire to build a supranational entity that would supplant nation-states or multinational states, the emergence of sovereignism in response to European integration, but also the emergence of regional nationalisms that demand to create their own state – Catalonia, Scotland, Flanders…. Is this a sign of a Europe in crisis? What meaning should we give to these nationalist movements?

Moreover, not all European countries have adhered to the nation-state model. The United Kingdom, like Belgium, are multinational – or plurinational – states composed of several nations, defined by Stéphane Pierré-Caps as "different communities, each aware of its specificity and showing the desire to preserve it" (Pierré-Caps 1995). In the 1980s, euroscepticism rose and nationalism became stronger within countries (e.g. the Scottish nationalists' demand for a nation-state). If some entities wish to form a state on the basis of a nationalist movement, is this not proof that the nation-state still has a bright future? Could the European Union become a union of nation-states? Isn't the possible European salvation that would come from stateless nations based on a fundamental incompatibility between the two?

The Americas, for their part, have adopted the nation-state model out of step, in a context of decolonization, through more or less violent processes depending on the country.In the same way, they have followed the model of European integration, setting up regional agreements such as NAFTA, MERCOSUR or CARICOM. However, these attempts at regional integration have faced significant obstacles, including the refusal of states to give up what they consider to be hard-won national independence. As a result, these agreements are more trade agreements, with no supranational ambitions, that promote more functional than institutional integration (Sohn et al, 2007).

Also, nationalism has been linked to indigenous or indianist movements in very recent times. For example, Bolivia, which is a plurinational state, has been confronted with identity and territorial claims by "native" peoples, which the government has usually considered as populations occupying a territory. Latin American nationalism is also to be analyzed in the context of struggles between political authorities and indigenous communities, who were the first victims of this colonial nationalism through the spoliation of land and the consequent deforestation that has been much discussed in Brazil for example…

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