Europe’s Nationalists on the March

BERLIN – Europe is made up of its nations, and has been for hundreds of years. That is what makes the continent’s unification such a difficult political task, even today. But nationalism is not Europe’s principle of construction; on the contrary, it has been, and remains, Europe’s principle of deconstruction. That is the main lesson to be drawn from the dramatic gains made by anti-European populist parties in last weekend’s European Parliament election.

It is a lesson that all Europeans should have learned by now. Europe’s twentieth-century wars, after all, were fought under the banner of nationalism – and almost completely destroyed the continent. In his farewell address to the European Parliament, François Mitterrand distilled a lifetime of political experience into a single sentence: “Nationalism means war.”

This summer, Europe will commemorate the centennial of the outbreak of World War I, which plunged Europe into the abyss of modern nationalist violence. Europe will also mark the 70th anniversary of the Allied landing in Normandy, which would decide World War II in favor of democracy in Western Europe (and later, after the end of the Cold War, in all of Europe).

Recent European history abounds with such commemorations and anniversaries, all closely connected with nationalism. And yet many Europeans’ hopes for the future once again seem to find expression in it, whereas a unified Europe, the guarantor of peace among Europe’s peoples since 1945, is viewed as a burden and a threat. That is the true significance of the European Parliament election results.