Untangling International Nationalism

One of the grandest contradictions that can be uncovered when studying modern day far-right nationalist populist movements is there inherent reliance on internationalism. As Dutch political scientist Cas Mudde explained, at the very core of populism is a moral battleground between the pure people and the corrupt elite, which the far-right often intertwines with nationalism as their ideological underpinning. When we take this idea from the world of theory and apply it to real world examples, what emerges is a complex picture of nationalist movements tangled within the larger international landscape. By this, I mean that far-right nationalist populism claims to be the will of the people (often referring to their own ethnicity) pitted against the corrupt elitism of the broader international community. But how could a single nationalist populist movement compete against the broader international community?

The simple answer is that alone, they can’t. As David Motadel alluded to in his article “The Far Right Says There’s Nothing Dirtier Than Internationalism — But They Depend on It,” whether out of pragmatism or a deep despise for internationalism, historically and presently far-right nationalist populist groups frequently form alliances and depend on internationalism. Europe depicts this complexity better than any other. Take for example the Identity and Democracy Group (ID) of the European Parliament. ID is an alliance of European nationalists, which is the fifth largest political group in the European Parliament, holding 73 seats and making up a little over 10% of the whole. ID’s alliance is made up of representatives from 9 countries, predominantly from Italy, France and Germany. By uniting under a single banner, these far-right nationalistic populist groups aim to take on the elitism of internationalism through the European Union.

What is most interesting, if not surprising about the alliance formed by ID, is the existence of an east-west divide between far-right nationalist populist movements. Populism wields the most support in Central and Eastern Europe, notably in the Visegrad Four: Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. However, there have been mixed reactions between these populist movements towards ID, and a consolidated nationalist alliance. The Visegrad Four’s far-right nationalist populist movements are much more dispersed amongst the European Parliament, as Poland, has members in the European Conservative and Reformists Group (ECR), while Hungary has members in the Group of the European People’s Party (EPP). Of the four countries listed above, only the Czech Republic has some populist members in ID, as well as in the Renew Europe Group. It’s unclear where Slovakia’s far right Members of the European Parliament are situated, however they are facing tough competition from pro-EU and anti-corruption parties at home. Nonetheless, some informal networks exist that yet again display how nationalist movements rely on internationalism. One notable example is that, rather than creating formal alliances, countries such as Poland and Hungary have insured each other with their veto power in support of one another.

One final observation on international nationalism that Motadel brings to light, is the fragility and frictions that such alliances can cause. I believe this is most evident based upon the east-west divide in populism. One of the greatest obstacles facing right-wing nationalistic populist alliances can be displayed by their treatment of Russia. Some display pro-Russian sentiments, while the Soviet historical memory leads Central and Eastern European populist movements to vehemently oppose such considerations. Another principle natural to all nationalist movements that impacts the fragility of their alliances is that they are intended to be the voice of their own people, not a broader community of like-minded ‘others.’ Thus, it is natural for conflicting policies to emerge, such as the German populist movement’s desire not to destroy the EU, compared to the Italian populist movement’s threats to leave the Eurozone. Ultimately, the study of international nationalism is riddled with contradictions and bumpy relationships, but it is undeniable that these right-wing nationalistic populist movements have something to gain from one another. These gains include international recognition which provides legitimacy to their cause, and legal support through illiberal means.

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