The shed in which pengovsky keeps axes to grind is getting a bit too small, so maybe it’s time for a bit of a clean up. We might as well start in the UK, the leading candidate country in UCPWLIIHEM (Union of Countries Pengovsky Would Live In If He Ever Moved). Not only is London one of my favourite cities (London? London. London? Yes, London!) but Her Majesty, recently of Facebook and Twitter fame also exerts sovereignty over Scotland and its whiskey distilleries. One in particular. Plus, they have Viz and the Magna Farta, the BBC, not to mention curry and Winston Churchill.
Hannan (left) and Van Rompuy (right)
However, just as Slovenia, the UK has its share of half-wits who have developed selective blindness to either historical or current facts and have – combined with their preconceptions – a fundamentally skewed perception and potentially dangerous view of the world around them. Case in point being Daniel Hannan MEP (Conservative) for South East England, a member of the eurosceptic European Conservatives and Reformists, who took issue with EU Big Boss Herman Van Rompuy, specifically his remarks on 9 November, during celebrations of German Schicksaltag.
Van Rompuy (his ascendancy to the EU Top Spot was detailed by Dr. Arf) said among other things that “[W]e have to fight the dangers of a new euro-scepticism [which] is no longer the monopoly of a few countries. In every member state, there are people who believe their country can survive alone in the globalised world. It is more than an illusion: it is a lie.” He also added that “Fear leads to egoism, egoism leads to nationalism, and nationalism leads to war”
Hannan (link thoughtfully provided by @AdriaanN) on the other hand sees this as a childish argument which he simplifies into euroscepticism = nationalism = war and counters by saying that “[C]onservatives everywhere, understand that patriotism is what makes people behave unselfishly. It’s the basis of our sense of obligation to those around us. A patriot doesn’t belittle other countries: he cheers their sense of national pride, and values their freedom.” and then adds that “[o]ur patriotism gave us a natural sympathy for those who had seen their homelands overrun. It was British – and Anglosphere – patriotism that defeated two attempts to unite Europe in tyranny, and restored democracy to its nations. Without it, the EU would not have been possible.”
Now, let’s take Hannan’s argument apart one step at the time. First of all euroscepticism is not limited to a conservative ideology any more. This is the core of Van Rompuy’s speech. He speaks of a new euroscepticism which is not exclusive to a specific political platform or a few member states but is taking hold in all member states, big and small, rich and poor, East and West, left and right. And secondly, this is not some sort of newly developed patriotism spreading all across the EU, but rather a resurgence of plain old nationalism which has raped this continent twice over, thirce if you look from the Balkans point of view.
Patriotism vs. Nationalism
At this point a slight digression is necessary. Mr. Hannan tends to equal nationalism and patriotism. In this he could not be more wrong and yet this misconception is central to his set of political beliefs. Namely, while patriotism is a state of mind, nationalism is an ideology. Patriotism (love for one’s country) is neither inherently political nor inherently ideological. It is just a set of beliefs centred around one’s attachment to his/her community. Nationalism on the other hand is both inherently political and ideological, because it is based on an idea that one nation is better than the other. We see this daily. From the good-natured jibes between the French and British, from the small satisfactions Slovenes and Croats get from each other’s failures to the mass graves of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica.
To put it in teenage terms, the likes of which Mr. Hannan apparently understands: Patriotism = We love us! Nationalism = We hate you! Also, pay special attention how easily Hannan switches from nationalism (paragraph 5) to patriotism (paragraph 6), as if he is talking of the same thing. And (worryingly enough) from his point of view, he is.
But to go on: Not only is Mr. Hannan wrong in his assessment of the situation as a whole, he (predictably) picks the wrong cases to prove his point. Dole queues in Switzerland may indeed be as frequent as food riots in Norway, but with Mr. Hannan being only a couple of years my senior and growing up in what were arguably the most abundant couple of decades in the history of the Western civilisation, pengovsky can say with some conviction that he doesn’t know jack shit about how a country can indeed fail (as Yugoslavia did) or how militant nationalism can with utmost ease become a predominant rhetoric in a society given certain preconditions, none of which were ever experienced either by Switzerland or by Norway.
A Wee History Lesson
Thirdly. Although British national character is replete with history (or so the stereotype goes) Mr. Hannan would do well to brush up on his history. It wasn’t just the British/Anglosphere patriotism which defeated two attempts to unite Europe under a tyranny (I’m assuming Hannan means victories in WWII as well as the Cold War.)
On account of the first: While Anglo/American contribution to the war effort is immeasurable, both in men and materiel as well as in political persuasion and just plain stubbornness, it must be said that Western powers liberated only part of Europe. The other part was liberated by the Soviet Union and until 1943 the Russkies were winning the war for everyone else as much as for themselves. This contributed to fact that during Tehran and Yalta conferences the UK and the US were unable to play the table against the Russians and – as a result – had to give up on the principle of “fighting for the cause of nations everywhere” in case of Poland (and in part Czechoslovakia) and recognise the ugly realities of geopolitics, abandoning these countries to Communist rule just as they had to abandon them to Nazi rule only years earlier (a fact which is today often raised especially by the Poles during crucial votes in the EU Council).
And while we’re at it, Mr. Hannan would do well to look up the entry “partisan guerilla in the Balkans” before he chalks up victory in WWII solely to Western powers. Had he done that beforehand he might have found that there were resistance movements all over Europe which have at one point or another been critical to the war effort and also that such a guerilla movement evolved into a regular army in what was later to become Socialist Yugoslavia. While obviously not a strategic player, the partisan army was important enough and strong enough to have won recognition both from London and Moscow and had engaged an entire Wermacht Army group which might have been deployed either in France after D Day or in Italy where Mr. Hannan’s father had served.
Also, there’s one area of Europe where neither the Brits nor the Russkies took any part in liberating it. Slovenia, where Slovene partisans liberated the country without any direct foreign involvement, thank you very much. With this in mind I’d be grateful if Mr. Hannan would refrain from general remarks on history, as they fly directly in the face of his other remark in the same text, where he boasts that a patriot like himself doesn’t belittle other countries. That may be, but by that measure Mr. Hannan is no patriot, but simply a nationalist, who tends to overrate the value and importance of his country and treat other nations condescendingly and patronisingly by ways of neglecting (belittling) actions and sacrifices of other nations, big and small. In the old days we had a word for that: Imperialism.
Oh, and as far as winning the Cold war is concerned, forget it. The West didn’t know the Berlin Wall was coming down until it felt bricks flying. The Wall fell because Socialism lost legitimacy, not because Capitalism was inherently better. There just wasn’t any real alternative. And yes, it did look better from the outside.
Inevitability of War
War, according to von Clausewitz, is only an continuation of a nation’s politics using other means. Wars, therefore, don’t just happen, but happen because they are vehicles of perpetuation of a certain ideology or even just plain leadership. Case in point again being the Balkans, where Slobodan Milošević didn’t so much believe in Serbian nationalism as much as he had fostered it and used it to ensure his political survival. But once his rule became dependant on perpetuation of armed conflict, it was only a question of time before he was stopped. In that time a lot of people died. This was only a couple of years before Mr. Hannan entered European Politics and yet he seems to be completely oblivious to the fact.
Nationalism (as opposed to patriotism) does lead to war. And euroscepticism of today is becoming ever more nationalistic. Daniel Hannan may not recognise this, but as the rhetoric of the extreme political right is a) being adopted by the extreme left and b) is becoming more and more mainstream, euroscepticism is becoming less and less a devil’s advocate vehicle but rather a Trojan Horse for people who will risk peace to further their political agenda. Such people and their agendas thrive in circumstances where social insecurity is great, economic stability is lacking and democratic political leadership is feeble. Which is how one might describe the general situation in the EU today. OK, so maybe not in Switzerland and Norway, but neither of those countries is a EU member. Both, however, enjoy many of the advantages of the common market and are hardly entities unto their own. Another fact which Mr. Hannan conveniently ignores.
Apparently 55% of Brits want to exit the EU. This of course does not mean that they want war (as the caption under the picture in the Daily Telegraph misleads). What it does mean, however, that once again, for the fourth time in a hundred-or-so years, we are faced with a fact that shit is brewing in the Continent and that the British will have nothing to do with it. To date, this has always lead to war. If we allow Mr. Hannan’s attitude to become the norm, it is bound to happen for the fourth time as well.
And in not so distant future, pengovsky fears.