In the aftermath of World War II countries across Europe, but especially in Western Europe began to search for ways of preventing the recurrence of the kind of havoc that fiercely nationalistic movements created on the continent during the war years. The answer, it seemed, was greater interrelation, strengthened economic and political ties and deeper interdependencies. This new post-war direction was pursued in Europe with zeal; however the European territories abroad were arbitrarily carved up, forming the bedrock for some of today’s most persistent conflicts.
However, recent global events indicate nationalism is on the rise once again across the Middle East, North Africa and Central and South Asia. Irredentist movements from Turkey to China are gaining momentum and nationalism is also strengthening in Europe.
The “borderless world” of globalization was heralded as a new era through the 1990’s with the creation of the European Union its pinnacle. However, the downturn in the economy since then and the War on Terror has created a backlash. This backlash can be observed as increasingly weak states in North Africa, the Middle East and South and Central Asia deal with anti-government nationalist movements, while in Europe increasingly violent opposition to open-border policies and the easy flow of migrants shakes the foundation of European integration.
The state order that emerged post-World-War-II has been the most damaging in developing areas of the world, where states were created not based on cohesive national populations, or looking at pre-existing tribal nations, but by rather arbitrary border-making by greater, often European powers. In many instances this saw the territories of full nations of people being divided up between countries, as is the case with the Kurds who claim territories in Turkey, Iraq and Iran, or with the Baloch tribes who straddle Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan. The states that emerged in the post-Mandate Middle East have also been problematic, none more so than the creation of Israel.
There are several factors that have contributed to the rise of irredentist movements in recent times, aside from the basic want of different nationalist organizations to fix the territorial errors that were created in the post-World-War-II order of states.
Firstly, there is the War on Terror. The countries most affected by the War on Terror, namely Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq are all seeing an acute rise in the strength of nationalist movements. This is in large part due to the weakness of the state structure in these countries, which has been exacerbated by the cross-border nature of the War on Terror.
In Pakistan particularly, cross-border activities by nationalist and extremist organizations has meant that the fight against these organizations has also been of a border-blurring nature. This has weakened the position of the government, which is already perceived as inept and corrupt, and led nationalist movement leaders to see an opportunity of having their demands met. The Pakistani government recently extended the Political Party Act for the FATA region, allowing political activity in the area for the first time in nearly a century. This is seen by many as the government ceding to the din of nationalist voices in the country, which are also clamoring for the creation of more new provinces after the establishment of a Saraiki Province was promised.
The focus on global terror networks has also fanned the flames of nationalist movements, and created a means by which governments have cracked down hard on them. The west has expected countries with significant radical elements in their population to focus their energy and deal forcefully with these extremist constituents. Instead, in many cases, governments in these countries have labeled anti-government nationalist organizations as terrorism outfits and used the War on Terror as an excuse to pursue and crush these movements. This has created a dangerous scenario where any anti-government unrest is automatically labeled as terrorism, and has been seen in Turkey and Iraq with the claims of the Kurdish people, in Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan with the Baloch tribes, in the Chinese Xinxiang region, and in Afghanistan and Pakistan with the claims of the Pashtun people and the resurgence of the Durand Line issue.
Lastly, in many of the states faced with strong anti-government nationalist movements, these movements are often used by countries with vested interests as proxies or destabilizing elements to keep potential adversaries off-balance. Pakistan has been both perpetrator and victim of this trend, with reports that the Pakistani ISI were involved with the Iranian Baloch nationalism movement Jundallah, and that at the same time foreign dignitaries have been boosting support for the nationalist movements in Pakistan’s Baloch area.
In Europe, increased nationalistic movements are of a distinctly different tone to those at play in the Middle East and South and Central Asia, and this is being fuelled by the economic downturn of the last three years.
The War on Terror has also played a part in the rise of European nationalism, but via the spread of Islamophobia and a general backlash against policies of open immigration and multiculturalism. Increasing ethnic tensions between migrant and native populations in European countries is also being spurred by nationalist sentiments, and this can be expected to worsen as the economic outlook dims.
The most obvious case in point is the attacks perpetrated by far-right political zealot Anders Breivik in Norway in July. While not all nationalists in Europe subscribe to the same extreme version of nationalism as Breivik, there is a clear sense of dissatisfaction with the perceived “swamping” of Europe with migrants from third world countries. These kinds of movements are gaining tread in Europe with far-right parties gaining popularity and political office in countries like Denmark, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium and France. Many of these nationalist parties are labeled post-fascist or even neo-Nazi in extreme cases.
It is very likely that as the economic downturn worsens and governments instrument austerity measures to try and balance the books, pressure will be brought to bear on the already-festering ethnic divides in Europe, and nationalist movements will gain further support.
As it stands, European nationalism is focused on the influx of migrants from non-European nations. However as nationalism gains tread in Europe, the foundation of the European Union, namely the trend towards integration and interdependence between European nations may be heady for rocky shores. If the economy worsens, as it is widely predicted to do, larger European nations like Germany and France who have been footing the bill for the bailout packages of struggling EU members may begin to resent the close ties that the EU has given member states.
Thus the shape of the future appears more like the past; premised more on ethnic, tribal and nationalistic lines. The economic woes, the terrorists and the war against them, are exasperating this phenomenon. As the shape of the new balance of power begin to emerge, the nation-state structure is dwindling. Cross-border raids are becoming the norm, be it the Turks, Iranians, Saudis, Israelis or the American led coalitions. If anything, outcomes of the Arab Spring in Syria, Libya and Egypt so far validate these observations.