Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

 You are in: Talking Point
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Monday, 2 April, 2001, 10:38 GMT 11:38 UK
Can nationalism be a force for good in Europe?
A row has broken out in Germany over national identity and patriotism.

President Johannes Rau said Germans could be glad but not "proud" of their nationality.

His statement was prompted by the general secretary of the right-of-centre opposition Christian Democrats, Laurenz Meyer, saying he was proud to be German.

After the excesses of the 20th century, two world wars, the rebirth of neo-fascism and the violent nationalist conflicts in the Balkans, can the concept of nationalism be redeemed? Can nationalism ever be a force for good in Europe?

For this Europewide debate Laurence Zavriew brought together in Stockholm, journalist Johanne Hildebrandt, who has written on rightwing violence in Sweden and in Skopje, Macedonia, Balkans analyst Misha Glenny.

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

Surely there is nothing wrong with being nationalist in itself. I proudly own up to be a very patriotic Brit. Being proud of my country does not mean I have any animosity for other nationals - I wouldn't have taken the trouble to learn five languages otherwise!

Nationalism, like any movement or beliefs can be a force for good, but also has an extreme front that can bring it into disrepute. Extreme facets of nationalism, as with the extremes of most religions or political movements, has caused much pain and misery in the world and should be condemned.
Richard, UK

It all depends on the nationalist

Rhodri Thomas, Belgium
Nationalism is neither good or bad per se, it all depends on the nationalist. In South Afica both the anti-apartheid ANC and the pro-apartheid National Party were nationalists of sorts, but very different. Similarly in Europe, the desire on the part of minorities like the Welsh, the Scots, the Catalans or the Bretons to defend their identity cannot be compared to the imperialist style nationalism of the larger states like Britain and France.
Rhodri Thomas, Belgium

We should say good bye to nationality and welcome to humanity.
Amit Kumar, India

My experience in Germany in particular is that people think of themselves as a patriot of the state they live in firstly, rather than of Germany. It all depends on which country one is from. For example, if I was to say that I was proud of my nationality in Ireland, Wales or Scotland, no one would blink an eye, however if I was to say the same thing in England (I am from England), I would immediately be branded a racist by a large number of do-gooders. There is nothing wrong with expressing patriotism and that does not need to be at the expense of the future of EU togetherness.
Richard, Germany

Just because one loves his country, culture and language doesn't mean that he hates others. Lots of foreign countries have qualities that to be admired. Of course, where you are born is not a matter of choice, but making your country a better place is a choice. And having visitors from far away lands is interesting and mutually rewarding as we learn more about each other. What makes the world interesting is the difference in cultures and people. It would be very boring if every place was the same. What would be the joy in travel? Every nation has the right to determine its own future, provided it does NOT dictate how other nations should live.

Considering the heinous crimes that have been committed in the name and "interest" of nations, I find that being a nationalist utterly disqualifies a person and places him outside of "civilisation". And "civilisation" which encompasses the individual achievements of all Mankind, now that's something I value ... albeit it has to be taken care if on a daily basis...
Christian von Baudissin, Germany

The whole concept of nationality is set to change as people move around more freely

Shukri Adams, Denmark
The whole concept of nationality is set to change as people move around more freely. We are finally getting to a stage where we realise that discrimination against someone on the basis of nationality is much the same as racism - people cannot choose where they are born.
Shukri Adams, Denmark

Nationalism comes in two flavours: aggressive and expansionist of nazi type and survival nationalism of small nations like Baltic states. Surely, there should be no place in European politics for the former type of nationalism, since it only fosters claustrophobia. The latter, kind of nationalism is essential for not turning Europe into another a la American melting pot.
Giedrius Buracas, Lithuania

Your nationality is a combination of the accident of birth and your formative years. There is nothing wrong with being proud of your country providing it is not blind bigoted patriotism which denies the mistakes of it's past and the worth of other nationalities. There are good and bad people in all countries, a bad experience with one person is no reason to hate the whole country.
Mike Parker, England

Remember: "Nationalism is the last refuge of the scoundrel"

Michael Gahan, Ireland
Nationalism has been harnessed throughout the last century and in the previous one by those who found it a useful convoy on which to transport their political ambitions (The creation and toppling of Empires). All I can say is approach nationalism with great caution and do not confuse it with civic pride.
Remember: "Nationalism is the last refuge of the scoundrel".
Michael Gahan, Ireland

The 20th century has revised the concept of nationalism. In the 19th century, "nationalists" sought to wrestle the sovereignty from aristocratic rulers and transfer it to the people who were treated like chattel by various kings. However, the rise of fascism and other events in the 20th century have transformed nationalism from an ideology that loves and glorifies one's country, to one that preaches hatred and belittlement of all others.
Europe's voters on the far right may not like the fact that Europe is a community which must inevitably co-operation order to prosper, but their denial of the obvious doesn't make it any less true. In that kind of an environment, the aggressive kind of nationalism does not and must not have a role to play.
J. Ivosevic, Serbia

Healthy pride in one's people, heritage and history is natural. European nations have much to be proud of, in particular your great culture. Since millions of North Africans, Turks, Muslim Asians are eager to immigrate into Europe, perhaps Europeans should stop flagging themselves and recognise the greatness that others see and what to join.
John Robinson, USA

The idea of nationalism needs to be updated and revised to suit our current situation. There is nothing wrong with an individual cultural national identity, but good can only be achieved if we forge an idea of European togetherness, peace and harmony, with more power to organisations such as the EU.
George, Ireland

Listen now
... to both sides of the debate
See also:

20 Mar 01 | Media reports
President not 'proud' to be German
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Talking Point stories