The Revival of Patriotism in Europe

Article published on April 22, 2004
community published
Article published on April 22, 2004

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

The hostage crisis in Iraq has intensified patriotism in Italy and this phenomenon seems to be spreading across Europe. But there's a problem...

“Now I’ll show you how an Italian dies”. The last words of Fabrizio Quattrocchi, the Italian hostage killed in Iraq last week, make you think. And in particular about the way these words have been used by the media and politicians. For the Foreign Affairs Minister, Franco Frattini, Quattrocchi ‘died a hero’. He was a ‘Risorgimento hero’ for the Italian newspaper Corriera della Sera, and a ‘patriot’ for Panorama. It is clear why national sentiment among Italians reached historic levels after this event.

March: Spanish flags in the windows

But is it really true that in the age of the global village and an enlarged European Union of 25 states, Europe is turning to something like patriotism which, only a few years ago, people thought had disappeared? There are many examples that show that this is indeed the case. Just think about Spain’s reaction to the terrible terrorist attacks of March 11th. According to Manuel Ansede, café babel’s special correspondent in Madrid, “there wasn’t one building in the Spanish capital which wasn’t decorated with an unchanging mass of national flags”. Not like the pace flags in Italy then. And that’s not all. “The street demonstrations were a sea of sad cries: ‘E-spa-ña-E-Spa-ña’. Ansede continues, “post-March 11th the Spanish do feel more Spanish”. Does that mean that they feel less European?

Germany and the ‘spaghetti eaters’

For Ulrich, 29, a café babel representative from Berlin, that is not the point. “In reality, a real European sense of consciousness has never existed. But what is true is that at worst this revival of patriotism will end up harming European integration’. In Germany examples abound. The latest was the anti-Italian statements made by a famous German television presenter, Karl Moik, who last Saturday, during his popular programme seen by seven millions viewers, referred to Italians disparagingly as spaghettifressern or ‘spaghetti eaters’. But this is only the latest in the saga of insults traded between Italy and Germany. This is a Germany which, in the last few years, has witnessed something of a revival of patriotism, although, as Ulrich explains, it is still “rare to hear people say ‘I am proud of being German’ because of our history”. Nevertheless, the waters have been muddied. Increasing numbers of Conservative spokesmen, especially among the ranks of the CDU, are appealing to the leikultur, a German ‘cultural leader’, to defend Germany from immigration which is too often labelled by public opinion as ‘invasive’. A threat.

Farewell Europe-wide public opinion

And there you have the crux of the problem. Contemporary threats (war, terrorism, immigration) are putting our perception of the facts into a critical position. Distorting it irremediably. The point is that this revival of national patriotism is taking place during a historic period where nation states have less power than ever before because they are confronted by threats that they cannot deal with alone. Italy’s political role in Iraq – with its three thousand brave men – is just for appearances sake as part of a coalition under the clear authority of the Stars and Stripes. Top Spanish intelligence could have done nothing to foresee the immense attack in Atocha. Islamic terrorism is world-wide and makes a mockery of national borders. It is the same for immigration. No matter what people say, thanks to the Schengen area which removed borders between EU states, all national immigration policies are obsolete.

The reality is that, faced with this challenge, Europe must stand united. Otherwise, not only will it once more find itself weaker politically speaking, but it will also be increasingly lost, confused and, unfortunately, manipulated. Italy will always be ‘at the fore’ as it was in the war of independence in the 19th century. But if this situation continues, the different public opinions in Europe will continue not speak to one another and the formation of Europe-wide public opinion will fail. If this situation continues, Europe itself will never be.