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The Rise of Nationalism and Populism

Updated: Oct 8, 2022

Eric Duma, 10A

After centuries of conflict, the global stage seemed to have vivaciously embraced the idea of cooperation. Imperialism and world wars are a thing of the past, repudiated in favour of organizations that foster good relations between nations, such as the EU. There is, however, a looming threat we have all seen building up in recent years. From President Trump’s election in 2016 to our country’s AUR, the world is being threatened, yet again, by nationalist and populist ideals.

Since nationalism is such a nuanced term, scholars tend to categorize it into two attitudes that portray the good and bad sides of this ideology. Firstly, nationalism can be defined as patriotism, which means taking pride in your nation. On a micro level, this form of nationalism is displayed through flags hung in front of our houses or institutions, a perfectly nice and legally regulated practice.

Furthermore, on a macro level, patriotism has led to a strong wish for a national identity, thus forming nations - such an occurrence happened in the 20th century when Romanians inside Transylvania wanted a unified Romania.

Secondly, the noxious side of nationalism, the one we have heard of the most, is isolationism. Simply put, isolationism repudiates intervention and cooperation among states. For a said nationalist party, the international community is ‘the others’, whose interests should not be prioritized over their country (Trump’s ‘America First’ discourse). Therefore, they have a strong aversion to international organizations such as the EU, UN, and NATO.

Nevertheless, populism is not exactly an ideology but more of a strategy that can be found within nationalist parties’ speeches and policies. Populists delineate the status quo and its governments as bad and corrupt, just like politicians. They portray themselves as the good that has come to banish the evil out of their country and bring order, like knights in shining armour from fairytales. This sounds remarkably familiar because George Simion and other AUR officials like to use this form of discourse, attracting primarily dissatisfied parts of the population, citizens that have been made redundant, and elderly citizens who compare the status quo of the country with their ‘safe’ youthful lives.

Moreover, nationalism and populism are fastly gaining momentum due to the precarious state of the world. Terrorist attacks, economic crises, and the pandemic have instilled a sense of uncertainty, and people are naturally afraid. The state is not able to efficaciously alleviate these uncertainties; thus, some feel betrayed. Nationalist and populist politicians can then take advantage of their weakness and blamed the state and the international stage. Their tactics work because, for a simple person, it is easier to blame the state than to assess the socio-economic status of the world in a holistic global overview.

Traditional parties are afraid of their counterparts, as they are slowly but surely taking seats in the Parliament and running for the presidency. In France, the epitome of democracy and social liberty, the nationalist Le Pen received 41,5%. Sooner or later, a nationalist and populist politician will become the head of a western country, and the effects will be deleterious. Laws regarding immigration, racial/sexual minorities, and women's reproductive rights will be naturally threatened - this actually happened quite recently when Giorgia Meloni, a sympathizer of the fascist Mussolini, was elected as Italy’s Prime Minister.

To conclude with, experts argue that populism and nationalism are inexorable. Like the ying-yang symbol, there is nationalism within interconnectedness, and interconnectedness within nationalism. One cannot exist without the other. For some, it may be necessary to have such leaders to finally open our eyes and elect more astute people to defend our interests.

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