"Backdoor Nationalism" is the title of an article I wrote together with Jon Fox (University of Bristol). It has now been published by the European Journal of Sociology/Archives Européennes de Sociologie (vol. 51, No. 2) and is available for downloading from the journal's website.
The paper discusses the resurgence and transformation of nationalist politics in Central Europe. Contrary to expectations, the EU’s eastward expansion in 2004 did not sound the death knoll of nationalism in the region; rather, it signalled its reinvention and, in some respects, reinvigoration. In this paper, we examine three ways in which nationalism has been redefined in Hungary and Poland in the context of EU enlargement. First, consensus on the desirability of European unification has lessened the importance of left/right party divisions; in its place, the “nation” has provided a fulcrum for inter-party contestation. Second, EU integration has provided nationalists in the region with a backdoor for realising old nationalist ambitions of national reunification across the porous borders of the EU. Third, we examine the way radical nationalist organisations in Hungary and Poland increasingly define themselves in opposition to the EU.
The commentary below first appeared in European Voice (2 September 2010).
The new politique sécuritaire introduced by the French government, which is essentially a crackdown on unemployed or non-legally employed Roma immigrants from Bulgaria and Romania, has been sharply criticised because of its dubious legal and moral grounds. The forced, or semi-forced, collective expulsion of EU citizens on the basis of their ethnic identification clearly contravenes EU laws and may even be a form of ethnic discrimination.
France's response has been defensive. President Nicolas Sarkozy has tried to reason his way out of the legal and moral accusations by moving the debate to what he sees as the policy's positive outcomes. The purpose of the campaign, so he claims, is to increase security by reducing crime rates, to discourage illegal migration and, even, to push countries such as Romania and Bulgaria to step up their efforts to integrate their own Roma populations. But on all these points his policy completely misses the mark.
Consider crime. Selecting the Roma for a highly publicised expulsion campaign is not a particularly effective way of preventing crime. Rather, it criminalises them: they are collectively being held responsible for one-off events not related to their collective position as immigrants. Sarkozy's policy plans were sparked, back in July, by riots that followed a shooting by police of a member of a family of French Travellers. But there is no link between the situation of these gens du voyage, who maintain an itinerant lifestyle, and the (non-itinerant) eastern European Roma, who are fleeing poverty at home and seeking opportunities abroad. The policy has constructed links between disparate groups and events, making every Roma and every Traveller now guilty by association. That does not increase feelings of security; it increases insecurity.
Does the campaign, then, perhaps discourage illegal immigration? Again no. The eastern European Roma will come back to France to seek jobs – just as other citizens from the new member states have travelled back and forth across the EU for the same reason. This is what the EU is all about: offering its citizens possibilities for socio-economic mobility beyond the borders of the nation-state. And Roma need exactly that: more opportunities for socio-economic mobility. There is no mystery as to what would stop illegal Roma migration: growing access to the labour market. Expulsion has the opposite effect. Some of the Roma expelled from France had modestly begun integrating into the labour market, albeit in irregular and temporary positions. The current policy does not provide incentives for those Roma to try to turn their irregular work into stable and official businesses. Previous mass expulsions of Roma (sadly, this has a long tradition) have shown that such policies only encourage Roma to revert to a trusted method: survival on the margins. And for the gens du voyage, the expulsion campaign does not, and cannot, have any effect. As citizens of France they cannot be sent away. The only way in which the French government can diminish the number of illicit encampments is to increase the number of authorised sites.
Finally, will the expulsion policy impel eastern European countries to take the plight of their Roma populations more seriously? French officials have now met their Romanian and Bulgarian counterparts, but this late move seems nothing more than a weak response to growing international indignation.
Why this policy, then? Is Sarkozy trying to shore up his support on the right at a critical time for his presidency? And are the Roma just convenient, low-cost victims? As a political tactic, the policy might not be that successful either: it has not so much bolstered his approval ratings as created controversy and prompted adversaries such as the former prime minister Dominique de Villepin to claim that there is now a stain on the proud flag of republican France.
At the end of the day, this policy seems mostly inspired by Marx. I mean Groucho Marx. He once said: politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.