Nationalism Poses A Test for Europe - East and West
THANKS to television, Europeans generally have been reminded by the Serbs' war on Bosnia of the worst that nationalism can do. Less noticed has been the development of nationalism elsewhere, particularly in west European states where people have thought, "It can't happen here."
In a recent symposium entitled, "Nationalismus - Nein Danke!" or "Nationalism - No Thank You," academics, writers, and politicians from Austria and some of its neighbors debated the growth of nationalism in the post-cold-war period. Their immediate concern was the activity of extreme right-wing parties and groups in their own central European area.
As conference participants noted, events of the past year have amply demonstrated the potential dangers to the West and East.
The reappearance of racism and a neo-Nazi movement in Germany was perhaps not so surprising, given the past. But now it has spread all over Western Europe. France, Italy, Spain, and even some of the neutral states, Sweden and Austria, have all experienced ugly outbreaks of anti-Semitism and xenophobia.
In Eastern Europe, events moved rapidly from revolution in 1989 to the complete unraveling of the region's geopolitical re-arrangement that emerged after World War II. The end of the cold war - and the turmoil in the former communist world since - opened the door to a host of history's old ethnic-territorial disputes which, for better or worse, under the Communists were dormant for years.
Nationalist demagogues quickly used the new democratic institutions to capitalize on the difficulties of starting a new economic system. The first victim was Czechoslovakia. For 70 years, it had been the most stable unit in central-eastern Europe. But last year, Slovak nationalists, while being a minority, forced a Jan. 1 split with the Czech lands.
For a while, Western Europe looked immune. But as refugees from Eastern Europe fled economic distress and sometimes war at home, the West became increasingly vulnerable.