Can education deal with resurgent nationalism?
“Tackling the Modern Divisions of Europe through Education”
By Márk Szabó, courtesy of Europeum
Europe’s history is marked by wars and divisions. The former are, thankfully, fewer and farther between since the inception of the European Union, but other divides are still creating walls and trenches between the peoples of Europe.
These new and modern partitions are more along socio-economic lines; however, they still possess traces of nationalism, which in large doses can fragment the now united Europe.
Nationalism has been on a steady rise especially during and after the 2015 Migrant Crisis, which had a large hand in rekindling the fire of right-wing politics, railing against international conventions, human rights, and globalization, resulting in consequences such as the United Kingdom leaving the European Union.
Nationalism is not inherently negative; it can be ‘toxic’ or healthy. However, the current brand of nationalism widely espoused by far/alt-right movements is both oxymoronic and paradoxical, and founded on a bedrock of disinformation that relativizes all information through information overload. Whereas Orwell feared a society in which books were burned, the current far right is closer to Huxley’s dystopia in which it wouldn’t even be necessary to burn books because people no longer believe what they read anyway. Contrarian information is dismissed as “fake news”, and information is only internalized insofar it strengthens preconditioned narratives.
One can only wonder why, for instance, the far and alt-right movements unequivocally seem to embrace Russia, even in otherwise Russophobic countries such as the US, despite evidence that Russia has interfered and is interfering with the democratic integrity of their country.
However, nationalism can take many permutations, as seen during the EU Recovery Fund negotiations, people were able to bear witness to the stereotype of the “frugal four”, or four EU countries (Austria, Denmark, Netherlands and Sweden) that were reluctant to help the economically weaker southern states (Italy, Spain, Portugal or such) barring domestic reforms in said countries. While there is certainly a case to be made for domestic reforms being crucial in these Southern countries, there might arguably also be allusions to national stereotypes on the Northern part towards the Southern, which, during a time of unprecedented hardship from the pandemic, is neither helpful nor the right time and place to air such grievances.
Democracy is inextricably tied to healthy nationalism, and inexorably threatened by the toxic nationalism that precludes dialogue. The latter results in politicization and polarization of issues, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, and society, deepening divisions rather than promoting unity and diversity. The strongest – and perhaps only? – Bulwark against it seems to be education and critical thinking skills. In that respect, it is troubling that most right-wing countries, even within Europe, have developed a tendency over the past 15 years to make cuts in education during times of crises, as both evidenced during the financial crisis as well as now during the pandemic, in order to fund welfare for the aging demographic and wider societal recovery.
Governments indeed like to underfund education, but since it is the one area, which stands in the middle of the relationship between ‘toxic’ and ‘healthy’ nationalism, it should be a top priority to increase funding, while improving the quality of education countrywide, as funding is not enough to make the mistakes of the last 15 years right. As with most things, quality is better than quantity.
Márk Szabó is a policy analyst with Europeum. He is a master’s degree student of International relations and European politics in English at the Masaryk University in Brno. Interested in politics and cross-national relations, especially in the European context.