In the paper today, the leader of Sweden’s right-wing party claimed that some of the other conservative parties are ‘getting closer to our form of nationalism’. This made me think about the concept of nationalism, and how it impacts Swedish society.
What is nationalism? Nationalism is an idea that says each nation should have the power to govern itself, without outside influence or interference. It aims to build and maintain a single national identity on shared characteristics of ethnicity, language, religion, traditions and culture. It promotes national unity, and seeks to preserve a nation’s traditional cultures. It rejects ‘foreigness’. National symbols, flags, songs, languages and myths are highly important in nationalism.
Nationalism often goes hand in hand with Authoritarianism. This means the rights of individuals can be sacrificed for the good of the majority. As a result, nationalistic parties tend to be authoritarian, with authoritarian rhetoric.
What is patriotism? Patriotism is closely related to nationalism, but crucially different. Also called ‘national pride’, patriotism is the feeling of love and sense of attachment to a homeland and alliance with others who share the same sentiment. The difference between patriotism and nationalism is that patriotism does not include a desire for power.
What about Sweden? So, how do these manifest themselves in Sweden? Flag waving, snaps drinking and supporting Sweden in ice hockey or Eurovision are all examples of patriotism.
When politicians place increasing demands on immigrants to culturally integrate and learn Swedish, it is nationalism. When politicians say that Jews and Sami are not Swedish, it is also nationalism. When political parties gain votes on arguments of preserving Swedishness and protecting against ‘foreign criminals’, it is nationalism. And there is one motivation behind it all – power.
Is nationalism bad? Is nationalism positive or negative? Well, in practice, it can be both – depending on context and your point of view.
Nationalism can give people a meaning. It provides people with a purpose in a world which is increasingly meaningless. This means that if people have a meaning larger than their lives, they are more likely to do, or fight for, something.
For example, nationalism was instrumental in independence movements such as the Velvet Revolution, Greek and Irish Revolutions, the creation of modern Israel, the dissolution of the USSR and even Brexit.
So nationalism wins wars and conflicts – but it is also the creator behind them. It has been the foundation of terrible human atrocities such as the genocides in Rwanda and Armenia, the Yugoslav wars and the Holocaust. So what makes the difference?
A factor that unites all of these latter cases is that nationalism was combined with racial hatred. Is this when nationalism turns into something more horrific?
So let’s go back to the original quote from Sweden’s leader of the right wing party – they are getting ‘closer to our form of nationalism’. Notice he didn’t say ‘patriotism’, he said ‘nationalism’. And that tells us it’s all about one thing, and one thing only – the lust for power.