[Macron’s] 20-minute speech on the occasion… was unambiguous on the danger the new nationalism in Europe and America portends for humanity if not halted.
The celebration of the centenary of the first World War which held in the French capital, Paris, and other cities of the world recently was an implicit commitment by world leaders to those principles and values that guarantee global peace and security.
100 years after, the world is still grappling to overcome the devastating effect of the war. Published letters of soldiers and civilian victims were heart touching. Unfortunately, post-WWI leaders failed to learn from history and allowed the world to drift into WWII.
A lesson to be learnt from the First World War and indeed all wars that have been fought is that no one nation can exist in isolation. Humanity thrives through the peaceful coexistence of nations.
It is pertinent to look beyond the pageantry that characterised the celebration. The event took place at a period when there are disturbing reports on the activities of nationalists across Europe and the United States.
Nationalist fervour was among the causes of the war. Historians remind us that “nationalism in various countries throughout Europe contributed not only to the beginning but the extension of the war in Europe. Each country tried to prove dominance and power.”
It is an irony of history that 100 years after the war, there are political leaders who are heating up the globe with nationalism slogans. Curiously, these leaders were at the event to eulogies those who sacrificed their lives to keep the world together. But the significance of the celebration lies more in the lessons learnt from the war and the need to avoid the socio-political blunders that led to it.
But it would seem man is never willing to learn from history. The throes of nationalism are sweeping across Europe following the political gains of the Far-right movement in several countries including the United States. Undoubtedly, it is sheer hypocrisy for far-right leaders to celebrate the centenary of WWI whereas they are promoting the same factors that sparked the war. They deliberately embarked on a mission of deception when they make their supporters believe that nationalism is synonymous with patriotism.
Today, extremism is growing in Italy, Hungary, Austria, Sweden, Slovenia, Poland, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany and the Czech Republic to mention a few. The emergence of Trump as president of the United States has given impetus to far-right groups in Europe to hit the ground the way they never did in years past.
Trump’s slogan of “America First” continues to resonate in countries of Europe. Protectionism and immigration top their agenda. Apparently, the apostles of nationalism are blind to the fact that it is a misadventure that yields only bad fruits in the long run.
French President Emmanuel Macron, one of the world’s youngest leaders is a source of inspiration to upcoming youth across the world. He was born 59 years after the end of the war. His 20-minute speech on the occasion of the celebration was not only inspiring but was unambiguous on the danger the new nationalism in Europe and America portends for humanity if not halted.
He said: “Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism”and “by saying our interests come first and others don’t matter we are erasing what makes a nation precious, what makes it live, what makes it great and most importantly of all, its moral values.”
He reportedly warned that to dash hopes for peace through “isolation, violence or domination would “be a mistake for which future generations would rightly find us responsible.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel was born 36 years after the end of the war. She was not involved in the war. She has stood firm in her defence of liberal policies and protection of immigrants despite her political loss to the far-right movement in Germany.
Her words during the celebration were edifying. She said: “The concern I have is that blinkered nationalist views may gain ground once again.” She said there were questions hanging over the “European peace project.” But Merkel is also concerned with the threat of nationalism to world peace. She has frowned at the ill treatment and indeed the outright rejection of migrants (irrespective of their regions of origin) without due consideration of their plight.
The Second World War occurred because of the failure of the League of Nations which was created to address those issues that could lead to war in Europe. It had the responsibility to ensure that peace prevail across the region and indeed the world. The weakness of the leadership of the organisation was its undoing.
The end of World War II saw the emergence of the United Nations (UN) in 1945. The founders of the UN believed that it will succeed where the League of Nations failed. World peace was also central to its formation. Interestingly, the far-right groups are waxing stronger, feeding the youths with the ‘catechism’ of nationalism without the UN officially calling for caution. The reason the UN is always looking the other way whenever world peace is threatened is obvious, the godfathers who control the organisation’s decision-making apparatus are habitually involved. It is hope that the wobbling UN will not go the way the League of Nations did someday.
It is however heart-warming to note that the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres was bold enough to warn against the danger of nationalism in the 21st century. He was born 31 years after the end of the war. During the celebration, Guterres reportedly warned that there are “many parallels with both the start of the twentieth century and the 1930s, giving us grounds to fear that an unpredictable chain of events could ensue.”
Nationalism provides a fertile ground for the production of tyrants and dictators who by their nature and policies are averse to liberal policies. History is replete with the atrocities committed by leaders like Benito Mussolini, Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler.
It will be foolhardy for the United Nations and indeed all right thinking and peace loving leaders to remain silent and allow the far-right groups bestride Europe and America at a period when peaceful coexistence among nations should be encouraged.
Though there are cases of civil wars in some countries, the ugly effect of these wars cannot be compared with that of a global dimension. If every nation embraces nationalism and replicate Trump’s “America First,” bilateral and multilateral relations will collapse and the world will end up returning to the dark era of WWI as the powerful would want to subdue the weak through the use of brute force. It is for this reason the nationalist ‘gangsters’ must not be allowed a foothold in countries where they exist.
Their action is bound to result in a hostile response from the developing world that provides raw materials for the industries in Europe and America. The developing world, particularly the countries of Africa have been dumping ground for the excess products of Eu- rope and America. Interestingly, Africans and Asians sacrificed their lives fighting a war they did not cause.
European countries including America have kicked off a new scramble for Africa. They are storming the continent in search for raw materials and new markets. This is even as thousands of Africans are dying daily in the Mediterranean due to the obnoxious policies of the new nationalist groups.
European and American politicians who are hungry for power must be careful not to pollute voters with their ‘dirty’ ideology. The ordinary man and woman in Europe strongly believe in global peace and unity. Analysts say “European voters aren’t necessarily as zealously anti-immigration as the nationalists they’re electing.” Jonah Shepp drew attention to a recent study in Italy, noting that the study “found that more than 70 percent of Italians believe in granting asylum to some immigrants, and very few support sending smuggled asylum seekers back to the Mediterranean.
Again, the recent attack on the Jewish synagogue in the United States brought to fore the indignation of a cross section of Americans. The leaders of the church were vehemently opposed to the sympathy visit of President Trump. They gave their reason.
While accusing Trump of promoting “white nationalism,” they said in a letter: “President Trump, you are not welcome in Pittsburgh until you fully denounce white nationalism.” In the letter, they said: “Our Jewish community is not the only group you have targeted. You have also deliberately undermined the safety of people of color, Muslims, LGBTQ people, and people with disabilities”.
The letter immediately highlighted the hypocrisy of the Trump administration. Trump turned the table for the Middle East peace process when he moved the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, arguing that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Yet, back in the US, the Jews are being hunted and killed because of his nationalist policies. What an irony?
The situation becomes disturbing as the far-right groups have launched attacks on the European Union (EU) for insisting on liberal policies toward other nations. They are strongly opposed to EU’s refugee resettlement programme. And they have vowed to dismantle the Union or take it over in 2019.
But the EU leadership has remained resolute in its determination not to be cowed by their threats. The action of the EU in taking legal action against Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic “for refusing to take in refugees, intensifying a bitter feud within the bloc about how to deal with migration” was in the right direction as it sent a clear message of hope to the international community.
It is of note that a former Italian prime minister, Massimo D’Alema supported the EU’s position when he said at the time that the organization “cannot tolerate countries that do not respect the law that is based on our fundamental values and those values are to respect human rights.
“The only way to solve the crisis is to share the burden. It is not acceptable for Germany to take 1 million refugees and for some EU states to simply say no. In that case, sanctions are needed.”
It is hoped that the current leadership of Italy and indeed all those clamouring for the entrenchment of nationalism will reflect on the words of D’Alema. It is not enough to celebrate the centenary of WWI. Leaders must learn from it and ensure they avoid those mistakes that sparked the war. We cannot live in a retrogressive world any more.