Nobel winner warns against using right wing political rhetoric

August 1, 2011

Fancy a post on something controversial (with a twist of Ukraine thrown in)?

It appears that former Norwegian Prime Minister and current Secretary General of the Council of Europe, not to mention Nobel Chairman, Thorbjørn Jagland has gone on record stating that political leaders such as David Cameron, Angel Merkel and Marie le Pen are “playing with fire” when stating multiculturalism has failed.

According to The Observer/Guardian, Mr Jagland is quoted thus “We have to be very careful how we are discussing these issues, what words are used.

Political leaders have got to defend the fact that society has become more diverse. We have to defend the reality, otherwise we are going to get into a mess. I think political leaders have to send a clear message to embrace it and benefit from it.

We should be very cautious now, we should not play with fire. Therefore I think the words we are using are very important because it can lead to much more.”

Statements  like this are of course meant to provide some form of intellectual, academic and luminary calm throughout the reasonably center ground that most people, including most right of center political parties and civil groups would occupy.  Of course when such words are then championed by the left of center it does very little but aggravate the far right who would frame such statements as socialist, limp, weak nonsense providing yet further evidence of a conspiracy to remove national culture and impose some form of false supernatural identity which is not naturally occurring in any given geographical location  and historical precedent.

This of course will be further aggravated in nations like the UK, because it was said by a foreigner and is “targeted” at our current leadership (which happens to be predominantly center-right  at present).

Now to cut out the political, social, philosophical and psychoanalytical academic babble, paradigms, applications from various positions, (as framed from differential or equivalence vantage points), when it comes to nationalism, one major issue is that of “identity”.

Whilst the paradigms are often used to look at the self, when looking at the individual via the lens of the sovereign state, there is still a body of apparent evidence that the nationalist identity takes a view of hostility to and equally received from the “other”, whether that “other” is a different sovereign state  or individual within an”other” sovereign state.

It is quite rare that anything emanating from another state or recongised entity is framed by domestic politicians or press as naturally in the interests of the national identity.  That is certainly the case with the way UK and EU interaction is portrayed for the most part and is quite likely to be the way it will be portrayed in Ukraine in generations to come (should the EU still exist in its current format and Ukraine pursue and fulfill its entry into said organisation).  The UK politicians are always portrayed as defending the UK position whilst the same machinery from which our politicians protect our interest from is rarely credited when it advances our position.

It is also noticeable that under Labour a search for “Britishness” was launched in some lame effort to define it, and under the current coalition, the creation of “Big Society” is the goal.  Both play to national identity which inherently leads to the social conscience being directed towards nationalism.  The follow on would seemingly take a specific  direction towards immigration policy and protectionism of national economics and industry.  Anything external is identified as a threat, particularly so in slow and uncertain economic conditions.

Anyway, this is not a thesis on identity or the contrasting views generated by employing one particular paradigm and view point over another.  The question of identity though, is particularly relevant in Ukraine.  One need only go back a hundred years or so to find large parts of Ukraine that were subject to Polish, Ottoman and Russian imperial rule at the same time.

Subsequently large parts of Eastern and Southern Ukraine whilst all people identifying themselves as Ukrainian, have a historical link to Russia.  Crimea to the Ottomans and the West of Ukraine to the Polish.  Thus there are several views amongst Ukrainians about what they actually are.

Whether this will become somewhat softer over the next generations remains to be seen, however one look at the USA would display Americans identifying themselves as Anglo-American, Irish-American, Afro-American, Hispanic-American etc.  quite often, with many generations of removal from those original roots.  How many generations does it take for these people to simply become “American”?

When the outside world looks in, we see only Americans.  When the outside world looks in at Ukraine, it sees only Ukrainians.  This is of course because we are used to dealing with societies within geographical locations and by default political positions which are sedimented in national identity from the outside whilst not necessarily so defined from within.

We base our political thoughts of legitimacy purely upon national identity rather than social similarities or shared legal processes that exclude arbitrary lines on a map.    It is another problem which faces the EU.  It is not seen as a truly legitimate political entity by many of the people within its geographical area regardless of any social benefits.  More often than not rather than social issues, the EU is judged upon economic issues, particularly by the net giving nations.

There are not that many people who identify themselves as Europeans or Westerners in an alien environment.  They will normally say American, German, French etc.  In this sense Ukrainians would do exactly them same when stating their identity to an”other” despite the fact some have quite profound differences of what is a Ukrainian internally.

Ukraine is no stranger to political right-wing rhetoric.  The Svoboda party and leader Oleh Tyahnybok are quite forthright and regularly in the MSM stating anti-western and anti-Russian views with equal veracity.  It has attracted a noticeable following in the west of Ukraine, most noticeably in Lviv.  Also noticeable is the amount of high profile media time given compared to equivalent European parties.

What is also noticeable is the number of votes the party gains in comparison to other nationalist parties on the same continent and the rhetoric employed publicly by those in the party.  Undoubtedly Mr Jagland would cringe if he heard what was said and more to the point, how it is said.

The right to self-determination requires free speech and therefore requires the accurate reporting of the words and thoughts employed and orated by elected representatives of any government, including Svoboda and Oleh Tyahnybok.  Is there any basis to request him to tone down his rhetoric and oratory when his political (and elected) position is based firmly upon nationalist rhetoric?  Does that not interfere with free speech and political process?

Undoubtedly Mr Jagland’s words if aimed (and they are by nationalistic ideological association) at Svoboda, would be used by his supporters as justification for his views.  It is a prima facie case of the external other being a threat to nationalistic identity and those who would support it freely.

You can argue, of course, that Mr Jagland’s remarks where not aimed at those who already hold such hardened nationalistic views, but were targeted towards those in the center-right of the political spectrum and encouraging both politicians, their speech-writers, and also the media, to choose carefully their words and the way they frame an issue in order to partially negate and or distance themselves from the few far right ideologies that would fit their more mainstream agendas.

To hold extreme or radical ideology (of any kind) is not an absolute guarantee that such a precursor will always turn into an atrocious act.

Do the politicians take society further down the road towards the thought/karma police and dictating to some further degree a national identity via the tools available to them, or do they lead, as it seems is the current Norwegian position, by allowing public disgust to forward an ehtical society without any legislative guidance to a further cementing of national identity?

How does Ukraine develop an internal national identity whilst avoiding the possibility of extreme acts (from any end of the political spectrum) agreeable to the vast majority of the regions that have such cultural differences?  Federalism, autonomy/regional self determination or simply the passage of time through the generations?

During any of these processes, should rhetoric be toned down given the need for self-determination and freedom of expression/speech?

Probably one for the academics, political analysts, philosophers and psychoanalysts to argue over (and base endless thesis’ upon).

Structure, agency, society.  Idealism and realism.  Rationalism and reflectionism.  Identity, interests, ponderables, policy.  Differential, equivalence.   Hobbes, Locke, Kant.

As the luminaries don’t agree, even on basic definitions such as “nation”, why is there an expectation that society and/or the individual would have arrived at a definition of national identity common to all?  Is nationalism not just part of the debate when it comes to “identity” and “nation”?    Surely if it respects the juridical process and limitations the debate takes place within (rather than resorting to violence and abhorrent acts), it is a necessary and legitimate contributor.

Ho hum!


  1. […] have written about the rise of nationalism before, although not in any great depth and my position remains the same as when I wrote that […]

  2. […] have written about the rise of nationalism before, although not in any great depth and my position remains the same as when I wrote that […]

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