Is there a need to worry about national identity?

Lithuanian flag DELFI / Šarūnas Mažeika

One of the most complicated problems that President Gitanas Nausėda is going to face is nationalism.  It is awakening in Europe and it will reach Lithuania too, even though not in the shapes we are used to seeing, Mečys Laurinkus writes in

When the economic integration of Europe reaches a political level, not only theoretical discussions will become more acute, but also some new political movements, which will oppose the strong integration in other ways than parliamentary, will emerge.

Former President D. Grybauskaitė did not have to worry about the processes happening in Hungary, Austria or Italy because most citizens of Lithuania are happy about EU membership, primarily the economic profit. In the political tribune, there is no stress concerning immigration, no threat to religious or national values. Finally, it is not even that clear what those national values are.

However, some fiery discussions have emerged about the concept of family, but they soon returned to their traditional place, in other words, to the background. So far, in the Lithuanian political scene, social problems are dominating.

Situation is changing

Yet during the upcoming Parliamentary elections, this situation will change. New political formations, which consider nationalism not only as a historical political concept, will be claiming seats. Is it good or is it bad? It depends on what the content of this concept is.

For example, during the Soviet times, especially during the period of russification under the disguise of proletarian internationalism, nationalism to be associated with love for own region, language, traditions, culture and nation, fighting against any efforts to push Lithuania out of its independent historical road. Being a nationalist meant to be fighting for liberating Lithuania from occupation. Moreover, it meant helping others to do the same.

Is there any reason to be afraid now, when freedom is won, that national identity might melt in the stream of European integration? Some people think, that especially for small countries, this threat exists. So they gather in various movements not in order to fight for freedom, but also against futuristic projects, which destroy individuality and attempts to “create a sexless person in a sexless society”, with multiculturalism and so on.

I am not prepared for a reasoned discussion if they are right, but in my opinion, rejecting or putting an outsiders label on the ones who think differently would be a strategic mistake. We will soon see what kind of content the concept of nationalism will be given by the ones who claim (as they think) empty niche of conservatism; only one thing is clear – the dispute will be fierce. I have no doubt that there will be serious consideration among academia.

Reactions in Lithuania

How will the politicians react? Chairman of TS-LKD G. Landsbergis reacted diplomatically to R. Dagys, former colleague of his party (together with well-known polemics V. Radžvilas and V. Sinica) intentions so far. Obviously, since the election is just around the corner, the restraint will run out soon.

There is no need to bet that new political group, which is being planned, will be published as a project that is useful to Russia. There is no need to debate. All Eurosceptic movements in any country are useful to Russia.

Yet in case of a miracle – if we would not pay attention to thoughts of Russia, maybe through discussions we could figure out ourselves about the situation we are in, what worked out and what is to be rejected, finally, which way we should be heading now.

We all know that this is “wishful thinking”. Even in more concrete cases than anticipating the future one might get stuck. Conditions and stages of becoming a member state of EU are well known, yet the same Europe, which is famous for its rationality, did not take care of rules of leaving the EU.

Did not they think that this could happen? Is it not expected that after Brexit other exits might appear? Not necessarily for economic reasons, but because of the revival of nationalism in new forms. Is the sceptic, critical and abrupt attitude towards immigrants only economic, or is it a cultural problem too?

When applying for membership of the EU, economic arguments are the dominant ones. Surely, it is spoken about countries themselves too, but eventually, this talk goes to the background.

Let’s look at Georgia

In this regard, it was interesting to observe the process in Georgia, while its President was M. Saakashvili. There is no secret that the famous reformer had conflicts with teachers from higher education institutions, writers, academic society. In addition, this was not about some buildings being taken away.

Many Georgian intellectuals agreed with M. Saakashvili’s chosen path toward the EU and NATO, but they criticized him for excessively intense promotion of the “American lifestyle”. In their opinion, there is a risk to lose the country’s particular and distinctive culture, almost ritualistic hospitality.

There are directives coming from EU institutions on individual cultural policymaking. Dangers to traditions, customs and even to language arise from inertia, lack of attention, out of spontaneous levelling out process. One needs to make an effort to resist this process. Both personal and national.

In “Encyclopaedia of Lithuanians” V. Vardys commented on this question in a very nice way: “One is not born, but rather becomes a compatriot… Nationality, that is to say, appears not through birth, but through upbringing. The case of nationalism is similar. Even though national self-love is born into, it becomes nationalistic only through upbringing. Nationalism, for this reason, grew up in those countries, where education expanded and people themselves started getting involved in deciding public matters.”

Lithuanian governments, which after Independence started concentrating on producing material goods, paid little attention to cultural policymaking, and especially to suspiciously liberal education on national identity in the European frame. It is taken more and more seriously in the field of education.

The time is coming to take a deeper look into national distinctiveness and its meaning, not only to ourselves. Without diversity, the EU will only be a mash of boring functionaries.
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