Nationalism can be a force of good

Moderator’s remarks

In February 2014, European Boards Meeting took place in Lublin related to the topic of nationalism. This upcoming debate could be considered as a follow-up of the event since it is dealing with the pressing issue of relevance of nationalism in current world. We are all aware of interdependence of today’s economic relations, but that does not automatically mean we are so interdependent in other areas of our society (political, societal, environmental or cultural level). At this point, there is a room for a debate about the purpose of nation-states we live in. So, can they bring benefits to the people or they bring more harm than good? To tackle this question I am glad to welcome two speakers from the ranks of AEGEE – Mariia and Armin.


To start any debate one should define the terms that are key for understanding the debate and its complexion. Both speakers did this step to help their readers to grasp their reasons we can divide into two aspects. Firstly, there are reasons related to the political level. Mariia argues the benefits of nationalism are solidarity shared among vast group of people and dominant control of national territory. Armin shows the harm for current supranational political structures and possibility of civil unrests. Secondly, there are cultural reasons to either support or oppose the motion. Mariia speaks about preserving unique culture of the nation and providing good examples from the past people can follow. On the other hand, Armin argues for dangerous cultural exclusivity and diminishing of various cultures in such a heterogeneous community. Mariia, lastly, puts forward the idea of economic cohesion of the nation that helps the well-being of entire population.

As you can even see from such a short excerpt there are plenty of clashes in the debate you can discuss. I am looking forward to your reactions. Therefore, I wish you interesting reading without due delay. And also do not forget to vote which opinion you favour after the debate.

Affirmation speaker: Mariia Ponomareva (AEGEE-Kyiv)

Opposition speaker: Armin Weckmann (AEGEE-Darmstadt)

Ivan Bielik, Moderator of the debate

Defending the motion

Mariia Ponomareva, HR Responsible of AEGEE-Kyiv 2013/2014, graduated at National University of Theater, Cinema and Television, currently working as film director.

This delicate topic has a long story. But each story has started from the identification of main point – and according to the name – this topic is nation. First of all, I want to clarify what does it mean “nationalism” as for me. Nationalism – movement in society, which is powered by idea that one clarified nation have absolute rights and priority in some area or space. So if we are talking about nationalism we can find the forces of good nowadays and in history.

First of all, I think that nationalism can be a force of good because of effect of fastgathering people with patriotic idea together. During the changings in government, protest movements or demonstrations the nation can loose the way where to go or what to focus on. Especially if it is an idea, which is based on something that was grown with them from their childhood – their language, cultural aspect and so on. One voice, strong idea can gather people and make their eyes to see somewhere together. For sure these people can be aggressive and not polite, but with their power they can save the territory. Talking about our days the Maidan situation in Ukraine can be an example of fast and powerful reaction of the masses, which happened not without ideas of nationalism.


Second point – grounding and saving regional cultural exclusivity and ethnoidentification. Good example for this point is Latvia – small country which small population is mostly Latvian – is having a crisis of migration to Great Britain and Germany. So nationalism can be a force which can start a dialogue about national values, grounding in motherland area and keeping this small nation together.

Third – nationalism can be a way to the economic miracle – when people are ready for everything as revanchists. Germany start of 30th of XX century. The country wanted revenge. The country was renovated after 1st WW in very short terms.  And nationalism was the main fuel in the mechanism of economic revival. For sure it is also controversial – because they made something worthier – but if they wouldn’t stopped in time – maybe they will be more strong country than USA now.

Fourth – promoting human skills and special type of character to keep the glory of nation. Example of USA can be good here: the brave and powerful patriot – this stereotype about American man they built long time ago, but nationalism is a power, which keeps it still strong. And lot of people can attach the feeling with the whole nation – which is for sure good. On the other hand – it can be used in building strong future symbols as avoid to splitting the country.

Russian aspect in this situation is also quite controversial. But also nationalism can avoid to the splitting of the Russian Federation. The myth about Russian Man is a gathering symbol in such a multinational country with a huge distances and bad communication and low level of the understanding between national groups. Yes, small nations are assimilating very fast and it is not good, but the joining to the majority and identifying themselves with the national myth for this people is also the way to become stronger.

Fifth – migration control. Nationalism can be a good force to avoid the over-migration and total national mixing. Switzerland – is multicultural country with lot of migrants. And the awareness of overfilling the area is also a way to more clear system of checking people, who wants to live there. Also according to local laws – they try to check the people who will stay and make cultural tests about the country for them, which is also step in education for the majority of them.

All in all, nationalism can be a force of good or be a force of bad things – nobody will not disagree that it is a force. Big force, which people of the Earth have to use carefully.

Opposing the motion

Armin Weckmann, member of AEGEE-Darmstadt, currently doing PhD studies in Plasma Physics in Stockholm, Sweden.

For outlining my arguments I shall begin with distinguishing between two kinds of Nationalism, the “inclusive” and the “exclusive” form. The first one describes a political motion striving for inclusion of all its different peoples and social groups in one political body, the nation. The second one means the elevation of the nation as such above other classifications, accompanied by exclusion of those who either do not or can not fulfil the criteria associated with the nation.

One may identify the first kind as the “good” one and the second as the “bad” one. However, in reality nationalism tends to have characteristics of both kinds, hence fostering nationalism as such may give rise to both good and bad side effects – whatever one defines as “good” or “bad” about nationalism.


Problems specifically accompanied with the inclusive form:

Most nations have a heterogeneous population – some of them do not identify themselves with the nation as such. These may be minorities fearing for their cultural identity getting lost, cosmopolitans not seeing benefits of being associated with one nation or outsiders refusing to fit into society or predefined patterns in general. N.B.: These people do not necessarily need to be hostile against a national identity but rather choose to stand outside it. Including them into a nation against their will may result in resentment and is an act of disrespect.

Another argument is that national thinking can be hindering for supranational politics as we can experience it during the Euro crisis – thinking “out of the box” may be better for the well-being of the European majority (discussing this comprehensively is a matter for another debate). Apart from this, supranational structures may be more reliable for preserving national interests, if acknowledged by or articulated with other nations; structures such as the EU, NAFTA, AU and UNASUR result in this idea (whether they fulfil it adequately is, again, beyond the scope of this debate).

Problems specifically accompanied by the exclusive form:

Forging a nation in a specific shape and disregarding those who either do not obey it or cannot fulfil it will most presumably lead to civil unrest. Examples can be extracted from the history of most nations – just a small collection of recent activities: China (Tibet conflict), Turkey (Gezi protest), Ukraine (Euromaidan). All of them are caused by the clash between national interests introduced from political leaders and visions of a disregarded part of the national society, in cultural, ecological or political manner (often at least two of them are intertwined). It is worth mentioning that the definition of “national interests” can vary greatly between different parts of societies, which in itself already can fuel a conflict before actions even take place. The exclusive form of nationalism thus already bears the seed of conflict.

Furthermore, it may disdain human rights of those who do not agree on a certain definition of a nation, which holds for the three mentioned examples.

Nevertheless nationalism (especially the inclusive form) may have positive effects for the majority of a nation, hence the statement at the very beginning cannot be completely falsified. However, following the arguments given above nationalism is an obstruction for political well-being on the long run and should therefore not be suggested as a guideline for national politics, both for the benefit of national and international interests.


5 comments to Nationalism can be a force of good

  • Mario  says:

    I strongly disagree with the motion and I will explain you why. But before, I just want to say one thing: to be honest with you, I am shocked by the very fact that AEGEE poses the question in such terms – actually it is not even a question as the title reads “nationalism can be a force for good” without question marks. When I first read the title of this post I had to slap my face twice to make sure I was not hallucinating. What has happened to AEGEE? Weren’t we the promoters of a European identity? Weren’t we the ones who believed we could be German, Dutch, Spanish, Italians, etc… and be at the same time Europeans and citizens of the world?

    Mariia, I am sure you are well-meaning, especially when you wish for people in our societies to have a shared project, a common vision of their collective future. However, I’m afraid nationalism is not the answer. History shows us that the mixture of rising nationalism and economic crisis, like in our current times, can be devastating (and cannot be stopped once set in motion). The example you chose to prove that nationalism is good for the economy is totally inaccurate. After WWI, Germany entered one of worst economic crises in its history – which is the reason why nationalists eventually came to power. Yes, re-armament gave jobs to some people, but that was a very small benefit compared to the devastation of the war caused by re-armament (and yes, nationalist ideas). Germany had a miracolous economic recovery after WW2, once nationalism had finally been rejected and the country (West Germany, to be precise) became fully integrated in the European single market. By contrast, after WWI, nationalists believed every nation could survive with its own means (a dangerous idea called ‘autharky’). This meant European countries shut economic relations with one another, trade decresed by almost 90 %, this further exacerbated the crisis and paved the way to the war. The example of Switzerland shows that these ideas are still very strong. At times of economic crisis, there can be no good nationalism. When people do not have jobs, they find someone to blame, foreigners and minorities are all too often the easy target. Hence nationalisms, which make us blind to the fact that migrants contribute far more to the economy than they take away in social benefits.

    We have to be very careful with these arguments, nationalism is a sleeping beast, a bit like the dragon Smaug in The Hobbit, if it wakes up, it will be hard for us to stop it and have a meaningful conversation with it. History teaches the hard lesson…

    • Ivan  says:

      I will react only to the objection concerning the motion as I was moderator of the debate.
      Firstly, the fact that AEGEE is European student organization promoting European values does not necessarily mean we cannot discuss phenomenon of nationalism. The EU was built upon nation-states and they were results of national movements. To discuss such issue is therefore necessary to understand the past and what formed our present as well. If you think AEGEE shouldn’t tackle such problem, then why was there the topic of EBM 2014 Nationalism? Moreover, the motion does not state that nationalism IS a force of good. It states nationalism CAN be a force of good and therefore offers space to both sides to argue about the topic. In case you disagree with the motion, it is perfectly legitimate. But do not imply from that fact that we cannot talk about it in AEGEE (I guess one of the European values is also freedom of expression in case you are not offending anyone, isn’t it?).
      Secondly, if you say that “we could be German, Dutch, Spanish, Italians, etc… and be at the same time Europeans” you recognize the fact we have multiple identities of ours. Additionally, you recognize that having national identity is fine for AEGEE members. But then I do not understand your objection not to talk about nationalism, which formed such identities. If you are feeling you are belonging to Europe (particular part of the world), you feel the same feeling in case you belong to a particular nation of the world. But then why should not we talk about state nationalism, but we should talk about European nationalism?
      Thirdly, more technically, debate motion should be formed by controversial statement, because a question is neutral in the nature. Controversial statement (such as in this debate) immediately creates two sides of the debate. Therefore, every debate contains statement as a motion, not a question as a motion.

      • Luis  says:

        nationalism is just a ridiculous idea derived from another ridiculous concept called “Nation”.

        If we understand that the further ago, the more ignorant we were, all this divisions, and the understanding of our history only means how NOT to do things, and all these divisions are what cause so much trouble. Us, the normal people, are the ones that are limited by this imaginary boundaries, and people like the Latvian, mentioned by Mariia, they have to go to other countries and leave their families and friends behind in search of better opportunities. Do you think convincing them to stay and reinforcing some shit nationalism in a country where unfortunately these people can’t find good opportunities is the solution?

        Acknowledging that we are all the same, no matter the color of the eyes, hair, race, sex, age, religion, etc, etc is to understand we are all together in this world. There shall not be any boundaries and instead there should be an open exchange of different cultural traditions, arts, knowledge, etc…

        Anyway, I just wanted to say that none of the arguments of Mariia are neither valid nor logical. If you believe that the actual state of the world is anywhere near a positive example to follow and to continue the examples of history, then you just don’t have a clue about the world you are living in. Half of the population of the world lives with less than 2 dollars per day, and im pretty sure that around 93% of the world live with less than 10 dollars a day. I guess thats the evolution that ideas like nationalism has brought to us, the way of bringing scarcity to the most of the world :D keep the good thinking girl, one day u might be the next führerin.

  • Armin Weckmann  says:


    Though I oppose Mariia in this question I feel like take up the cudgels for her because I think both the question and her argument – as well as the whole concept of a nation as such – may be misunderstood.

    About the first point, Ivan made it already clear that the question does not imply an answer and since nationalism (esp. with the European crisis AND the EU elections!) is an important point in the political agenda, AEGEE should also discuss this. Again, just watching the coin from one side doesn’t provide the whole picture, does it?

    About Mariia’s arguments – which are linked to the concept of “the nation” in my opinion (and thus to the third point I mentioned at the top):
    Nationalism, as I wrote myself, does not necessarily mean exclusion. Actually it can mean exactly the opposite; it depends on the society and whether they are more “inclusive” or “exclusive”.
    Also, I must strongly disagree on calling the concept of a nation “ridiculous” (this points now esp. to Luis’ comment on 3rd March):
    Societies of all kind form from identities – the family, the clan/tribe, the village, the city, the city state/kingdom (f.e. ancient Uruk and Greece), the nation/kingdom. These things are roughly a “level-up” of the former phase, if you like. Next would be: international/continent bonds (EU, UNASUR etc.), finally world society/humanity (UN). For the remote future we might even be forced to look beyond the border of your planet…
    Pure national thinking is outdated in our times here in Europe, but for some regions of the world thinking in structures higher than tribes just makes no sense (one problem of making Afghanistan a functioning nation, actually).
    All in all, just looking at nations will not give you the whole picture of human societies and how they work — but neither will you see the whole picture, if you exclude “the nation”…
    (That is basically what I meant as I drew the conclusion: “Nevertheless nationalism (especially the inclusive form) may have positive effects for the majority of a nation, hence the statement at the very beginning cannot be completely falsified.”)

  • Armin Weckmann  says:

    PS: I took the wrong date – in the last paragraph I am referring to Luis’ comment on the 7th of March…