Is European Patriotism the Answer to Far-Right Nationalism?

Opinion

By Sophia Obrecht

First published in The Palatinate, October 12th, 2018.

For many months now, far-right nationalism has been rearing its ugly head across Europe. In the meantime, the impossible riddle that is Brexit has been dominating the news in the UK — leaving a lot to be desired when it comes to a feeling of pride both on the continent and at home. Europe and the UK are at odds, while the UK itself is divided, not only between leavers and remainers, but between those who want a deal, a no deal, a second referendum, no referendum, and those who would just like to go back in time before this whole Brexit business began.

So the question remains, what kind of relationship will the UK have with Europe following Brexit? And with this what does the future hold for the EU, given the rise of nationalism across the continent?

With the European success against the US in the Ryder Cup, I began to feel a strange sense of pride … those cool collected Europeans, the underdogs, coming back to take the win against those arrogant Americans. A victory on French and European soil. This got me thinking, what if it was possible to foster some sort of European patriotism through sport and sporting success, in order to counteract the growing rise of extreme nationalism across Europe, and in order to reunite the UK with the continent after all this ugly negotiating?

What if it was possible to foster some sort of European patriotism through sport and sporting success, in order to counteract the growing rise of extreme nationalism across Europe?

I know, I know, this opinion might seem unpopular, especially to all those Brexiteers, and Eurosceptics out there, and especially after the wave of pure patriotism felt across England during the World Cup. But think about it for a second, what if we could harness some sort of European identity and set it against rivals such as the US, Russia, or China in a sporting setting not exclusive to the Ryder Cup?

At its core, a nation is built on a common heritage and shared goals. Following this, identity, and pride is founded on the presence of an ‘other’, a rival, or outsider, against which a community can create their own set of values. In Europe, it was easy for a nation to find its own common national history and therefore memory: with its many wars and conflicts Europe’s nations experienced victory and suffered defeat at each other’s hands. Rivals and enemies were created and a national heritage followed. However, as a continent, it was, and is, much harder for Europe to find a defining moment in political or social history that could function as a shared heritage, a shared victory or even defeat… a moment when Europe in its entirety was on the same side.

Just look at the way the country came together this summer, following England’s performance in the football World Cup – despite its deep divisions over Brexit

But what if this could be created in sporting history? Sport, at its core, has a great power to unite people, sure it can also prove divisive, but played out in a setting such as the modern Olympics, a common sense of pride and identity becomes easier to foster. Just look at the way the country came together this summer, following England’s performance in the football World Cup – despite its deep divisions over Brexit. Remember the pride associated with the London 2012 Games, or in Germany’s case the World Cup victory in 1990. The memory of these shared experiences has worked to strengthen national identity. Sports also produces rivals and inspires healthy, and peaceful competition (aside from the odd football hooligan). Now imagine if there were regular sporting tournaments or championships, whether it be football, athletics, or winter sports, that focused on teams grouped not by nation, but by continent?

While I am not suggesting Europe become a federal republic, or demanding greater centralization within the EU, I do think it is high time that us Europeans stuck together. If we were to bring a continent together, moved by a common support for a sporting team, the process of European integration and better yet the project of the EU may still survive the nationalist rhetoric prevalent across Europe, in states such as Austria, Poland, and now Germany, to name but a few. In many ways, the idea may seem just too simplistic, too naïve, too pure of heart. After all, the EU, and Europe geographically speaking, has a lot of issues to solve, not least regarding the refugee crisis, and the general need for reform. But if we could foster that same patriotism and pride, experienced in England during the World Cup, maybe, just maybe, Europe could step back from the brink.

 

Brexit or no Brexit, the UK will always be part of Europe, just as the countries, currently dominated by nationalist rhetoric will remain firmly on the European continent, whether they like it or not. It’s time we appreciated our shared European values which date back for centuries: from culture, art, to sporting prowess, from values such as tolerance, and equality …. From the iron curtain dividing the continent to the fall of the Berlin wall, the European experience is unique. It would be a shame to throw it away for some short sighted nationalism, for a no deal Brexit and an ugly divorce.

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