How Russian Nationaism is at Odds with an Increasingly Global World
Under the pretext of saving ethnic Russians, Vladimir Putin has been making headlines recently for his aggressive takeover of the Crimea and impending invasion of Eastern Ukraine. As a result, the United States and Europe have threatened increasingly severe economic sanctions. These sanctions are complex, as parts of Europe depend of Russia for oil, quite literally fueling its economy. If Europe were to impose sanctions on Russia, it would be imposing sanctions on itself.
That complexity is the result of the collision between Nationalism and Globalism. US Secretary of State John Kerry recently referred to Russia’s expansion as an action more appropriate for the nineteenth century than the present. He is very right to consider Russian violence as criminally outdated. Today’s world should be one of peaceful international trade, resolving economic disputes diplomatically rather than militarily.
In its simplest form, Nationalism is the identification and statehood of one lawfully-aligned group as distinct from, and often better than, another group state. Nationalism does not have to equal totalitarianism, such as marching hordes of perfectly aligned soldiers past monolithic stone buildings emblazoned with portraits of Dictators.
Though totalitarianism can be nationalistic, nationalism occurs also when Americans have a barbeque on Memorial Day. Nationalism occurs when the British watch the BBC Proms and sing along to Jerusalem. It’s at play when Italians cheer during the World Cup (or cry). Identifying as Brazilian, Turkish, or Japanese is, in essence, Nationalism. It’s the idea of possessing certain traits because of your passport.
It’s difficult to pinpoint when people began identifying themselves as belonging to distinct nations in the modern sense, but a safe guess would be just after the fall of Napoleon. While earlier French Revolutionaries may have started the process by developing a new flag under which to rally against King Louis XVI, questioning the legitimacy of the Bourbon dynasty and looking to history for justification, it wasn’t until Napoleon’s Europe broke apart that people began to think in modern terms about their new identities.
In the twentieth century, Mussolini took nationalism one giant step further with the creation of Fascism. Espousing the benefits of nationalism, the Fascist economy encouraged the creation of national guilds of industry. These were semi-state-managed organizations that oversaw production in order to combat things like price hikes, overproduction, and other purportedly unsavory market tendencies. Fascism also asked Italians to happily remain in their class to benefit Italian society. Workers were workers and industrialists were industrialists. This was promoted to combat the union protests of Italian socialists and communists that had hampered the economy prior to the Fascist takeover. The theory went that if workers remained in their class, they would be contributing to a grander national goal, increasing the prosperity and solidarity of their country, which, in turn, would increase their happiness.
One of the more ambitious goals of the Fascist economy was complete Autarky. Autarky is the idea that a nation does not engage in international trade but produces all goods and services on its own. Autarky is supposed to help a nation achieve economic self-determination. If a foreign country that produced your wheat disagreed with your policy, would your nation really be able to act without consideration on the international stage?
To some extent, modern nations still subconsciously support autarky. In America, we hear autarkical language quite often. The phrases, “Made in America!”, and “they’re outsourcing jobs to China!” come to mind. While it is perfectly acceptable for consumers to affect market demand by desiring products to be made where they prefer, to implement those kinds of restrictions into government policy is economically disadvantageous. If a business produces affordable products, he or she is going to do what makes the most economic sense. To force a business to make its products more expensively hurts both the consumer and producer.
Another major problem with Autarky is that it forces nations to engage in war for resources. For example, let’s say Country A needs copper for increased demand in home and building construction, but lacks copper mines in its lawful territory. In a globalized economy, businesses in Country A would simply arrange a trade deal with mine owners in Country B. Businesses in Country B might need silk for the market demand of its people, of which Country A has a natural abundance. The two nations peacefully exchange goods at free-trade market rates.
In an Autarkical world, Country A believes that only Country A can produce worthy goods, and so it should produce all goods that it consumes. Country A needs the mines that Country B has in its borders, and so Country A finds a reason to invade Country B. We see this happen today, mainly for oil, because of mixed economies where regulation affects the market.
The situation in Ukraine is extremely complicated, but can ultimately be boiled down to low grade, leftover nationalistic sentiment. The Ukraine government sought to strike an economic deal with the EU, but some who favored stronger ties with Russian passionately protested. Although Europe has an economic situation that needs improvement, I completely fail to understand why any free-thinking human would seek the yoke of Russia’s corrupt, opaque economy. My guess is that, because of the illogical and unfortunate nationalistic sentiment among those in Crimea and Odessa, they see closer ties to the EU deal as an ebb away from their “true” identity.