Commentary. The populist uprising against migrants and Brussels isn’t so much a matter of politics as national identity, with troubling consequences.

The myth of the strong man

Not a day goes by that in some corner of Europe there isn’t a new episode of peeling back some level of the freedom, integration, and cultural and political openness the continent has achieved. The fact that these incidents are of a different nature makes the climate they feed even more disturbing.

Three themes generate these incidents: security, immigration and market competitiveness.

Hungarians have voted overwhelmingly (but without a turnout high enough to make the vote binding) against a mandatory quota from Brussels for the reception of refugees. Meanwhile, the government of Sweden, under a social democratic leadership, is preparing to renew compulsory conscription in 2018, a historical pillar of the national state. According to Stockholm, neutral and unaligned with NATO, it is necessary to keep the war machine in the country in top form; it’s angered by the repeated incursions into its airspace by Russian aviation.

These are small examples of how the border issues (facing threats that may not be that consistent) are impacting the lives of citizens, their obligations and their freedom. There are indeed frequent suspensions and restrictions on free movement enshrined in the Schengen agreement, as well as new discriminatory laws against foreigners, including those coming from European Community countries. All the actions are planned to either address the wave of migration, fight terrorism or get rid of the so-called “welfare tourists.”

In Budapest, the issue Hungarians voted on is actually not on the issue of migrants and nor is it against the Community technocracy. The objective is essentially to legitimize an authoritarian manipulation of the political system, already long in place.

Not surprisingly, from Warsaw to Vienna, the closing of borders against refugees is accompanied by the exhumation of the traditional values ​​and hierarchies and the reduction in civil rights, which then translates into organicist and sectarian visions of the identity of the national state.

The “national roads,” which had symbolized in Eastern Europe the ambition to acquire autonomy and free spaces against Soviet domination, reappear transfigured into polemics against the Western models of democracy. They are used not to criticize any shortcomings or oligarchic tendencies, but to denounce “laxity,” “cosmopolitanism” and the “weakness of identity.”

And confronting them with the nation-saving myth of the “strong man.”

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