European conservatives stress importance of empowering nation states amid global uncertainty | JNS

The last European conference on national conservatism in Rome narrowly avoided cancellation. It took place in February 2020, weeks before Italy imposed the first coronavirus-related lockdown in Europe. Two years later, conservatives across Europe threw away their masks for the Brussels conference at a time when Belgium lifted most COVID-19 restrictions, allowing the March 23-24 gathering of some 250 conservative intellectuals, political leaders, activists and students.

But just when the pandemic seemed to be subsiding, a new threat replaced it. On the first day of the conference, traffic jams disrupted the city as US President Joe Biden arrived for a NATO summit attended by world leaders to determine how they can jointly counter a belligerent and menacing Vladimir Putin, whose forces Russians invaded Ukraine on February 1. 24.

The “NatCons” came up with their own answer: empower nation states. The war between Ukraine and Russia, they argued, is a war between a proud nation-state and an ambitious Russian imperialism gone mad, seeking to dominate other peoples and lands.

Launch of NatCon Brussels, Ukrainian Ambassador to the European Union Vsevolod Chentsov gave credit to nationalists, explaining how it was the power of Ukrainian patriotism that managed to repel Russian forces, despite grim predictions of a quick defeat.

“It’s about the bravery and strength of our army, but I think the biggest phenomenon in this war is the people of Ukraine as a nation, and I think this event is very timely and the right place to talk about Ukraine as a nation – as a political nation,” Chentsov said.

National conservatism is a political and intellectual movement led today by the Israeli thinker and author, Yoram Hazony, president of the Herzl Institute in Jerusalem (and co-sponsor of a conference) and author of the best-selling virtue of nationalismwhich serves as de facto contemporary textbook for his ideas. The movement, often linked to former President Donald Trump’s “America First” mantra and Brexit, advances the biblical notion that an alliance of nation states, each with firm borders, a strong people’s army and a sense of national purpose generated by a shared land, culture and language – is the best guarantor of world peace and individual freedom.

“You might say, ‘I don’t believe in all this nationalism stuff,'” Hazony told the crowd at the Concert Nobel event hall near EU headquarters. Hazony was also behind the American counterpart to the conference held in Orlando, Florida in November. “’I support Ukrainians because I believe there is a war of black against white, light against darkness, liberalism against tyranny.’ And there are people who say “it doesn’t matter what the border is”. What matters is that we liberals continue to fight to advance liberalism. ”

Ukraine’s Ambassador to the European Union Vsevolod Chentsov speaking at the European Conference on National Conservatism in March 2022. Credit: Courtesy.

Such orthodox liberal thinking, he said, explains why some countries, like Israel and Hungary, are sometimes wrongly shamed to be “pro-Putin” for not supporting Ukraine to liberal liking, like with tougher sanctions against Russia or with military support. .

Poland and Hungary, countries often at odds with EU immigration, energy and family policies, voiced their opposition to the West’s move towards globalization with speeches by the Prime Polish Minister Mateusz Morawiecki (via video) and Hungarian Justice Minister Judit Varga. Hazony was, off the record, representing an Israeli point of view, saying: “The same American voices that we hear saying, ‘Israel absolutely must be on the side we say Israel must be on, that Israeli interests are the same as Ukrainians are the same as American interests, but where are they when it comes to Israel having to face the nuclear bomb which is being created by the Russians and the Americans, God forbid, in Iran?

“Each of us has our own interests”

Panelists and speakers shared the view that the European Union is increasingly acting as a sovereign suppressing the national interests of its members, a posture that is likely to intensify in the face of the Russian onslaught.

“We are now hearing calls from liberals in Europe and also in America that the war in Ukraine demands from us Europeans a process of accelerating the creation of a European superstate,” said Israeli historian Ofir Haivry. , Vice President of Academic Affairs at the Herzl Institute. “There should be a united European army, a European command that vetoes national governments and gives more resources to fight against Russian domination.”

A “liberal empire”, say these European liberals, is the best answer to Russian imperialism. “But, in fact, it was precisely the shrinking of national armies in Europe and the alliance of the independence of nations that allowed Russia to attack Ukraine.”

In the two years between the Rome and Brussels conferences, it was the NatCon approach, argued conference president Christopher DeMuth, that paved the way for the pandemic.

“We are now coming to understand – better late than never – that full shutdowns and school closures were largely ineffective in controlling COVID-19 but fabulously costly to our economies and social well-being,” DeMuth said. in his opening speech. “We gained this understanding precisely through the knowledge generated by national responses, which would have been obscured by uniform responses led by the WHO, EU or US federal government.”

Likewise, bureaucrats in Brussels or Washington should not be dictating how each nation should respond to Putin’s aggression.

“We want free nations that are free to determine their own interests through negotiation and a brotherhood among nations,” Hazony said. “When a crisis comes like this, everyone invests what they can, and we’ll fight to find out what it is – we’ll change our minds and put pressure on each other. But if you can’t understand that each of us has our own interests, why bother to hold elections to have representatives of our own people?This, by the way, is a biblical tradition – let the king be of your own people.

Disclosure: JNS freelance journalist Orit Arfa attended the National Conservatism conference as a staff member.

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