Civic European Cities in the Age of National Populism

In recent years Europe has been experiencing the wave of national populism and a clash between antagonistic forms of national identities within its societies. Currently, we can observe a clash between antagonistic forms of national identities (ethnic nationalism versus civic nationalism).

The national populism and ethnic nationalism are strongly intertwined because they both imagine the nation as a monolith which allegedly possesses the sovereign will and common ethnic roots (nativism). Currently, the attitude towards immigrants and citizens of immigrant background (particularly Muslims) as members of a nation constitutes the key expression of difference between ethnic and civic nationalisms (exclusiveness vs. inclusiveness). In the age of globalization cities are often presented as an alternative, or even opposition, to nation states. However, the relationship between the city, the nation and the state is much more complex.

It seems that cities, because of its civic-oriented identity and ability to engage citizens in public life, are particularly predestinated to counter the rise of national populism in Europe.

In fact, for many centuries they have distinguished themselves by a higher level of social pluralism and cultural diversity than the countryside, including in their religious and ethnic structure, and stronger relations with the external world. Such social features that characterize today’s cities created an environment of cultural syncretism and diffusion where building modus vivendi (common inclusive public space) between various communities became a necessity.

Indeed, the analysis of elections in Austria, Poland and France shows that the city electorate played a key role in counterbalancing the wave of national populism. The city of Gdańsk where the famous “Solidarity” movement was born, represents a good exemplification of the civic and inclusive role of towns.

In June 2016 it established as the first city in Poland its own comprehensive model of integration of immigrants which was worked out in cooperation with NGOs, scientific institutions and business organizations. Gdańsk was also a driving force standing behind the declaration signed by the mayors of main Polish cities in June 2017 which supports the integration of immigrants of all backgrounds on the local level. It is not surprising that during the demonstrations in defence of independent judiciary taking place in July 2017 Gdańsk hosted one of the largest protests in the country, proportionally to the number of inhabitants.

All these issues are studied in a detail in the report titled “Civic European Cities in the Age of National Populism” written by Adam Balcer under the patronage of Gdańsk. We discussed these issues during the European Forum of New Ideas in Sopot, which took place in September:

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