Europe Is Nostalgic – And That Means a Lot, Politically

(CN) – A new poll shows a majority of Europeans are deeply nostalgic – and that goes a long way in explaining the rise of populist politics and feelings of unease over immigration and the European Union.

That’s according to a survey released Monday by Bertelsmann Stiftung, a powerful German foundation and think tank.

Across Europe, the report found 67 percent of the 10,885 EU citizens interviewed in July for the survey were nostalgic, with those over 35 years old the most likely to look backward and see the world as once a better place.

“Nostalgia has become a powerful political tool to glorify the past,” the report said. “Nostalgic rhetoric has been skillfully employed by populist political entrepreneurs on the left and right to fuel dissatisfaction with the political system and distrust of mainstream political elites at the national and European level.”

Nostalgia was felt most keenly among men, those who were unemployed, people worried about their economic future and the working class, the survey found. A majority of these people, 67 percent, also were in favor of their nation leaving the European Union.

Politically, 53 percent of those who said they were nostalgic also identified themselves as on the right, the survey said. By comparison, 58 percent of respondents who said they were not nostalgic placed themselves on the left, according to the survey.

The report said the high levels of nostalgia can be linked to globalization and societal changes.

“Psychological research shows that feelings of nostalgia are often triggered by negative moods, anxiety, or insecurity,” the report said.

The report was written by Catherine E. de Vries, a professor of European politics at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, and Isabell Hoffmann, a senior expert at Bertelsmann Stiftung.

The authors said nostalgia “serves in the political realm as an instrument for agitation.” They said the high level of nostalgia coincides “with an increased concern about migration and terrorism.”

“Nostalgic types seem to be more fearful of immigrants and the consequences of migration,” the report said.

Among Europe’s five most populous nations, Italians were the most nostalgic and Poles the least, the survey found. Seventy-seven percent of Italians – and even 64 percent of those 25 or younger – said they thought the world was once a better place. Fifty-nine percent of Poles, on the other hand, were nostalgic, the survey said.

Meanwhile, the percentage of French, Spanish and German respondents who felt nostalgic were respectively 65, 64 and 61 percent.

Fifty-three percent of European men felt nostalgic compared to 47 percent of women, the survey found.

On the matter of immigration, a majority of Europeans felt that immigrants do not want to fit into European society. Of those who expressed nostalgia, 53 percent also said immigrants take jobs away from natives, according to the survey. Among those not feeling nostalgic, only 30 percent felt the same way about immigrants.

The survey sheds new light on the anxieties and perplexities rocking European politics ahead of European Parliament elections in May. Nationalist parties are expected to make more inroads in those elections.

For the past two years, Europe has seen the political center become weakened while parties representing more radical policies on the left and right have surged.

The Bertelsmann report said feelings of nostalgia can explain in particular the appeal of right-wing politics.

The report said “conservative worldviews, with an emphasis on safeguarding tradition,\ can offer distressed individuals a coping mechanism to better deal with their anxiety and fears.”

But the report warned that “nostalgia may represent feelings of longing for a past that never existed, a past that is largely constructed.”

The report said U.S. President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” catchphrase and the Brexit campaign’s slogan “We Want Our Country Back” were examples of politicians using nostalgia as an effective device “to effectively frame their anti-elitist discourse of current malaise in terms of the decline of a national golden age.”

But Hoffmann, the report’s co-author, said the success of Trump and Brexit have produced instability.

“A glance at the U.S. and Great Britain shows that, interestingly enough,” she said, “it is precisely those who promise a return to old greatness and stability that have so far triggered unrest and conflict.”

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.

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