Last week, I discussed the link between nationalism and colonialism in Canada and the US. If you missed it, you can read it here. Now, I want to reflect on some of the observations I made while on my recent trip to Europe and North Africa, in regards to nationalism and colonialism.
National Identity in Italy
Travelling to Italy and staying with my relatives in the Northern part of the country for a week was definitely an eye-opening experience. I personally felt a strong sense of national identity in the week that I was there, especially in comparison to Canada.
I stayed in the small village of Romano d’Ezzelino in the province of Vicenza; thus, these observations would be much different compared to a large city in Italy (such as Venice or Rome). I noticed that there were not a lot of foreigners there: it seemed that everyone was Italian and I kind of got the impression that they would not necessarily welcome outsiders (though everyone was very hospitable to me, but I am also half Italian). Furthermore, most Italians are Catholic and the church is VERY important and has a big influence in their life. Everyone worships the Pope, and they call him Papa (father), and almost everyone goes to the immaculate churches on Sundays (and during the week). This village was so tight-knit, that my great aunt even made food for the Priest and brought it to his house near the church.
I am not saying that it is wrong to have one specific way of life, where everyone is from the same background and follows the same religion. I just found it very interesting to be in a place where they do share the same religion, traditions, language, and more. In particular, comparing this sense of national identity to the diversity and multiculturalism of Canada, where we celebrate multiple religions and ways of life, made me feel that Italy has a strong national identity.
In terms of colonialism, I did not get the feeling that Italy was extremely proud of their colonial past. I found almost no reference to their colonial influences, and as Italy is quite a poor country, I feel that some may even be resentful of past involvements in wars and so forth. All in all, Italy gave me the feeling of a strong national identity that was interesting to compare to Canada’s relatively weak national identity.
Conflicting Perspectives in Spain
Spain offered me quite a different experience from Italy. I spent three days in Barcelona and a week in Madrid, and both places provided me with a different perspective on nationalism and colonialism.
Barcelona is part of Catalonia, and they make sure that everyone knows it. The majority of the monuments, exhibits, and so forth are representative of Catalan history and culture. Barcelona makes sure to clearly distinguish itself from the rest of Spain and assert its Catalan identity. I would argue that this expression is its own form of nationalism, and push back against the colonial expeditions of the Spanish (conquering Catalonia).
Madrid was quite a different story. This was the first place I travelled to on my Global Seminar, and we had many people tell us that Spain has a weak national identity. It is true that some people seemed to be less nationalistic and open to accepting people from different cultures; however, there were also many people that celebrated past dictatorships and seemed to focus on Spanish culture and values above all (they did not seem open to people who are ‘different’). These represent conflicting perspectives.
In terms of colonialism, Madrid has a lot of monuments that celebrate Spain’s colonial expeditions and history, particularly demonstrating how ‘discovering America’ was Spain’s greatest feat of all time. I do not think I have been anywhere else in Europe that has celebrated their colonial past as much as Madrid. I find the fact that this celebratory attitude still exists today particularly disturbing, as colonialism has had many devastating effects on the Americas that continue to this day. In conclusion, I feel conflicted about the nationalism and colonialism evoked in Spain’s capital, but one thing is for sure: Madrid definitely celebrates their colonial conquests, while Barcelona has pushed back against the Spanish colonial endeavours.
Colonial Influence in Morocco
I was really excited to visit Morocco to observe the interaction between colonial influences (the French) and Arabic culture. Unfortunately, I was only there for a limited amount of time (four days) and wasn’t able to observe as much as I had hoped, but I did manage to reach a few conclusions.
The colonial impact of the French has made an interesting mark in Morocco. Arabic and French are both the official languages of Morocco and they are spoken widely by most residents, both of which are also utilized at the university level (we listened to many presentations in French). Yet, apart from the language, I did not notice much of a French influence elsewhere. Overwhelmingly, the majority of the culture reflects Arabic values, embodied through cuisine, fashion, religion, manners, and so forth. I found these dynamics very interesting to observe.
Though it may seem that Arabic culture is the dominant influencer in Morocco, and one could argue that this pertinence would lead to a strong sense of national identity, that is not what I would argue. Rather, since Morocco was colonized and not a colonizer (in comparison to the European countries), they have suffered the effects of colonialism. These effects can drastically alter their own sense of nationalism, as Morocco was under control of an entirely different country with a very different way of life.
Though Morocco has gained independence and their own sense of dominance, through having their own King (an important figure who plays a significant role in all political relations) and being able to negotiate with the EU on international matters, I would still argue that colonialism generates lasting effects. Ultimately, these effects lead Morocco to have a weaker national identity in comparison to European powerhouse countries that have traditionally led colonial expeditions. Therefore, the impacts of colonialism in Morocco are directly related to weaker expressions of nationalism.
Open Borders in Portugal
Portugal was the last destination of my trip, and also my favourite. I spent a week exploring Lisbon and the surrounding towns of Sintra and Cascais, during which I was able to make a variety of observations.
Throughout my time in Portugal, I came to the conclusion that Portugal does not celebrate its colonial endeavours to the same extent as Spain. This conclusion does make sense, as Spain was a bigger player in the colonial conquests than Portugal. Though there were monuments that showcased Portugal’s conquests of the Americas in a positive light, there was little mention of colonialism outside of these monuments. It seems that Portugal still wants to remember their colonial past, but not to the extent of other European coutnries.
Nationalism was even less noticeable, as the Portuguese have quite an open policy of accepting migrants (including refugees). Portugal offers many amenities to migrants that are designed to support integration into Portuguese culture and lifestyle. For instance, there are many immigrant neighbourhoods throughout Lisbon that are thriving due to this support. Though not everyone is accepting of these policies, generally Portugal is less nationalistic than other countries.
Ultimately, Portugal has nationalistic and colonial expressions, but they are on the backburner. Much more prevalent is their openness and acceptance of difference through integration and support.
I hope my thoughts on colonialism and nationalism in these countries caused you to reflect on how intertwined these experiences are. If you have any observations of your own and you would like to add to the conversation, please do so by commenting below 🙂