The Guardian has heavily criticised me for agreeing to speak at a conference on national conservatism in Rome, alongside several European political leaders. The paper has suggested a Tory MP should not speak at an event ‘with far-right’ figures on the subject of nationalism. But they are wrong – and here is why I will be going nonetheless.
What is the fate of national independence and self-determination in the context of today’s European Union? Are the freedom of nations that were promised when the Berlin Wall fell a generation ago still desirable now?
Both are fair questions, you might think and ones the conference will aim to answer. But any mention of the word ‘nationalism’ tends to send even some open-minded people into a tailspin. Add in the names of the political leaders due to attend the conference, such as Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban and former Italian deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini and certain parts of the press turn apoplectic.
Orban and Salvini are not to everyone’s tastes, of course. And I don’t agree with each and every one of their policies. But I am not Hungarian or Italian and both leaders have been elected on huge popular mandates in their countries. They represent serious ideas and concerns, some of which are shared by people in Britain. They have every right to speak at a conference on the subject of national sovereignty, which they have pledged to defend and which accounts for their popularity with voters. Clearly, offence archeologists have done a thorough job in finding historic remarks from some of the participants that jar with the liberal world view. But it is only common sense to talk with parties and politicians that are either leading their respective countries, or will perhaps take power in the next few years. It would be foolish not to do so.
Perhaps those criticising the event should take a more inquisitive approach rather than simply attacking its existence and maligning elected politicians from other countries who are due to speak. If so, they might discover why the vast majority of Europeans feel more loyalty to their own countries than the abstract idea of a federal European super-state.
My own connection with the subject matter could not be clearer. I am the first Polish-born British MP. My family witnessed communism first-hand. It was an experience that neither I nor most Polish people wish to repeat. I remember returning to Poland in 1983. There was nothing. everything was rationed. If you spotted a short queue, you joined it. It didn’t matter what it was for, you needed everything.
Communism impoverished the Polish people. Worse, it took away their liberties – their personal freedoms as well as their right to national self-determination. To Poles like my mother and father, it was the nation state that could guarantee these freedoms. This had been taken away by an empire that sought to eviscerate their nationhood – and they wanted it back.
This is why I am sticking to my guns and going to Rome to take part in the conference. I will share an Anglo-Polish perspective on Brexit and what it signifies for the future of Europe. But more than anything, I will seek to echo the wisdom of the late Sir Roger Scruton, who warned us not to accept the EU’s version of history: that the fall of the Berlin Wall was only about ‘freedom of movement’. This is not true. The revolutions of 1989 were about the restoration of national sovereignty to people who had been absorbed and oppressed by a lawless empire.
Like Sir Roger, in place of the European Union, I want to see an alliance of sovereign states, each in control of its borders and guardian of its legal and political heritage. In contrast, the European process always moves towards centralisation, top-down control, unelected bureaucrats and judges, and constitutional treaties framed without any input from the people.
This is what the conference means by National Conservatism and it is certainly not the hysterical version promulgated by those who feverishly condemn anyone who expresses a healthy and decent loyalty to his own nation.
Daniel Kawczynski is a Conservative MP