Nationalism with a Human Face? European Human Rights Judgments and the Reinvention of Nationalist Politics

Kristin Henrard, Peter Vermeersch*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


    In this article, we show how judgments of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) have provided nationalists with an unexpected opportunity to promote a nationalist discourse that is seemingly in line with human rights while fundamentally at odds with the counter-majoritarian core of human rights. We start our analysis with two judgments in which the Court accepted the arguments of liberal democratic states to infringe fundamental rights of persons belonging to (immigrant) Muslim minorities in the name of requirements of living together or social integration: SAS v France (2014) and Osmanoglu and Kocabas v Switzerland (2017). Strikingly, the justifications by the states for these infringements point to concerns about perceived threats to national identity and culture. We show how nationalist politicians in countries with minority populations, including those in East Central Europe, have used justifications in terms of national self-protection, tacitly or explicitly, to pursue old anti-human rights agendas. The case law discussed here enabled them to present these justifications as ECtHR proof, notwithstanding the underlying nationalism.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)809-825
    Number of pages17
    JournalNationalities Papers
    Issue number5
    Publication statusPublished - 27 Jan 2020

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