The author proposes a new approach to the interpretation of political phenomena traditionally described in both academic and political discourse as “nationalism” and “separatism”. “Nationalism” as a concept can provide a research framework for evaluating the factors that provoke ethnic tensions in democracies and stimulate their transformation into open conflicts between the central state and regional authorities in regions possessing a certain level of cultural – economic – political autonomy, but it needs to be updated to take into account the “new nationalism” phenomenon. “New nationalism” has recently taken root in the nation states of “old” Europe in regions with a high level of civic activism and economic and welfare development. Differing nationalist agendas comprise a situational combination of cultural, social and economic factors, which are channeled into political protest. The contestation over identity issues in territorial communities within the nation state are used by political elites to promote preferential tax policies, budget autonomy and an independent social and cultural policy, especially in the use of language and in education. At the core of the political agenda is the “right to decide” and to choose the priorities of community development which is promoted by democratic political agents of diverse political affiliation, predominantly centrist, in coalition with former radical nationalists who have abandoned radical political activities. An overview of regionalist contention in Europe indicates possible future transformations in the organization of political space in democracies where identity issues in hand with consistent development strategies will be the key consolidating factors for political communities involved in the integration processes.

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