The rise and fall of nations fuelled by globalization

Globalization; free trade; greater choice of goods; greater competition; free movement of labour. But does globalization help a nation improve or further alienates it from its national identity with a continuous influx of migrants?

Take Netherlands as an example, a country with an area of 41,543 km² or about a 16% of UK’s land and a population of 16.8 million (20% non-Dutch), that’s over a quarter of UK’s population. Netherlands also has just under half of UK’s tourist intake. You might be inclined to say “Oh dear, that sounds so crowded!” Well, yes and no. The Dutch seem to have worked their way around their overpopulated country and even managed to have an average sized home of 106.7m² compared to its next door neighbour, the UK, which stands at 76 m². To top that, the Dutch rely heavily on bicycles, with 13 million bikes currently in the Netherlands. That’s almost a bike per person.

Shopping street in The Hague, Netherlands. © Patricia Petrescu

So is the Netherlands on the brink of collapsing as a nation state, continuously changing due to its globalizing nature? Not at all, I’d say. Having seen a few cities along the South West area I was surprised to find out that the Dutch managed to keep their national identity to a high level. Walking along the streets of The Hague, Haarlem or Leiden I noticed how the cities managed to keep to their traditional Dutch shops and local historical attractions whilst having just the right amount of foreign influenced shops and restaurants, to offer the Dutch people with all that they could want on an evening out. They don’t seem to over-populate the identities of the cities; rather they embellish them, giving them a unique twist. On the public transport I could hardly hear anything but Dutch, with one or two lost tourists whom spoke English amongst themselves. In shops, I would be greeted in Dutch and even when making it apparent that I don’t speak much Dutch, the change and farewell would be still communicated in Dutch. It was very pleasing to see a place where people just seemed genuinely happy and proud with their culture and heritage which didn’t in any way, shape, or form seemed to get altered by the high numbers of immigrants coming into the country. The only place where I could clearly see a sense of over-globalized city was Rotterdam. There, I didn’t sense much of a strong local identity; rather, the tall skyscrapers and big shopping centre with a plethora of shops seemed to take over. The financial epicentre of the country, some would say.

Now let’s switch things over a bit. Let’s talk about a former communist state, Romania, that’s in the rush for becoming a highly globalized state. It is roughly the same size as the UK (98% of its area), with a population of almost 20 million (0.2% non-Romanian), that’s in continuous decline. Romania’s capital Bucharest, housing a population of 1.9 million has 22 malls or big shopping centres scattered throughout its boroughs. Now compare that to just 3 shopping centres that Holland’s capital holds. It is to be taken into consideration that throughout its post-communist years Romania aimed to become a welfare state; something Netherlands was aiming for back in the 80s, until it realised that it cannot operate efficiently under its welfare policies. You might think Romania’s national identity must hold quite strong, given the low number of immigrants coming into the country. Well, not exactly. In the hurry of becoming a developed and fully globalized country, Romania seems to have lost its identity with old buildings of national importance, being demolished to make space for a new development, most likely a complex of flats or another mall. Who are these buildings and shops being built for when most of the people decide to leave the country in hopes of a better future? Maybe instead of building more and more we should be focusing on preserving more, as the Dutch do. They tend to have a museum for everything, for crying out loud, they even have a Museum of Prostitution. Surely for Romania, a country with a history dating back thousands of years there must be plenty to explore.  

Rotting vegetables in a street market in Bucharest. In the background, multinational retailer Carrefour. © Patricia Petrescu

Many will say that globalization is a positive trend that aims to create an inter-connected world, but what happens when globalization overtakes a country leaving nothing but multi-nationals and international department stores? Even if a globalized state tends to create a prosperous life for its citizens by creating more jobs, preservation of culture in developing countries seems to lack tremendously. Preserving the identity and culture of a state does not only help its citizens, but attracts tourists too. A constant stream of tourists coming into the country would further help with changing the perceptions of the country by the foreigners and change their pre-conceived ideas into something culturally engaging. I think that we should embrace globalization but not let it ruin our identities.


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