When nationalism gained importance as an ideology in the 19th century, many of its representatives saw themselves as fighters for freedom.
The starting point was the aristocratic Europe of hereditary monarchies, combined with the remnants of feudal rule and the triumph of capitalism. The aristocrats were not overly tied to their nation or the people. Marriage took place within the estate, which was scattered all over the continent. For a long time, this provided a certain balance in warfare, as neither side wanted to escalate a war to the last, unlike later in the Napoleonic and World Wars.
Within this world, the potential for freedom lay in the people, who could organise themselves politically and thereby create just conditions. The nation was both a necessary condition and a place of longing for this struggle for freedom.
How does this compare to the situation today?
In short, very similar.
Very few of the institutions of the European Union today can seriously claim the title of democratic legitimacy. Why von der Leyen, of all people, was elected President of the Commission was a wonder to the Germans early on, and now to the whole world. Neither was she elected, nor does she have anywhere near the necessary qualifications. The ECB is run like a private company, and more and more Europeans are noticing the damage its monetary policy is doing. And what is the name of your deputy in the Strasbourg Parliament?
If the European Union does not soon see itself in a position to provide its citizens with adequate legitimacy for its actions, the battle of freedom will be waged against it.