Globalism, refugee crisis is fueling xenophobia

By Donald Critchlow
Arizona State University

In March 1991, then-President George H W Bush called for a “New World Order,” a post-Cold War world in which “freedom and respect for human rights find a home among all nations.”

Today, Americans and Europeans are finding what has been called a new world disorder. The sense of disorder has been intensified by the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe which has put as many as 11 million people on the move and rattled the European Union.

Disaffected voters are blaming establishment political leaders for economic stagnation, unwanted immigration and perceived national decay. They are retreating into fierce nationalism encouraged by populist leaders who are challenging the status quo.

Many voters have also lost faith in international and regional organizations they suspect are run by the same established, self-serving politicians who run their own countries.

As an exchange professor teaching in Poland and a distinguished State Department lecturer who traveled throughout Europe in 1989-90, I shared in the optimism reflected in Bush’s quote – although I never quite brought into the thesis that capitalism and liberal democracy had completely triumphed. Nonetheless, at the time, the world seemed to be headed in a generally good direction.

Today, the dream of international cooperation is ending. This political development is worthy of our attention because the rise of ultra-nationalism could lead to demagoguery in politics, violent confrontation between established authorities, angry protests over issues like immigration and tensions between countries.

Rejection of the New World Order

In United States, Donald Trump, the current leader in the polls for the Republican presidential nomination, is drawing enthusiastic support in his call to deport undocumented immigrants primarily from Mexico and Central America. He calls this the first step to “Make America Great Again.”

But this anti-immigrant mood is bigger than Trump. Republican candidate Scott Walker suggested building a wall on the Canadian border. And most of the GOP candidates seem to agree that so-called “anchor babies” are a problem worth a president’s attention.

Many of the themes being sounded by Republican candidates are nothing new. In 1992, journalist Pat Buchanan challenged President George H W Bush for the Republican presidential nomination. Like Trump, Buchanan called for sealing the borders to immigrants. He also suggested erecting high protective tariffs to protect American manufacturing jobs, ending foreign aid and withdrawing American troops from aboard.

At the time Buchanan sounded like an isolated, discontented voice. With the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1989, a new world order seemed an inevitable next step in the long movement toward democracy, universal human rights and a world without sharp borders and high fences.

Buchanan’s views no longer seem so outlandish.

Ultra-nationalism is also growing in Europe. Nationalist parties across Europe are tapping into voters’ economic and cultural anxieties by calling for ending immigration and denouncing the European Union, the International Monetary Fund and international financiers.

Leaders across Eastern Europe in the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia are rejecting the EU call to impose immigrant resettlement quotas in their countries. Protesters across Europe holding signs telling Middle Eastern migrants and refugees to “Go home” in many different ways.

Polish citizens protest plans to accept migrants from Syria and Africa to accommodate requests from the European Commission. | REUTERS/Jakub Ociepa/Agencja Gazeta

Leaders of these parties use fiery populist language, often short on specific policies, on how actually to make their countries great again. Hungary’s prime minister declared last April that the Hungarian nation needed “to construct a new state built on illiberal and national foundations,” not dictated by the European Union.

All of these movements reject Bush’s New World Order, and the current refugee crisis will only make them stronger.

The appeal of protecting your turf

Xenophobic nationalism was mostly dormant after the Second World War, but never completely died. Economic stagnation, high unemployment, growing wealth inequality and rapid cultural changes over the last decade and half reignited ultra-nationalist parties and sentiments.

Today we are witnessing the growing strength in France of Maria Le Pen’s ultra-nationalist National Front Party, right wing nationalist movements in Germany, cultural nationalist movements in Scotland and Spain, and nationalist parties throughout former Soviet bloc countries. These parties are not united and have many differences, but their appeal to nationalist sentiment within their respective countries is the same.

These movements to varying degrees gained momentum with the economic meltdown that began in 2009. The Scottish Nationalist Party – whose political origins can be traced back to the Great Depression of the 1930s – finally came into its own in 2015 UK elections when it won parliamentary seats for Scotland in the House of Commons.

These elections did not help Britain’s other nationalist party, the anti-EU UKIP, which only won a little over 12% of the vote, forcing its leader Nigel Farage to resign. Still, nationalism remains a strong force in British politics. A recent poll shows for the first time that 51% of British voters favor withdrawing from the European Union.

Ultra-nationalist parties are attracting followers on the European continent. Polls in France now place Marine Le Pen’s National Front party topping a presidential poll for the first time with 25 percent of the vote. Recent polls in France show that there has been a decrease in support for taking refugees from Syria, down from 64 percent in July to 56 percent in August. French president Nicolas Sarkory’s supporters are against taking in more Syrian refugees. The age group most opposed to taking more refugees are young voters, those competing for jobs and also the one where the National Front enjoys strong support.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel has called for a quota system for European nations to accept refugees. She is facing her own problems with populist protests, especially the Pegida (Patriotic Europeans against Islamisation of the West) movement. This movement created spontaneous demonstrations in major German cities against Islamic immigrants, but anti-Islamic sentiment is found in Holland, Denmark, France, and throughout Eastern and Central Europe. In Hungary, Viktor Orban has taken an stronger stance, calling for the building of a huge wall to keep out refugees and defending national identity as a Christian nation being overwhelmed with Muslim refugees.

Political turmoil in Europe

The EU established free movement of labor across borders. Hungary and other Eastern European countries want to continue this policy, but forcible redistribution of refugees and immigrants will require border controls.

European leaders know that imposing quotas of resettled refugees without regard to how voters feel will be politically dangerous. Whatever happens, it may be a while before “freedom and respect” find a home in either the United States or Europe.


Donald Critchlow, Professor of History, Arizona State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation

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