Ordinary citizens were eager to hear speeches on transparency; they voted for those who were promising reconciliation, friendship and peace.
Today, even in the most democratic countries such as the US or EU member states, presidential candidates are in a race against each other to determine who is more nationalistic, more patriotic, more xenophobic or more skillful to crush the country’s enemies. In less democratic countries, the rhetoric is the same, maybe a little bit more dreadful. However, there is a difference between the democratic and less democratic countries in the reasons why people are voting more and more in favor of extreme right or nationalistic ideas.
In most of the democratic countries, the target of the extreme-rightist or ethnocentric politicians are the “others” who live in the country. This is mainly about xenophobia and racism, presenting immigrants and their ways of life as the most urgent threat that needs to be dealt with. Not only foreign residents but citizens with immigrant origins, too, are qualified as unwanted people. These politicians are promoting the idea that there is a difference between a “citizen” and a “real citizen,” and while the latter can enjoy all of the rights, others must leave the country or at least remain as invisible as possible.
In less democratic countries, the nature of the nationalistic rhetoric is different. In their case, the “existential threat” is not essentially coming from inside but outside the country. The “outsiders” are not always identified as foreign countries, but as all kind of foreign actors. Politicians in those countries are frightening their citizens by claiming that foreign powers are determined to attack them, divide their country and destroy their state or political system.
The modalities of this “attack” differ according to the circumstances. In small and relatively weak countries, politicians are talking about foreign occupation; in relatively big and medium-power countries, they evoke foreign conspiracies aimed at destabilizing the country.
To find concrete examples in democratic and developed countries, one can look at the Tea Party in the US or the National Front in France. For less or not-at-all democratic ones, some Middle Eastern countries set good examples. The leaders of Iran and Syria, for example, are so obsessed with the possibility of foreign military intervention that one wonders if this threat was nonexistent, what they would talk about.
Another interesting example is Vladimir Putin’s Russia. The current prime minister and also the presidential candidate of Russia seems to have adopted the “foreign foes” rhetoric. He says that Russia must have a strong army as this country is threatened by, apparently, everyone around. It wouldn’t be unfair to claim that he is quite nostalgic about the “good old days.”
What do we learn from this wave of nationalism? The citizens of democratic countries believe that they are threatened by their immigrant neighbors, especially the Arab, Muslim or Roma ones. In less democratic countries, however, the archenemies remain the US and Israel. This is particularly sad for US President Barack Obama when you think that his objective was to present the US as a friendly country. However, the perception of the US by Middle Eastern nations doesn’t seem to have much changed since George W. Bush left the White House.
All this does not augur well for the future. Is there anyone in those countries who sometimes wonders why two world wars have broken out in the 20th century