Opinion

Karoline Postel-Vinay: We've not seen the back of Geert Wilders' kind yet...

Geert Wilders may have lost the Dutch election but populism isn’t finished. A new kind of illiberal democracy is taking hold, warns Karoline Postel-Vinay

Geert Wilders faces the media after being rejected by the Dutch electorate

For more than 10 years the world has been witnessing a sharp spike in nationalist tensions, coupled with flare-ups in xenophobia and nativism. But it took Brexit and the election of Donald Trump to spark a real conversation about the global rise in neo-nationalism. Western European and North American journalists, intellectuals and acad-emics are just now getting to grips with the magnitude of this trend.

This is understandable, given the concrete prospect of profound political change taking place within the world’s leading power, and elections in founding EU countries. Donald Trump, Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders remain the most commonly cited figures in this new nationalist landscape.

Hungary’s Viktor Orban, Poland’s Andrzej Duda and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan often come in for a mention, as do India’s Narendra Modi and the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte.

Twenty years ago, Indian-American journalist and author Fareed Zakaria denounced the rise of “illiberal democ-racy”. In South America, north Africa, the Middle East, the Balkans, south and southeast Asia, democratic elections – sometimes overseen by international observers – had given rise to authoritarian, ultra-nationalist regimes, quick to eviscerate the civil liberties and rights of those opposing their nationalist programme.

However, putting aside the Balkan states, the phenomenon did not appear to directly affect western countries. In the heart of Europe, the fall of the Berlin Wall had given rise to a powerful geopolitical narrative – one that proved lasting, despite early signs of structural weakness. This narrative told of the destruction of all walls across the globe, and of a joyful and irresistible melding of societies, benefitting the new trans-national powers. In this view, favoured by international companies and supported by internationals NGOs, economic liberalisation would go hand in hand with political liberalisation. Under the influence of this optimistic outlook, western public debate saw “illiberal democracy” as a side issue. However, over the years, what was supposed to be peripheral and secondary became surprisingly substantial and overcame the mental barriers meant to contain it.

This new vision of a world crisscrossed with walls is easily propagated with the help of the internet and social media

The creation of the BRICS forum, bringing together Brazil, Russia, India, China and later South Africa was initially seen as the assertion of a new non-western, or even post-western, power. However, its real combining force was a militant nationalism, ill at ease with global governing bodies that were perceived as too intrusive.

This is even more evident today, with the nationalist escalation taking place in Moscow, Beijing, New Delhi and, to a lesser extent, in Brazil, where ultra-nationalist Jair Bolsonaro is fast gaining ground. The alliance between neo-nationalist leaders now cuts through the western/non-western divide, as demonstrated by Vladimir Putin’s support for Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen. Collusion between new nationalists may seem improbable and even antithetical, given that nationalist dogma is, by nature, separatist. Yet it has enabled the development of a remarkably powerful worldwide narrative, in direct opposition to the optim-istic globalisation of the post-Cold War period. In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan demanded that Mikhail Gorbachev destroy the Berlin Wall. Thirty years later, Donald Trump proclaims that the world needs more walls between nations. This new vision of a world crisscrossed with walls is easily propagated with the help of globalisation’s ultimate tools: the internet and social media. Without access to mainstream media outlets, those whose neo-nationalist convictions were decidedly on the fringe 10 years ago focused their energies on the manifold possibilities for communication, rallying and sharing provided by the internet.

In tune with their supporters, the major figures of nationalist populism are also masters of “hi-tech populism”, as comment-ator Aditya Chakrabortty described Narendra Modi’s modus operandi. Before being overtaken by Donald Trump, the Indian Prime Minister held the record for the highest number of political tweets. Traditional politicians are simply not as well connected as the new nationalists.

Join The Ride Out Recession Alliance

The Ride Out Recession Alliance (RORA) will develop and implement practical steps and solutions to prevent families losing their homes, and help people remain in employment.

Learn More

Invited to the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, the leader of the pro-Brexit campaign, Nigel Farage, called for a “global revolution” led by nationalists of all countries.

Meanwhile, the few remaining advocates for an open, interdependent world appear to show no interest in organising a cross-border movement on such a scale.

Karoline Postel-Vinay is research director at the university Sciences Po – USPC. This article was originally published in The Conversation

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
TV portrayals of social workers are harming the profession. We need to change the script
Colum Conway

TV portrayals of social workers are harming the profession. We need to change the script

Austerity has pushed young homeless people to back of queue for help. The government must act
Centrepoint on youth homelessness
Dr Tom Kerridge

Austerity has pushed young homeless people to back of queue for help. The government must act

Ultra-processed food is often blamed for obesity – but we should be looking at government policy
Mark Game

Ultra-processed food is often blamed for obesity – but we should be looking at government policy

Billionaires are making a killing during cost of living crisis – we can't afford to accept this
Daisy Pearson

Billionaires are making a killing during cost of living crisis – we can't afford to accept this

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know