Dutch Anti-Islam Politician Taps Into Resurgent Nationalism

Geert Wilders
Dutch Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders listens to a court proceeding in Amsterdam, June 23, 2011 (Reuters/Robin Utrecht)

Dutch politician Geert Wilders called on Sunday for a “new patriotism” to simultaneously “liberate the nations of Europe” from the European Union and fend off what he considers the Islamization of Western culture.

While the Freedom Party leader still peppered a speech in Los Angeles with familiar anti-Islam rhetoric, comparing the religion to a totalitarian ideology, he notably framed his resistance to immigration from non-Western countries as well as the Netherlands’ European Union membership as part of a nationalism that he believes is resurgent across the continent.

Wilders specifically mentioned France’s Front national, Beppe Grillo’s anti-establishment Five Star Movement in Italy, the United Kingdom Independence Party and Euroskeptic former Czech president Václav Klaus as allies in his effort to halt political integration in Europe and abandon the euro.

While there are considerable differences between these groups — Front national, for instance, is protectionist whereas UKIP favors free trade; Grillo is a leftist who, like Klaus, has little to say about immigration whereas the others oppose it — they do all tap into a resurgent nationalism which Wilders argued had been suppressed by elites who mistakingly believed it caused the Second World War. He urged Europeans to redeem the nation state.

The spirit of a people cannot flourish outside the body of the nation state. The nation state is the political body in which we live. We must preserve and cherish it. So that we can pass on to our children our national identity, our democracy, our liberty.

The European Union and Islam equally threaten the European nation state, he added. The former because it “is built on a negation of democracy”; the latter because it doesn’t conform to Europe’s Judeo-Christian and humanist traditions.

Wilders’ Freedom Party, which outpolled both the ruling Labor and liberal parties in a recent survey, has emphasized its Euroskepticism since the Dutch had to participate in bailing out profligate member states of the currency union in the Mediterranean while their own economy contracted, necessitating budget cuts and tax increases. Wilders first tried to connect the two by arguing that European policies prevented the Netherlands from curtailing immigration from Muslim countries, something he said he came to realize while his party backed Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s first government with the Christian Democrats which failed to persuade other European countries to change the bloc’s migration rules.

The latest approach looks more promising. It puts Wilders’ party, which has otherwise defied conventional labels — it is usually described as far right even as it cherishes welfare state programs and has embraced Keynesian economics — in the national conservative end of the political spectrum where there is virtually no competition. Rutte’s pro-business party also campaigns on law and order issues but is economically as well as socially liberal. The Christian Democrats have a strong leftist minority in their party that fiercely criticized their alliance with Wilders in the last government. Neither is particularly Euroskeptic.

If Wilders manages this transformation, he might expand his Freedom Party’s appeal to include a right-wing constituency that has so far regarded him as a firebrand whose populist policy proposals seemed ideologically incoherent. That would also help make it a permanent force in Dutch politics, now doubtful given Wilders’ resistance to party democratization and his struggles in finding respectable candidates.

Argentina Might Lead Wave of Resource Nationalism

Despite the Arab Spring, it was not a Middle Eastern country which grabbed biggest headlines for resource nationalism in 2012. It was Argentina, where populist President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner proposed a bill on April 16 to renationalize Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales (YPF), the country’s largest energy company. Her idea was subsequently approved in early May 2012 by the Argentinian legislature.

The move sent shock waves across the global energy industry, the desks of geostrategists and political risk consultants. Leaders from Europe to Mexico rushed to criticize the move. Kirchner cited the need to keep energy prices manageable for Argentinians but at that time, the price of gasoline within the country was actually less than the price at the pump to be found in some of its neighbors.

The renationalization of YPF, at the time largely owned by Spain’s Repsol, came at a time when some geostrategists were predicting a shift in global energy politics from the Middle East to the Americas. North and South America are home to the largest oil resources outside of the Middle East and North Africa. Read more “Argentina Might Lead Wave of Resource Nationalism”

Secessionist Movements Threaten EU Foundation

Catalans demonstrate for independence from Spain in Barcelona, July 10, 2010
Catalans demonstrate for independence from Spain in Barcelona, July 10, 2010 (Wikimedia Commons/Josep Renalias)

The overwhelming electoral success of Flanders’ nationalists this weekend can be seen as part of a larger Western European regionalization movement that threatens the very foundation of the European Union.

In Belgium, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom, secessionist groups are on the rise while across the north of Europe, popular resentment to the prospect of perennial transfer union is mounting. Read more “Secessionist Movements Threaten EU Foundation”

China Seen Wipping Up Anti-Japan Demonstrations

Anti-Japan protests across China intensified over the weekend as demonstrators vandalized Japanese products and businesses in more than fifty cities. With Japanese companies announcing plans to close temporarily, tensions between Asia’s two great powers mount.

The protests, coming after Japan purchased the disputed Senkaku Islands, known as Diaoyu in China, to which countries claim as sovereign territory, are believed to be the worst in years. Japan finalized a deal to purchase three of the islands from their private owner last week.

The move was likely taken to prevent tensions with China from escalating further after the outspoken governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, said that he planned to buy them for development. However, when Prime Minister Yoshiko Noda took a hardline position when he reiterated that the islands are Japanese territory, both historically and from international law, nationalists in China were outraged.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei denounced the sale as illegal and said that China would take “necessary measures” to defend its sovereignty. Soon, two Chinese surveillance ships were seen around the islands, resulting in Japan mobilizing its Coast Guard. A few days later, six Chinese surveillance vessels were reported briefly entering Japanese waters. On Monday, a flotilla of up to 1,000 Chinese fishing boats was believed to be on their way to the islands.

American defense secretary Leon Panetta was in Japan over the weekend and announced an agreement to deploy a second radar on Japanese territory in order to beef up its missile defense systems. Panetta said that the system was meant as a defense to North Korean missiles but China believes that it is pointed against it.

Panetta arrived in Beijing on Monday and was scheduled to meet with Chinese vice president and leader in waiting Xi Jinping on Wednesday.

In the meantime, Japanese companies are halting business temporarily on the mainland as a result of the protests. Canon said that it would close its factories. Honda, Mazda and Nissan announced similar measures. Sony is said to be discouraging nonessential travel to China while popular Japanese retailer Uniqlo is closing stores too.

All sides are bracing for what happens on Tuesday, the anniversary of the Manchurian Incident of September 18, 1931. On that day, Japan staged an explosion on a Japanese owned railway which led to Imperial Japan’s invasion and occupation of China.

The protests may be orchestrated by the Chinese government as part of its longtime practice of whipping up nationalism, usually against Japan, to serve its geopolitical aims. Accordingly, the authorities allow Chinese nationalists to vent their anger for a period of time before putting an end to the unrest. By preventing the demonstrations from getting out of control, they allow the public to let off some steam and keep the protests from eventually threatening the Communist Party itself.

According to Caixan, a respected Chinese newspaper, the protesters are mainly males in their twenties and thirties. Its reporter approached one of the policemen guarding the protest route and asked if it was all right to take part without a permit, which the government requires. The policeman said that it was fine since “the organizer” had a permit. But when the reporter asked if it was okay to protest about corruption in China, the policeman said no. Only protests related to the Diaoyu Islands were permitted.

Nationalism Fuels East Asian Island Disputes

Tensions between China and Japan have flared up again after heavily publicized political stunts by nationalists over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea that both countries lay claim to.

The islands, known as Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan, continue to elicit strident nationalism among their respective populations. But these episodes are just the latest in a series of tit for tat actions across Asia that is increasing the chance of events spinning out of control and resulting in a regional conflagration. Read more “Nationalism Fuels East Asian Island Disputes”

Nationalism Looms Over South China Sea Disputes

Hillary Clinton
American secretary of state Hillary Clinton delivers remarks at a summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, July 11 (State Department/William Ng)

The annual ministerial meeting of the ASEAN Regional Forum in Phnom Penh, Cambodia this week hosts a myriad economic and trade discussions but the real focus is on the growing security concerns in the South China Sea amid the backdrop of an increasingly testy relationship between China and the United States.

Officials in the region must figure out how to put the nationalist genie back in the bottle regarding the South China Sea disputes because it is preventing cooler heads from prevailing in resolving it.

A binding agreement governing conduct in the sea would be considered a very positive development but that will likely prove too difficult to achieve given the current climate and the emotions surrounding the issue. Read more “Nationalism Looms Over South China Sea Disputes”

To Putin’s Dismay, Russian Nationalism on the Rise

The Moscow Times reports an increasingly apparent nationalist streak in Russia’s street protests against the government of President Vladimir Putin. Ultranationalists are joining ranks with otherwise left leaning demonstrators.

Many observers of the June 12 opposition rally noted a large presence of nationalist groups — from ones carrying the yellow and black imperial flag, the banner of the nationalist movement, to more marginal groups like Great Russia, which sported black Nazi style uniforms with armbands and garrison caps.

Rather than the typically young and liberal protesters who have drawn Western media attention, Putin recognizes that this rising nationalism — which he may have fueled, at least in part — is the greater threat to his regime’s stability and that of Russia in general. Read more “To Putin’s Dismay, Russian Nationalism on the Rise”

Obama Touts Message of Economic Nationalism

President Barack Obama touted a message of economic nationalism in his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, promising to rebuild American manufacturing and suggesting that it’s only because of other countries’ unfair trade practices that the United States suffer.

“Our workers are the most productive on Earth,” said the president, “and if the playing field is level, I promise you, America will always win.”

The playing field isn’t level and hasn’t been level in decades. America has, in part, itself to blame yet the president defended the most blatant of government interventions of recent years when he touted the success of the 2008 bailouts of Chrysler and General Motors.

The Detroit automakers are flourishing anew and the president said their revival could be mirrored in other cities. “It can happen in Cleveland and Pittsburgh and Raleigh,” he said, referring to cities in Rust Belt states that used to employ tens of thousands in factories but have seen many jobs outsourced to Asia and Mexico over the course of the last two decades.

“We can’t bring every job back that’s left our shore,” he admitted but with labor costs rising in China, the United States “have a huge opportunity, at this moment, to bring manufacturing back. But we have to seize it,” the president said.

We should start with our tax code. Right now, companies get tax breaks for moving jobs and profits overseas. Meanwhile, companies that choose to stay in America get hit with one of the highest tax rates in the world. It makes no sense, and everyone knows it. So let’s change it.

The president didn’t advocate a lower corporate tax rate which, at 35 percent, is among the highest in the developed world, second only to Japan’s. Rather, he would raise taxes on businesses that want to outsource jobs. “That money should be used to cover moving expenses for companies […] that decide to bring jobs home.”

Multinational companies that are able to avoid paying a high tax rate by “moving jobs and profits overseas” should pay a basic minimum tax, said the president. Manufacturing companies should get a tax cut instead.

It is time to stop rewarding businesses that ship jobs overseas and start rewarding companies that create jobs right here in America.

If that isn’t the government picking winners and losers and deciding what the “playing field” should look like, what is?

The president doesn’t merely want to reward companies that follow his orders; he wants to help them with small business loans, programs that retrain workers and trade sanctions “when our competitors don’t play by the rules.” That’s China which (also) subsidizes its domestic industries and manipulates the value of its currency to keep exports cheap.

To crack down on “unfair” Chinese trade practices, the president announced the creation of a Trade Enforcement Unit to carry out “more inspections to prevent counterfeit or unsafe goods from crossing our borders.”

When it’s American companies that have an unfair advantage in the form of bailouts or subsidies or tax breaks, or when it’s American companies that “steal” other countries’ jobs by moving production back home, the president welcomed it though, promising to “go anywhere in the world to open new markets for American products.” He even took credit for trade agreements that were negotiated by his predecessor and took him more than two years to enact.

Tuesday’s State of the Union wasn’t a message of free trade. It wasn’t a message of America adjusting to the challenges of globalization nor of a country preparing to lead the world economy in the twenty-first century. It was a message of economic nationalism where the success of one nation necessarily comes at the expense of another and where government intervenes with trade barriers and bureaucratic obstructionism to protect domestic manufacturers from competition overseas. That’s not how America wins the future.

Fear of Change Propels Populists to Power

Throughout Europe, fringe movements have been able to maneuver themselves into the political spectrum, rallying anti-immigration forces and a renewed sense of nationalism with considerable electoral success. While the world is globalizing and Europe becoming one, millions of people, from Finland to Italy, want to have no part of multiculturalism and change. Read more “Fear of Change Propels Populists to Power”