Is Globalisation Really Fuelling Populism?

One world / courtesy of Kai Schreiber/flickr

This article was originally published by the the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) on 11 May 2016.

On both sides of the Atlantic, populism on the left and the right is on the rise. Its most visible standard-bearer in the United States is Donald Trump, the Republican Party’s presumptive presidential nominee. In Europe, there are many strands – from Spain’s leftist Podemos party to France’s right-wing National Front – but all share the same opposition to centrist parties and to the establishment in general. What accounts for voters’ growing revolt against the status quo?

The prevailing explanation is that rising populism amounts to a rebellion by ‘globalisation’s losers’. By pursuing successive rounds of trade liberalisation, the logic goes, leaders in the US and Europe ‘hollowed out’ the domestic manufacturing base, reducing the availability of high-paying jobs for low-skilled workers, who now have to choose between protracted unemployment and menial service-sector jobs. Fed up, those workers are now supposedly rejecting establishment parties for having spearheaded this ‘elite project’.

Kim Jong Un’s Popularity, Explained

Sketched portrait of Kim Jong Un,leader of North Korea. Image: Monico Chavez/Wikimedia

This article was originally published by NK News on 27 September, 2015. Republished with permission.

A survey of North Korean refugees attracted some attention several weeks ago. According to the survey, a full 63 percent of recently arrived refugees believed that Kim Jong Un enjoys support amongst a majority of the North Korean public.

Such findings are not all that surprising for people who interact with North Koreans frequently enough. Indeed, while the protruding belly, plump cheeks and rather bizarre haircut present a somewhat comical picture to Western audiences, a significant number of North Koreans feel much hope about the third incarnation of Kimhood, finding the young leader attractive and somewhat charismatic.

Japan’s Nationalist Turn

Anti-China protests in Tokyo. Photo: Taka@PPRS/flickr

TOKYO – Japan has been in the news lately, owing to its dispute with China over six square kilometers of barren islets in the East China Sea that Japan calls the Senkakus and China calls the Diaoyu Islands. The rival claims date back to the late nineteenth century, but the recent flare-up, which led to widespread anti-Japanese demonstrations in China, started in September when Japan’s government purchased three of the tiny islets from their private Japanese owner.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has said that he decided to purchase the islands for the Japanese central government to prevent Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara from purchasing them with municipal funds. Ishihara, who has since resigned from office to launch a new political party, is well known for nationalist provocation, and Noda feared that he would try to occupy the islands or find other ways to use them to provoke China and whip up popular support in Japan. Top Chinese officials, however, did not accept Noda’s explanation, and interpreted the purchase as proof that Japan is trying to disrupt the status quo.

Bolivar’s Exhumation: Chavez’s Orwellian Cult of (His Own) Personality

President Hugo Chavez speaks in front of a portrait of Simon Bolivar, photo: Sheila Steele/flickr

Hugo Chavez’s latest bout of political theater reeks of George Orwell. In his dystopian novel, 1984, Orwell shrewdly points out that “those who control the present, control the past, and those who control the past, control the future,” an assertion Chavez seems to have taken to heart. The Venezuelan president’s recent decision to exhume the body of legendary hero and national founder, Simon Bolivar, has sparked an onslaught of international criticism about the president’s persistent eccentricities and obsession with the national figure. According to Chavez, a self-professed admirer, follower and disciple of Bolivar, the exhumation seeks to allow forensic scientists to discover the real cause of Bolivar’s death; Chavez believes Bolivar was possibly poisoned by Colombian traitors. The aberrant decision has reinforced perceptions that Chavez is a mad man who is losing his grip of reality; but how crazy is he really?

The search for possible reasons behind the exhumation has yielded a plethora of theories.  Some say Chavez wishes to divert attention from domestic problems such as the economy’s unrelenting recession or a recent scandal over imported food left rotting in the country’s ports. Others claim that, if he can prove that Bolivar was indeed poisoned by Colombian traitors, Chavez would use such evidence to support his contentious relationship with the current Colombian government. Yet others believe that Chavez seeks to use Bolivar’s body as a political gimmick to rile up support for his Bolivarian movement ahead of crucial parliamentary votes in September. Regardless of which theory turns out to be right, one thing is clear: Chavez wants to use Bolivar’s symbolic power to pursue his own ends, whatever they may turn out to be.