That disturbingly flexible phrase "fear of the other" appears to be driving electoral politics around the world right now. Perhaps the intellectual center can be found in central Europe, specifically Viktor Orban's Hungary. Since taking office in 2010, the smooth-talking right-wing prime minister has been a singular voice for those who see the West as under threat from alien forces. Eyes will be on Hungary this weekend, where Orban is sponsoring a referendum that would reject European Union policy on handling the influx of migrants and refugees, relying on billboards that blame migration for the terrorist attacks in Paris and rapes in Europe.
By now, we have grown used to seeing the language and tactics of those using the fear of the other to achieve their political aims — from Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines to Donald Trump in Council Bluffs, Iowa. But in Europe, history pushes people to do some hard thinking about where all of this comes from, and where it is going. Andreas Zielcke, writing in the Munich-based daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, notes how the otherwise neutral concept of "national identity" is turning sour in the face of an economic crisis and social instability in the West. "Only when national identity is threatened in the larger "collective mind" does it then become an integral part of the political agenda," Zielcke writes. "When unchallenged, national identity is an epic tale, looking towards the future. When threatened, it becomes a drama focused on the past. In the whirlpools of the refugee maelstrom it is becoming an identity that is above all about self-defense."
Polls show overwhelming support for Orban's anti-immigrant referendum. For the election result to be binding, at least half of all registered voters need to cast their ballot on Sunday. The link between fear of the other and voter turnout has never been more important.
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