Who and what are the “voices of the people”? In terms of “who”, this refers to the people discussed in this article: citizens who want to say more about what their rulers are doing and are not satisfied with current political arrangements – be it in the context of an existing democracy, like we in the countries of Europe in democratically unfree environments such as the Arab countries of the Middle East and North Africa as well as Hong Kong a political environment that is characterized by both democratic and undemocratic characteristics. The voices we examine in this article are linked to popular protests. You are not new; Instead, they have been a topic of politics and international relations for centuries. An early example was the French Revolution of 1789, when the old order was overturned and replaced, at least for a while, by a popular, revolutionary government. Nowadays, popular movements trying to express “the voices of the people” seem to be increasing in frequency and importance.
In addition to the availability of instant communication via the Internet, the phenomenon of the mobilization of ordinary people in search of meaningful – and often urgent – policy changes raises important questions for policy and IR: How do changes occur at the national level and what other effects does this have? at national, regional and global level? A recent development has been the emergence of a new kind of political actor in Europe and elsewhere: populist movements and parties, the main purpose of which is to challenge those in power who are considered to be far removed from the mass of common people and uninvolved in their hopes, Fears and aspirations. Finally, the article also examines both people in democratic political environments who demand more from those in power, and those who live in politically unfree countries and who demand a more representative and responsive government.
The article is divided into three sections. The first section looks at the impact of globalization on popular demands for fundamental political and economic changes in many countries. The second section discusses an important manifestation of such calls for change: the rise in the attractiveness of populist leaders and movements in the context of what many see as a government crisis. The third section is divided into three case studies. Each is a representation of people’s voices raised in three contexts: the Arab Spring and its aftermath, the anti-China protests in Hong Kong, and the Brexit referendum in Britain. While each of the case studies raises different questions that reflect the specific concerns of each expression of popular protest, what they have in common is similar in each case: an ongoing attack on the status quo and a consistent call for fundamental reforms in the lives of the people Improve people.
Change in a globalizing world
In today’s world there are numerous examples of popular demand for major political and economic changes. Often the two are closely related. Such demands generally arise at a time when politicians seem unable to keep their promises. Take, for example, the year 2008 – described by Amartya Sen (2009) as “a year of crises”. First, there was a food crisis that affected poorer consumers, especially in African countries, as the staple foods in their diets often became unaffordable. Second, there was an increase in oil prices that increased the cost of fuel and petroleum products worldwide. Finally, in the fall of 2008, there was an economic crisis in the United States that quickly spread and exacerbated previous problems, and the world economy stalled. What does the economic downturn have to do with the “voices of the people”? The answer lies in the networking of our world.
For many people today, especially in the richer industrialized countries, everyday life is characterized by simple and fast communication. Of course, many areas of developing countries still suffer from poverty and infrastructure problems and therefore do not have the benefits of global communication. Nevertheless, it is now widespread to find smartphones that are getting cheaper and cheaper and are increasing in the poorest regions of the world – for example in all of sub-Saharan Africa. Improved communication is a fundamental aspect of a broader phenomenon: globalization. Globalization enables many of us to learn about the communications revolution quickly and consistently about events around the world almost as soon as they occur. Globalization has literally shrunk the world and made it interactive. If something happens in one country, it can quickly affect others. In this article we deal with a worldwide phenomenon: the voices of the people who demand better and more responsive governments by voicing popular protests, be it on the ballot or on the streets.
The deepening and ongoing globalization coincide with the global events after the end of the Cold War. When the Soviet Union dissolved in the early 1990s, it gave way to a number of new independent post-communist states that redrawn the map from Central Europe to Central Asia. 15 new states were created, including Russia. It also ushered in a dynamic phase of globalization that influenced our understanding of politics and international relations in many ways. First, the end of the Cold War brought the study of politics and international relations to a state of flux. Soon after the end of the Cold War there was talk of a new international order. This reflected a widespread optimism that international cooperation could be improved and a renewed commitment to strengthening key international organizations, particularly the United Nations. The aim was to achieve several key goals, including better and fairer development; Reducing inequalities between the sexes; Solving and settling armed conflicts; fewer human rights abuses and the ability to fight environmental degradation and degradation, including the harmful effects of climate change. In short, the goal has been to address multiple global dependencies by improving the negotiation, negotiation and consensus processes that involve both states and various non-state actors, including the United Nations (Haynes, 2005).
However, it quickly became apparent that there was a lack of workable or well-supported ideas on how to achieve the desired improvements. In the 1990s there were serious outbreaks of national and international conflicts. Many were political and the demand for democracy was made clear. Others were religious, ethnic, or nationalist conflicts. Many went to the neighboring states. When these events occurred, local or national problems quickly led to regional or international crises. Examples of this are conflicts in Africa – in Burundi, Haiti, Rwanda and Somalia – and also in Europe, where Yugoslavia tore apart in the 1990s and was finally divided into seven states. All of this has led to serious and in many cases unresolved humanitarian crises that required outside intervention. These conflicts demonstrated how difficult it is to move from the problems of the old international order that marked the Cold War into a new era marked by international peace, prosperity and cooperation (Haynes, Hough, Malik and Pettiford, 2017 ).
In the 2010s, many Western democracies experienced both widespread political dissatisfaction and a novel phenomenon: populism. Populism is the advocacy of the common people by political leaders who make it their business to portray themselves as men or women of the people who are willing and able to respond to popular concerns when those in power seem to be ignoring them or not addressing them appropriately. This article deals in part with the issue of people’s voices by examining the emergence and development of populist political leaders and movements in Europe and the United States.
The rise of populism and the crisis of government
Recently, there has been increased public concern about the state of politics, economics and society in many countries, including Western democratic countries. Populist politicians have recently achieved electoral successes not only in many European countries but also in the USA. What is populism and what do populist politicians want to achieve? The first goal of populist politicians is to strengthen the political order by getting rid of the old ruling elites and replacing them with themselves. Populist politicians claim to be the only authentic political voices who are not afraid to tell the truth and say things as they really are. This leads to the second goal of the populist politician: to defend the mass of the common people against those in power who have different goals than those of the ordinary citizen. Third, populists claim to stand up for the rights of the “common people” against those they claim they want to profit at their expense.
It is no coincidence that populist politicians and parties have sprung up in different parts of the world, including Europe and the United States, in recent years. The economic shocks following the global economic crisis of 2008 were followed by serious and ongoing questioning of the relevance and capacity of existing political orders. What is the point of democracy, some have asked, if it cannot protect us from economic disaster, as it did in 2008? Is it time to try something different? Until the early 2000s, many believed that democracy was the best and most desirable political system, not least because it allowed the common people to have a say in who governed them and how they were governed. Over the past decade, the notion that the most achievable form of government is democratically elected has been widely questioned. Even in long-established democracies like the United States, there is growing support for the idea of a nondemocratic, unelected, “strong” government that will get the country back on track. In 2015, almost a third of Americans would have been happy about a military takeover (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/sep/11/military-coup-some-americans-would-vote-) Yes ).
Why has the value of representative democracy been called into question even in countries like the US that have had democratic systems for decades? It is sometimes claimed that around the world, not just in existing democracies, many citizens are becoming increasingly angry and frustrated with the idea of “Business as and instead look for alternatives that more closely reflect their political, economic, cultural and social preferences. The “system”, so many believe, is “broken”. What can be done against a perceived growth? Gap between elected politicians and the citizens who vote for them? One answer, claims Richard Youngs (2019), is a new wave of “citizen activism” which he describes as “citizen activism unleashed”. By this he means that in many parts of the world – including Europe, the US, the Arab world, and Hong Kong – the mass organization of citizens, often led by young people, are central to new civic movements, which is typically the case with Put Novel Forms of direct action against their governments by frequently taking to the streets to protest. Sometimes they seem to operate without clear guides, and they may even lack well-defined goals. What does that have to do with democracy? Is this new breed of citizens’ movement supporting or undermining democracy? The answer is unclear: some examples of “citizen activism” seek “more democracy” (or “less oppression”) – for example in Hong Kong. In other countries, such as the Arab countries of the Middle East, which have been plagued by regular, sometimes sustained political and economic upheavals and anti-government demonstrations since 2011, there are persistent popular demands for “more freedom” and a better standard of living. In the UK, a referendum in June 2016 resulted in Great Britain leaving the European Union in early 2020. This demand was reinforced by popular protests against immigration and the alleged control of Britain by an outside agency, the EU.
Each of these examples underscores that many people believe that their rulers, whether democratically elected or not, have failed on some important counts. The result is that millions of people around the world have taken to the streets in recent years to protest something they don’t like and which they believe their governments could do quickly and effectively but choose not to. Most are examples of what we have referred to above as “new” citizen activism. They almost always focus on local or national issues rather than international issues. A second common factor is the lack of institutionalization of the “new” citizen activism. That said, they are usually spontaneous eruptions, often organized over the internet. An example of this is this Gilets Jaunes Movement in France. Recently there has been a sharp decline in President Macron’s satisfaction ratings in the country, reflecting the rise of the popular opposition movement, the Gilets Jaunes. However, it wasn’t that clear what exactly that was Gilets wanted, although it was easy to see how dissatisfied they were with the status quo and were looking for fundamental changes to the existing order (Wilkin, 2020).
In addition to France, populist politicians and movements have also increased in many European countries. While everyone has a national focus, the broader context among populists in Europe is a more general one: dissatisfaction with the status quo, including in some cases such as the UK with Brexit, the outcome of which reflected widespread public concern about perceived overcontrol European Union (EU) with a number of local and national issues. Many voices of the people who grew up in populist protests in European countries deal with what they consider to be uncontrolled immigration. Many European citizens, not just in the UK but in Germany, Italy and Sweden among others, believe that their own governments are unwilling or unable to adequately control immigration and that membership of the EU is an obstacle to the withdrawal could be control ‘to get the problem under control.
As in Europe, populist leaders have recently risen in the US. Like Europe, the USA has long been considered a pioneer and bastion of liberal democracy. The founding philosophy, values, and political culture of the United States are generally seen as being indelibly rooted in liberal democratic beliefs and values, an interpretation of the world that does not see any other ideological approach to politics and life as acceptable, valid, or necessary. What has changed in the last years?
Since November 2016, numerous words have been written about the unexpected election of Donald Trump as president. While the US Constitution, political framework and processes do not identify the presidency as an institution with sole or absolute power, the American political system has traditionally been one in which the president is seen as much more than just a figurehead. qualitatively, the president is more powerful than any other political entity. In theory, Trump’s election was “just another” rise to power for a new CEO, the 45th President of the United States. Trump’s election and presidency turned out to be quite controversial, however.
As Trump’s presidency developed, it became clear that America today is ideologically polarized between often strong supporters of the president and his sometimes vocal opponents. While an ideological polarization has been developing in the USA for years, which is characterized, for example, by the rise of the right-wing populist Tea Party in the early 2000s, there is traditionally no such split in America. This is because the US has long been viewed as a nation with an expansive, far-reaching political center, where all mainstream politicians – that is, the vast majority – compete for political favor and citizen votes in regular, free and fair elections . Traditionally in the United States, politicians seeking public office make their appeals to voters and express and justify their political ideas by addressing the political center, that is, the ordinary voter.
DiMaggio (2019) claims that big business dictates political (and economic) outcomes in the US. As a result, the country’s democratic foundations and political culture have been systematically undermined over time by the rise of corporate power. Di Maggio (2019) claims the big corporation controls the two main political parties in the US: Democratic and Republican. When it comes to political polarization, the division between large corporations, which appear to be solely geared towards increasing profits, and the interests of many “ordinary” people who deal with quality of life issues is politically expressed. DiMaggio (2019) claims that this is on the one hand a “deal for Trump” and on the other hand a radical “anti-Trump” movement.
The Arab Spring and its consequences
The difficulties of people who work together purposefully, even if they objectively share the same interests and concerns, are underscored by the decades of development of the Arab Spring, also known as the Arab uprisings. The Arab Spring / Uprising began in Tunisia in late 2010. Now, a decade later, there is a renewed wave of popular discontent in many Arab countries in North Africa and the Middle East. As with the events of the Arab Spring, popular concerns are centered on universal problems: a perceived lack of democracy, few economic opportunities, especially for young people, what some see as a lack of equality between women and men. Collectively, such concerns arise. A situation in which many people, especially young people, see little hope for a satisfactory future. Frustration and disappointment sometimes inundate and in the absence of general legitimate political ways to express dissatisfaction, people take to the streets and thus show their concerns.
As of 2011, many countries in the Middle East and North Africa (i.e. the so-called Arab world) saw political stability undermined as a result of such protective measures, which were both political and economic in origin. The targets of popular anger were usually political leaders who were often viewed as corrupt and undemocratic. While Arab peoples live in very different political states, the demonstrators were united by a sense of alienation from political power. Even so, the decade since the beginning of the Arab Spring has not seen any significant progress towards a more democratic image in any of the countries in the region, except perhaps in Tunisia, which is a functioning democracy. There was no uniformity in what happened later, no sweeping return to deep authoritarian regimes, since demands for fundamental change are not punished. In some cases, old dictators remain in power, while in other cases, new undemocratic leaders took control of the ballot box. Some regional countries, like Egypt, saw the overthrow of the old authoritarian leaders, a brief period of democracy, and then a new group of authoritarians took over. What is clear is that a decade of simmering rebellion has changed much of North Africa and the Middle East in general. What is unclear, however, is what the ultimate outcome will be in terms of political and economic outcomes. In Libya, the long-standing regime of the Muammar Gaddafi regime was overthrown by rebels in 2011, supported by international interventions in the form of a bombing campaign by the Organization of the North Atlantic Treaty (NATO). But a decade later the country is still ungoverned and apparently ungovernable, fragmented into numerous, sometimes mutually hostile statelets and fiefdoms. As a result, the prospect of a restored nation-state seems very distant. In Libyan neighbor Syria, the country’s civil war shows no sign of an end after a decade of conflict. A protracted war is also rumbling in Yemen.
What does a decade of political instability and upheaval in the Middle East and North Africa tell us about the voices of the people? On the one hand, this shows that many people in numerous regional countries are not satisfied with the status quo and try to express dissatisfaction in both “legitimate” (ballot box) and “illegitimate” (demonstrations and riots) ways. Second, the upheavals after the Arab Spring show how many regional regimes have managed to overcome popular demands for change, to remain in power, and in many cases to continue to govern in ways that have not fundamentally changed. The failure of popular voices to bring about fundamental change underscores both the ability of the incumbent regimes to remain in power despite popular opposition and the continuing demand for more democracy and economic reforms to meet the often urgent needs of many to encounter. Citizens feel for political, economic and social improvements. An ongoing question is whether governments have the ability or the desire to meet the challenge of rapidly growing populations’ demands for more jobs, improved prosperity and democracy. Such concerns are causing tens of thousands of people in the Middle East and North Africa to continue calling for fundamental changes to improve their lives and future prospects. Such people, like their counterparts in many other parts of the world, expect and require governments to improve their lives in a variety of ways (Haynes, 2020).
Events in North Africa and the Middle East since the Arab Spring events in the early 2010s also provide evidence that the mere voices of the people raised in protests against what are often viewed as fundamental political and economic injustices do not necessarily outweigh such demands in the face of determined forms of resistance from keen rulers to give in. In power, governments often have effective means at their disposal to contain, undermine, or defeat citizen-led activists. We will see this in the Hong Kong case study below.
Hong Kong’s “Umbrella Revolution” broke out in 2014, an outbreak of civic activism that wanted to underscore the desire of many Hong Kong residents to live in a recognizably democratic political environment, in contrast to their big brother next door, the People’s Republic of China. The use of the term “umbrella” in the protests referred to the fact that many activists held umbrellas as a symbol of the protest during the events. Hong Kong is a semi-autonomous island area and a former British colony. It went from British to Chinese control in 1997 and part of the deal was that China would allow at least some degree of democracy to continue. China is of course ruled by a communist government and is a one-party state that strictly limits political competition. The protesters believed that the Chinese government would resort to an agreement to allow Hong Kong to have open elections and that Hong Kong was increasingly governing more like mainland China. There were also profound economic problems as Hong Kong’s citizens had some of the highest gaps in wealth and income in the world. For several weeks, Hong Kong’s ultra-modern business center was turned into a conflict zone, where up to 200,000 protesters were confronted by police in protective clothing. The protests eventually failed and the demonstrators not only failed to convince the Chinese government to comply with their demands, but also experienced waning support as people grew tired of the disturbance of their lives. As in some Central and Eastern European countries, this underscores the ability of entrenched rulers to stay in power without making any significant concessions. However, it was also clear that the protests had an impact on how many Hong Kong citizens see their political future. This proved important for later events where many of those who took to the streets called for more and better democracy students and other young people (Wassenstrom, 2020).
The “Umbrella Revolution” was unsuccessful as China had a firm grip on Hong Kong without resolving the problems that led to the protests. The most important of these was a broad sense of separation between the citizens and those in power. When this was coupled with people’s ability to use their voice to influence political and economic outcomes, mass action can quickly follow. Here we can see the double-edged impact of globalization at work. On the one hand, the end of the Cold War unleashed the forces of democratization and economic reform that many authoritarian elites did their best to prevent – sometimes with success. On the other hand, ideas that were unleashed by the end of the Cold War found resonance in various cultural contexts and expressed in the form of street protests that reflected the power of the voice of the people. In fact, the spread of this thinking has been so widespread that it has affected even established democracies in the West.
Five years later, in 2019, new protests against the Hong Kong government rocked and things have not returned to normal for months. The new wave of protests began in June. They were initially directed against plans to allow extradition to mainland China under certain circumstances. Opponents said doing so risks exposing Hong Kong residents to unfair trial and violent treatment. They also argued that the bill could give China greater clout in Hong Kong and serve to target activists and journalists. The protests later broadened and deepened, leading to widespread calls for more democracy and political distancing of Hong Kong from China.
Many Hong Kongers feared that extradition to China would both weaken the independence of Hong Kong judges and jeopardize the city’s numerous political dissidents by sending them to mainland China, where they could expect serious consequences from judges working in a non-democratic manner political environment that is dominated by the US Chinese Communist Party. The roots of Hong Kong’s unstable political situation and the wave of civic activism that emerged in 2014 can be traced back to the fact that Hong Kong was a colony of Britain for over a century until China regained control in the late 1990s. Many in Hong Kong found it uncomfortable to be under the increasing control of China, which they feared would undermine their political independence. Im Rahmen der Vereinbarung „Ein Land, zwei Systeme“, die ein Merkmal der Machtübergabe von Großbritannien an China im Jahr 1997 war, konnte Hongkong ein gewisses Maß an politischer und administrativer Autonomie und die Bevölkerung weiterhin politische Rechte erhalten.
Nach umfangreichen Protesten wurde das Auslieferungsgesetz im September 2019 von Hongkongs Führerin Carrie Lam zurückgezogen. Die Demonstrationen wurden jedoch nicht nur fortgesetzt, sondern auch erweitert. Aktivisten forderten nun eine „volle“ Demokratie und eine Untersuchung dessen, was allgemein als oft brutale Polizeiaktionen angesehen wurde. Im Laufe der Zeit werden die Zusammenstöße zwischen Polizei und Aktivisten immer gewalttätiger. Die Polizei feuert lebende Kugeln ab und Demonstranten greifen Offiziere an und werfen Benzinbomben. Die Dinge spitzten sich am 1. Oktober zu, einem symbolischen Tag, an dem China 70 Jahre Herrschaft der Kommunistischen Partei feiern sollte. Am Tag der angeblichen Feier erlebte Hongkong einen der gewalttätigsten und chaotischsten Tage seit Beginn der Proteste im Jahr 2019. Ein jugendlicher Demonstrant wurde mit einer scharfen Kugel in die Brust geschossen, als Demonstranten mit Stangen, Benzinbomben und anderen Projektilen gegen Offiziere kämpften. Die Regierung reagierte mit einem Verbot des Tragens von Gesichtsmasken durch Demonstranten. Kurz darauf, Anfang November, wurde ein pro-chinesischer Gesetzgeber von einem Mann erstochen, der vorgab, ein Unterstützer zu sein. Eine Woche später wurde ein Demonstrant von einem Polizisten erschossen, als Aktivisten versuchten, trotz Polizeibefehlen eine Straßensperre zu errichten. Später am selben Tag wurde ein anderer Mann von regierungsfeindlichen Demonstranten in Brand gesteckt. Schließlich wurde im November auch die Polytechnische Universität von Hongkong von der Polizei belagert, wo sich Demonstranten mit den draußen versammelten Behörden zusammengetan hatten. Gegen Ende des Monats fanden auf dem Territorium Kommunalwahlen statt, die als Barometer für die öffentliche Meinung angesehen wurden: Es war ein Erdrutsch für Anti-Peking-Aktivisten, da 17 von 18 Kommunalverwaltungen künftig von demokratiefreundlichen Ratsmitgliedern kontrolliert werden sollten. Es wurde jedoch nichts beschlossen: China würde nicht nachgeben und die Demonstranten waren nicht bereit aufzugeben.
Einige der Demonstranten nahmen einen Slogan an: “Fünf Forderungen, nicht eine weniger!” Die Forderungen lauteten wie folgt:
- Damit die Proteste nicht als „Aufruhr“ bezeichnet werden
- Amnestie für verhaftete Demonstranten
- Eine unabhängige Untersuchung der mutmaßlichen Polizeibrutalität
- Umsetzung des vollständigen allgemeinen Wahlrechts
Die fünfte Forderung, die Rücknahme der Rechnung, wurde bereits erfüllt. Bis auf den fünften gab es keine, und die Pattsituation zwischen der Regierung (unterstützt von China) und den Aktivisten hat sich fortgesetzt. International haben sich die Proteste zur Unterstützung der Hongkonger Bewegung auf der ganzen Welt verbreitet. Kundgebungen finden in Großbritannien, Frankreich, den USA, Kanada und Australien statt. In vielen Fällen wurden Menschen, die die Demonstranten unterstützten, mit Kundgebungen für Peking konfrontiert. Der chinesische Präsident Xi Jinping warnte bedrohlich vor Separatismus und sagte, jeder Versuch, China zu spalten, würde in „zerschmetterten Körpern und zu Pulver gemahlenen Knochen“ enden (Wassenstrom, 2020).
Die chinesische Regierung hat gezeigt, dass es sich im Mai 2020 um ein Geschäft handelte, als sie Hongkongs Autonomie durch die Einführung eines Gesetzes, das den früheren Sonderstatus Hongkongs wirksam aufhebt, effektiv aufhob. Dies ermöglichte es der chinesischen Regierung, die Kontrolle über das Territorium legal von der gewählten Regierung Hongkongs zu übernehmen. Diese Änderung war auf monatelange Proteste zurückzuführen, die von Oppositionellen und jungen Führern angeführt wurden und von manchmal riesigen Demonstrationen mit Menschen aller Altersgruppen und Hintergründe unterstützt wurden. Dies war in der Tat eine beliebte Forderung nach der Unabhängigkeit Hongkongs – oder zumindest in hohem Maße der Autonomie – weg von China. Viele hielten dies für notwendig, um den demokratischen Rahmen des Territoriums vor den von China als hartnäckig empfundenen Versuchen zu schützen, ihn zu beseitigen. Die US-Regierung antwortete mit der Proklamation, dass Hongkong praktisch keine autonome Einheit mehr sei, wie es im Abkommen von 1997 vorgesehen war, wonach die britische Regierung nach mehr als 150 Jahren Kolonialkontrolle die Kontrolle über Hongkong an ihr chinesisches Gegenstück abgab vorteilhafte Handelsbeziehungen zwischen den USA und Hongkong würden fortan eingestellt. This was bad news for the people of Hong Kong, as they had thrived in the context of the trading arrangement with the USA, and unwelcome to the government of China that had long derived a substantial proportion of its foreign currency income from Hong Kong’s trade with the rest of the world.
As China regained control of Hong Kong in May 2020, so the United Kingdom (UK) made highly significant steps to assert its position as a fully independent country. This occurred in the context of the ramifications of the June 2016 referendum in the UK on the issue of should the country remain in or leave the EU. There were many reasons for the unexpected outcome of the 2016 referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. Two in particular stand out. The first was a fear expressed by many people of the results of what some saw as ‘uncontrolled’ immigration and the second was a lack of willingness to have the UK’s ability to make independent policy constrained by membership of the EU.
The fear expressed by many in Britain about what they saw as uncontrolled immigration was also replicated in other European countries. Eurobarometer data from 2018 identify high levels of anti-immigrant sentiment among citizens of the then 27 European Union member states (‘EU27’). Evidence for this comes from responses to several questions asked by Eurobarometer: the ‘fight against terrorism’ was seen as the most important issue in the May 2019 European Parliament elections, with an average of 49 percent in the EU27 claiming that it was the most important issue. The second most important concern was ‘combatting youth employment’ (48 percent). ‘Immigration’ (45 percent) was the third most important issue to EU27 voters and the fourth was the ‘economy and growth’ (42 percent). It is probably safe to assume that for many Europeans, both ‘terrorism’ and ‘immigration’ are primarily associated with the presence of growing numbers of Muslims in many European countries, including the UK. This was reflected in the Brexit campaign prior to the June 2016 referendum. A key issue highlighted by the ‘leave EU’ campaign was, it alleged, that the UK would be compelled to open its borders to Turks, that is, some 80 million people, most of whom are Muslims. In addition, several European countries, including Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, France, the Netherlands and Italy, had election campaigns in the late 2010s in which Muslim immigration was a significant electoral issue. In addition to fears of ‘uncontrolled’ immigration was rising fears of economic insecurity in many countries. Significant numbers of people believed that growing numbers of immigrants would inevitably reduce wage levels of indigenous workers by immigrants; being more willing to accept employment at relatively low wages, compared to their indigenous counterparts (Haynes 2017). Thus, in relation to the June 2016 referendum in the UK, the voices of the people were often raised in support of Britain leaving the EU because of fears of unwelcome changes which many believed were linked to Britain’s continued membership of the EU.
Voices of the people expressed in the context of the UK’s 2016 referendum also underline a wider point of greater relevance. Despite widely observed and continuing effects of globalisation on national sovereignty, governments in Europe and elsewhere still seek to portray themselves as being in control, able to shape events and not just to respond (Haynes, 2005). Yet, recent events affecting Europe and its constituent governments indicate that such claims are not always plausible. The raising of the voices of the people in Europe, for example, in support of populist politicians and their parties may reflect some of the unwelcome ramifications of globalisation, for many people linked to the long-term effects of the 2008 global economic crisis and its impact on many people’s economic security and wellbeing. In the case of Britain and the 2016 ‘Brexit’ referendum there was also the perceived economic, cultural and social impact of what was sometimes portrayed as ‘uncontrolled’ immigration which for some people in the UK appeared to threaten the country’s stability and wellbeing. It was not however only in the UK that such fears were expressed, raised in the voices of the people. We have already mentioned the gilets jaunes in France whose opposition to President Macron was a factor in a reduction in the scope and nature of France’s economic reforms. Beyond France, hitherto apparently stable and secure countries, such as German and, the Netherland, saw increased support for populist leaders and their parties in response to widespread fears a declining economic and social environment. While the UK did not see the rise to prolonged significance of a populist party as a manifestation of popular opposition to the status quo, several of its neighbouring countries did, including Germany and Italy. , it is the case that the issue was dominated by topics which are common to right-wing populists in many parts of Europe and elsewhere (Haynes, 2019: 158-60).
The aim of this article was to identify the characteristics and political importance of the ‘voices of the people’ in relation to widespread demands for often fundamental changes to both political and economic arrangements. We saw that the voices were not raised in only non-democratic contexts, such as the countries of the Arab World. We also noted that in countries that do have democratically elected governments, such as the UK, the voices of the people were raised in opposition to policies which many did not like and which many believed their governments were capable of addressing adequately. A third area of the concerns of the people raised in the article were the long-running and persistent popular protests in Hong Kong which focused on both the territory’s government’s apparent failure to protect the human rights of Hongkongers and the increasing power and control of the government of China on Hong Kong.
The ‘people’ referred to in this article are not a specific group. Indeed, it is clear that the citizens referred in this article are not easily identifiable in terms of age, class or gender. What they do have in common is the desire to have more say in decisions that their rulers make. It is not as though having a formally democratic political environment is necessarily the solution to popular frustration and anger. We have seen that even in existing democracies, such as the UK, popular protests were capable of overturning long-established government policy in relation to Britain’s membership of the EU, leading to the unexpected result of the June 2016 referendum which saw the UK leaving the EU to usher in a period of change and potential prolonged instability.
It is important to bear in mind that the kind of popular protests that we have discussed in this article have been a feature of politics in many countries for a very long time. Nearly 250 years ago, the French Revolution of 1789 expressed poplar frustration at the iniquities of the status quo, and as a result the old political, social and economic order was overturned never to return. The article has detailed how the failure of governments, whether elected or not, to deal adequately with popular political or economic concerns may lead to an outburst of citizens’ anger, whether expressed in voices alone or via direct action on the streets. Today, it seems that such popular movements are not only growing in frequency but also in importance. Each of the three case studies presented in this article – the Arab Spring, Hong Kong and Brexit – underline how difficult it is both to address coherently what many believe are legitimate concerns and to come up with new policies which are qualitatively better than what were in place before.
Why this is the case is linked to the fact that the voices of the people are never speaking as one; instead, voices of the people are inevitably expressions of opposition, whose concerns not all share. Most obviously, this includes those who are already in power and would have the most to lose from a fundamental reorganisation of political and economic arrangements. Not only are the voices of the people identified and discussed in this article popular expressions of demands for change they are also often populist vehicles. Recall that populism is an ideology which sees elites with power as the main problem of and obstacle to change. In this context, it is easy to see why populist leaders and parties in the USA, Europe and elsewhere have seen major political successes via the ballot box. Their main goal is to challenge those in power, which the populists portray as hopelessly distant from the mass of ordinary people and unconcerned with their hopes, fears and aspirations. Finally, popular and populist demands for change – whether on the streets or via the ballot box – underline how people living in both democratic and non-democratic political environments are widely demanding more from those in power and will not be content with keeping silent in their quest to bring about often fundamental changes to their lives.
DiMaggio, Anthony R. (2019) Political Power in America. Class Conflict and the Subversion of Democracy, Albany: State University of New York Press.
Haynes, Jeffrey (2005) Comparative Politics in a Globalizing World, Cambridge: Polity Press.
Haynes, Jeffrey (2019) From Huntington to Trump. Thirty Years of the Clash of Civilizations, Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books.
Haynes, Jeffrey (2020) ‘The Arab Spring: Problems and Prospects’ in Peter Hough, Shahin Malik, Andrew Moran and Bruce Pilbeam, Security Studies, London: Routledge, 2nd ed.
Haynes, Jeffrey, Peter Hough, Shahin Malik and Lloyd Pettiford (2017) World Politics: International Relations and Globalisation in the 21st Century, London: Sage Books
Mudde, Cas (2007) Populist Radical Right Parties in Europe, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Mudde, Cas (2019) The Far-Right Today, Cambridge: Polity Press
Sen, Amartya (2010) The Idea of Justice, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.
Wassenstrom, Jeffrey (2020) Vigil. Hong Kong on the Brink, New York: Columbia Global Reports
Wilkin, Peter (2020) ‘Fear of a Yellow Planet: The Gilets Jaunes and the End of the Modern World-System’, Journal of World-Systems Research, 26(1), 70–102.
Youngs, Richard (2019) Civic activism unleashed: new hope or false dawn for democracy?, New York: Oxford University Press,