Global citizenship. My first thought was that it sounds a bit silly. Like one of those feel-good concepts devoid of meaning. My second thought was that perhaps it is really necessary to talk about this now. Let me explain why. Where I live, the idea of a nation has been hijacked by right-wing ultra-nationalists. They want to live in isolation, as a pure, white, monocultural society. Anything from the “outside” is suspicious and potentially dangerous.
It’s a classic setup of “us” vs “them”.
This isolationist nationalism has gained considerable political support in many European countries. The success is partly based on a new generation of nationalist politicians. They have polished their façade and (at least partly) their vocabulary. A very central setting in their story is the victim one. People in this country are now victims of globalisation, scheming politicians, intellectuals, bankers, the corrupt media, and immigrants.
To put this into context, I am talking about Finland, one of the richest countries in the world, with a world famous school system. According to all international comparisons, Finland is among the very best. High living standards, low crime rate, high education levels, long life expectancy, clean nature. And so on. In this somewhat unexpected setting, populist right-wing parties are gaining ground using simplistic models and turning everything into a question of immigration.
Where in other parts of the world you might gain political power by being “tough on crime” or “create more jobs”, here apparently most ills can be solved by “sending the immigrants back to Africa”.
According to these populists, if we do not act now our national heritage, our very souls, are in danger of “contamination” or “extinction”. Interestingly, most research points to the fact that these sentiments are the strongest in areas with little or no immigrant populations. The unknown is scary.
This makes citizenship a useful tool. Only those with a Finnish passport, and at least five prior generations of Finns in the family can be assumed safe, true Finns. Anyone else is dubious, not to be trusted.
It is necessary to reclaim the notion, the idea and the concept of citizenship. Because this one globe we live on is not doing so well. Global challenges care little about national borders. One question we faced while making this issue was for example: What meaning can the word citizenship have if it is not connected to a physical place and a specific nation?
As humans we need something to connect to. We need to feel safe. We need to eat. Now ask yourself: How do we best fulfil those needs? Is it through everyone (or every nation) fending for themselves, or is it possible to work together? How we answer those questions will decide what our societies will look like in the future. Maybe that is why global citizenship is so important to talk about right now.