South Asia and Beyond

Whipping Up Nationalism Endangers Chinese Regime, Could Have Terrible Consequences: Columbia Professor Sheri Berman

NEW DELHI: The Chinese dictatorship’s “bargain with its people to give up personal liberties and rights for ever greater economic performance has been worthwhile for a lot of people for a long time but is a very fragile bargain,” says Columbia Professor Sheri Berman. The initial response to the pandemic “was a disaster that flowed from the precise weaknesses of a dictatorship that is dependent on showing its citizens that its performance is superior,” she told StratNews Global Associate Editor Amitabh P. Revi. When it fails in that too “it has to use force and repression that can be successful in the short run but very costly in the long term.” The political scientist argues, “whipping up nationalism really endangers the regime, as it makes it more likely to come into internal or external conflict which could have terrible consequences.”  But letting the nationalism “genie out of the bottle” even in democracies can lead to long lasting damage, Professor Berman warns, “though these societies do have the ability to vote out a leader and therefore to change course.”

The author of ‘Democracy And Dictatorship In Europe, From the Ancien Régime To The Present Day’ points also to a wave of protests that has been sweeping the globe against weak and corrupt ‘democratic’ dictatorships like those in Lebanon, Belarus and Thailand. In Russia’s European neighbour, she says, “President Alexander Lukashenko has to rely on both his military and Moscow’s support, otherwise he has no way to stay in power.”

On concerns over growing illiberalism in democratic countries, Professor Berman says “people confuse democracy with liberalism,” adding, “it’s not surprising even if it is disturbing” as people “facing periods of economic stress, external threats or new demographic realities are falling back into tribal and sub-national identities.”

Amitabh P. Revi

Russian language speaker and conflict journalist. Amitabh Revi has been there, done that—from the battlefields of Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan to sublime Russia, Australia and the United States. Along the way he's picked up the Dag Hammarskjöld Distinguished Journalist Fellowship, the Ramnath Goenka award for coverage of the Iraq War and RT's Khaled Alkhateb Award for his reporting from Palmyra, Syria.

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