The rise of populist anti-immigrant parties during the refugee crisis of the 2010’s does look like European islamophobia or racism towards Arabs and Africans. This is the image that the media conveys, and the anti-immigrant or right-wing populist parties like to promote. For instance, both the Finns Party (Finland)  and the Slovakian government  said they would prefer Syrian Christian over Muslim refugees. The history of European immigration and refugees does not support racism as the explanation of anti-immigrantism.
Let’s take a closer look at a local, Finnish example: after the Russian revolution of 1917 and the East Karelian uprising of 1921‒22, thousands of Karelians fled to Finland. They were ethnically Finns, spoke a Finnish dialect and shared our oral tradition of Kalevala, and were Christians as well (Greek Orthodox, a church which existed also within Finland). The result was still violent, and the perpetrators were not from the far right: the local Social Democrats hated the Karelians as strikebreakers . The Karelians sought employment and income, as the social security system of the Finland of the 1920’s would not support anyone for long. The Karelians were fleeing Bolshevik Communists and would not join the labor unions.
Things were not better elsewhere in Europe. In 1939, having lost the civil war, thousands of Spanish left-wing Republicans fled mass murders and other atrocities north to France. These refugees were not welcome in France, even if they were Europeans of Catholic culture, speaking another Latin language.
“The French authorities had never prepared for such an influx, but even when the scale of the human disaster was apparent, they were very slow and reluctant to move. This was not entirely surprising since the cost of looking after so many refugees rose to seven million francs a day. The right-wing press constantly attacked Daladier’s government for having allowed in so many left-wingers and Candide complained about feeding them. The French authorities encouraged refugees to return to Spain and surrender themselves to the nationalists. Only those with relations in France and who were prepared to sign a form that they would never ask for state aid were allowed out of the camps. The alternatives, apart from returning to Spain, were re-emigration to the New World or any other country that would accept them; or to ‘volunteer’ to the French Foreign Legion or the labour battalions, which were being used for improving fortifications and other projects …”Antony Beevor on his book about the Spanish Civil War 
If the Spanish refugees were not welcome in France, it comes as no surprise that the Jews fleeing the Nazi Germany were not welcome anywhere, either. The Evian conference in July 1938 tried to solve the question of Jewish refugees, but only the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica agreed to any meaningful quotas . This was an important propaganda victory for Nazi Germany — pretty much like that of today’s Russia from the inability of the EU to agree on distributing the Middle-Eastern refugees. Even USA refused to let in the 907 German refugee Jews of MS St. Louis . The U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull was very much responsible of this, but it did not prevent him from later becoming a Nobel Peace Laureate for his role in forming the United Nations.
Finns often compare the current refugees to their 410 thousand (or 12 % of population) of WW2-era refugees, or internally displaced people, from Karelia (the so-called ”evacuees”); two of my grandparents were among them. Even though the Finns of today commonly refer to the Greek Orthodox religion of these refugees, most of them were actually Lutheran, just like most Finns. These refugees also represented the entire political spectrum. People could be cold or hostile toward them, but sometimes also very supportive (farmland and housing was allocated to them from local landowners). It is said that on the railyard of Lahti in southern Finland, the local businessmen walked along the stopping refugee trains and asked the refugee entrepreneurs within to step out and settle in Lahti. The numbers of refugees in the post-war Europe were staggering: for instance, 12 million ethnic Germans expelled from Eastern Europe settled in the razed-to-ground, occupied Germany.
Anti-immigrantism is not, however, just a European or Western phenomenon. South Africa is the wealthiest country in Sub-Saharan Africa, with a clear contrast to its neighbors (except for Namibia and Botswana). There is thus a lot of inter-African immigration, but the shared African identity does not grant solidarity to the immigrants. The people in Soweto have attacked the local immigrants. The local young men think that the immigrants steal their jobs and women, told prof. Kopano Ratele from University of South Africa . The ruling (Hindu) BJP party in India threatens the (Muslim) Bangladeshi immigrants, and Pakistan seeks to evict hundreds of thousands of Afghans .
Singapore is a city of immigrants. The ruling party does its utmost to prevent the forming of ghettos and religious quarreling, by means which are not possible in the Liberal West. For instance, the public housing has quotas for different ethno-religious groups , and the media and the political system are heavily controlled to suppress conflicts.
Local labor, immigrants, and competition for jobs
With all its banners for international solidarity among people, the relationship of the Socialist movement (both Social Democrat and Communist branches) to immigration is problematic. The leadership of socialist Eastern Bloc countries would not tolerate external influences — brought in by immigrants — to disrupt the official truths. Even people of the same ethnic group and language were not welcome, not even in the East Germany (DDR), which suffered from severe outflux of emigrants (brain drain). In the 1960’s, Poland’s Communist leader Władysław Gomułka desired to expel the remaining ethnic Germans and offered them to DDR’s premier Walter Ulbricht. Erwin Weit, the interpreter of Gomulka, told in his memoirs that Ulbricht suggested that the Poles ”just shoot them” . The remaining Germans in Poland were thus transported to West Germany. A descendant of one of them was my coworker at the VTT Technical Research Centre in Finland.
Who remembers the ”Polish plumber”, the scourge that threatened employment in Western Europe in the 2000’s when several Eastern European countries joined the EU? The Poles are predominantly Catholic fellow Europeans. Estonian bus drivers working in Helsinki, Finland, told a newspaper that locals swear at them daily and openly tell them to go back behind the sea (Estonians being ethnically, linguistically and culturally very close to Finns) . Christian Kern, the Social Democrat premier of Austria, wanted to set limits for the use of Eastern European labor and the jobs to be first offered to locals . The social democrat prime ministers of Denmark and Sweden have also moved to curb immigration. 
Many of those who voted for Brexit were elderly Britons, angered by Eastern European immigrants spending time with their compatriots, speaking their native languages. The vote was aimed against European internal immigrants, even if the public banner was against refugees and immigrants from Africa and Middle East. Racially-motivated hate crimes have multiplied since the referendum: the targets are most often Eastern Europeans, such as a Romanian researcher at the Queen Mary University . Amber Rudd, the Minister of the Interior of the UK, published (and then withdrew) a policy to prevent immigrants from getting the jobs that locals could do. She called for the employers to publish the proportion of international staff that they employ. She also pledged to boost the proportion of British doctors working in the NHS (thus curbing the proportion of immigrant doctors) . She seems to fail to realize the historical connotations of these actions: the Nazi Germany also began by removing the Jews from high-profile jobs, such as medicine.
Conflicts over the right to drive a bus may lead us to the real source of anti-immigrantism. In Finland, bus drivers have held strikes against part-timers, often students, working in their field (2004). A full-time bus driver has protected employment, and the doubled Sunday salary is seen as their right. With part-timers sharing the workload, the bus companies can give the full-timers the full-day shifts on workdays and use part-timers for the odd shifts in the nighttime and on weekends. Thus, the full-timers fight for their perceived rightful [extra] share. Similar conflicts have been kindled between the traditional taxi drivers and Uber drivers in many areas. This brings us to a wider problem in Western European societies: short-time gigs for the temporarily unemployed are poorly available. The labor market is too rigid.
Branco Milanovic’s ”elephant graph” rose to international attention in 2016. The graph presents the growth rate of the fractile average income weighted by population in years 1988–2008. One can distinguish the poorest people, ”the hanging tail”; the middle class of developing countries, ”the high-growing back”; and the high-pointing trunk, the uppermost global class. At the 80–90 % fractiles, the trunk drops perceptibly, to almost zero growth . The graph supported existing viewpoints: many saw the lower middle class in their country as having lost their status due to globalization.
The truth is not that simple, however. In Finland, for instance, the long-term unemployed reach the upper part of the ”trunk” with their unemployment and housing welfare benefits alone. According to Olli Kärkkäinen, an economist of the Nordea Bank, the Finnish income levels have risen in all fractiles, and — with the exception of the lowest fractile — with higher relative growth than the global average . This was achieved in a period that covered the deepest economic depression of the Finnish history (1991–1993).
Milanovic also discusses the effect of citizenship. The country of birth explains 97 % of the global income distribution. The unemployed Finn finding himself in the 9th global income fractile also points in this direction. Since the country of birth is so important for one’s future income, Milanovic coined the term ”citizenship rent” . People tend to be quite jealous of this rent, not wanting to share (and dilute) it with immigrants, even if they share the same ethnic group, religion, or language. Actually, people are jealous of their rent against any group of people they can somehow shut out.
A positive exception may be found in Finland, one generation back: the ‘return’ of Ingrians (Finnish people who had migrated to then-uninhabited now St. Petersburg area in the 17th century or before) took place largely without any hostile response. The Ingrian immigrants were, in principle, Finnish-speaking people, but most of them had lost their language skills because their grandparents had been forcibly relocated and dispersed all over the Soviet Union in Stalin’s era. The timing of the return of the Ingrians (like that of the arrival of the Somali refugees) was the worst possible in the economic sense, the great economic depression of 1991‒1993.
Why were the Ingrians at least mildly welcome, with little show of anti-immigrantism? The right of return was granted by a grand decision of the President of Finland, but the fact that anyone knowing a bit of history knew Finland owed something to the people forcibly returned to Soviet Union after WWII (the war had engulfed their home area and they were transported to the safety of inner Finland with many young men joining the Finnish army) probably had more effect. The small fraction of right-wing populists and Neo-Nazis somehow did not notice. On the other hand, there were few possibilities for the returning Ingrians to gain employment, as their language skills were less than adequate, and their Soviet education did not earn them professional jobs, either. They thus offered little competition to the locals in the job market.
The eternal and still unexpected change
The stress induced by the changing world brings stress to the society, resulting in irrational reactions such as anti-immigrantism. Automation replaces simple or repetitive human work, and the historically continuous disappearance of the market for outdated products (such as gas lamps, cathode ray tubes, photographic film, typewriters, encyclopedias…) closes down industries, throwing large numbers of uneducated, elderly, and blue-collar workers to unemployment — especially in the cases of remote locations. The new jobs emerge for young people with up-to-date skills, in new professions, and in larger towns. When Siemens was starting new gas turbine manufacture in Charlotte, NC, the 10,000 job seekers could not fill the 800 open positions due to the mismatch of skills. Like many other modern production units, the factory required robotics programmers rather than welders and metalworkers . The long population decline due to the brain drain cripples the left-behind areas. The stay-behind people also tend to have more social and health problems, as these correlate with the lower education.
As the more aspiring young people move to cities for their education and stay there, they tend to be open to change and therefore liberal; stay-behinds in the countryside and small towns tend to be more conservative. This results in gradual polarization of the political geography, which is clearly visible in the maps showing the geographic distribution of votes to different parties in basically any Western country. As a further consequence, people tend to shy away from areas with nonpreferred political majorities — deepening the political divide, as people mostly interact with people with largely similar political views. The city people often refer to the conservatism of the countryside as a barrier to moving there.
The medieval European cities — the real cities, with defensive walls, commerce, and self-governance — understood the dire need of net migration. Within the walls, high population density combined with poor hygiene and a lack of real medicine resulted in very high mortality. Compared to the serfs of the surrounding countryside, even the poorest city residents were at least free. The medieval cities had laws that protected the migrants, such as fugitive serfs from the countryside. The Baltic German nobleman Johann von Üxküll was angry enough to have his men kidnap his fugitive serf back from the city of Tallinn and had him hanged as a warning to the others. Even though the poor fugitive as an individual was of little importance to Tallinn, kidnapping and killing him was a grave offense against the status and honor of the mighty Hanseatic city. The city council thus had the nobleman arrested when he visited the city, brought him to justice and sentenced him to death for murder; he was executed the same day to demonstrate the limits of the noble powers .
A newly arrived fugitive naturally had no status in a city and had little means to provide for themselves: the guilds protected the high status of the merchants or the master craftsmen. The vacancies for masters were limited, and even rising to the status of a journeyman took years of apprenticeship. A new economic refugee from the countryside thus threatened the status of no one, except of beggars.
The industrialization of the early 19th century changed all this. Manufacturing machinery made goods cheaper and provided better-paid jobs for the landless farm hands of the countryside; by modern standards, the pay was still miserably poor. The master artisans lost their status and business, resulting in widespread economic depression in the areas that were formerly wealthy due to their artisanal production. As an example, the consumption of meat (food of high value) in German Rhineland collapsed in the first half of the 19th century . For the surplus population of the countryside, however, even a miserable factory job was a step for the better. The 1840’s were particularly bad in Western Europe, resulting in the Revolutions of 1848 and the Communist Manifesto of Carl Marx and Friedrich Engels.
The general growth of the economy, the organization of labor movement, and the developing social conscience of the upper class resulted in improving living standards. The status of the blue-collar laborer rose, and the factory worker of 1920’s did not look so poor any more, at least in his/her Sunday suit on a holiday. Compared to a landless farm hand of the time, he was well off: had some own money, often a rented room for his own family — not just a bench in the kitchen to sleep on. For hundreds of years the preceding generations had not foreseen any development for the better .
Aging societies and the dead end of politics
A clear difference between the politics of the 19th century and the modern times is in the age distribution of the population. The people over 40 years old comprised less than a quarter of the population of Finland in 1848. Today, they comprise more than half, and the over 50-year-olds make up a half of the electorate. This development has affected both the Finnish pension populism and the result of the Brexit referendum of 2016. Aging creates problems to public finances in Finland: the age-related expenses rise more quickly than the government is able to raise taxes and cut other expenses, such as education and childcare . Child poverty is now more common in Europe than poverty of the elderly . Italy has had one of the highest rates of growth of exports in the whole of Europe during the last decade; Italy’s public finances are still a mess. Their long-term low birth rate could be pointed out as a possible cause.
The changes in economy and the age distribution of the population have resulted in the current difficult political situation of several European countries. The expenses due to aging must be paid with resources taken away from other needs, while at the same time our economies suffered a lengthy stagnation as a result in the financial crisis of 2008 and the following Euro crisis. As a result, the voters are losing confidence in politics and politicians. New politicians have emerged, offering easy, simple, and catchy answers to the problems the society faces — just as in the 1930’s. Democracy hasn’t actually been put to test with an electorate with a majority of elderly retirees. Originally, the electorate consisted of the working-age population, with few old people around.
As another reaction to the techno-economic changes, those who have been left behind have increasingly begun to hate any kind of change: environmental issues, coming-out of the minorities, equality, immigrants, or liberalism — leben und leben lassen — in general. This leaves the progressive parties alone to defend necessary, but sometimes unpopular, politics such as curbing the greenhouse gas emissions or protecting fisheries. Violent homophobia is possibly the most bizarre reaction, as the small minority in question neither violently threatens the majority nor causes loss of jobs or competition in the labor market.
Many of those who voted for Trump are white men of low education in well-paid and protected jobs. For them, any improvement in the status of women or minorities would lower their own relative status. Arlie Russell Hochschild noted that her subjects ”felt like they were waiting in a long line to reach the top of a hill where the American dream was waiting for them. But the line’s uphill progress had slowed, even stopped. And immigrants, black people and other ‘outsiders’ seemed to be cutting the line” . The hard fact that the age of the coal and coal mining is closing, and a job trained West Virginian miner earning $ 90,000 a year will never find an equally paid job is understandably difficult to accept. A police officer in the same town has a start salary of a third of that .
The Socialist liturgy of the international solidarity of labor has proved to have little meaning: a quota for a few refugees and some little development aid to the poor developing countries has sufficed. The labor movement supports the high-paying industrial jobs of the export industry, but they would like to cut down cheap imports and competition. One’s own exports are not seen as the cheap predatory kind.
The most steadfast supporters of the far-right AfD in Germany have been the Russian immigrants — against other immigrants . This mirrors the Russian foreign policy: using the anti-immigrant parties to break the EU internally in the time of the refugee crisis. An extreme example of this was the claimed rape of a Russian woman in Germany by refugees. The news was widely distributed by Russians, even as the German police found out that it never happened .
Western societies are now facing grave problems. The changes of the world, automation, globalization, refugee crises, and aging population, together create a political deadlock. Small margins dictate extreme voting results: 51.9 % voted for Brexit, causing constitutional-level changes to the British society. Votes for Hillary Clinton exceeded those given to Donald Trump by almost 2 percent points, but 80,000 votes in three swing states made Trump the President of the United States with only 46.1 % of the votes.
A multi-party system with coalition governments and supermajority requirements protects many countries from the extreme changes sometimes induced by a two-party system. A political crisis can still destabilize such a country: Fidesz won over Hungary in 2010 with 52.3 % of the votes, resulting in the control of more than two thirds of the Parliament — enough to make single-handed constitutional changes. The PiS won the Polish elections of 2015 with only a 37.6 % share of the votes, but it resulted in a majority of 51 % in the Parliament.
Fiscal stimulus and job market policy
To solve the dead end of politics, I do not see an alternative to finding economic growth and new jobs for the losers of globalization, too. A difficult question, however, is whether the former coal miners and paper-mill workers should still be entitled to better salaries than the others living in the same area. How to create a job market that creates jobs for those in need? How to revitalize the declining areas? How to get the left-behind accept the relative rise of those who have traditionally had lower status?
Traditional financial stimulus creates demand for construction, directly helping only construction workers (traditionally, most of the population was eligible) and the construction supply industry. The full production capacity of the construction industry is often reached, resulting in overheating of the business. As other labor fields, construction requires today skills and experience, not just ability to carry masonry up the ladder. The Government financial support to R&D, on the other hand, flows to professionals already concentrated in developed population centers (preferably with an all-round or technological university).
The left-behind areas suffering from brain drain would need any migration to revitalize the economy, bringing both specialist workforce and customers to local businesses. The great dilemma here is that the left-behind are often staunchly opposing immigration. In-country migration of ethnically and linguistically similar people would be acceptable — in some countries the matching religion or sect is also a requirement. The newcomers should also be of suitable, not too high, nor too low, social status. These people just are not available. If one goes to the ethnically most homogenous areas of the USA, they tend to be the most backward areas with heavy social problems with drugs and unemployment. The most diverse areas are generally the most economically active and have the highest standard of living. 
The Nordic model with its free and available basic, vocational, and university education levels the playing field for the young people with different starting points, compared to the Anglo-American youth for whom education is expensive. As a result, the Anglo-American discussion about education policy has a very different frame and has relatively little to offer in the context of the Finnish problems. Investing in education is a double-edged sword: it helps the young to attain good professions and stimulates economic growth; on the other hand, the aspiring young move to colleges and universities in developed areas, and generally they stay there — the brain drain thus increasing the regional contrasts.
Even the massive German support to the former East Germany after the reunification has been incapable of stopping the brain drain of the East. Investments in upgrading or building manufacturing units in Eastern Germany has not stopped the flow of lawyers, engineers, and other professionals to the corporate headquarters and R&D centers in the West. This is not only a problem of the East, however. Herzogenaurach (Bavaria), the hometown of the sports equipment and clothing giants Adidas and Puma, is unable to attract the top designers, brand specialists, and specialists of digital technologies to move there . National financial stimulus does not work very well in the era of globalization and common market. The Meyer Turku shipyard, or the companies Kone (lifts and escalators), Nokia (telecommunications networks), Ponsse (forestry machinery), or Planmeca (dentist machinery) cannot be supported by stimulating the local Finnish economy.
Politicians like to support existing jobs, also in the declining areas. This proves problematic, however. An example is the mobile-phone charger manufacturer Salcomp’s factory in Kemijärvi, Northern Finland. The local municipality supported building new factory space by 4.6 M€ in 1996 . The financial support may have extended the operational life of the factory, but it was nevertheless closed in 2004 and all the local personnel were laid off. Spread over the extension of the lifetime of the factory (about 7 years), the support amounted to about 1100 € per laborer per year. One can compare this to the municipal income tax. Juankoski, in Eastern Finland, tried to keep the local Stromsdal paper mill running with public support, but it went bankrupt anyhow. Attracting new employers to areas that are losing their old ones is difficult:
”… few companies indeed are genuinely interested in relocating their manufacturing just for availability of labor, but these decisions are influenced by other issues regarding profitability, such as logistic location, availability of raw materials, manufacturing space, and leisure time activities.”Ismo Pohjantammi, University of Helsinki, 2008 
Influencing the decisions of individual companies is, however, the policy adopted by both Trump and Michael Pence ($700 per year per person for Carrier, Indiana ) as well as the British prime minister Theresa May (Nissan UK, ). These special arrangements are naturally only available to a small selection of companies that are big enough or have good enough relationships with the political decision makers. These arrangements are an easy way to good publicity and local support to populist politicians. They, however, also distort the competitive market, are very prone to corruption, and still have a negligible effect on the national-level total employment.
Note that several of the source articles or books are in Finnish. Machine translation does not work very well, I am afraid, as Finnish is not in the same language family as English.
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- Antony Beevor, ”The Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War 1936–1939″, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 2006, p. 412.
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