August 8, 2008

NOT THE DEATH OF A NATION BUT THE BIRTH OF TWO:

The death of a nation: The fate of Belgium should interest all Europeans, since what is happening there now could be repeated on a continental scale (Ian Buruma, 8/08/08, Guardian)

[P]erhaps we should all care at least a little, for what is happening in Belgium is unusual, but not at all unique. The Czechs and Slovaks already parted ways, as did the different nations of Yugoslavia. Many Basques would like to break away from Spain, as would many Catalans. Corsicans would love to be rid of France, and many Scots of Britain.

Then, of course, there is the Tibetan problem in China, the Chechen problem in Russia, and so on. No doubt some of these peoples would be able to survive perfectly well on their own. But history does seem to suggest that the cumulative effect of states falling apart is seldom positive.

Belgian separatists like to observe that Belgium was never a natural nation-state, but an accident of history. But so are many, perhaps most. The accident in the case of Belgium is usually placed in the early 19th century, the result of Napoleon's European empire collapsing and Dutch arrogance. In fact, one might just as well set the accident in the 16th century, when the Habsburg emperor hung on to the southern Netherlands (today's Belgium) while the Protestant northern provinces broke away.

Be that as it may, nation-states were often formed in the 18th and 19th centuries to promote common interests that transcended cultural, ethnic, linguistic, or religious differences. This was true of Italy and Britain, no less than of Belgium.

The problem now is that interests are no longer the same, or even held in common. The European Union, which actively promotes regional interests, has weakened the authority of national governments. Why rely on London, say the Scots, if Brussels offers greater advantages?

When common interests no longer prevail, language and culture begin to matter more. One reason why Flemish Belgians resent having to prop up the Walloons with their tax money is that they regard them almost as foreigners. Most Flemish readers don't read French-language newspapers or novels, and vice versa. TV stations are separate. And so are schools, universities, and political parties.

Similarly, northern Italians don't like their tax money being used to help the south, but at least they still have a language – more or less – in common, as well as TV stars, a national soccer team, and Silvio Berlusconi. The Belgians only have a king, who is descended, like most European monarchs, from Germans.


Gotta love it when folks who insist that a dark peppered moth is a different species than a light peppered moth can't understand why their fellows are so nationalist.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 8, 2008 6:36 AM

I have no interest in spending any effort finding out for sure, but I suspect that Mr. Buruma thought that there was just no way that those East Timorians could possibly be expected to coexist with the West Timorians, or that the various Balkan groups should learn to do so either...

Posted by: b at August 8, 2008 12:06 PM

The problem now is that interests are no longer the same, or even held in common. The European Union, which actively promotes regional interests, has weakened the authority of national governments.

Problem? What problem? That is exactly what the Eurocrats wanted: a United States of Europe to unite all Euros against their real enemy, the other United States.

Posted by: ic at August 8, 2008 3:23 PM
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