by Austin Bay
May 31, 2006
A specter haunts Europe, an old and once-murderous scourge: the
specter of ethnic and neo-nationalist separatism.
Modernity, in the form of two of the world's most appealing
"country clubs," however, may have tempered the specter's threat. The allure
of belonging to the clubs of wealth and security -- the wealth of the
European Union and the security of NATO -- has reshaped the new separatists'
demands for autonomy and independence. Many would-be "new separatist"
leaders have seen wealth created and the common security well served through
transnational economic and defense cooperation.
Perhaps the "specter" is now a ghost of its former self. Let's
hope so. In the 21st century, EU money and NATO safety should convince all
but the most fanatic of 12th century European tribalists that autonomy
cannot mean closed borders, isolation and warfare. The country clubs' rules:
Violence is verboten; cooperation is encouraged.
Montenegro is Europe's latest public display of "new
separatism." Last week, the Montenegrin people voted, by a narrow margin, to
split from neighboring Serbia. The plebiscite in the tiny Balkan nation did
not quite conclude Yugoslavia's long war of devolution. The former Serb
province of Kosovo might have that distinction, depending on the outcome of
the United Nations' decision on Kosovo independence
As it was, the Serb-Montenegrin state was a squabbling leftover.
Still, consider the progress since 1991, when Croatia and Serbia went to
war. This Yugoslav divorce was resolved by an angry referendum, not another
bout of ethnic cleansing. (Remember the rule: Violence is forbidden.)
Montenegro's bye-bye to Serbia was about local control, not
virulent ultra-nationalism. Like its neighbors (including Serbia),
Montenegro wants to eventually join the European Union.
NATO is another goal. Western Europeans and Americans puzzle
over NATO's 21st century purpose, though NATO now has troops in Afghanistan
and may collaborate with the United Nations when and if the United Nations
sponsors a Darfur (Sudan) peacekeeping mission. Eastern Europeans, including
most citizens of the former Yugoslav republics, see admission to NATO as the
ultimate stamp of political approval. It is also a bulwark against Russian
Montenegro's vote has focused attention on other demands for
ethnic and cultural autonomy in Europe. Europe has a quilted history -- the
cultural and tribal fabrics are many. There are numerous examples of
unresolved and historical rivalries in virtually all of the current European
Though the Balkans are no longer quite the powder keg they once
were, the potential for ethnic explosion increases when Muslims and
Christians are involved. This is why Macedonia and particularly Bosnia
remain volatile. Bosnian Serbs, now living in a curious statelet that
comprises roughly a third of federal Bosnia, want to withdraw from the
federation. If Montenegro can do it, Bosnia's Serbs argue, they can, too.
Odds are the Bosnian Serb separatists would secede, then attempt to rejoin
Serbia, violating the Clinton administration's Dayton Accords.
Some demands for autonomy will surprise Americans used to
looking at the maps of France and Spain and thinking, "Oh, yes, homes of the
French and Spanish." France struggles with a weak but occasionally violent
independence movement in Corsica. Spain continues to struggle with Basque
nationalists, but an even bigger challenge may be the Catalans, with their
would-be national capital in Barcelona. Unlike the Basques, the Catalans
have controlled their terrorists and struck a working economic and cultural
bargain with Spain. But no astute Spanish politician should take Catalonian
stability for granted.
Last year, the people of Holland and France rejected the
proposed EU constitution. The Dutch and French "no's" suggested even the
most solid of Western European citizens have issues with a pan-European
government. Few object, however, to the original notion of a "Common Market"
(the European Economic Community).
A common market (if not a common currency), open communication
and common security -- these are the "greater identities" shaping Europe,
through the EU and NATO.
Yes, ethnic and historical differences in Europe still create
wars of words, which a handful of violent fanatics would turn into wars of
bombs and bullets.
But violence and isolation produce poverty -- and the people of
Europe's "could-be" statelets know it.