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Stateless nations.

Nationalism is a force that's very difficult to stop. Time and again, governments have tried to stamp out nationalist movements. Time and again, they've failed.

Politicians and diplomats go to enormous lengths trying to keep existing nations together. It's as if they fear that if one nation divides all others will. So, people patch together agreements such as the 1995 Dayton Peace Accord. This is a well-intentioned attempt to end more than four years of war in what used to be Yugoslavia.

The Accord preserves Bosnia-Herzegovina as a functioning, unified "nation." But, it's a country that exists mostly just on paper. A federation of Bosnian Muslims and Croats governs 51% of the country, a Bosnian Serb government controls the rest. The presidency of the unified country rotates among the Muslims, Croats, and Serbs. But, the three groups involved hate each other with such a passion that tens of thousands of peacekeeping soldiers have been stationed in the country to keep them from going for each other's throats.

To reduce friction to a minimum, the three ethnic groups live in a patchwork of little areas in which each can feel safe. The jigsaw that is Bosnia has pockets and corridors that have no relation to history. Many question whether the country can survive as a multi-ethnic state without massive life support from outside.

History is littered with cases of multi-ethnic countries such as Bosnia-Herzegovina that have failed. And, there are plenty of examples from our own era -- the Soviet Union, Sudan, Cyprus, Sri Lanka, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia. The evidence of history also tells us that democracy almost never works in societies that are highly divided along linguistic and cultural lines.

But, there is a widespread belief that nationalist secession is in itself dangerous. This helps explain why many nations criticized Germany for its early recognition of the independence of Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia when Yugoslavia fell apart in 1991. It explains why the United States was dumped on for supporting the independence of Eritrea from Ethiopia in 1993.

Writing in Foreign Affairs, Michael Lind says this prejudice against nationalism -- even liberal, democratic, constitutional nationalism -- is a mistake. Reflexive support for multinational political entities," writes Mr. Lind, especially despotic ones, is as misguided as the automatic rejection of movements that seek the sovereignty of national homelands."

In the case of Ethiopia, the independence of Eritrea ended 30 years of civil war. Both countries are desperately poor and face frequent food shortages brought on by drought. But, now both countries are at peace and can devote their energies to dealing with the economic and social difficulties they face. Preserving Ethiopia as a single country would have meant more bloodshed due to war.

Gidon Gottlieb suggests looking for a middle ground between the physical division of nations and forcing the unity of hostile groups at gunpoint.

A professor of international law and diplomacy at the university of Chicago, Mr. Gottlieb puts forward the idea of creating nations without states. A word that's used to describe this is devolution. It means that power is less concentrated in one central government; regional and local governments take control of more and more of their affairs while retaining links to the overall nation.

It's been done and it works. Finland has loyal Swedes with rights of language and local self-government. In the Alto Adige region of Italy, a German-speaking minority enjoys many special rights while remaining loyally Italian. The extension of language and local-government rights to minorities has caught on in Hungary and Bulgaria.

A good example of a stateless "nation" is Catalonia. In the northeastern corner of Spain, Catalans have long objected to rule from Madrid. With their own distinctive language and culture, the people of Catalonia see themselves as being closer to France and the rest of Europe than they are to Spain. From time to time the Castilian-speaking leadership in Madrid has tried to suppress the Catalan language and culture. This has served to strengthen Catalan feelings of separateness.

In 1975, democracy came to Spain after nearly 40 years of General Francisco Franco's dictatorship. Almost at once, the six million Catalonians regained control of their own distinct society. The Catalan language has replaced Castilian in government, schools, and business. The government encourages the use of Catalan in signs, but it doesn't ban other languages. The region's leader, Jordi Pujol and his Convergence and Union Party, presses Spain's central government for more local power., Mr. Pujol does not seek separate national status for Catalonia. Why would he?

Catalonia has become the economic powerhouse of Spain. Centred on the bustling city of Barcelona, the region has 16% of Spain's population but accounts for 23% of the country's exports and 24% of its industrial output. Catalonia also attracts almost half of all the foreign investment going into Spain. Catalonia has its own parliament, flag, and national anthem. When the Olympic Games were held in Barcelona in 1992, Catalan was one of the four official languages and the Catalonian flag flew alongside the Spanish one. Its distinct culture, language, and history are clearly recognized within Spain.

Catalunya, to use the Catalan spelling, has all the trappings of nationhood while avoiding some of the headaches. It's an arrangement that most Catalans and most Spaniards are comfortable with. A state has been created without a nation. Could this work elsewhere?

In foreign ministries and universities all over the world working groups are coming to grips with this problem. They are trying to establish ground rules that will guide the world's leaders as they struggle with how to respond to the challenge of ethnic nationalism.

Some suggestions have already been made.

* Grant a large measure of self-government to dissident ethnic groups, and encourage other countries to do the same. Democracy alone may not satisfy ethnics who suspect that their representatives in a national parliament will be constantly outvoted on such matters as where and how tax money should be spent. The presence of 22 Kurds in the Turkish parliament (out of a total of 450 members) has not prevented Kurdish nationalists from turning southeastern Turkey into a land of fear. The other side of this coin is that granting home rule to a Minority might encourage outright separation. Hungarians outside Hungary, the largest minority group in Europe, want to run their own lives in Romania. But, Romanians fear that such a transfer of power would encourage an attempt by its Hungarian minority to join Hungary.

* Develop a set of principles to govern when new states should be given diplomatic recognition and what they must do to qualify for admission into international bodies. Robert Badinter, president of the French Constitutional Council has suggested that new states must establish democratic institutions, accept international covenants of human rights, pledge to respect existing frontiers, and guarantee respectful treatment of their own ethnic and/or religious minorities.

* Care has to be taken that we don't end up segregating all groups from one another, even voluntarily. States in which there is a single ethnic group have a poor track record on democracy and tolerance. Political systems that deliver the most freedom cherish diversity within national unity.

* Work out rules for determining when international intervention is necessary to prevent bloodshed, and develop mechanisms to carry it out. The old principle that a government might do anything within its own borders to its own people is under attack. The UN sent troops into Iraq to protect Kurds from attack by Saddam Hussein. The UN also sent peacekeepers into Croatia while Croats were still fighting to break free from Yugoslavia. A working definition has been offered by New York Tides columnist William Safire: "When a large majority of people in a region are of one ethnic group; when those people are politically repressed or culturally stifled by a different group in control of that region -- then, the maltreated local majority has a moral call on the world to aid its self-determination."

* Create soft forms of union that cross international boundaries; a form of union that involves peoples rather than territories. The European Union is a model for this. Nations within the EU must give up some of their sovereignty in economic and political matters. Borders between nations become less rigid as passport controls are relaxed and the movement of people is unrestricted. National governments, however, should retain complete control of such matters as language and culture -- two areas that often stir nationalist passions.

As long as nations are willing to cooperate in security alliances and trade groups, there is no reason why a small state such as Portugal or Croatia should not be as viable as a great power such as the United States. Perhaps the creation of more small states will lead to more peace.


1. One argument that is frequently made against secession is that adding more states will create global disorder. When the United Nations opened its doors it had 52 member states. By 1996, there were 185 member countries. At most, the number of groups clamouring for national status at present is in the dozens. Would 20 or 30 new countries tip the world over the edge into unmanageability? Discuss.

2. There are many groups seeking a nation of their own. Assign students to research groups from the following list and present reports to class on the status of their claims to nationhood: Corsicans (France), Basques (Spain), Chechens (Russia), Palestinians (Israel), Tamils (Sri Lanka), Sikhs (India), Karen (Myanmar), Ogoni (Nigeria), Zulu (South Africa), Guarani (Paraguay/Brazil).
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Title Annotation:how large ethnic groups have successfully created separate nations within nations
Publication:Canada and the World Backgrounder
Date:Jan 1, 1997
Previous Article:Multiculturalism and democracy.
Next Article:Scottish nationalism.

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