Sunday, September 28, 2014

How European nationalism is different from Asian nationalism

Although the Scottish decision to forgo independence in view of economic security may have dampened the secessionist spirit in Europe, it has hardly been able to put the question of secession off the table.

The reason for this is that these independence-seeking pockets in Europe have a long history secessionism behind them. In the course of which their efforts to be independent have been thwarted many times by forces of history but never been put to rest for good.

Between 1640 and 1659, Catalonia, a part of Spain, stood up to the presence of the Castillian army in its territory, and became a republic under French protection. But unfortunately, a hundred years later, following the War of the Spanish Succession, Catalan institutions were institutions were abolished and replaced by Castillian ones.

Catalan past has the two ingredients – achievement and oppression - required to create a nationalistic feeling and sustain it. And the fact that Catalonia is rich (in fact, one of the richest in Spain) gives it the economic viability it requires for statehood.

Similarly, Belgium’s Flemish region, Flanders, which may be the next one to have independence referendum, represent 80 percent of Belgium’s economy and 60 percent of its population. The other 40 percent of Belgium’s population is Wallonians which Flanders has had to coexist with since the formation of Belgium in 1830 despite complete absence of cultural similarity.

Vlaams Belang, the only political party in Flanders which espouses the independence cause, says Belgium has been an artificial state from the very beginning which was formed by forcing into it two people (the Flemish and Walloons) who have nothing in common including political outlook; Flanders is center of right while Wallonia is socialist.

Another European place seeking self-realization is Veneto, one of the wealthiest and most industrialized regions of Italy. Veneto was an independent state which ruled over a series of city-states until, following Napoleonic wars and the Congress of Vienna, Veneto was annexed by the Austrian Empire and later given over to Italy in 1866. Here emerges another profile similar to Flanders and Catalonia.

But is not nationalism, in any place in the world, always an outcome of the past as a source of pride and indignation coupled with economic viability? Yes, but what’s unique with European nationalism is the presence of EU.

55 percent of voters in a poll conducted to find out support for independence among residents of Veneto said they would want Veneto to remain a part of the EU and over 51 percent said they want to remain in the eurozone. A larger percentage said they would want Veneto to remain a part of NATO.

In Catalonia, according to polls, although there is strong support for independence among its people, there is very little support for an independent Catalonia outside of EU indicating diffidence about not having EU’s encompassing presence behind them as an independent country.

Some have argued that it’s the presence of the fatherly EU and the assurance that the father will come to the fiscal rescue of the hard-up child and ensure its survival on the dole out of another child which is doing well which gave the Scot independence seekers the mental cushioning they needed to clamour for freedom. 

It may not be so much the case with Catalonia and Flanders given their economic strength, but the presence of EU gives them the unique advantage of having a neutral body to moderate matters which is specific to Europe, unlike UN whose character lacks regional specificity. However, the support for NATO membership among the separation seekers is understandable given the new geopolitical challenges like Islamic terrorism and expansionist drives.

 The presence of EU as political, economic protection umbrella available to European countries seeking self-realization is absent for their Asian counter parts. What is also absent with their Asian counterparts is a strong economy which could make their statehood viable, except in some cases like Hong Kong. 

Absence of an EU-like body, NATO and lack of economic strength are reasons why Tibet, Kashmir, Baluchistan etc, if given separate statehood, will become vassals of Asian expansionist powers and be vulnerable to Islamic terrorism always looking out for new frontiers, while Catalonia, Flanders and so on will remain afloat as independent nations without hugely changing the configurations of European geopolitics. 

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