If I go there will be trouble
An' if I stay it will be double
So come on and let me know
Should I stay or should I go
These are nationalist times... Very nationalist times indeed.
By itself, nationalism is not a bad thing. People can get extra motivation from the idea that they are working, sporting or making art for their motherland, as well as their leaders and fellow citizens.
At sports events like the Olympic Games, the Davis Cup of tennis or the World Championships Football or at an musical event like the Eurovision song contest, mildly nationalist feelings among the protagonists work like gasoline for a thirsty engine. Such feelings enable people to reach higher than they thought in advance would be possible.
However, nationalism has also a dark side. And it seems that this dark side is currently getting stronger around the world and especially in the small, but densely populated melting pot called Europe, with its enormous number of separate countries and ethnical groups and its centuries-long history of wars and (internal) conflicts.
Especially here in Europe, the merely positive nationalist feelings that people get from the achievements of their own country in the terrains of economy, sports and arts have been replaced by a negative – even brooding – nationalism, based on two opposite, but nevertheless inseparable feelings:
- A (false) sense of superiority that groups of people and countries experience, lifting them and their values – in their eyes – above other countries or groups of people;
- A feeling that other groups of people and / or other countries are more or less to blame for one’s personal misery or the misery of their particular group;
This negative variant of nationalism has already been looming during the last two decades, but its presence has been massively reinforced by the economic crisis, which has battered the European territory for over six years now. It is a fact that this nationalism does not stop at the borders of a country, but can become a strong force within a country itself. Especially when there are clearly separated regions in a country, which are inhabited by different ethnic groups and minorities from other ethnical groups.
You could call this then micro-nationalism.
Perhaps the worst example in recent European history has been the implosion of former Yugoslavia, where especially the intended separation of Slovenians, Croatians, Bosnians and Kosovars from the Yugoslavian ‘mother land’ led to eight years of civil war with massive bloodshed and countless civilian casualties.
And of course, the current situation in Ukraine is also caused by an outburst of such micro-nationalism and strong feelings that others than the own group are guilty of changing the situation in their home country for the worse.
One of the trade marks of such strongly emerging micro-nationalism is often that the leading majority in the country in question is seemingly deaf and blind for the needs of the minorities or even actively suppresses these needs: for instance by prohibiting particular habits of ethnic groups, by violating certain human rights or by not recognizing the own language of the ethnic groups as a national language.
Subsequently, these ethnic groups don’t feel themselves esteemed citizens of their own country anymore and can even develop hatred against their own country.
One of the clearest examples of such isolated, (in their own eyes) discriminated and increasingly hostile groups where the Basques in Spain, during the period from the seventies to the nineties, in which the ETA was at war with the Spanish government.
Also Belgium is a very good example of a country, which hosts two (in fact three) totally estranged and increasingly envious and hostile groups of citizens, albeit it on a much more innocent scale yet.
And although the situation in the Basque country has dramatically improved since the guerrilla war with Spain ended, the Basques - and the Catalunyians (i.e. Barcelona region) as well – are undoubtedly still elaborating their plans to separate from motherland Spain, when their cards are turning.
And their cards may turn… with a little help from their Scottish ‘friends’.
Next Thursday, September 18th, will be the day that the Scotts speak themselves out about the question whether they want to stay in or leave the United Kingdom as a nation.
What – to these eyes – is a big difference between the Scottish situation and – for instance – the situation in former Yugoslavia, is a. the fact that Scotland is already a separate country under the flag of the United Kingdom and b. that there is seemingly little animosity, heartfelt envy and subdued aggression between Scotland and its sister countries in the United Kingdom:
- Former Yugoslavia in the beginning of the nineties was aking to a shaken bottle of champagne with the cork still hanging on ‘by a whisker’. Decades of frustrations within the Yugoslavian territory and centuries of shared history regarding earlier brawls and wars between the ethnical groups, formed an explosive mixture.
- Spain had dealt with its share of domestic violence, initially coming from the Franco dictatorship and afterwards from the Basque freedom movement ETA;
- Belgium has been suffering for ages from the infinite anger, envy and frustration about the impossibility for the ethnic groups (Walloons and Flemish) to live together in a positive, respectful and cooperative way. This has led to a totally obstructed relation between these groups and an increasing political and economical separation within this more and more politically uncontrollable nation.
Scotland and England, however, seem more like a married couple, where the love and passion have vanished over the years: they have still strong feelings for each other, but one partner wonders whether life as a single would not be a better solution, while the other partner sticks his head in the sand, assuming the ostrich position.
What is probably accelerating the process of separation within the United Kingdom is the growing political difference between the Scotts and the English.
The more conservatively oriented English feel increasingly alienated from the tight bindings with the – in their eyes - patronizing and meddlesome European Union and focus foremost on the economic wellbeing of their capital, as a global financial centre and as the engine of their national economy. They experience the EU more and more as a burden, instead of an enrichment for their country.
The merely social-democrat Scotts, however, want to reinforce the bonds with (the countries in) the European Union and they are dissatisfied with the current political direction of the Cameron cabinet in Westminster, of which they see the policy as ‘second hand Thatcherism’.
And now the situation is that ‘Westminster’ and the English in general do acknowledge a possible negative outcome of the Scottish referendum and will probably respect the Scottish decision, but do not understand it… at all!
One dear English colleague of mine said to me yesterday:
“We rescued the Scotts from bankruptcy a few hundred years ago and welcomed them in the United Kingdom. Every year we send millions of pounds to them to keep their economy afloat.
When they want to stand on their own two feet, their country will be bankrupted in a couple of years and they will return to us crying, begging to be taken back into the United Kingdom”.
He, as well as probably many more British citizens, was adamant against a Scottish ‘Alleingang’ .
Nevertheless, one should not forget that this is the time of micro-nationalism: a time in which the heart and gutfeelings of people often overpower the rational thoughts and ideas!
The consequence of this is that the more the representatives of the English government and large businesses are warning the Scotts “not to break free” and tell them about the fierce consequences (through classical fearmongering) of such a separation, the more stubborn Scottish separatists and some doubting Scotts will become to do this anyway.
An interesting question is, however, what the European Union will do when the Scotts do indeed decide to separate themselves from the UK, next Thursday.
When the EU do not give the separated Scotts a warm welcome in the EU, than Scotland could become an orphan state, having poor relations with its former mother land, while having no-one else to go to.
Scotland then might indeed become a failed state very soon, with little economic prosperity and few chances for the future. This bleakish outlook would probably scare off other (small) regions with ambitions for independence.
However, when the Scotts are indeed given a warm welcome by the EU within a reasonable amount of time, then we could expect a host of small, independent ‘me too’ states within 20 years, when the current economic crisis and the accompanying depression endure:
- Basque Country;
- Northern Italy aka Padania;
- Northern (Turkish) Cyprus;
- Bavaria (Germany);
- Republica Srpska (Bosnia)
- And many, many more…
Those feelings of micro-nationalism, as well as a desire for separation and even hostile feelings against fellow countrymen belonging to another ethnical group, might always be there in the European countries and abroad.
Yet, in times of economic prosperity and elevated common wealth it is much easier to overcome or even ignore those micro-nationalist feelings, knowing that you are doing fine. Nevertheless, when your local economy is making a turn for the worse and your outlook has become quite bleak, it is typical for groups of people to look for someone or something to blame.
In case of the Scotts, this might become the United Kingdom…