Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Beware of Contagion? Or Beware of Those Wary of Contagion?

Nice, flashy title for a piece on whether there will be more separatism in Europe this summer: "if at first you don't secede."  It raises all kinds of fears about Europe blowing apart as each country facing a separatist movement might suddenly disintegrate.

To be clear, the situations in most of Europe versus Ukraine are not so much apples and oranges but apples and bear-savaged campgrounds.  Huh?  Separatism is not spreading from Crimea to Donetsk via some kind of learning process.  No, it is spreading within one country (a point I made long ago when other stuff seemed contagious) and not via a learning process or any kind of osmosis but via separate and distinct interventions by an outside power--that would be Russia.

So, the political processes that have caused irredentism in Crimea (or aimed at Crimea) and something akin to it in Eastern Ukraine are entirely irrelevant for the Scots, the Basques, the Bretons, and so on.  The funny thing about the list of suspects in the piece is that it ignores the recent developments that push in the opposite direction.  Quebec's recent provincial election might not mean that the sovereignty movement is dead, but it sure as hell is not on the march towards independence.  Scotland?  Sure, it has a referendum coming up, but the no side is ahead, and just gained another key ally--comedians uber alles.

The article goes on and on, listing a bunch of potential separatist movements and actual ones as well, regardless of how serious their prospects are. 

The question is less absurd than it sounds. Just look at that foundering transnational project, the European Union. The bitter irony is that one of the only things uniting the 28 public opinions in the fledgling superstate is their common resentment of their common project. The telegenic figurehead of the U.K. Independence Party, Nigel Farage, is but one of a new generation of populist politicians across the continent, all popular insofar as they rail against "Brussels" -- that symbol of the wasteful, undemocratic, and bureaucratic European behemoth that threatens to crush each member country's uniqueness.
I hate to compare the US to the EU because one is a country and the other is not, but folks have been running against Washington, DC for as long as anyone can remember.  Yet the US has managed to stick around.  The EU? Yes, there is lots of friction, but that happens amid and after a Great Recession.  The only real threat to leave is the UK's, and I am not sure how realistic that is these days.  But neither the US, nor the EU, nor the rest of Europe are what the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia were in the late 1980s and early 1990s: authoritarian systems built on the suddenly fragile ideology that promised "full employment" and fell short.  
Some of the European Union's most vocal opponents scoffingly compare it to the Soviet Union and eagerly anticipate its similar fate. The implosion of the European Union could prove to be just as much of a Pandora's box of secessionisms as the end of the Soviet Union is still proving to be: today in eastern Ukraine, tomorrow perhaps in France, Spain, and Italy. 
So, the conclusion of this piece is to support the wild speculation that is the favored stance of Europe's fringe?  I am tempted to Lloyd Bentsen this Dan Quayle: I have met Pandora's Box, I have written about Pandora's Box, my friend, this Europe is no Pandora's Box.   But that is a dated and insulting reference, so I shall refrain.

Again, there are good reasons to be concerned about what Russia is doing in its neighbors.  There is also good reason to ponder each separatist movement in the rest of Europe, but each is almost entirely driven by domestic political dynamics--of the group and of the country in which they reside.  Unless Russia starts sending its little green men to Scotland, to Venice and to wherever else, there will be limited inspiration and contagion from East to West this summer.

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