Crisis in Europe echoes split in Balkan states (Nov. 28)

Instead of the Europeanization of the Balkans, are we now witnessing the start of the Balkanisation of Europe? On Sunday, Catalans voted for a new regional parliament, and regardless of how the vote split among parties, one thing is immediately clear from the result: A majority of the electorate wants a referendum on whether to declare independence from Spain.

Whether and how Catalonia secedes will now unfold. But it is no longer in the realm of fiction that we may in a few years find ourselves talking about “rump-Spain,” “the former Belgium” and “the former UK.”

All this should sound familiar to anyone who followed the breakup of Yugoslavia. [INDEED!] The similarities, with the collapse of Josip Broz Tito’s multinational state [THERE WAS A MULTINATIONAL STATE BEFORE TITO, as everyone conveniently forgets to mention] and the current stirrings of separatism around Europe, are evident on two levels. First, there is the north-south split of the European Union; and second, there is the north-south split within countries - think of Scotland versus Wallonia in Belgium.

At both the European level and in the three country cases, the northerners are fed up with subsidising, as they see it, the lazy and spendthrift southerners. That animus is all too clear when Germans talk about Greeks, Catalans about the rest of the Spain, the Flemish about the Walloons and, in the case of the UK, the Scots about London taking Scotland’s oil.

Olaf Tempelman, the former Eastern Europe correspondent of the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant, recently summed up the parallel between the Balkans of the 1990s and the current rift between southern and northern Europe.

He argued that Croatia and Slovenia put up with contributing toward the development of the poorer parts of Yugoslavia, such as Kosovo and Bosnia, “as long as prosperity continued, and as long as the inhabitants failed to notice much of their further entwinement with the other regions.”

When the money ran out, however, heavily indebted Yugoslavia began to lurch from one economic crisis to another and things began to change. “The current northern European slogan ‘Not one more cent to the garlic nations’ is eerily similar to the Slovenian one of that time: ‘No more funds for the biftek (beefsteak) zone,”‘ Tempelman wrote.

The Dutchman went further, pointing to similarities between the nationalist and far-right leaders who are making headlines in the economically stricken Europe of today, and the men who came to power in Yugoslavia in the late 1980s, such as Slobodan Milosevic [sic: he was a socialist, so not exactly “far right”] in Serbia and Franjo Tudjman [demonstrably fascist] in Croatia.

…As Yugoslavia broke up, many Serbs said the drive for secession that began as a cancer in their country would spread elsewhere in Europe, if not checked.

Now some Serbs feel vindicated, even if this particular argument is false - Milosevic aimed to carve out a Greater Serbia and Tudjman wanted a Greater Croatia, but Catalonia and Flanders have no such ambitions.

Neither did Milosevic, but we bombed him anyway. So this means that we should soon see Europe bombing itself.

The general point of the article is well-taken, but rather than making lazy comparisons and ham-fisted generalizations, while reinforcing Balkan fictions, one should stick to accurate comparisons — and we should judge the right-wing leaders that crop up on their own merits or demerits.

******UPDATE******

I meant to also include this earlier story on the planned Catalonia referendum:

Catalonia plans secession “a la Kosovo” (Beta, Oct. 18)

BRUSSELS — Catalonia is planning to secede from Spain following the example of Kosovo, European media are reporting this week.

This comes after the province’s authorities said they would call a referendum on self-determination.

Catalan politicians want a new state of the European Union to be “Greater Catalonia” which would include the Balearic Islands, the Valencia region - and perhaps also some border regions toward France.

This policy will be put to the test in a referendum planned for 2014.

Italian newspaper La Stampa writes under the headline “Catalonia like Kosovo” that this Spanish province wants to unilaterally declare independence.

The authorities in Barcelona, especially after a demonstration held by half a million Catalans in favor of independence, and the football derby Barcelona-Real Madrid, during which Catalan fans waved flags and carried a large banner reading, “Independence,” also seeks five billion euros in aid from Madrid to cope with a huge debt of 42 billion euros and a growing budget deficit.

Barcelona is also demanding that in the future, Catalonia, Spain’s wealthiest region, should collect its own taxes, after they calculated that eight percent of Catalonia’s GDP is now being distributed to help other Spanish provinces.

Some commentators are now wondering whether many European and western countries would move to recognize Catalonia’s unilateral declaration of independence - something impermissible under Spain’s Constitution - just as they recognized “the right of Kosovo” to unilaterally declare independence from Serbia.

The conclusion was unanimous - that they will not - because those countries that have recognized Kosovo insist that it is “a unique case” - although some commentators have noted that this is in fact a policy of double standards and “boomerangs that come back”.

A unilateral declaration of independence of Catalonia is contrary to the provisions of the European Union and the European Commission has made it clear that the secession of Catalonia would mean that the new state would have to apply to be admitted to the EU, which requires a unanimous approval of all member states - and therefore the government in Madrid.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has recently requested that in that case, the European Commission must enforce a fundamental article of the founding act of the EU, the Lisbon Treaty, which prohibits unilateral secessions of regions of full-fledged EU member-states.

The political leader and president of the Catalan government, Arthur Mas, however, said that the referendum question would be, “Do you wish for Catalonia to become a new state of the European Union?”. According to him, this means that Catalonia would not be leaving the EU, but only separating from Spain to became a new state in the organization.

Some commentators suggest that the examples of Catalonia, Scotland, and Flanders could further encourage the always powerful, party violent Basque separatism in Spain, but also similar tendencies in other regions in the EU, such as South Tyrol-Alto Adige in Italy, Corsica in France, and a part of Romania where ethnic Hungarians are a majority.