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Artificial Nation Building Doesn’t Work 2 June 2006

Posted by David in Europe.
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In today's Times there is a piece regarding the "ever more complex jigsaw of Europe" as more and more countries divide themselves up. This coming after Montenegro voted to leave Serbia, ending the artificially made Yugoslavia, and now calls for independence for Transdniestr from Moldova. The article is rather negative – highlighting fears of instability – however we should look more positively at these succession movements, particularly in areas where there's a history of inter-ethnic violence. Civil wars are caused by friction within a state, so why not remove that friction?

Take for instance Yugoslavia. It was held together for 90 years by force, hatred and oppression – an entirely negative situation. Civil war was the result, thousands died, poverty was rife and for what? Why keep it as Yugoslavia? Now, it has all fragmented, and it's better. Good riddance to old Yugoslavia – a friendly welcome to Montenegro, Macedonia, Slovenia etc. Same is true for old Czechoslovakia, now the Czech and Slovak Republics.

And so to Iraq. Why are we trying to hold together a country called Iraq, which was created in the early 20th Century when we drew up some entirely artificial borders with the French – with no relation to locals, history or to geography? The Kurds are fighting the Sunnis, the Shias the Shi'ites, etc etc. So why not divide up Iraq into smaller countries, based on what the people want and feel happy with, and avoid civil war? Then, any attacks between them would be declaration of real war, in breach of international law, and result in action (troops or sanctions) – it would be a lot less likely to happen.

Fears are expressed over Scotland and Wales – won't they go too, given the chance? Personally, I wouldn't like that, but don't think they would. Wales only narrowly voted for devolution, with very low turnout among 'no' voters caused by all polls showing a huge 'no' victory. Scotland slightly more but not by a huge amount. Nationalist parties poll poorly also.

To me, anyway, a country must have a couple of criteria to change. If it is already in existence for whatever reason and is functioning without major problems, unrest or violence – leave it alone. To have succession, there should be a distinctive and sepperate culture/identity, with traditional or historical self-government, widespread desire for independence, and preferably some sort of geographical separation (mountains, a river, an island etc).

We have got to accept that you can't just build nations – they are organic, natural and evolving – and so if we are to avoid civil wars we must shape the borders around the people, not the people around the borders. Democracy can only work with a coherent, unified demos/people.

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