|A New Europe in the Changing Global System (UNU, 1997, 253 pages)|
|PART THREE: THE LEGACY OF COMMUNIST RULE|
|7: Nationalism and Ethnicity in Europe|
There is every indication that nationhood and nationalism will play a growing role in the internal and international politics of Europe, though with different implications for the different halves of the continent. In Western Europe the strength of the civil elements of nationhood, as expressed in the multiple and cross-cutting identities and interests of individuals and groups, coupled with the attractiveness of the integration process, is likely to be substantial enough to offset occasional upsurges of ethnic or even ethno-national mobilization. This does not mean to say that it will be easy, but the traditions of compromise and bargaining over resource allocation, the commitment to democracy and the perception by these societies that they have a direct interest, political as well as economic, in the maintenance of democracy should be sufficient to ensure that nationalist conflicts do not seriously destabilize any state.
The particular trouble spots of Northern Ireland and the Basque country are likely to fester on for a while, but in both these instances the status quo is, in effect, a kind of solution, in as much as any alteration would - at this stage - be likely to intensify difficulties rather than alleviate them. Elsewhere regular adjustments in the distribution of power should be sufficient to absorb ethno-national demands.
However, the end of communism in the former Soviet Union as well as in Central and Eastern Europe has resulted in two major changes. In the first place, the (re)unification of Germany has legitimated the national principle in Europe for the first time since 1945. Essentially, there were no civic grounds for German unity, only ethnic ones. There was no particular reason for Germans to unite in one state other than the fact that they were Germans; in other words it was the ethnic factor that fuelled this move. A democratized East German state could, presumably, have continued in being, in much the same way as a democratized Hungarian or Polish state has done, if it had had the ethnic underpinnings, but, despite the best efforts of the Honecker regime to construct a separate East German ethnicity, this never acquired much authenticity and the application of the ethnic principle has unequivocally pushed it into a single German state.
The broader significance of this has not escaped others. If Germans can claim to eliminate state boundaries by reference to nationhood, there is no reason why this is not applicable elsewhere and, indeed, German unification has become an off-stage reference point for those seeking independence in other parts of Europe. At the same time, there is more than a suggestion that the sympathy entertained by German opinion towards Croatian and Slovenian independence derived at least in part from Germany's own experience.
The knock-on effect of both German unification and the recognition of the Baltic states has been felt elsewhere, obviously in Yugoslavia, but also in Spain, where the difference in status and powers between Catalonia and the Basque country on the one hand and the other provinces on the other poses a growing problem. (Financial Times, 16 September 1991.) The Yugoslav question requires more detailed discussion than can be attempted here, but it is worth noting that the central reason why the state collapsed as a single entity is that, after 1945, it was reconstituted by Tito as a communist federation with an explicitly communist legitimation. The collapse of that communist legitimation has brought about the decay of the state as such and the corresponding reversion to the much stronger nationalist legitimations of Serbian, Croatian, and Slovenian nationhood. It appears unlikely in the extreme that attempts to put Yugoslavia together again can be successful, provided that those looking to keep it as a single state are committed to consensuality. A non-consensual Yugoslavia, however, would be highly unstable, because it would fly in the face of both the civic and the ethnic elements of national legitimation.
The end of communism is likely to have other fallout in the area of identity. For the last four-and-a-half decades, Europe has tacitly or sometimes expressly defined itself against communism, insisting that what is European is not communist and to some extent vice versa (only to some extent, because commitment to democracy involves offering some political house-room to anti-democrats like communists). In this respect, the end of communism will require a reappraisal of what Europe stands for, what its identity is. This will also include a redefinition of the socialist agenda, seeing that the defeat of communism will have reverberations for democratic socialism as well.
Post-communism and Ethno-national Questions
In the post-communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe, the construction of democracy inevitably means coming to terms with the resurgence of nationalism and, equally, finding the necessary instruments for integrating ethnic elements into the new systems. This poses a number of problems, some of which can only be touched on in this chapter. The states of Central and Eastern Europe are all to a greater or lesser extent ethnically heterogeneous and will, if they intend to maintain their commitment to democracy, have to make provision for the well-being of minorities. Centrally, this will oblige them to accept and practice democratic self-limitation, something that will require considerable restraint on the part of the new governments. There is little evidence to date that consociational solutions, clearly the most effective in making provision for consensus across segmented societies, have been taken on board. However, the political mood in the Central European states - Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary - suggests that there is, in fact, some readiness to avoid the worst excesses of majoritarian policies. (Schöpflin, 1991c and 1991d)
Furthermore, self-limitation will also involve an understanding of the proposition that in a democracy the state is not the instrument of the ruling majority for the implementation of certain ideals and utopias, but the agent of governance for the whole of society, regardless of ethnicity. By the same token, the sacralizing of territory, the belief that the particular frontiers that have come into being are in some way above politics, is harmful, because it can lead the majority into the dubious perspective of regarding all minority claims as an infringement upon the sacred territory. There is more than a hint that attitudes of this kind inform Romanian and Serbian thinking, concerning Transylvania and the Kosovo. Any attempt to insist that civic rights should be denied to those who claim different ethnic rights leads directly to major violations of human rights.
Finally, there is the broad problem of integration. In order for democracy to operate effectively, the great majority of the population must feel committed to it and must have an active interest in sustaining it. Without this, democracy will become the affair of the elites and thus be vulnerable to popular upsurges of an anti-democratic nature. Various scenarios illustrating this can be written, notably the rise of an authoritarian leader using nationalist slogans to divert the attention of the population from economic privation. The Milosevic model or "Latin-Americanization" comes very close to being a paradigmatic case, but the model is potentially applicable throughout the area, even given a relatively favorable international environment. Any such development, overemphasizing the ethnic elements of nationalism against the civic ones, is liable to result in growing instability and friction between ethnic groups and undermine the best chance of building democracy that Central and Eastern Europe has ever had.