Sunday, 16 March 2014

God gave us small hearts - the rebirth of nationalism

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For most of my life the 'direction of travel' (as the trendy term goes) has been towards supranationalism, towards the idea of economic blocs and even the merger of states to produce a still bigger state. In some ways this was an understandable reaction to forty years of 'cold war', to a geopolitical contest between giant states - the USSR and the USA.

So we created our own union - just as did nations in South East Asia and South America. Pushing aside all the fine words and grand statements, these blocs were comfort blankets for smaller nations in a world of power bloc politics. The politicians would point out that the EU 'prevented' another war in Europe (it's all right folks, I know this is a pretty drastic rewriting of history but that's what politicians do) and allowed us to 'compete' with the USA, with the old Warsaw Pact and with China.

Petty nationalisms - the grumbles of Catalans, Venetians, Scots and Flemings about being subsumed into a larger identity - were disparaged. Either dismissed as rose-tinted nostalgia, indulged as sweet romanticism or condemned as fascism. The great future was deeper and closer union, an inevitable journey towards a New Europe free from the old tyranny of nationalism. Only a few nationalisms, the violent ones in Ireland and the Basque country, stirred us into action but this was simply to police the problem rather than find a solution.

Today Venetians are heading to the polls to decide whether to pursue secession from Italy, to recreate the old Venetian Republic (or at least the bits of it that still remain in Italy - we forget that a fair old chunk is now in Slovenia and Croatia). Although today's vote isn't binding on the Italian government, it would be hard to see how greater autonomy cannot follow if the vote matches the opinion polls showing 65% support for the idea across the Veneto.

We are approaching a vote on Scottish independence, there will be a similar poll in Catalonia and probably one in Galicia. And places like Corsica and Sardinia have active independence movements. At its recent conference, the UK's Liberal Democrats came out in support of devolved powers - the first step on the road to independence - for Cornwall.

Those petty nationalisms that the grand Europeans sneered at have become a new politics in Europe. One that threatens not just the EU but the nations that make up the EU - Spain, Italy, the UK, Belgium. And we can no longer simply dismiss the politics of nationalism as the work of a few lunatics.

For me there are two things driving these changes - the first one is economic, expressed here by a Venetian:

"Venetians not only want out of Italy, but we also want out of the euro, the EU and Nato," said Raffaele Serafini, another pro-independence activist

The EU - and most of all, the Euro - has completely failed places like Italy. The hope that Europe would free Italy from the corrupt institutions it inherited from Fascism was dashed as those institutions - the creatures of the corporate state - became the vehicles of the commission's control.

But there's also a romantic notion here, the idea that those old and smaller places are places with which we can identify, that we can love. And that, as Venice did before and small nations - Switzerland, Norway, Singapore, Iceland - do today, such love engenders success through trade, through business rather than through the idea of the big stick implied by the economics of the power bloc.

Above all it's about the size of our hearts:

GOD gave all men all earth to love,
But since our hearts are small,
Ordained for each one spot should prove
Belov├Ęd over all;
That, as He watched Creation’s birth,
So we, in godlike mood,
May of our love create our earth
And see that it is good. 

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