Sunday, 8 June 2014

Ludovic Stur and the revival of Yorkshire identity - a nationalist romance

This piece of modernist statuary is a memorial to Ludivic Stur - the words below the monument describe him as 'Slovensky Narodny Buditel'. Roughly translated this means 'Slovak National Revivalist', which describes what Stur did (at least according to the Soviets):

Štúr studied philosophy and philology at the Bratislava Lycée from 1829 to 1833 and at the University of Halle from 1838 to 1840. With J. Hurban and M. M. Hodža, he carried out a reform of the literary language that based the language on the Central Slovak dialect; he organized the cultural and educational society Tatrin. From 1845 to 1848, Štúr published Slovenskje narodňje novini, the first Slovak political newspaper, and a literary supplement, Orol tatrański.

In 1847 and 1848, Štúr was a deputy to the Hungarian Diet. At the Slavic Congress in Prague in 1848 he demanded recognition of the Slavic peoples’ rights to free national and cultural development. He took part in the Prague Uprising of 1848, and in the Revolution of 1848–49 he led the struggle of the Slovaks for national liberation.

But I'm not here to talk about the birth of Slovakian nationalism although it's worth noting that it took over 170 years from Stur's revival of the Slovak language to the creation of the first independent Slovak state. And it's that independence - or the idea of independence - that I'm struck by here. So let's speculate by talking about Yorkshire, remembering while we do just how long it took to realise Stur's Slovakian dream.

Here's something from a Yorkshire regionalist party in the recent European elections:

We would like to take this opportunity to thank the 19017 that put their faith in a different future. We salute you for giving life to Yorkshire First. The fight goes on to convince all parties that the time for change is now. It is time for Yorkshire

Yorkshire has a larger population than Scotland and an economy twice the size of Wales, but with the powers of neither. We support the devolving of powers to the least centralised authority capable of addressing those matters effectively – within Yorkshire, the United Kingdom and Europe. 

We can have a little giggle at such a ridiculous idea - there's never been an independent Yorkshire, this is just some sort of indulgence. Except that this is how such ideas start - with a romantic dream such as Ludovic Stur's idea of Slovakia. I know that the Soviets paint him as some sort of noble revolutionary but the truth was that he was just a man who was steeped in the language and culture of the place he called Slovakia. And in the first instance it is that cultural identity combined with a romantic view of past and future that creates nationalism.

The origins of Scottish and Welsh nationalism don't lie in the dry world of economics or even in the technocratic, ideology-free statism of Alex Salmond. Those origins lie in the myths and legends of these places, in the vaguely remembered events of the past, in a set of wrongs felt unrighted and in the saving of language from extinction. These romantic ideas - the spirit of nation, if you wish it - are what makes separatism a possibility not dry analysis or logic.

Checking on Wikipedia reveals a long list - over 100 organisations that in one way or another seek independence or greater autonomy. And there's an association, the European Free Alliance, that brings together about 40 separatist political parties including the UK's Scottish, Cornish and Welsh nationalists. And these movements are making progress - we know of the independence vote in Scotland and may have spotted the recognition of the Cornish as a nation. But there's more - tens of thousands of Basques formed a human chain to call for the Spanish government to grant them an independence vote. There's an ongoing debate in Catalunya where the regional government wants a vote but the national government is trying to prevent this happening. We saw an on-line poll showing overwhelming support for secession of the Veneto from Italy (and the arresting of some separatists in a weird tank incident).

There is no certainty in nationhood or in the boundaries that are drawn to create those nations and we are fools if we believe these things to be either eternal or sacrosanct. Nations only remain nations by consent - where that consent is taken for granted or worse abused then the case for change, which will nearly involve a new nationalism, is made. We look at Europe and see the EU, a sort of Frankenstein's monster version of the Holy Roman Empire filled with unaccountable and distant bureaucrats governed by entitled autocrats who owe their power to patronage rather than the will of Europe's populace. Add in economic collapse on a scale, for Southern Europe especially, not seen since the aftermath of the last world war and we have the recipe from fragmentation, for that cherished multi-culturalism to descend into distrust, blame and the desire to break from the state that led people into this disaster.

I'll finish by coming back to Yorkshire and that sense of identity, the essential first ingredient for nationalism. How many medals did Yorkshire win at the Olympics?

Some say it’s the Yorkshire water. Others say it’s the Yorkshire beer. But Nicola Adams, born and bred in God’s Own County, is in no doubt over the reason for Yorkshire’s stunning success at the Olympic Games.

‘It must be all those Yorkshire puddings,’ she said in the aftermath of her historic boxing gold medal, the first ever won by a woman at an Olympic Games.
When Luke Campbell, proud son of Hull, fought his way to a boxing gold medal by defeating Ireland’s John Joe Nevin in the bantamweight final, he took Yorkshire’s medal haul at London 2012 to five golds, one silver and two bronze.

If Yorkshire was a country, as some of its more fanatical supporters might prefer, it would be 15th in the London 2012 medal table, just behind New Zealand but ahead of sporting giants South Africa, Spain and Brazil.

In past Olympics (the ones where we managed to win medals that is) this regionalism was never noted but suddenly, when the Games are back in London, that sense of Yorkshire pride is apparent and rampant. So when Yorkshire coming knocking at Britain's door saying "we want what Scotland's got" it will be a brave government that turns them away.


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