I don’t intend to write in any detail about Tibet – I refer readers who are interested to Andy, to Madam Miaow and for a contrary viewpoint to Liam. But here’s a little counterintuitive nugget – since 1988, Chinese law has required all government officials in the Tibetan Autonomous Region to have a working knowledge of the Tibetan language. Bearing in mind that the Chinese state is supposed to be bent on crushing Tibetan culture, in the limited sphere of linguistic recognition at least, Tibet is doing rather well compared to the north of Ireland. Or, say, Brittany. Hell, even Wales doesn’t have a legal provision like that.
This may seem unbearably flippant, but it’s only partly so. You very often find an attitude in North America and the bigger nations of Western Europe, that “the West” represents the pinnacle of human society and this entitles “Westerners” to berate other countries on how they operate – most often when it comes to anything that can be brought under the “human rights” rubric. This is especially so in terms of the European Union and how it relates to nationalism.
Let me explain. The big claim made for the EU is that it has secured the post-1945 peace and dissolved old enmities. There’s something to that, in the limited sense that France and Germany now limit their competition to the economic sphere rather than invading each other every 25 years. But there are those – Timothy Wishbone Ash immediately springs to mind – who go further. That is, that there is no national question any longer in Western Europe (Ireland can be explained away as an aberration if it’s even noticed), and the persistence of nationalism in the former people’s democracies can be seen as a manifestation of these countries being insufficiently integrated into the European whole. So EU membership is held out as the big long-term solution to the Western Balkans, for instance.
There are plenty of holes that could be picked in this. Most notably, the supposed absence of a live national question from Western Europe. One may wonder where this leaves the Alsatians, the Aragonese, the Basques, the Bretons, the Catalans, the Corsicans, the Faeroe Islanders, the Flemings, the Frisians, the Friulians, the Galicians, the Occitans, the Sámi, the Sardinians, the Sorbs and probably some more I’ve forgotten. Now, I am long since past the stage of automatically supporting any secessionist movement that comes along – Yugoslavia cured me of that – but it’s fair to say that there are plenty of long-running national tensions in the so-called “mature democracies”. Around about the time of Maastricht there was a lot of talk about the “Europe of regions”, but this seems to have progressed little beyond adding some more bells and whistles to the Euro-bureaucracy. The big nation-states still look to be in rude health.
Here’s another little counterfactual. Two of the countries that come in for the most hectoring are Slovakia and Romania, largely on behalf of these countries’ ethnic Hungarian minorities. It’s true, of course, that there are some nasty xenophobic political actors out there, although their support is not significantly higher than, let’s say, Le Pen or Fini. And yet, and yet. Both in Slovakia and Romania, the Hungarian language is taught in schools and has official status in majority-Hungarian areas, and the ethnic Hungarian parties play a major kingmaking role. This compares pretty well to, let’s pluck an example out of the air, France.
There are a couple of tentative propositions that I think flow from this. The first is that commentators in the imperial metropoles need to do a bit of mote-and-beam work before they start giving off about “Ruritania”.
The other is that it’s worth thinking again about the sort of decentralist ideas that I would historically associate with what Yann Fouéré was talking about in L’Europe aux cent drapeaux. But again, that implies a very different social model to EU corporate oligarchy. Surely it’s worth putting aside gobbledegook about “independence in Europe” in favour of thinking about new models and how they could be fought for. As it is, I don’t have a detailed programme at my fingertips. But, for advocates of socialism from below, there’s food for thought here.