The Intrepid Nation Builders and their Legacy

On March 16, Crimea voted overwhelmingly to leave Ukraine and join Russia, much to the displeasure of the European Union, which immediately threatened to impose sanctions on Russia. That the people of Crimea much rather be Russians than Ukrainians seemed not to matter much to anybody, except perhaps to the Crimeans themselves.

It seems, however, that the secessionist bug is spreading. The other shoe dropped when on March 22, a scant six days after the Crimean vote, 89% of voters in Venice and surrounding areas cast their ballots in favor of leaving Italy and forming their own independent republic, the “Republicca Veneta”, which ultimately could include the 5 million inhabitants of the Veneto region, parts of Lombardy, Trentino and Friuli-Venezia Giulia. The Rome government does not recognize the validity of the non- binding referendum so it seems that there will be much bickering between the two sides in the near future.

The region’s residents oppose the high taxes they pay to support the poorer regions of southern Italy; Venice sends some 71 billion euros annually to Rome in exchange for which she gets about 21 billion less in grants; add to the mix that Venice has been part of Italy for only a little less than 150 years. The “Serenissima Republicca di Venezia”, the Queen of the Adriatic and powerful military and trading force in the Mediterranean, existed for a thousand years before Napoleon conquered it in 1797 and stamped it out as an independent entity. It was swallowed by Italy in 1866 in the aftermath of the 3rd Italian War of Independence, which united the disparate conglomeration of city-states and principalities scattered all over the peninsula. There are also hints that Sardinia might follow suit.

On September 18, 2014, there will be a binding referendum in Great Britain following an agreement between the Scottish Governemnt and the Government of the United Kingdom. The only question to be asked is: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”. Scotland had been a sovereign state for some 800 years and had a tumultuous and sometimes bloody relationship with England until the Acts of Union in 1707 created the United Kingdom of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Elsewhere in Europe, the Catalonian secession movement seems to be gathering steam; whether or not it succeeds depends on many factors, including cooperation from Madrid, which does not seem to be forthcoming. If it is successful, it might encourage the separatist Basque regions in Spain and France. Venice and Catalonia sent observers to study the Scottish Independence Referendum implementation.

Following WW I, as punitive measures against Germany and Austria-Hungary, the countries of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia were created. The first finally dissolved peacefully as the Soviet iron grip disappeared; the latter, made up of disparate elements of Croatian Catholics, Serbian Orthodox plus a large Muslim segment, broke apart in bloody civil wars into six separate and distinct countries, which recreated the same distinct regions that were part of the old Austro-Hungarian empire.

The Berlin Conference of 1884-85, called to regulate the European colonization and trade in Africa, which at the time was mostly under traditional local controls, resulted in the partition of the continent into unnatural and arbitrary regions determined solely by latitudes and longitudes. It separated kindred tribes and lumped together unrelated peoples who not only had nothing in common but actively hated each other. These borders are still maintained today, all with predictable results; just witness the bloody civil war in Nigeria in the 60’s when Biafra tried to secede and its present violent conflict between Christians and Muslims. The genocidal wars between Sudan and Darfur, the massacre of some 800,000 Tutsis at the hands of Hutus in Rwanda and Burundi and the bloody conflicts in the Congo region are the result of this unnatural lumping of peoples whose only commonality is hatred of each other.

At the onset of WW I, the British encouraged Hussein bin Ali, Shariff of Mecca, to rebel against the ruling Ottoman Empire, then in control of Arabia and most of the Middle East. In return for his support of the Arab Rebellion, he was promised his own kingdom, which would comprise the entire Arabian Peninsula plus Syria and what was then Mesopotamia; however, in 1916 and behind his back, there was a secret agreement between England and France, with the assent of Russia, the Sykes-Picot Agreement, which divided the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire -except the Arabian Peninsula- into areas of future English and French control. Britain was given the coastal area between the sea and the river Jordan, southern Iraq, Haifa and Acre. France acquired control of south eastern Turkey, northern Iraq and all of Syria- which at the time included Lebanon. Russia was to get Istanbul, the Turkish Straits and Armenia. When the Bolsheviks toppled the Tsar, they came across copies of the agreement, which they were delighted to make public, much to the Allies embarrassment.

To placate the rightfully indignant Hussein, his sons were made kings of Transjordan (Jordan), Syria and Iraq. Even though his son Faisal had been proclaimed king of Syria by the Syrian National Congress, the French swiftly ejected him from Syria; the English promptly carved the territory of Iraq for him to rule as king. The French loped off part of Syria and established the country of Lebanon. The English found themselves trapped between the conflicting statements of the Sykes-Picot agreement and the text of the Balfour Declaration. Unable to resolve the conflict, they eventually pulled up stakes and left the mess for somebody else to clean. As a footnote, Hussein bin Ali was unable to repel the attacks of Ibn Saud after the British refused him help. He fled to Cyprus and died in Amman in 1931.

In 1947, as a result of Indian independence, the country of Pakistan was created, split, as only the English can do, into two separate entities: West Pakistan and East Pakistan, on opposite sides of the subcontinent, separated by many hundreds of miles of hostile Indian territory. Under this setup, what could possibly go wrong? After a short and violent war, East Pakistan split from West Pakistan and became Bangladesh.

The latest attempt at quasi-nation building is the European Union, which is already showing signs of strain. The UK, France and Germany show dissatisfaction with the arrangement. The future will tell if the EU is a really viable entity.

Nations are not created by fiat; they are born out of the commonality of ethnicity, language and traditions and these are not things that can be imposed from the top down; sometimes they are the result of geographical accidents, sometimes they are the result of the conscious decisions of peoples of different languages who realize that their geography and common interests trump the linguistic differences, as in the case of Switzerland.

Nation building is the domain of the arrogant elites who determine what the world should look like and how people should live because they think they know what is good for us better than we know ourselves; however, their record is dismal. The result, throughout the centuries, has been one of wars, blood and untold misery that continues to this day.

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