March 05, 2008

My earlier comments on the question of “Ethnonationalism” can be found here.

Muller argues in one of his concluding paragraphs:

“€Partition may thus be the most humane lasting solution to such intense communal conflicts. It inevitably creates new flows of refugees, but at least it deals with the problem at issue. The challenge for the international community in such cases is to separate communities in the most humane manner possible: by aiding in transport, assuring citizenship rights in the new homeland, and providing financial aid for resettlement and economic absorption. The bill for all of this will be huge, but it will rarely be greater than the material costs of interjecting and maintaining a foreign military presence large enough to pacify the rival ethnic combatants or the moral cost of doing nothing.”€

As Washington and several other Western powers have foolishly and perhaps fatefully embarked on an effort to break Serbia, the issue of partition is more relevant than ever. The trend over the last century has been towards increasing political diversity and the proliferation of new states.  But just as there was once a lack of such diversity, there is always the danger of an excess of it as every enclave declares its sacred right to self-determination, a right that is even more mythical than legends about the Urvolk.  In some cases, such as Kosovo and Karabakh, the proposed independence of the enclave is a stepping-stone to unification with the ethnic homeland, while in others it is a more dubious effort of the patron of a proxy group to promote splintering within neighboring countries as a way of increasing the patron’s control over a region. In all cases, there is the absurdity of insisting on recognizing the “€œsovereignty”€ of utterly non-viable states at the expense of more or less functioning sovereign states.

Liberal universalists have their preferred myths, too, and they are, if anything, far more fanatical in applying these myths to stubborn reality with consequences just as grave as anything deriving from nationalist tensions. The idea of self-determination gives license to endless upheaval.  During most of the 19th century, Europeans did not believe in such a “€œright,”€ and they enjoyed one of the relatively most peaceful centuries in their history. The century of self-determination has also been the century of mass slaughter, and the two are directly connected.  One shudders to think at what would become of Pakistan and India and the surrounding region if the “€œinternational community”€ took seriously the self-determination of every ethnicity and tribe currently in open or semi-rebellion against the national government.


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