Year XXXV, 1993, Number 1 - Page 9

 

 

Micronationalism and Federalism*
 
GUIDO MONTANI
 
 
The European and World Order after the Cold War. The end of the Cold War has led to a period of instability and uncertainty in the balance of world power. The USSR did not succeed in completing the process of democratisation begun by Gorbachev: after the failed coup d’état in August 1991, the project for a reformed union was shipwrecked on the nationalist claims of the republics. The US has remained the only superpower, though its inability to bear the weight of governing world affairs has by now become clear: this explains why US foreign policy continually wavers between wild hegemonic ambitions and vague projects for a new international order. Western Europe has tried to accelerate the project of Political Union, spurred on by these dramatic events which have sorely tried the community’s institutions that grew out of the cold war under the convenient protection of the US. However the plan set forth by European governments at Maastricht, while decisive regarding monetary unification, calls for stages that are too spread out over time and too vague regarding their terms for the construction of Political Union. Thus Europe remains incapable of responding decisively to the dramatic events presently tearing the Balkans apart. The danger is that the fire will spread. The same causes that have unleashed ethnic hatred in the Balkans and Caucasus, threaten within the near future the possibility of other dangerous flare-ups in every corner of the world. In Asia, Africa and America (Quebec) tense situations between different ethnic groups have existed for years now, and these could explode with catastrophic consequences if the disorder in Europe should worsen.
The nature of this phenomenon, its causes and possible remedies, remains controversial for the moment. Some have welcomed the independence struggles of Lithuania, Slovenia, Croatia, Nagorno-Karabach and Slovakia as a true affirmation of democracy (the self-determination of peoples). Yet judgment in this regard ought to be much more prudent and clearly thought-out. It is true that these problems have arisen during the democratisation process in the Soviet empire; however these difficulties are much more closely related (in both their causes and effects) to the ideology of nationalism than to that of democracy. The atrocious reality of concentration camps in the former Yugoslavia recalls the experience of Nazism so closely as to raise reasonable doubts.
 
Integration and Disintegration. Contemporary history is entirely incomprehensible if the growing economic, social and political interdependence between all the peoples of the world is excluded from our judgements. Paradoxically the break-up of the USSR itself can be understood within this perspective, since detente only became possible when the arms race between the two superpowers had lost any rational justification, due to the certain self-destruction a nuclear conflict would have caused. Nevertheless it is in Western Europe that the process of economic and political unification has made the most progress. The countries of the Community have now decided to share their monetary sovereignty, and to pool their sovereignty over foreign policy and security issues. This decision will involve the transfer of national state sovereignty to the European level and lead (if carried to the point of no return) to an entirely new phase of international politics. Indeed, the political unification of Western and Eastern Europe will become possible, thereby placing Europe in a leading position in the now vital struggle for democratic reform of the UN, the common home of all mankind. This crucial trend in European policy is nevertheless seriously threatened by the opposite tendency towards the break-up of states and, as a result, the disintegration of the entire European continent. The democratisation process in the Soviet empire has in fact come to a halt because of the break-up of the USSR into sovereign republics that are each seeking to create their own army and national currency as soon as possible. Yugoslavia has followed this bad example on a smaller scale, failing to contain the territorial claims of the various ethnic groups to any significant extent. The result has been a civil war fought with all the ferocity that racism is capable of producing. Each ethnic community wants to build its own national state, physically suppressing or expelling beyond its borders all “impure” elements that might infect the chosen race.
 
The European Union as a New Model of Political Community. The national states of the past were formed by affirming the principle of a political community enclosed within national boundaries: the national army and national currency (including customs duties) represented the material means for this policy. The border ensures that personal relationships with foreigners are impossible for all individuals without the explicit authorisation of the national government. The currency and army represent the instruments which in reality divide one political community from the other, and which guarantee politicians (who define themselves as “national”) the maximum amount of power over their citizens. Passive obedience in this form of state, which accommodates democracy with difficulty, is considered a civic virtue; and everyone is obliged to accept the supreme sacrifice of one’s life in order to defend the sacrosanct borders.
The European federation that is currently being constructed introduces a completely new principle of inter-individual relationships onto the international scene: Europeans belong to a political community that is open to world interdependence. In the European Union, the nation loses its monopoly over citizenship. European citizens are simultaneously English, Italian, Tyrolean, etc. The cultural identity of the European citizen will not be defined by a political power. European citizenship foreshadows and anticipates several features of cosmopolitanism. Europe has no natural borders to defend. It arises as a federation open to the entrance of all peoples who accept the fundamental principles of liberty and democracy that will be at the heart of the European constitution.
 
Nationalism and Micronationalism. Europe’s borders represent the bloody wounds inflicted by nationalism on the living flesh of the European people. European history is not simply the story of nationalism, though nationalism in Europe has undoubtedly conditioned profoundly the very same idea of politics, despite the cosmopolitan aspirations of liberalism, democracy and socialism. Nineteenth-century nationalism consisted of the ideology of the unity of state and nation, during a period of history in which economies were gradually freeing themselves from their feudal burdens under the impulse of the new dynamic forces of the free market and industry. The modern economy would never have developed within the narrow confines of the fief. Nationalism thus favoured the integration of peoples within a single state over wide national areas: both in large monarchical states, such as England, Spain and France, where political power had already succeeded in unifying vast territories; and in countries such as Italy and Germany, which through national unification managed to create the conditions for their economic development and entrance into the concert of the great powers.
This heritage still dominates the contemporary world. The principle of the sovereign national state governs international politics based on the balance of power: the only active subjects in world politics are the national states. It is nevertheless true that the principle of absolute sovereignty has nowadays been attenuated by the phenomenon of global interdependence, which forces sovereign states to co-operate in order to be better able to guarantee their own welfare. The birth and proliferation of the many existing international organisations cannot be explained otherwise. They are not the result of the goodwill or internationalism of the governments concerned: on the contrary, governments accept the constraints of co-operation as a lesser evil, since isolation often means impoverishment and marginalisation from the fruits of economic and social progress. Micronationalism is thus a new phenomenon with respect to traditional nationalism. It does not accompany the integration of vast areas and populations but seeks to break up existing states, and to create small ethnic communities which are virtually pure within their territorial confines; adopting for this purpose violence and discrimination (the army and currency), the instruments of classical national states. It is the illusion of independence in an interdependent world. It is nationalism on a small scale.
 
The Ideology of Disintegration. Although the phenomenon of micronationalism has manifested itself violently with regard to the crisis of the Soviet empire, its roots are to be found deeper within the crisis of the traditional political ideologies, that are no longer able to propound an ideal of the state which is acceptable to the modern citizen. This crisis has hit both West and East to the same degree, though expressing itself in different ways. The state, as conceived of in past political thought, was able to unite a people (and in some cases different peoples) through common institutions. Liberty, equality and justice are not spontaneous gifts of nature but the result of collective institutions. Today, in an age of global interdependence, the idea of the state as a political community capable of guaranteeing the solidarity and independence of different peoples, ethnic groups, nations and regions, is in crisis.
It has nevertheless been the break-up of the USSR which has lifted the heavy ideological pall that was imposed by the two superpowers during the cold war, under which the disruptive forces of micronationalism were slumbering. Once the thawing-out process had begun, the political class in power in the USSR showed itself to be incapable of forming new democratic parties that could present citizens with serious programmes for state reform that drew their inspiration from the great values of the liberal, democratic and socialist traditions. Before the coup d’état in August 1991, the process of reforming the political life of the USSR had reached a threshold: the radical transformation of the Soviet Communist Party into a social-democratic one, and of the USSR itself into a democratic union of states. Even Yugoslavia had succeeded in starting a democratisation process during this phase, albeit with differing degrees of progress and intensity from one republic to the next. Finally, Czechoslovakia, which is now equally besieged by micronationalistic fever, had already achieved a democratic and semi-federal form of government.
In all of these instances, the seed of micronationalism took root with surprising rapidity, leading to the break-up of the previous state structure due to the need for the political class in power to find a legitimate alternative to the communist regime, which by then had been struck by an irreversible crisis. The simplest formula, and the nearest to hand, was nationalism; that is, the primitive and crude idea of ethnic cleanliness or a chosen race. The formation of authentic political parties whose appeal was based on the values of liberalism, democracy and socialism would have required the education and selection of a new political class, which the dramatic crisis of the Leninist regime made extremely difficult. It was much easier and more effective to launch a patriotic appeal, while holding out the myth of national independence. In fact all the present heads of the former Soviet republics (including Russia) were former heads of the Soviet Community Party disguised as saviours of the fatherland. A similar interpretation can be proposed for the Baltic countries, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia; countries where (given their marginal position within the empire) dissent towards communism had already succeeded in bringing a section of the democratic forces to power, but where provincial leaders and demagogues were forced to appeal to crude nationalist sentiments in order to strengthen their hold on power.
Micronationalism represents an ideology which has allowed a local political class, threatened by the process of democratic transformation already under way on a large scale, to obtain the necessary popular consensus for maintaining their hold on power by means of the pseudo-democratic phenomenon of the referendum (the democratic fraud here is evident: the same people who only a few months before had voted Yes in the referendum on preserving the Union, subsequently voted Yes in the various national referendums to dismember it).
Nevertheless the destructive potential of micronationalism does not stop at the borders of the former Soviet empire. In Western Europe, where national states exist with well-established democratic governments, and where the process of the political unification of Europe has now reached a very advanced stage, micronationalism is slowly infiltrating itself into the intricacies of European politics. The movements for regional autonomy (which sometimes become the spokesmen of the real and legitimate aspirations of local communities) risk allowing themselves to become enchanted by the illusory objectives and erroneous methods of the struggle for micronationalism, during this dramatic period of reorganisation of the European order.
 
Regionalism and Micronationalism. The national states in Europe were formed and consolidated during the 18th and 19th centuries through a process of centralising power, gradually eliminating local feudalities and smothering regional cultures. The fundamental characteristics of the modern national state are in fact a centralised bureaucracy and the bureaucracy’s desire to base itself on a specific and exclusive cultural identity (Italianness, etc.). This political ideology rejects the fact that there might be “lesser” cultures, different from the one that has been raised to national prominence, that might advance a claim to be placed on the same level as the dominant culture. As a result, there arise conflicts which last for centuries and which often erupt in violence, as if it were a question of choosing between incompatible lifestyles. Some examples of this are the Catalans and Basques in Spain, the Bretons and Languedocians in France, the South Tyroleans in Italy, the Irish and Scots in Great Britain, the Flemish and Walloons in Belgium.
The process of European unification calls into question the national states as regards both their exclusive claim to regulate international relations and their relationship with their local communities, which have finally seen the opportunity arrive for achieving complete political and administrative autonomy. In fact the process of European unification obliges the national governments to yield power upwards to the European government (currency and security), and downwards to the local territorial authorities (especially in tax matters and concerning the management of expanding social services, which the local communities will probably turn out to be more efficient at handling than the national level, since they are more sensitive to the needs of the citizens in their area).
It is natural that during this process the local communities (mainly cities and regions) will increasingly try to insist that their voice be heard and will claim greater powers. This is a legitimate aspiration and accords with the principles of modern federalism, which contrary to classical American federalism is not simply expressed at two levels of government, but aims to coordinate the various levels of government from the smallest village up to a world government. This entails fulfilling the idea of an open political community, from the village, city, district, region, and so on, up to the world level which includes all mankind. The simultaneous inclusion of the citizen in several territorial communities becomes perfectly conceivable and uncontradictory within a federalist framework, since the relationships between different governments no longer depend on their relative military or economic power, but on the regulations of a common democratic constitution. Ultimately, federalism will allow nations to assert themselves as spontaneous cultural entities, without resorting to the violence of armies in order to defend themselves from outside threats or to dominate their citizens.
It is nevertheless clear that the struggle of local communities to affirm their autonomy cannot be conducted with the methods of micronationalism (violence, terrorism, etc.), nor can such communities seek the same objectives (monetary and military sovereignty) if their autonomy is to be compatible with interdependence. The struggle for European federalism and local federalism can only progress side by side, since the achievement of a federal Europe is necessary to eliminate entirely the suffocating centralising powers of the national state.
In this phase of history, currency and security must become competences of the European government, while waiting for the right political conditions to entrust them once and for all to a World government. The local communities which seek to affirm their autonomy by means of armed sovereignty do not in truth wish to achieve federalism, but rather to break up the state by destroying the idea of solidarity between citizens and between different territorial communities. Such a policy also excludes the European union from feasible political ideals. Those who desire new borders are not federalists, since borders are discrimination and violence.
 
Micronationalism versus Democracy. In the age of global interdependence, democracy inside a country can only be established and prosper if the country participates in the process of constructing international democracy. In fact the break-up of the USSR (which occurred when the US and USSR had laid the groundwork for the democratic reform of the United Nations system) has caused the previously planned reform of the international order to come to a halt.
The creation of new (and in several cases tiny) sovereign states compounds and aggravates the problem of Europe’s ethnic minorities. The creation of a sovereign Lithuania has immediately raised the problem of the Russian and Polish minorities that live there. In Slovakia, as claims to sovereignty grow, so the rights of the Hungarian minority are threatened. Finally, in Yugoslavia we can observe almost daily the crimes against humanity that the unpropitious ideology of ethnic cleansing gives rise to.
Every sovereign mini-state will be forced to impose heavy limitations on the civil rights of its citizens. Monetary independence will be a fiction, since no national currency can be independent nowadays in the face of the great economic giants (even Germany has acknowledged the need for, and advantages of, European monetary union). On the military level (during a period in which even the superpowers have recognised the need for co-operation and controlled disarmament in order to avoid the danger of a nuclear catastrophe) it is clear that no micro-nation can hope its army will be able to carry out any functions other than those of an internal police and border guard. Finally, it will be very difficult for any micro-nation to participate in the fruits of international economic co-operation, since the defence of monetary sovereignty (which means control over exchange rates, customs protection, etc.) will represent a serious impediment to full participation in the world market. In short, it is very likely that the political leaders who have promoted the attainment of sovereignty for their countries will have no other choice but to install regimes which are apparently open to democratic procedures, but which are in substance based on fraud and demagoguery. Only in this way will they be able to hold on to power, by keeping their citizens ignorant of the huge costs of an absurd sovereignty.
 
Micronationalism versus European Unity. Micronationalism can hamper the European unification process in two ways.
Some hold that just as the attainment of national sovereignty and independence for the great national states of the past preceded the phase of integration and unification, so the new nations must today affirm their right to self-determination before they can begin to move towards unification with other Europeans. This rough comparison between what took place during the 18th and 19th centuries, and current events leading up to the year 2000, completely ignores the fact that the processes of European unification and World unification (though still in an embryonic stage) are already under way. World history has already led to crisis for existing national states, including the largest ones (such as Germany, the US, etc.). Therefore the most sensible way to take part in this great adventure towards the political unity of mankind is not by provoking new secessions, discrimination, hatreds and wars, but rather by fighting to strengthen democracy in one’s own country; in order to contribute through peaceful co-operation with other peoples to the elimination of anachronistic borders. Democratic life is reinforced and strengthened through conscious participation in world progress, and in the emancipation of mankind from the scourge of misery, war and racism. Those who provoke divisions, who sow hatred, who isolate themselves from the world, wish in reality simply to defend their own power and privileges by hiding these crude ambitions behind the pompous rhetoric of national sovereignty.
The second way in which micronationalism threatens the construction of European unity consists of a particular interpretation given to the popular slogan: “The Europe of the Regions.” It is clear for the reasons mentioned above that the construction of European unity favours the development of local autonomy. Yet some argue that the regions hold a privileged position within Europe, both with respect to lesser territorial communities (the communes for example, who under this plan would be considered authorities inferior to the regional level) as well as to the national states (which in extreme cases could be dismembered to create new regional units and eventually macro-regions, such as Padania, Languedoc, Bavaria, etc.). This proposal for a European order is once again based on the ideology of micronationalism, and in fact represents the effective sabotaging of the project for European unification, since a European union based on hundreds of regions would either turn into an empire (if the needs of the central government ended up prevailing over those of the small local powers) or a free-trade area (if the arrogance of the local powers prevailed over the needs of unity).
 
The European Union versus Micronationalism. The world of states has until now revealed itself to be incapable of combating micronationalism. The explanation for this is simple. Micronationalism appeals to the principles of sovereignty and self-determination on which the order of the existing sovereign states is also founded. In fact the contemporary international world order, including the most important international organisations, such as the UN, is impotent before the misdeeds of micronationalism.
Only the Europe of the Community has attempted (albeit insufficiently) to counter this tendency towards disintegration by means of the opposite process of conferring monetary, and a share of security, sovereignty to a supranational body. Nevertheless the process under way has been late in producing tangible results for the surrounding world, which is assailed by the corrosive force of micronationalism. We must nevertheless pursue with even greater determination the path of union, going so far as to achieve an effective European federal constitution that will explicitly clarify to the peoples of the world the principles on which it is possible to base the coexistence of free and disarmed nations. In particular, the European constitution should include an article, similar to Art. IV, Section 3 of the US Constitution, which prohibits the dismemberment of the states making up the Union, while the union of two or more states is only permitted with the approval of Congress.
This can only partially solve the problem. In truth the European Union must begin to take responsibility for the future of the states of Central and Eastern Europe which aspire to enter the Community, but which are finding it difficult to bring the democratic process to a conclusion without yielding to the enticements of micronationalism. With regard to these countries the Community should have the courage to declare immediately that it is open to their membership, agreeing on the stages and transition measures needed to allow their economic systems to bear the competition of the internal European market, and warning them against possible dismemberments. The European federation will be able to function the more effectively, the more limited the inequalities between its member states are. It is unthinkable that states such as the unified Germany, Slovenia or Lithuania should share equal powers of government within the Union. One solution might be the granting of the special status of “territory” (whose population would be represented in the European Parliament but not in the Senate of the States) to the smallest countries, while waiting for larger units to form within the Union. As an alternative a weighted voting system according to population could be established for the states in the Senate, as currently happens in the Bundesrat.
 
European Union and Regionalism. Europe in the wake of Maastricht has now entered the constituent phase when it becomes important to define clearly the institutional model that will regulate relations between the European Union, national states, regions and the smaller territorial bodies. In principle, if we exclude authority in the areas of currency and defence, there seem to be no plausible reasons for granting a specific authority to any particular level of government.
While it is true, for example, that national states will have to yield power upwards (to the European government) and downwards (to the regions and lesser territorial bodies), this in no way means that the national level must be completely deprived of functions. If we consider one of the most important features of the crisis of European national states (the crisis of the welfare state) then it is clear that there is no simple, obvious recipe. The welfare state is the result of social struggles which, beginning in the last century, contributed to introducing the idea of solidarity between citizens into the collective consciousness. And this radical change in the collective consciousness was achieved during the 19th and 20th centuries within the old national states. Today in many European countries (Italy, Spain, France, etc.) it is rightly held that the regional (or communal) level could carry out several of the typical functions of the social state much more effectively than the national level currently does; for example healthcare, care of the elderly, etc. Nevertheless this does not mean that all the functions of the welfare state must be given over to the local level. Pension funds, created with deductions from salaries and wages, can probably be more effectively managed at the national rather than the local level, and it would certainly be absurd to propose creating a European mega-pension system. In other cases, such as unemployment subsidies, it would instead be appropriate to add a European fund to the national ones, in order to create an automatic income-transfer system from the richer regions of Europe to the poorer ones and those undergoing crisis.
These few examples will perhaps serve to justify the view that in Europe it would be opportune to construct a federal state system at several levels (not only two, as in the US) in order to allow each territorial community to participate in elaborating all policies, without exception. In order to put this form of participation into practice, every government level must have effective, though not exclusive, powers over budgetary and legislative matters (in other words, powers that are coordinated with the levels of government above and below it).
In order to achieve such coordination between different government levels, every territorial community must have a senate (where the representatives of the lesser territorial bodies would sit) alongside the usual legislative assembly (parliament). For example, according to this concept, the region must itself become a “Federal state”: in the sense that the senate of the provinces (or of the departments, districts, etc., according to local traditions) must be created with joint decision-making powers alongside the regional parliament; the senate of the regions must be placed alongside the national parliament; the senate of the national states (the current Council of Ministers appropriately reformed) must flank the European Parliament.
This constitutional model would permit each government to coordinate its own policies with the levels of government both above and below it. In this way the regions would be able to participate in the European legislative process through the powers they would possess in the national senate (as the Länder presently do in the Bundesrat), which would have the power to debate and vote on community treaties and directives. It would however be erroneous to expect the regions to be directly represented in European institutions (for example in the European Senate of the States) on a par with the national states. This would represent a form of power abuse and imperialism, not so much with respect to the national governments but on the part of the smaller territorial bodies, such as the communes. Federalism must allow each territorial community, small or large, to feel that it is equally involved in, and in agreement with, the Union government; and this will prove impossible if one level of government desires to overwhelm the communities smaller than itself, or if the smaller communities seek to exercise power on an equal basis with larger territorial communities.


*Speech at the forum on “Nationalism and Federalism,” organised during the 9th International Seminar of Ventotene (September, 1992).

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