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Herzl's Butlers

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James Cook misled the British government back home by neglecting to report about the aborigines he spotted on the beaches of New Holland. This convenient omission allowed him to claim the territory for the crown. In the subsequent waves of colonization, the aborigines perished. Modern Australia stands awash in their blood, constructed on their graves, thriving on their confiscated lands. The belated efforts to redress these wrongs meet with hostility and the atavistic fears of the dispossessor.

In "Altneuland" (translated to Hebrew as "Tel Aviv"), the feverish tome composed by Theodore Herzl, Judaism's improbable visionary - Herzl refers to the Arabs as pliant and compliant butlers, replete with gloves and tarbushes. In the book, a German Jewish family prophetically lands at Jaffa, the only port in erstwhile Palestine. They are welcomed and escorted by "Briticized" Arab gentlemen's gentlemen who are only too happy to assist their future masters and colonizers to disembark.

In between these extremes - of annihilation and assimilation - modern Europe has come up with a plethora of models and solutions to the question of minorities which plagued it and still does. Two schools of thought emerged: the nationalistic-ethnic versus the cultural.

Europe has always been torn between centrifugal and centripetal forces. Multi-ethnic empires alternated with swarms of mini-states with dizzying speed. European Unionism clashed with brown-turning-black nationalism and irredentism. Universalistic philosophies such as socialism fought racism tooth and nail. European history became a blood dripping pendulum, swung by the twin yet conflicting energies of separation and integration. The present is no different. The dream of the European Union confronted the nightmare of a dismembered Yugoslavia throughout the last decade. And ethnic tensions are seething all across the continent. Hungarians in Romania, Slovakia, Ukraine and Serbia, Bulgarians in Moldova, Albanians in Macedonia, Russians in the Baltic countries, even Padans in Italy and the list is long.

The cultural school of co-existence envisaged multi-ethnic states with shared philosophies and value systems which do not infringe upon the maintenance and preservation of the ethnic identities of their components. The first socialists adopted this model enthusiastically. They foresaw a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural socialist mega-state. The socialist values, they believed, will serve as the glue binding together the most disparate of ethnic elements. In the event, it took a lot more than common convictions. It took suppression on an unprecedented scale and it took concentration camps and the morbid application of the arts and sciences of death. And even then both the Nazi Reich and the Stalinist USSR fell to ethnic pieces.

The national(istic) school supports the formation of ethnically homogenous states, if necessary, by humane and gradual (or inhuman and abrupt) ethnic cleansing . Homogeneity is empirically linked to stability and, therefore, to peace, economic prosperity and oftentimes to democracy. Heterogeneity breeds friction, hatred, violence, instability, poverty and authoritarianism. The conclusion is simple: ethnicities cannot co-exist. Ethnic groups (a.k.a. nations) must be left to their own devices, put differently: they must be allocated a piece of land and allowed to lead their lives as they see fit. The land thus allocated should correspond, as closely as possible, with the birthplace of the nation, the scenery of its past and the cradle of its culture.

The nationalist school depended on denial and repression of the existence of heterogeneity and of national minorities. This was done by:

(a) Ethnic Cleansing

Greece and Turkey exchanged population after the first world war. Czechoslovakia expelled the Sudeten Germans after the Second World War and the Nazis rendered big parts of Europe Judenrein. Bulgarians forced Turks to flee. The Yugoslav succession wars were not wars in the Clausewitz sense - rather they were protracted guerilla operations intended to ethnically purge swathes of the "motherland".

(b) Ethnic Denial

In 1984, the Bulgarian communist regime forced the indigenous Turkish population to "Bulgarize" their names. The Slav minorities in the Hungarian part of the Austro-Hungarian empire were forced to "Magyarize" following the 1867 Compromise. Franco's Spain repressed demands for regional autonomy.

Other, more democratic states, fostered a sense of national unity by mass media and school indoctrination. Every facet of life was subjected to and incorporated in this relentless and unforgiving pursuit of national identity: sports, chess, national holidays, heroes, humour. The particularisms of each group gained meaning and legitimacy only through and by their incorporation in the bigger picture of the nation. Thus, Greece denies to this very day that there are Turks or Macedonians on its soil. There are only Muslim Greeks, it insists (often brutally and in violation of human and civil rights). The separate identities of Brittany and Provence were submerged within the French collective one and so was the identity of the Confederate South in the current USA. Some call it "cultural genocide".

The nationalist experiment failed miserably. It was pulverized by a million bombs, slaughtered in battlefields and concentration camps, set ablaze by fanatics and sadists. The pendulum swung. In 1996, Hungarians were included in the Romanian government and in 1998 they made it to the Slovakian one. In Macedonia, Albanian parties took part in all the governments since independence. The cultural school, on the ascendance, was able to offer three variants:

(1) The Local Autonomy

Ethnic minorities are allowed to use their respective languages in certain municipalities where they constitute more than a given percentage (usually twenty) of the total population. Official documents, street signs, traffic tickets and education all are translated to the minority language as well as to the majority's. This rather meaningless placebo has a surprisingly tranquillizing effect on restless youth and nationalistic zealots. In 1997, police fought local residents in a few Albanian municipalities precisely on this issue.

(2) The Territorial Autonomy

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Sam Vaknin ( http://samvak.tripod.com ) is the author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain - How the West Lost the East. He served as a columnist for Global Politician, Central Europe Review, PopMatters, Bellaonline, and (more...)
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