Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Baltics a Model for Catalonia and Catalonia a Model for Others

Paul Goble
            Staunton, September 17 – Catalonians seeking independence from Spain last week copied the Baltic Chain that Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians formed from Tallinn to Riga to Vilnius in 1989, the latest indication of the rise of a new and more pragmatic separatism not only in Europe but in the Russian Federation.

            Some 400,000 Catalans on September 11 formed a living chain between Barcelona and the Pyrenees to call attention to their cause, explicitly drawing on the Baltic chain in which more than a million people linked hands in 1989 to press for the restoration of the independence of the their three Soviet-occupied countries (regnum.ru/news/1707025.html).

            In an essay on the “Osobaya Bukva” portal today, Vladimir Titov argues that “the new generation of separatists,” one less romantic and more pragmatic than its predecessors, has the capacity to redraw the map not only of Europe but at least in principle that of the Russian Federation as well (specletter.com/politika/2013-09-17/novye-strany-starogo-sveta.html).

            “At first glance,” he says, there would not seem to be any basis for “the spread of separatism among European nations in the 21st century.”  Linguistic and religious oppression are in the past, multiculturalism offers the opportunity for “self-development” to any ethnic minority, and open borders and the rise of European identity would seem to foreclose it.

            “However, practice has shown,” the commentator continues, that these are perhaps necessary but not sufficient conditions to end all separatist sentiment, this time around more rooted in social-economic conflicts rather than images of the nation as something special.

            That is certainly the case with Catalonia, the wealthiest part of Spain, Scotland, which has access to North Sea oil, Bavaria in Germany, the Tirol and Northern League in Italy, and even the clashes between Flemmish and Walloons in Belgium. Participants may talk about the romantic past, but they are making hard-headed economic calculations.

            “Euro-separatists,” Titov points out, in contrast to their predecessors like the Basques, also have dropped the use of radical and violent tactics. Instead, they seek to use “peaceful means to win the sympathy of voters, by appearing not only to their hearts … but also to their wallets by explaining the benefits that independence will bring.”

            To a certain decree, he continues, “the governments of civilized countries find it more difficult to struggle with Euro-separatists than they do with partisans.”  That is because the new separatists use the values of these governments against themselves.

            The Russian Federation has not been able to avoid this new trend, Titov says.  “In our country, the ideaas of regionalism appeared not today or yesterday” but 20 years ago with various people promoting a Urals Republic, a Zalesskaya Rus, Ingermanladiya and the Russian Democratic Republic of Domodedovo.

            But according to Titov, “the only region of the Russian Federation” where a Euro-separatist “project” has a chance to be realized is Kaliningrad, the non-contiguous oblast surrounded by Lithuania and Poland. Its separateness is “a reality,” and that is something some of its residents are exploiting even while Moscow ignores the risks.

            The Baltic Republic Party has not been successful, Titov says, but that is hardly the end of the story: “The American revolution began with ‘the Boston Tea Party.’” Kaliningrad’s future could hinge of battles about the import of and duties imposed by Moscow on palm oil, something that undercuts Kaliningrad’s status as a free trade area.

            That economic fight is heightening attention in Kaliningrad to the fact that 60 percent of its residents have passports to travel abroad, and 25 percent of them have multiple-entry Shengen visas.  For older residents that may not matter and they may still look to Moscow, but for younger ones, it is critical.

            Younger Kaliningraders are more likely to visit Klaipeda, Gdansk and Berlin that anywhere in the Russian Federation proper, and they are less obsessed with their territory’s status as “a trophy” of war taken from Germany at the end of World War II. Indeed, many of them now call their oblast “Kenig” from “Koenigsberg.”

            The rise of “’political separatism’” in Kaliningrad is “a question of time,” Titov continues, especially if Moscow does not recognize that the residents of that enclave increasingly do not want to be the poor relations of Russia or “prisoners of Europe” but rather “full-fledged Europeans.”

            Such a development is not inevitable. Many countries have non-contiguous territories,, including the US, France, the UK, and the Netherlands, Titov says. And if Moscow changes course and invests more in Kaliningrad, it might be able to avoid having to face a decline in Russian identity there.

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