After Tito’s death, Yugoslavia was for a while headed by Milosevic, who was a staunch nationalist. He started with mild and ended with wild attacks against his own peoples. The result: Yugoslavia had been dismantled by themselves, and the historical core is now Serbia. Macedonia, Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina split off as independent states, and so did Kosovo, after a particularly bloody and cruel war against them. Still today Serbia claims that Kosovo is a part of its state territory, a more hypothetical claim. Yugoslavia, a country with approx. 25 mill. inhabitants, ended up in seven independent countries, of which Serbia, the ex-Yugoslavian core, has around 8 millions.
There are also many historical examples of secessions, also in Europe, or of intended secessions, at least by a part of the population – like Catalonia or the Basques from Spain, where the will to go for one’s own is already anchored in the center of the political spectrum. This was and is triggered by the impression of lacking dialogue and what is called nationalism by the central state. In turn, it triggered nationaism in the periphery of the country. While Madrid can have hope, as there is a constructive discussion about the role of the state and in the direction of a de-facto-federalism, Yugoslavia ended in wars and armed conflicts and therefore broke in pieces. Now the perspective of the European Union is a kind of federalist vision for the citizens of the Balkan states, identified with peace, freedom, human rights, the rule of law, and a functioning economy.
How Great Britain will develop? For London, there is the big danger that if the British Government stresses national issues too much, then parts of the UK like Scotland or Northern Ireland may be lost. This would have also repercussions on Wales. Why? It became evident with the Brexit referendum that from England there was exercised too much pressure (or power) for the whole country, e.g. by the simplified form of the referendum question. At the same time, this discussion is held, or tolerated, by the Government, in a nationalist mode. Let us remember only the sounds of Lord Howard, a leading Tory, when threatening Spain wit a British Armada comparable to the one to the Falklands many years ago under Mararet Thatcher. Incredibly, he forgot to mention that the latter wa the case as Argentinian dictatorship troops occupied the Falklands, and Gibraltar was never occupied by the Spanish. The Spanish only wanted, with full justification, a clear position of the UK in the Brexit talks, on the issue „Gibraltar and Single Market“, which is for evident reasons of high interest for Spain. Should they re-start with border controls? Gibraltar has voted with more than 95% against Brexit, and it was for decades not part of the EU, as the UK Government determined so, and became a member of the EU (as part of the UK) only after a European Court of Justice decision initiated by ist own government.
History shows us that enlightened, democratic Europeans are well able to replace their home capital by a regional capital (until now) and the European fabric above – a fabric which is neither imperialist nor violent nor nationalist. This fits excellently to the case of Scotland and Northern Ireland, which might break away from Great Britain in the vears after the Brexit. However, it might occur that Brexit won’t happen, as there may be grave economic distortions to the detriment of the UK. I am still full of hope of a kind of peaceful revolution by the people who should know it: scientists, university people, youth, company owners – and if you look at the Brexit results, altogether the open and more intelligent people.
The result of the equation „the more nationalist, the more states at the end“ might be followed at a significant change in the European map, like in Yugoslavia. This is undoubtedly the long-term tendency. If you listen to some Brexiteers, you can express your pity that due to the bloody EU they were not any more able to go tiger-hunting for the weekend to Eshnapur.
On the long term, the overall trend is against the national states in the EU – which all come from a certain period in the past. They will continue to serve as administrative levels – no problem with this. Because who is in an overall love to his respective administrative levels, e.g. the Regierungspräsidium Tübingen (which is one of my administrative levels) … So in order to prevent the breakup of other countries, we need sound regional competences, a European federalism (with the subsidiarity principle!), and, why not, constitutional and cultural patriotism. But no nationalism at all. In four day, the French people will have defeated these ghosts from the past, after the Austrians, the Dutch, and the next ones will be the Germans in September 2017.
Hans-Jürgen Zahorka (European Union Foreign Affairs Journal)