Can Europeans really find no way of living together in democracies other than living apart?
Timothy Garton Ash
- Dark Continent: Europe’s 20th Century by Mark Mazower
Penguin, 496 pp, £20.00, March 1998, ISBN 0 7139 9159 3
Back in the now remote summer of 1990, when we were still celebrating the birth of a ‘new Europe’, a book was published simultaneously in several European languages. Written by Jean-Baptiste Duroselle and entitled, in the English edition, Europe: A History of Its Peoples, it is a classic example of the Whig interpretation of European history, a historical supplement to Jacques Delors. Already on page 21, Duroselle finds it ‘possible to discern in Europe’s history a general if halting growth in compassion, humanity and equality’. Discussing several different ways of viewing the post-1945 history of Europe, he writes: ‘one may, finally, see this phase of history in a European light’ – by implication, all other lights are somehow un-European – ‘and observe how many objective factors have combined with creative acts of will to make possible the first step towards a united Europe.’
Vol. 20 No. 20 · 15 October 1998
Timothy Garton Ash’s review of Dark Continent by Mark Mazower (LRB, 17 September) evokes a wry smile from this Serb. Reviewer and reviewed agree that the post-Communist failure of multi-ethnic states ‘has to do with democracy itself’. No mention here that the great and the good of Europe instinctively sided with ‘democratic’ Croats and Slovenes against ‘Communist’ Serbs; that they proceeded to cheer on the break-up of multi-ethnic and multi national Yugoslavia and yet became wedded to a mini-Yugoslavia called Bosnia. The peoples of Bosnia were expected to accomplish, in a flash, a giant leap from an explicitly multinational administrative unit to a sovereign multi-ethnic citizens’ state. It never crossed the minds of these outsiders that the integrity of Bosnia may have been conditional on it remaining part of a greater multinational whole.
Then there is the statement that domestic constitution-makers ‘have failed to work out’ how to ‘reconcile the rights and aspirations of minorities with rule by the majority’ when that minority is large and of a different nationality. Indeed, but the obvious recent example of this failure goes unmentioned: namely, Croatia, which, as it happens, was godfathered by the European Community. Zagreb wanted to leave Yugoslavia with all of bi-national Croatia including the Krajina Serb lands, but not through the constitutional procedure of negotiations. These would have been based on the federal Constitution whose first sentence referred to the right of secession for the six constituent nations (those whose only home was within Yugoslavia), not for federal units nor minorities such as the Kosovo Albanians. The federal Constitution reflected the fact that the original Yugoslavia, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, was a coming together of nations not states. Secession was clearly meant to be a matter of give and take. Zagreb suggested confederation, which would have amounted to unilateral secession in stages, but prevaricated on this in any case and later sparked off full-scale war by first demoting the status of its Serbs from a constituent nation to a minority (imagine Ottawa doing the same to its French Canadians) and then seceding in the wake of mono-national Slovenia.
When the EC stepped in, it should have advised Croatia to negotiate its departure in good faith. Instead, it decreed in superpower fashion that Yugoslavia’s Constitution was null and void, and that each of the federal units would have the right to secede on the basis of a crude winner-take-all referendum. It was a destabilising pre cedent: unilateral secessionists are handsomely rewarded at the expense of unionists; internal boundaries matter, constitutions don’t. Worse still, the EC had laid down the law but was unwilling to enforce it, protracting the ethnic strife which subsequently engulfed tri-national Bosnia. The results speak for themselves: an ethnically pure Croatia, Bosnia under indefinite Nato occupation and the Serbs more determined than ever to retain Kosovo.
Vol. 20 No. 21 · 29 October 1998
Timothy Garton Ash asks (LRB, 17 September): ‘Can Europeans really find no way of living together in democracies other than living apart?’ This is surely too negative. We offer Südtirol in Northern Italy as an example of ‘living together’, and this despite an unpromising historical background. At the end of World War One it was separated by caprice from the rest of Tirol, of which it had been an integral part for over five hundred years, and handed over to Italy. Mussolini then embarked on a programme of Italianisation, importing industry and Italians from the South and forbidding the local population to speak German; towns were given Italian names and an attempt was made to do the same with the people.
Hitler confirmed the Italian status of Südtirol and offered the German speakers the opportunity of relocation to Germany, and in case too many declined the offer, the Fascists suggested that those who remained would be shipped to the South of Italy. This ethnic cleansing was only halted by the outbreak of World War Two. At the end of the war the Allies confirmed Südtirol’s Italian status, adding safeguards for the German speakers, but the ensuing period had its troubles, including a muted German terrorist campaign when the Italian Government reneged on these safeguards, and an Italian backlash when it was felt that placatory measures had gone too far.
Despite some ‘old guard’ opposition to integration, there are few areas of life today where German and Italian speakers do not mix freely and amicably. Mixed marriages are increasing and in restaurants and bars it is common to find groups in animated conversation, moving between German and Italian as the mood or subject takes them.
Michael and Denise Hope