It’s not often when a major historical event in your lifetime, causes you to rethink everything you thought you knew, but one such event, for me, officially took place on January 1, 1993.
That was the date when Czechoslovakia officially split into two countries which we now know as the Czech Republic and Slovakia. I remember reading about how President Vaclav Havel expressed some remorse at his inability to hold his nation together but he accepted that it would be better just to split.
It was significant for me, because here was an example of two groups of people who were grown-ups about their differences and resolved their otherwise irreconcilable viewpoints without any bloodshed. Where previously my general opinion was that, when a separatist movement exists, unity was more important, even if outright hostility and maybe even a war was necessary to maintain it.
My opinion shifted on January 1, 1993. It became, with relatively minor tweaks in the more than two decades since, a general attitude that begins with asking why the separatists want to be separate. Do they have the resources to be fully autonomous? Which side has the more compelling argument? Maintaining the status quo, or going their separate ways?
I’ve been thinking about the fate of Czechoslovakia in the aftermath of the “Brexit” vote a couple of days ago. By all accounts, both the Czech Republic and Slovakia are thriving, and as far as I can tell, there is no resentment in either nation directed towards the other.
It’s an interesting paradox: as the global economy and advances in technology have made international borders less vital (for the most part) than they were even a hundred years ago, there still persist a large number of people who seek to build up those borders even larger and prevent more people from crossing them. Separatist movements around the world, large and small, are everywhere. Some of the peoples who want to separate from their host nation have literally never had their own nation (Chechnya, Nagorno-Karabakh, and Kosovo all come to mind).
The issues that led to the UK voting to leave the European Union are complex and varied. No single word or catchphrase can cut it, but I can understand the resentment. People felt like the austerity measures, for example, imposed a burden on them that felt … too heavy. And from unelected officials, too.
I confess that anyone in England who felt, for example, that they were constantly bailing out other countries (Greece and Spain, in particular), maybe they weren’t entirely wrong. I live in a state that, as a whole, sends more money to the US federal government than gets back from the government in services. If I were to feel a degree of resentment towards the states that get more services than they pay for (Alabama and Mississippi, for example), why shouldn’t the Brits feel the same way?
But that feeling only looks at one piece of a much larger, more complex puzzle. Yes, I’m definitely saddened by the Brexit vote. Those who supported it might feel a bit of short term relief but they will soon learn that rebuilding their economic infrastructure, and renegotiating the relevant treaties will not be as easy as they might think.
And there is cause for hope. Scotland and Ireland both overwhelmingly voted to stay in the EU. Might they secede from the UK so that they don’t have to leave? That’s a really strange paradox here.
Very few mistakes are truly irreversible. After all, we elected Barack Obama after eight years of George W Bush. The United States Constitution — the paragon and the shining example fledgling democracies might look to as they try to establish themselves — is actually version 2.0 (even before we get to the 27 amendments that have changed or clarified things) of the layout of our government. The Articles of Confederation were certainly a worthwhile first try but we rightly threw it out and started over.
And if it takes a few years for England to realize the scope of the mistake, so be it. Maybe there’s room for helping the Eurozone get even better too.