Terri-Stories

On Intersections of Land, Law, and Literature, from Primitive Territories to the Post-National Future


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Thoughts during Spain’s Possible Fragmentation: Catalonia, Ethnonationalism, & Populist Anti-Globalism (October 1, 2017)

It is certainly disturbing to see images of voters being roughly handled by Spanish federal police (see, for example, today’s BBC reporting or this CBS discussion of riot police destroying polling stations.)   We are often easily swayed by images of state violence in the form of police in militarized riot gear set against what we see as the spirit of freedom and civic responsibility in voting. In this case, it is clear that the Spanish government’s reaction has been an overreaction that has created unnecessary fear and suffering for Catalonia-region voters and has turned into a PR nightmare.

However, it is worth moving beyond knee-jerk emotional reactions and dwelling on the complexity of what is at stake in Catalonia’s independence movement (for a good summary of the issues involved, see Minder’s recent NYT piece ). As I have written about here, here, and here,  the Catalonian separatist movement can be seen as just one of many flash-points of ethnonational fragmentation that is being produced by populist reactions against globalist economics. While ethnic difference is at the heart of this movement (in the same way that, say, some Scots or Kurds galvanize in the face of others to try to carve out smaller states that concentrate ethnic identity and seal it off from others), it is equally true that economic self-interest is a significant part of the independence movement: inhabiting perhaps the wealthiest region of Spain, many Catalonians regularly argue that too much of their wealth is sent to other portions of Spain, and not enough is kept in this location.

In this fascinating BBC video exploring multiple perspectives on Catalonian independence, the most striking impression for me is that the most strident voice for independence cites both ethnic difference and self-interest, arguing that it is wrong that the Spanish state does not “prioritize” his region. Other voices interviewed here range from skeptical of independence as inviting disaster to a sense that clinging to ethnic difference need not be expressed in separatist action. All of these subtleties, of course, melt away when we see riot police and imagine narratives of idealistic would-be voters set up against oppressive states. Again, the Spanish government’s actions are surely unduly harsh—but I wonder how readily your average American, say, would accept a referendum for, say, Texas to leave the US based on a single yes-no vote. There are examples of such votes happening peacefully (the Scottish Independence votes, about which I have written frequently on this blog, such as here and here, are a positive example of orderly democratic voting on possible separation, while the Crimean vote of independence from Ukraine can hardly be seen as a shining example of democratic transition, as I have written about here.) (By the way, since Russia come sup here, it is worth noting that many analysts see Russia as in support of Catalonian independence. This is not a surprise: Russia gains from Western fragmentation– just witness their vigorous support of Brexit, which is causing the EU to become smaller and weaker, or their very active support of the divisive populist Trump. Elections are run in large part by money and spin– and I suspect that Russia will be very strategically supporting populist spearatist movements eveyrwhere except for in its own political sphere.)

As I have written about on numerous occasions here, I believe we inhabit a period of extraordinary ethnic and national fragmentation—and that this buzz of activity is directly tied to reactions against globalism. I don’t think there is any simplistic good-or-bad response to any of this. Ethnic identity can have positive elements—helping preserve languages and traditions, building a feeling of solidarity. But, of course, the dark side to such identity is just as obvious—for it foments divisions, encourages self-interest over building larger communities, and is at the heart of xenophobia. In the same way, globalism can be a force of good—connecting more people and cultures, aiding in crises such as providing care for refugees or mobilizing disaster relief, and offering more variety in a larger economy. Again, the dark side of globalism is just as apparent—increasing income inequality due to exploitation of global institutions by the powerful, devaluation of labor value through race-to-the-bottom competition for lower costs, and the escalation of conflicts into larger stages.

We live in interesting times, as they say—and I think we need more thoughtfulness about how to talk about crucial events. Many people only tuned into the Catalonia question today—and so they will make judgments largely based on quick analysis and images of riot-police and voters. As I signal in the text and links above, I think the situation is far more complex.

As I’ve indicated elsewhere, the spirit of fragmentation is alive everywhere—and I wonder if such movements as Calexit (based on the fact that Californians, who overwhelmingly voted for a Hillary Clinton who, after gaining 3 million more votes than Trump, lost the Presidential election in 2016, could reasonably argue that they have been disenfranchised) or Texas’s perennial efforts to secede from the US might gain steam (this is, of course, not to include any of the hundreds of Native American separatist movements that could easily be imagined). As I’ve argued on this blog,  the US has remained curiously united due to its highly fragmented, unevenly distributed democracy: the safeguards for keeping lightly populated territories powerful within the US they agreed to join makes the USA a very idiosyncratic “democracy,” indeed. Sometimes the irrationality or unfairness of such systems actually speaks to a deeper force—the force of compromise, which is very rarely tidy and often dissatisfies everyone, even as it does the magic of keeping them from fragmenting into ever smaller and more self-absorbed units.

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The Possibility of Post-Brexit Ethnonational Fragmentation across Europe (final draft; 04/10/17)

Well, today was the Brexit panel– and it was a great event, with some amazing papers by colleagues in Economics, Political Science, History, Antrhopology, and English. For those of you who have beem keeping track of the drafting of this paper, I thought I would put in what ended up being the final draft:

 

Nationalism breeds nationalism. Since I began blogging on geopolitical issues in a digital space I call Terri-stories, that is the sentence I have found myself repeating most often—and the recent renewal of the Scottish Independence Referendum movement made after First Minister of Scotland (and SNP leader) Nicola Sturgeon called for a 2018 referendum vote has only added to the evidence of the snowballing nationalism the world has seen in the past few years of what seems like wave after wave of intense populism.

Snowballing, however, is a potentially problematic metaphor—for even though we might think of the reenergized Scottish independence movement as an addition to a running tally of global nationalism, it is not primarily through addition but fragmentation that today’s nationalism seems to work. The positive Brexit vote of 2016—which was a major populist event whose shockwaves will be felt for many years to come—has seemed to set Europe on course for a period of intense efforts toffragmentation along Ethnonationalist lines. While recent responses to the United Kingdom’s formal “triggering” of Brexit include some statements of hope, however small, that the decision can be reversed (it would require unanimous assent from EU member states), it seems likely that emotive, populist short-sightedness, both within and outside of the UK, will mean that a nationalism-wracked UK will fully separate from the European Union.

If the core issue at stake in reactions against the EU is a series of nationalist responses to globalism and its neoliberal underpinnings, then it is vital to recognize that the reactions may not be limited to discrete national movements which will each seek neat departures from EU community, but could involve exponentially increasing dissolution: fragmentation could feed off fragmentation, as ethnic enclaves break off from the larger unities of which they are a part. [And here the geographical concept of territory as multidimensional, potentially bearing micro- and macro- aspects will be vital to my analysis.]

One reason for a likely increase in ethnonational fragmentation is that ethnic identities offer readily available vehicles to advance particular economic agendas. If we look behind the ethnic exceptionalist rhetoric in such movements as Scottish Independence, the Syriza nationalist revolt, or any of a number of Euro-Skeptic nationalist policy agendas, we can see some common themes—a desire for better corporate rates, less (or really more accurately, more advantageous) regulation, and more local concentration of wealth.

Much ethnonationalist energy, in other words, looks a lot like cover for corporate streamlining or the formation of tax-shelters.

While Scotland may be the most obvious case of post-Brexit fragmentation that comes to mind, Catalonia offers a key example of separatist ethnonationalism that has fed off the instability generated by waves of localist critiques of globalism. While the successful vote for an independent Catalonia by 2017 was cut short on Spanish Constitutional grounds, it seems unlikely to me that efforts to separate will cease any time soon. There are always populist politicians who will channel notions of difference—linguistic, regional, historical, etc.—as a means to legitimize the more immediate goal of trying to concentrate more wealth in a zone that imagines itself as unfairly contributing more resources to other parts of the nation-state (and such appeals create cyclical instability, since such numbers can be easily manipulated to show both sorts of outcomes, and there are always pundits and politicians willing to present cooked data to foment whatever political outcome they desire, whether it be conserving unity or advocating secession). The Catalonia revolt, while it can of course invoke ethnic and linguistic elements, looks, with its emphasis on preventing local wealth from flowing out of its region to what are perceived as needier portions of Spain, looks more like one of many micro-territorial examples of self-interested urban secession movements (I, myself, am originally from Los Angeles—specifically, the San Fernando Valley portion, which perennially seeks to secede from the city, claiming that “its” tax dollars too often go “over the hill” to fund “city” programs—and they always lose, since secession votes by law require all Angeleno citizens. That urban background taught me to be quite cynical about how readily regional pride can serve merely as a tactic for improving tax rates—but that, of course, was without any plausible fear of the kind of actual violent secessionism, that can come about when macroterritorial, ethnonationalist loyalties are invoked.

With numerous ethnicities and singular regions existing throughout Europe, the potential number of potentially dangerous separatist movements is simply staggering. Indeed, considering that many modern nation-states only consolidated relatively recently (Germany and Italy being the clearest examples, having only unified into their current forms in the late nineteenth century), it is a wonder that more separatist movements have not already begun to spring up. Much as the nineteenth century saw an explosion of nationalist movements develop, particularly in the wake of Romanticized celebration of Greek secession from the Ottoman Empire, Brexit could easily serve as a trigger for awakening ethnonational movements that have perhaps simply been slumbering in the relatively prosperous times of global free trade.

Besides Italy and Germany, there are other national states that, while we sometimes think of them as ancient, have only really been tightly organized since the nineteenth or eighteenth centuries. France, for example, could see more intensity in Corsican, Provençal, Occitanian, or Basque separatist movements, and could see more movement towards autonomy in traditional regions, while a unity like Belgium could come completely undone into its constituent parts. Various ethnic separatist movements could call more loudly either for new states or for remappings of other states, with activist Basques in Spain and France, ethnic Greeks in places like Albania or Cyprus, or Frisians in the Netherlands. The Czech Republic could disintegrate even further into ethnic areas— into Silesian and Moravian zones. Examples—especially if we look closely at the notoriously fractious Balkans—could be multiplied.

The most intense separatist movements triggered by Brexit may, for Britons, be very close to home. Brexit’s anti-globalist movement is surely spurring more intense feelings of national identity in Scotland. Scotland’s independence movement is by far the most pressing ethnonational issue that will follow directly from the Brexit movement: at the very least, another independence referendum will be held, and it seems increasingly likely that Scottish voters will choose to depart the United Kingdom. However, Scottish nationalism has proven to be intensely unstable; it seems to wane, for example, relative to oil prices, and was only just given a new lease of life due to the Brexit vote. It has always seemed to me to be a contradiction that a seemingly separatist, proudly independent would be Scottish nation-state would cites nationalism as a reason to remove itself form its federal union with the rest of Britain—only to reattach itself to a European Union in which it will, surely, again find itself a minority voice—but nationalist fervor has a way of making individuals forget about logical consistencies (or profit motives). All that business about their votes not altering UK-wide election outcomes will ring quite hollow if Scotland rushes to make itself 1/28th of a post-Brexit EU.

I still believe that there is a distinct possibility that the very fear of Scotland departing the UK may do just the opposite—drive the Scots and their English-led Biritish counterparts to keep the UK united and then for that same UK to hold another referendum and to come, hat in hand, humbly requesting the EU countries to halt the Brexit process and vote unanimously to keep the UK integrated. There are two reasons for this view. Firstly, nearly all of the United Kingdom’s nuclear arsenal is located in Scottish territory, and the archipelagic nature of Scotland is what makes the United Kingdom an especially powerful military, with the ability to maintain personnel and systems in numerous sites across a vast swathe of oceanic territory. With Scotland out of the picture, a Great Britain consisting only of England, Wales and North Ireland, plus some scattered island territories, is much more vulnerable. Moreover, the UK is such a crucial component in European security planning that it could hardly be unattractive for Europe to let bygones be bygones and allow the UK back into the fold. Secondly, I believe that there is a massive potential for territorial disputes that would follow a split between Scotland and Britain, especially if they each maintain the same monarchical line—once they realize how messy competition for land and sea claims could potentially be, and especially with a very active and aggressive Russian Federation not too far in the distance, I suspect the English and the Scots may just figure out a way to cut a face-saving deal. Nationalism can help to keep players focused on communal self-interest.

Welsh and Northern-Irish independence movements are also quite plausible outcomes from Brexit producing an ethnonational chain reaction (I would list a Cornish separatist movement as implausible, but still potential). The Welsh case is quite stark: it is linguistically independent, has maintained an ethno-regional idea for as long as England has, and it certainly did not enter into partnership with an imperial England in a spirit of unity and peace (Edward I’s ravaging of Welsh lands in the 1280s remains shocking to read about today—and here I recommend all to read R. R. Davies’ magisterial work on The First English Empire). If nationalism breeds nationalism, then the United Kingdom—which some see as a strangely unified collection of sub-nations, a bias that seems to be given strange recognition by World Cup and other international athletic events, in which Scotland, England, Wales, and Northern Ireland compete alongside individual “nations”—could well see itself dissolving into multiple movements, if not states. Who knows how far it could go?

Secession may be more alive and ready to rear its ugly and negatively energetic head than we think—especially if we start to see a chain reaction of self-interested ethnonational splitting start to carve new territories out of the wreckage of a foundering EU that took globalism directed mostly to the well-heeled too far. Perhaps long-dormant regional identities in the Western Isles, in Galloway, or in the Orkneys might further fragment Scotland, or London could mirror California in the United States and seek to become a progressive, liberal oasis in an increasingly nationalist world. As along as self-interested rationales are there, regional exception can always be invoked to manufacture new ethnonational formations—much as Britain or America became new national forms, so might we imagine a range of new identities forged out of a European Union that has itself, it seems to me, always been ultimately a self-interested compact designed to allow individual nations to maintain the maximal illusion of national sovereignty while producing a single market community large and well managed enough to compete with the United States and China. My guess is that, unlike in the case of Britain and the United States, post-Brexit ethnonational formation will follow a path of fragmentation rather than consolidation—smaller communities driven by the small-mindedness of strategic self-interest.


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The Possibility of Post-Brexit Ethnonational Fragmentation across Europe (draft II; 04/09/17)

Here is the latest draft of my talk for tomorrow’s Brexit panel (University at Buffalo, SUNY, April 10, 11 am, 509 O’Brian Hall). While I was told it was to be informal, I figured it would be good form to actually bring a paper along with my title! So, here’s the latest:

Nationalism breeds nationalism. Since I began blogging on geopolitical issues in a space I call Terri-stories, that is the sentence I have found myself repeating most often—and the recent renewal of the Scottish Independence Referendum movement made after First Minister of Scotland (and SNP leader) Nicola Sturgeon called for a 2018 referendum vote has only added to the evidence of the snowballing nationalism the world has seen in the past few years of what seems like wave after wave of intensely populist movements.

Snowballing, however, is a potentially problematic metaphor—for even though we might think of the reenergized Scottish independence movement as an addition to a running tally of global nationalism, it is not primarily through addition but fragmentation that nationalism seems to work. The positive Brexit vote of 2016—which was a major populist event whose shockwaves will be felt for many years to come—has seemed to set Europe on course for a period of intense efforts to produce fragmentation along Ethnonationalist lines. While recent responses to the United Kingdom’s formal “triggering” of Brexit include some statements of hope, however small, that the decision can be reversed (it would require unanimous assent from the twenty-seven EU member states), it seems likely that emotive, populist short-sightedness, both within and outside of the UK, will mean that a nationalism-wracked UK will fully separate from the European Union.

If the core issue at stake in reactions against the EU is a series of nationalist reactions against globalism and its neoliberal underpinnings, then it is vital to recognize that the reactions will likely not be limited to discrete national movements which will each seek neat departures from EU community, but will involve exponentially increasing dissolution: fragmentation will feed off fragmentation, as ethnic enclaves break off from the larger unities of which they are a part.

One reason for a likely increase in ethnonational fragmentation is that ethnic identities offer readily available vehicles to advance particular economic agendas. If we look behind the ethnic exceptionalist rhetoric in such movements as Scottish Independence, the Syriza nationalist revolt, or any of a number of Euro-Skeptic nationalist policy agendas, we can see some common themes—a desire for better corporate rates, less (or really more accurately, more advantageous) regulation, and more local concentration of wealth.

While Scotland may be the most obvious case of post-Brexit fragmentation that comes to mind, Catalonia offers a key example of separatist ethnonationalism that has fed off the instability generated by waves of localist critiques of globalism. While the successful vote for an independent Catalonia by 2017 was cut short on Spanish Constitutional grounds, it seems unlikely to me that efforts to separate will cease any time soon. There are always populist politicians who will channel notions of difference—linguistic, regional, historical, etc.—as a means to legitimize the more immediate goal of trying to concentrate more wealth in a zone that imagines itself as unfairly contributing more resources to other parts of the nation-state (such numbers can be easily manipulated to show both sorts of outcomes, and there are always pundits and politicians willing to present cooked data to foment whatever political outcome they desire, whether it be conserving unity or advocating secession). The Catalonia revolt, while it can of course invoke ethnic and linguistic elements, looks, with its emphasis on preventing local wealth from flowing out of its region to what are perceived as needier portions of Spain, looks more like one of many micro-territorial examples of self-interested urban secession movements (I, myself, am originally from Los Angeles—specifically, the San Fernando Valley portion, which perennially seeks to secede from the city, claiming that “its” tax dollars too often go “over the hill” to fund “city” programs—and which always loses, since secession votes by law require all Angeleno citizens. That urban background taught me to be quite cynical about how readily regional pride served merely as a tactic for improving tax rates—but that, of course, was without any plausible fear of the kind of actual violent secessionism, that can come about when macroterritorial, ethnonationalist loyalties are invoked.

With numerous ethnicities and singular regions existing throughout Europe, the potential number of potentially dangerous separatist movements is simply staggering. Indeed, considering that many modern nation-states only consolidated their unified forms relatively recently (Germany and Italy being the clearest examples, having only consolidated into anything resembling their current forms in the late nineteenth century), it is a wonder that more separatist movements have not already begun to spring up. Much as the nineteenth century saw an explosion of nationalist movements develop, particularly in the wake of Romanticized celebration of Greek secession from the Ottoman Empire, Brexit could easily serve as a trigger for awakening ethnonational movements that have perhaps simply been slumbering in the relatively prosperous times of global free trade.

Besides Italy and Germany, there are other national states that, while we sometimes think of them as ancient, have only really been tightly organized since the nineteenth or eighteenth centuries. France, for example, could see more intensity in Corsican, Provençal, Occitanian, or Basque separatist movements, and could see more movement towards autonomy in traditional regions, while a unity like Belgium could come completely undone into its constituent parts. Various ethnic separatist movements could call more loudly either for new states or for remappings of other states, with activist Basques in Spain and France, ethnic Greeks in places like Albania or Cyprus, or Frisians in the Netherlands. The Czech Republic could disintegrate further in its ethnic status, into Silesians and Moravians. Examples—especially if we looked into the notoriously fractious Balkans—could be multiplied.

The most intense separatist movements triggered by Brexit may, for Britons, be very close to home. Brexit’s anti-globalist movement is surely spurring more intense feelings of national identity in Scotland. Scotland’s independence movement is by far the most pressing ethnonational issue that will follow directly from the Brexit movement: at the very least, another independence referendum will be held, and it seems to me that it is looking increasingly likely that Scottish voters will choose to depart the United Kingdom. However, Scottish nationalism has proven to be intensely unstable; it seems to wane, for example, relative to oil prices, and was only just given a new lease of life due to the Brexit vote. It has always seemed to me to be a contradiction that a seemingly separatist, proudly independent would be Scottish nation-state would cites nationalism as a reason to remove itself form its federal union with the rest of Britain—only to reattach itself to a European Union in which it will, surely, again find itself a minority voice—but nationalist fervor has a way of making individuals forget about logical consistencies (or profit motives).

I still believe that there is a distinct possibility that the very fear of Scotland departing the UK may do just the opposite—drive the UK to hold another referendum and to come, hat in hand, humbly requesting the EU countries to halt the Brexit process and vote unanimously to keep the UK integrated. There are two reasons for this view. Firstly, nearly all of the United Kingdom’s nuclear arsenal is located in Scottish territory, and the archipelagic nature of Scotland is what makes the United Kingdom an especially powerful military, with the ability to maintain personnel and systems in numerous sites across a vast swathe of oceanic territory. With Scotland out of the picture, a Great Britain consisting only of England, Wales and North Ireland, plus some scattered island territories, is much more vulnerable. Secondly, I believe that there is a massive potential for territorial disputes that would follow a split between Scotland and Britain, especially if they each maintain the same monarchical line—once they realize how messy competition for land and sea claims could potentially be, and especially with a very active and aggressive Russian Federation not too far in the distance, I suspect the English and the Scots may just figure out a way to cut a face-saving deal. Nationalism can help to keep players focused on communal self-interest.

Welsh and Northern-Irish independence movements are also quite plausible outcomes from Brexit producing an ethnonational chain reaction (I would list a Cornish separatist movement as implausible, but still potential). The Welsh case is quite stark: it is linguistically independent, has maintained an ethno-regional idea for as long as England has, and it certainly did not enter into partnership with an imperial England in a spirit of unity and peace (Edward I’s ravaging of Welsh lands in the 1280s remains shocking to read about today). If nationalism breeds nationalism, then the United Kingdom—which some see as a strangely unified collection of sub-nations, a bias that seems to be given strange recognition by World Cup and other international athletic events, in which Scotland, England, Wales, and Northern Ireland compete alongside individual “nations” (and to see how awkwardly such nationalism fits with British sports identity, see this entry)—could well see itself dissolving into multiple movements, if not states. Who knows how far it could go?

Secession may be more alive and ready to rear its ugly and negatively energetic head than we think—especially if we start to see a chain reaction of self-interested ethnonational splitting start to carve new territories out of the wreckage of a foundering EU that took globalism directed mostly to the well-heeled too far. Perhaps long-dormant regional identities in the Western Isles, in Galloway, or in the Orkneys might further fragment Scotland, or London could mirror California in the United States and seek to become a progressive, liberal oasis in an increasingly nationalist world. As along as self-interested rationales are there, regional exception can always be invoked to manufacture new ethnonational formations—much as Britain or America became new national forms, so might we imagine a range of new identities forged out of a European Union that has itself, it seems to me, always been ultimately a self-interested compact designed to allow individual nations to maintain the maximal illusion of national sovereignty while producing a single market community large and well managed enough to compete with the United States and China. My guess is that, unlike in the case of Britain and the United States, post-Brexit ethnonational formation will follow a path of fragmentation rather than consolidation—smaller communities driven by the smaller-mindedness of self-interest.

 


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The Possibility of Post-Brexit Ethnonational Fragmentation across Europe (part I; 03/29/17)

I offer here some first drafting of material I will use as the basis of a talk on Brexit, upcoming at my University at Buffalo, SUNY campus, this April. I plan to go back to some of my earlier reflections (to which I have provided many links here), as I think further on how to frame the tensions between ethnonationalism and transnationalism revealed by the recent populist-nationalist reactions against EU globalism.

 

Nationalism breeds nationalism. Since I began this blog, that is the sentence I have found myself repeating most often—and the recent renewal of the Scottish Independence Referendum movement made after Nicola Sturgeon called for a 2018 referendum vote (see this BBC analysis)  has only added to the evidence of the snowballing nationalism the world has seen in the past few years of what seems like wave after wave of intensely populist movements.

Snowballing, however, is a potentially problematic metaphor—for even though we might think of the reenergized Scottish independence movement as an addition to a running tally of global nationalism, it is not through addition but fragmentation that nationalism mostly seems to work. The positive Brexit vote of 2016—which was a major populist event whose shockwaves will be felt for many, many years to come—has seemed to set Europe on course for a period of intense efforts to produce fragmentation along Ethnonationalist lines. While the responses to the United Kingdom’s formal “triggering” of Brexit include some statements of small hope that the decision can be reversed (as you can read here in this BBC article, such a walking-back of the Brexit decision would require unanimous assent from the twenty-seven member states of the European Union), it seems quite likely that nationalist short-sightedness, both within and outside of the UK, will mean that the UK will fully separate from the European Union (as you will see below, I do have some skepticism that the process is irreversible).

If, as I have discussed in responses to the Brexit debate here and here, the core issue at stake in reactions against the European Union is a series of nationalist reactions against globalism and its neoliberal underpinnings, then it is vital to recognize that the reactions will likely not be limited to discrete national movements which will each seek neat departures from the European Union community, but will involve exponentially increasing dissolution: fragmentation will feed off fragmentation, as ethnic enclaves break off from the larger unities of which they are a part. (See these Terri-stories entries for more on this.)

While Scotland may be the most obvious case that comes to mind, Catalonia is another key example of the sort of ethnonationalism that is being generated by the localist critique of globalism, as I have written about here.  While the successful vote for an independent Catalonia by 2017 was cut short on Spanish Constitutional grounds, it seems unlikely to me that efforts to separate will cease any time soon. There are always populist politicians who will channel notions of difference—linguistic, regional, historical, etc.—as a means to legitimize the more immediate goal of trying to concentrate more wealth in a zone that imagines itself as unfairly contributing more resources to other parts of the nation-state (such numbers can be easily manipulated to show both sorts of outcomes, and there are always pundits and politicians willing to present cooked data to foment whatever political outcome they desire, whether it be conserving unity or advocating secession).

With numerous ethnicities and singular regions existing throughout Europe, the potential number of separatist movements is simply staggering. Indeed, considering that many modern nation-states only consolidated their unified forms relatively recently (Germany and Italy being the clearest examples, having only consolidated into anything resembling their current forms in the late nineteenth century), it is a wonder that more separatist movements have not already begun to spring up. Much as the nineteenth century saw an explosion of nationalist movements develop, particularly in the wake of Romanticized celebration of Greek secession from the Ottoman Empire, Brexit could easily serve as a trigger for awakening ethnonational movements that have perhaps simply been slumbering in the relatively prosperous times of global free trade.

Besides Italy and Germany, there are other national states that, while we sometimes think of them as ancient, have only really been tightly organized since the nineteenth or eighteenth centuries. France, for example, could see more intensity in Corsican, Provençal, Occitanian, or Basque separatist movements, and could see more movement towards autonomy in traditional regions, while a unity like Belgium could come completely undone into its constituent parts. Various ethnic separatist movements could call more loudly either for new states or for remappings of other states, with activist Basques in Spain and France, ethnic Greeks in places like Albania or Cyprus, or Frisians in the Netherlands. The Czech Republic could disintegrate further in its ethnic status, into Silesians and Moravians. Examples—especially if we looked into the notoriously fractious Balkans—could be multiplied.

As I suggested earlier, the most intense separatist movements triggered by Brexit may be very close to home indeed. As I have written of here before, Brexit’s anti-globalist movement is surely spurring more intense feelings of national identity in Scotland. Scotland’s independence movement is by far the most pressing ethnonational issue that will follow directly from the Brexit movement: at the very least, another independence referendum will be held, and it seems to me that it is looking increasingly likely that Scottish voters will choose to depart the United Kingdom. While Scottish nationalism has proven to be intensely unstable (it seems to wane, for example, relative to oil prices), it was clearly given a new lease of life due to the Brexit vote. As I have made clear more than once on this blog, I do not think the Scottish independence movement is a simple matter, and I would not trust commentary that would see Brexit as absolutely driving Scots to depart from the United Kingdom.

I still believe that there is a distinct possibility that the very fear of Scotland departing the UK may do just the opposite—drive the UK to hold another referendum and to come, hat in hand, humbly requesting the EU countries to halt the Brexit process and vote unanimously to keep the UK integrated. There are two reasons for this view. Firstly, nearly all of the United Kingdom’s nuclear arsenal is located in Scottish territory, and the archipelagic nature of Scotland is what makes the United Kingdom an especially powerful military, with the ability to maintain personnel and systems in numerous sites across a vast swathe of oceanic territory. With Scotland out of the picture, a Great Britain consisting only of England, Wales and North Ireland, plus some scattered island territories, is much more vulnerable. Secondly, I believe that there is a massive potential for territorial disputes that would follow a split between Scotland and Britain, especially if they each maintain the same monarchical line (as I have discussed here)—once they realize how messy competition for land and sea claims could potentially be, and especially with a very active and aggressive Russian Federation not too far in the distance, I suspect the English and the Scots may just figure out a way to cut a face-saving deal.

Welsh and Northern-Irish independence movements are also quite plausible outcomes from Brexit producing an ethnonational chain reaction (I would list a Cornish separatist movement as implausible, but still potential). The Welsh case is quite stark: it is linguistically independent, has maintained an ethno-regional idea for as long as England has, and it certainly did not enter into partnership with an imperial England in a spirit of unity and peace (Edward I’s ravaging of Welsh lands in the 1280s remains shocking to read about today). If nationalism breeds nationalism, then the United Kingdom—which some see as a strangely unified collection of sub-nations, a bias that seems to be given strange recognition by World Cup and other international athletic events, in which Scotland, England, Wales, and Northern Ireland compete alongside individual “nations” (and to see how awkwardly such nationalism fits with British sports identity, see this entry)—could well see itself dissolving into multiple movements, if not states. Who knows how far it could go? Perhaps long-dormant regional identities in the Western Isles, in Galloway, or in the Orkneys might further fragment Scotland, or London could mirror California in the United States and seek to become a progressive, liberal oasis in an increasingly nationalist world.

While it seems unlikely to me that the United States would have actual territorial fragmentation due to the recent anti-globalist wave, it is striking how ferociously anti-globalist rhetoric has catapulted Trump into power, as I have discussed here. https://randyschiff.wordpress.com/2016/12/30/after-the-american-electoral-deluge-an-alarming-analysis-of-anti-globalism-appears/ While there have been whispers of a Calexit, and indeed there will be an effort to place such an idea on the ballot, I am at this point skeptical that it will be anything more than a symbolic gesture that, in making such arguments as that California’s massive economy means it can survive on its own and that its massive revenue generation actually helps fund rural areas of the country, is strikingly similar to the separatist rationale of rich regions such as Cataluña. Don’t get me wrong: I do not doubt that there are fervent secessionist movements in the United States, with Texas as the perennial example of a state filled with individual s actively seeking to secede from the United States (I have written about the sometimes paranoiac fever of such separatism here, which in its anti-federalist terms can sometimes mirror anti-EU rhetoric). More significantly, the United States from 1861-1865, as Benedict Anderson reminds us in Imagined Communities that Americans sometimes conveniently forget, actually split apart, and required the US Civil War—arguably, the bloodiest in US history—to reintegrate Southern states. The spirit of secession also exists on more microterritorial levels—such as in the tax-related desire of areas like the San Fernando Valley to separate from Los Angeles, about which I have written here. Secession may be more alive and ready to rear its ugly and negatively energetic head than we think—especially if we start to see a chain reaction of self-interested ethnonational splitting start to carve new territories out of the wreckage of a foundering EU that took globalism directed mostly to the well-heeled too far.

 


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The Uncannily Appropriate Uncertainty of Allegiance in The Americans (March 28, 2017)

Given the bizarre state of ethnonational rhetoric in US politics since the (dare I say?) unsavory rise of Donald Trump to the office of the Presidency, I thought it would be worthwhile revisiting a short piece on the show The Americans that I wrote for another venue. If you’re not familiar with it, The Americans, which is set in 1980s Cold War America, follows the lives of two deep-cover KGB agents who have been posing as natural-born Americans for decades. With two children who were born in America with no idea that their parents are anything but average Americans, Philip and Elizabeth Jennings—the identities they assumed as the “Americans”—speak with perfect American accents and try to raise a perfectly normal suburban family, even as they surreptitiously lead the lives of top-level secret agents spying for the Soviet Union.

The most fascinating aspect of the show for me has always been how compellingly it steers viewers towards siding with Philip and Elizabeth. Whatever one’s ethnonational loyalties, however monstrous Philip and Elizabeth’s lies may seem, and however awful the acts they commit may be, the show’s lens being squared firmly on the couple’s everyday lives makes it difficult not to be sympathetic toward them. As such, the show seems to me to have a sophisticated take on the way nationalism actually works: by compelling you to filter events through a particular frame of reference, nationalism shapes your reality in profound ways.

Spies are an especially apt subject for such dynamics. The show Blackadder made marvelous use of the subject of spies to offer cogent commentary on the way nationalism irrationally influences our moral judgments. In the episode General Hospital during the World War I era run of the series, the patently mad General Melchett responds with polar-opposite commentary on the moral character of spies, with his views depending entirely upon the side for whom they spy. When German spies are mentioned, the British general, foaming at the mouth, ejaculates, “Filthy Hun weasels fighting their dirty underhand war!” In the very next moment, when “our spies” are mentioned, the General loudly pronounces, without missing a beat or delivering a trace of irony, “Splendid fellows! Brave heroes, risking life and limb for Blighty.” The absolute partisanship of nationalism, which sees the same sort of person—the spy—as villain or hero depending only on nationality, is made hilariously clear by the ridiculous Melchett.

I was reminded today of The Americans, not so much by my recent acquisition of the Season 4 DVD, nor by its fifth-season return, but due to the bizarre ways in which our current political climate has made its intriguing work to both humanize Soviet spies and to subtly align viewers with their interests seem so…prescient. Never in my life would I have guessed that a Republican administration would have rocketed to power on radically pro-Russian policies, with a then-candidate inviting Putin’s personnel to hack his opponent’s email and undermine the democratic process. It really seems like a looking-glass world we are inhabiting right now.

Don’t get me wrong: I have found a lot of the anti-Russian rhetoric that has lately been permeating mainstream media to be disheartening, reactionary, and dense. As a great admirer of Russian culture, and as someone who has been slowly (but I hope surely) trying to learn the language, I find much of the knee-jerk rejection of anything Russian to be a grotesque inheritance from the Cold War US paranoia (in which I was raised, by the way). That many of my relatives came (way back when) from Russia and / or Ukraine also contributes to my skepticism concerning much of the mass media tendency to provide reactionary caricatures of Russian culture rather than honest communication about its current world.

It is nevertheless striking for me to see the Republican Party, which has so often wrapped itself in the mantle of rabid pro-American identity, to be suddenly interested in nuanced analyses of Russia’s role on the global stage. It is as if older worries about Russian territorialism as a constant threat to America’s own global ambitions have been instantly dissipated, with pragmatic skin-saving overriding deeply held prejudices and loathing. As it seems increasingly likely that there were not simply minor, but actually concerted Russian efforts to deploy both hacking and fake-news propagation to tilt the balance in favor of Trump, it is fascinating to watch the right-wing of United States policy suddenly find itself in the position of allies to a nation-state that has often been portrayed as its greatest rival.

In observing the strange goings-on in Trump’s scandal-wracked administration, I have often resorted to cheap jokes as I vent my frustrations on my favorite venue for micro-statements of anxiety—Twitter. For example, I can hardly be the only one who came up with a version of saying that Trump’s Russian actions make me wonder just which side Trump roots for in Rocky III, or to pull one-liners about the urgent need to protect our “precious bodily fluids” from Dr. Strangelove, or to make affectless remarks about what a warm and wonderful person Jared Kushner is à la Manchurian Candidate. The list of cheap cultural jokes could be multiplied.

The Americans, however, struck me as one of the more fascinating cultural developments that has been running eerily parallel to the Republicans’ unseemly executive alliance with Putin’s state. Might, I wondered, the fascinating invitation to relax one’s partisan biases and to see war and espionage form the perspective of the other, executed so consistently powerfully in the first few seasons of The Americans, have in some way eased the way towards Trump’s unsettling pro-Putin politics?

This is all a long preamble for my decision to post here that article I wrote some time ago, on the subject simply of recommending people to watch this interesting show. So, here goes:

 

Humanizing the Cold War: The Americans

Set in the chilly Cold War atmosphere of early-1980s America, The Americans offers a consistently compelling spy story. If you haven’t yet seen this thriller about KGB agents living as Americans, you still have time to discreetly binge-watch the first four seasons before it returns in 2017.

Philip and Elizabeth Jennings are KGB operatives living undercover as married travel agents in Washington, D.C. Speaking with perfect American accents, they lead a seemingly normal life as the parents of two young children, Paige and Henry, even as they conduct dangerous espionage operations. As Philip and Elizabeth become friends with counterintelligence FBI agent Stan Beeman, Cold War tensions bring anxiety to all those involved in FBI and KGB operations.

The Americans is a first-rate espionage show that powerfully captures the paranoia and uncertainty of the late Cold War. Considering that the show’s creator, Joe Weisberg, was a CIA officer, it is no surprise that the show features a high degree of authenticity in its presentation of 1980s intelligence operations. Central to the show are Keri Russell’s and Matthew Rhys’s powerful performances as the married spy couple: while managing to make their extraordinary espionage skills believable, Russell and Rhys allow their characters’ emotions to bring depth to both their personal and patriotic pursuits. Other standout performances in this wonderfully cast show include Taylor’s thoughtfully anxious Paige, Costa Ronin’s confidently skeptical agent Oleg Burov, and Annet Mahendru’s emotionally conflicted agent Nina Krilova. The show is particularly successful in compelling you to witness the Cold War through both Russian and American eyes. By devoting significant space to the lives and work of Russian-speaking agents, and through carefully managed flashbacks to Elizabeth’s and Philip’s pasts, The Americans humanizes the Cold War by placing Soviet desires and fears right alongside American hopes and anxieties.


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After the American Electoral Deluge, an Alarming Analysis of Anti-Globalism Appears

I return to Terri-Stories after quite a break, during what was quite an intense—and some might say calamitous— political and cultural period within my home nation-state (the USA). I can honestly say that I never saw an election quite like this, what with the Republican candidate surviving instance after instance of shameful statements and leaks that in previous elections cycles would have been seen as catastrophic gaffes that would have ended his candidacy—and yet he prevailed. I had never seen a national candidate jokingly request the aid of foreign hackers—and still win. I honestly remain a bit stupefied that a candidate who relentlessly flouted basic norms of civil behavior, routinely spouted out vague statements that only rarely announced anything resembling concrete policies, who seemed to me to lose embarrassingly in all three national debates, and who was consistently divisive in his language, actually won.

While many factors led to Clinton’s loss (e.g., a very uninspiring Vice-Presidential candidate in Tim Kaine; a bewilderingly unethical reopening of an already over-blown investigation into Clinton’s email server when Secretary of State, initiated (against FBI protocols about not disrupting elections) by the FBI Director just days before the election; Trump’s campaign’s very savvy (ab)use of social media platforms to spread false news claims and campaign talking points; and, I think most significantly, lingering fallout from the bruising populist campaign of Independent-turned-Democrat Bernie Sanders, who relentlessly delegitimized Clinton as a corporatist puppet and who systematically discredited the very DNC that was being hacked by foreign hacking teams, and who inspired many of his most fervent supporters, the “Bernie Bros,” to loudly claim they would rather stay home than vote for Clinton), it seems to me that one of the most significant factors is a populist reaction against what we might call neoliberalism. (I am of course hardly the first to note this.) In an era of massive and unseemly income inequality (which seems, by the way, only to have grown under Obama), there seems to be a massive reaction against two key principles of globalism—the constant expansion of the freeing up of the flow of capital (through more and different kinds of “free trade” agreements, and the related expansion of the freer flow of people (in the form of more immigration).

That reactions against globalism are key to Clinton’s loss should be evident from the fact that it was Sanders’ populist campaign that so thoroughly undermined her candidacy. The massively large crowds attending Sanders’ rallies were driven by many of the same hostilities towards free-trade that energized Trump crowds. (By the way, although I don’t like to indulge in hypothetical scenarios [usually because such thinking can go on ad infinitum], I do think that, had Clinton been sensible enough to recognize that Sanders’ support was due to an anti-globalist Zeitgeist, she probably would have trounced Trump had she selected him as her Vice-Presidential candidate. If the Democratic Party wants to win future elections, it should probably advise future winners of the primary to strongly consider uniting their electorate by choosing any candidate who came in a very strong second place…)

Anti-globalist reactions in the form of nationalist and nativist movements (about which I have written numerous times on this blog)  have become so alarmingly frequent these days that some political and economic analysts are warning that global anger is alarmingly similar to the global mood before World War I. As Ana Swanson shows in her excellent Washington Post article on the subject,  Citing a Deutsche Asset Management article by Josh Feinman,  Swanson discusses the ways in which globalization can be seen as “cyclical,” with what are clearly nationalist forces pushing back in fierce patterns. With successful hard-right-wing movements now in the US, Japan, Turkey, the Philippines, and elsewhere, with the success of the anti-immigrant, nationalist Brexit movement in the UK, with many anti-immigrant voices rising within EU countries, with strong right-wing voices rising in France, the Netherlands, Russia, and elsewhere, the world is looking very much like one where resistance to globalism is taking unfortunate form in inward-looking, intolerant nativist movements.

I do hope that things do become calmer soon. As someone who is fascinated by the history of nationalism—and so understandably wary of its peculiar power— I worry that there is way too much hardening of state and cultural lines these days.

I am a bit skeptical about some of the parallels discussed by Swanson, by the way. While it is interesting to think of an earlier globalist period predating World War I, I do think the rise of the digital age has made the massive expansion of markets of a fundamentally different kind from the earlier expansion. While telegraphs, for example, surely connected people, we are now in a world where technologies such as video-conferencing and electronic currency transfers have not just lessened, but in some ways actually destroyed, distance as a model. I am not sure if this fundamentally changes things, but it does make the ideas of retrenchment behind national economic lines so obviously self-defeating as to force the most xenophobic demagogues to be shunned by others (no one, I think, is going to want to keep Amazon or Apple utterly contained to a single state).

As we enter the strange new world of a Trump-helmed America, I will be keen on seeing whether this tension between nationalism and globalism becomes exacerbated in our public discourse, or if—and I suspect this will more likely be the case, as Trump walks back most of his most provocative claims and promises, since any businessperson needs stability and the status quo for real profits to be maintained—it will fade back into a less alarming patterns.


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Some Initial Thoughts after the Brexit Dam Burst (June 30, 2016)

The recent Brexit vote has, as readers of this blog will already know, been of acute interest to me. Pitting fervently held beliefs about national identity against the transnational experimentation of the European Union, the Brexit campaign brings the added complication of internal tensions between the sometimes-would-be-nations of Scotland and Wales, along with the divided status of Northern Ireland, in tension with the larger quasi-federal, England-dominated United Kingdom. In many ways, anyone interested in international relations studies could find few contemporary situations of more interest than the lead-up to the Brexit vote and its bewildering and ongoing aftermath.

As were many, I was surprised by the successful outcome achieved by the Leave campaign, which struck me as primarily an emotionally driven protest movement that seemed too clearly antithetical to establishment business interests to succeed. It is rare that truly surprising news occurs in our world, which is so often managed by corporate interests who pay incredibly close attention to bottom lines that we do not often see radical shifts.

While there is simply too much to discuss in one entry, I wanted to lay out some initial reactions. Firstly, while I have, with so many others, been disheartened by much of the virulent xenophobia and nationalist resentment of many proponents of the Leave campaign, I have become fascinated by how much the Brexit situation defies any simple binary division between “right” and “left” politics. Many analysts have pointed out that the Remain campaign was spearheaded by the well-educated, urban, ethnically diverse, and better-off on both sides of the usual political spectrum, while Leave voters were often from white, working-class backgrounds in either rural areas or in former industrial zones that have not seen much development. In other words, class issues and regionalist issues have trumped the typical politics of left and right, with many of those who feel that they have not benefitted from the economic growth engendered by globalism have reacted against the European Union’s clearly globalist program. (See Jim Tankersley’s excellent Washington Post article on the anti-globalist dimension to Brexit.) I find this genuinely intriguing—even as I, like so many others, feel dispirited by the fact that the flames of worries about economic stagnation among Britons has been fanned by much xenophobic rhetoric assailing economic migrants. (For some excellent analysis of Brexit voting patterns, see the BBC’s referendum results and Will Davies’s fascinating article on the sociology of voting responses ).

Going hand in hand with internal, individualized concerns about not sharing in globalist wealth has also been an alarming rise in nationalist settlement. As I have written about here and here, nationalist sentiment has been coming into increasingly volatile contact with European Union globalism. Setting this in the context of increasing (and increasingly dangerous) nationalist sentiment in Russia and its environs, which I discuss here and here, should make us all only the uneasier.

Many analysts have argued that the Leave vote will reignite the Scottish independence movement—and it is hard not to understand why Scots, who voted by a fairly wide margin to remain in the EU (roughly 62-38) are upset that an English majority will determine the fate of the larger British state. Indeed, Nicola Sturgeon has raised the specter of an attempt to block the EU referendum vote by having the Scottish Parliament withhold consent—a measure that would have the benefit of transforming the brutally reductive nature of a simple-majority vote into one in which the regional blocs of the UK can serve as checks (see this BBC piece). It will be interesting to see whether Sturgeon’s strategy works—and it should be noted that this would bring the United Kingdom much closer to a truly federal state than a single state (an issue I have discussed in one of this blog’s many reflections on the Scottish independence movement ). If this parliamentary strategy does not work, then perhaps indeed the Scottish Independence movement will be reignited—though I also wonder if the drop in the oil prices, the very real concerns about the UK’s nuclear arsenal and its status in NATO, and the fact that the United Kingdom as a single state could form very lucrative ties with other countries that might offset the market penalties it will incur for leaving the EU might offset the Scottish nationalism that has been reawakened by this vote.

It will be interesting to soon be visiting the United Kingdom, to be able to experience first-hand how anxious Britons must be about how all of this radical change will be sorted out. Having watched yesterday’s question-and-answer session in the House of Commons (thank you, CSPAN), I was fascinated by how resigned to leaving the EU Prime Minister David Cameron seemed—and also how clearly Cameron conveyed the fact that the next Prime Minister’s work will all be about painstaking negotiations on very fine details, an environment totally alien to the emotion-driven, reductive sloganeering throughout the Remain / Leave vote. I suspect that many emotional voters will continue to have second-thoughts about the massive change that has been unleashed, if only due to the fact that so much of their future time will be taken up precisely in the kinds of bureaucratic details of trade and quotas negotiations that many anti-EU voters clearly dislike.