Step into the breach
This post, I’ll admit, just got away from me. It started to be about something and then it turned into something very different. I hope that where you don’t agree with me, you do answer some of the questions this post may raise for yourself. You may think that it has actually no place here as it is not about atheism, but I would beg to differ as I think, in a way, it is.
Before the order came for the final assault on the morning of September 11th 1714, the walls of Barcelona had been breached in two places by the actions of engineers and mining details. Both sides knew that a bloody day lay ahead, neither knew for certain how it would end. It was the end game in a Spanish succession war where the Catalan (as in ‘Catalunya’, the Spanish province that has Barcelona as a capital) people had gambled and lost. After the direct line of Spanish-Habsburgian monarchs had died out (Charles II †1700), Europe’s indirect pretenders competed for the crown once worn by Emperor Charles V himself; a crown of a Spanish monarchy that still spanned half the globe. This was called the War of Spanish Succession.
The Catalans decided to resist the French Bourbon pretender Philips from Anjou and back the British supported Charles of Austria for the job. This had one simple reason: they wanted to remain Catalan, which meant they (at least) wanted to be permitted to speak “Catalan”. The French monarchs were known for having wiped out all the local ‘tongues’ their own country had ever held and the Catalans were not going to take their chances.
The fortunes of war decided otherwise and Barcelona found itself isolated and besieged after the British coalition yielded to French military arguments. After a year (1713-14) the siege was coming to a dramatic end. As the French infantry crossed the breach they did so over the bodies of a desperate, out-manned Catalan volunteers-army. A pre-arranged counter-attack of the regular Catalan-Austrian cavalry was mowed down by concentrated musket-fire. Barcelona had fallen.
This is about as much as you can learn from the recent archeological exhibition in the former marketplace of ‘El Born’, in Barcelona. The truly remarkable excavations date from before the fall of the city, before the streets were covered by an enormous “French” occupation fortress. It is important to note that the excavations are only indirectly linked to the fall of Barcelona and that the fact that the exhibition around it still teaches you so much about it has more to do with present day politics than with those of days passed. Like the Serbians the Catalans still celebrate their ‘National’ holiday on this anniversary of their greatest defeat. The exhibition, as the flags in the street, is conveying the message: “We will be independent”.
In the days coming the Scottish people will decide whether or not they will remain a part of The ‘United’ Kingdom. They will probably not. The Catalans in turn, while disputing the Spanish government for the right to organize a similar referendum, are looking at this Scottish one like a precedent that works in their favor; a test-case to convince those Catalans that aren’t yet convinced that they can, in fact, do this.
The next European-domino-tile is Flanders, the northern half of Belgium, the part I just happened to have been born in.
In case any relation between these separate independence ‘struggles’ isn’t clear to you I can point to the several bilateral meetings separatist politicians of these regions have held with each other, though none even share as much as a border. Clearly the European ‘independistas’ feel a kind of kinship. The only problem is that they are all very different to one another.
While the Scottish can claim to still be second-rank citizens in the “Empire” the Catalans can not seriously maintain such a claim today. But at least they can say that from that 11th of September 1714 through the years of the fascist Caudillo they were persecuted, forbidden to speak their language, abducted and killed. This is a historical pain that is hard to wash away. Especially as there has been no redemption and Spain is still, like in the civil war, a fundamentally divided country.
None of this applies to the Belgian situation. The Flemish are the majority. The reason for ‘independence’ (a.k.a. expelling the French-speaking minority from ourselves) is an economic and a slight cultural (mostly language) gap. That and the fact that there are opportunistic Flemish politicians want to become “King”, which in a united Belgium, they could never be.
It seems that instead of one big war of secession, like the USA had. The European economic frontiers are dispersed, resulting in strained relations and secession in isolated areas. Meanwhile there is no-one among the separatists really thinking about the effect on the European-Union, convinced as they seem, that separation on the States-level does not preclude cooperation on the supra-national European theater. This, I think, is a miscalculation which ignores the [emotional] turmoil these ‘divorces’ can cause. I think both economically as internally political important surprises may follow both the Catalan and the Flemish independence.
Meanwhile, while there is no self-evident reason or justification for European nationalism other than that it seems a workable, mutually beneficial, collaboration, both Russian-Orthodox as Wahabi-Muslim fanatics are standing at the breached walls.
I think European nationalism is as stupid as Belgian- or Flemish nationalism. History can be used to justify any division or any union depending on the view you take. History consists of layers and if you go back far enough I think you will find that one of my ancestors killed one of your ancestors just as some other ancestor of mine saved your other ancestor’s life. None of this predicts that you should be my brother or that you should be my enemy. 9/11, whether it’s the one in the 18th century or the one in the 21st, can’t be the primary motivation for your actions or the seat of your identity. Yes these were very bad historical events and you all have my sympathy. But what counts is that you look at us NOW and that you find a reason for separating or for staying together, a reason that is not [purely] historical.
In the end, I’ll admit, there is an evolved need for an extended ‘family’ (like a country is an extended family) for which you compete, for which you fight and for which, if need be, you are willing to die. The thing is that, whatever the reason you choose to define that extended family, be it your race, your religion, your country or your United States [-of Europe?], you need to realize that this reason is basically arbitrary and stupid, however necessary it may be.
I would also urge you to be compassionate. Present day economics may tell you that you are better off alone TODAY. You may think that making your ‘family’ smaller will make for a more qualitative life for ‘those that matter’. Tomorrow things can be very different. Do not expect broad solidarity tomorrow if you yourself are not so inclined today. Investment bankers tell you not to put all of your eggs into one basket. Why would you risk everything you had on 1 cultural-economic zone? If we diverse across different survival strategies and cultures and we find ways to make them collaborate, if we find ways to speak the same language even though we don’t, are we then not better insured for the unpredictable fortunes that await us? Do we not already pay a little insurance money for mutually beneficial certainty?
In the past we used to be very tolerant of language and fairly intolerant of religion. ‘Who’ you were was more determined by the latter than the former. And though communication is the basis of civilization I do wonder when we became as religious and as intolerant about language as we were (and many still are) about actual religion. I don’t think putting walls on minor cultural borders is the way forward or the way out of this economic crisis. At best it is a temporary solution for some, at worst all will suffer the backlash of the reduced economic collaboration. I don’t think it is a very good solution because it basically ignores the real divide that has increased and has been deliberately increased since the second World War.
As 85 people in the world own 50% of everything and the non-existent chance of winning Euromillions would not bring you even close to that group if you did, the real wall is between the 1% “happy people” and us 99% grunts. Guess which of these groups employed the other group to work and BUILD the wall?
Separating the “rich” Flemish people from the “poor” Wallon south of Belgium will do nothing to alleviate the economic divide inside Flanders. The same goes for Catalunya and to a degree also for Scotland. It is a diversion employed by the wealthy to distract the grunts while they reposition themselves strategically. With all the talk about ‘crisis’ and ‘independence’ it is easy to forget that for a small 10% there IS no crisis and independence is just another way to obtain more influence and wealth.
I’m not telling you to be a Marxist or even a socialist. I’m just telling you to forget you’re ‘American Dream’ and wake ‘the-fudge’ up! Because before a creationist, a sunni-muslim or an atheist, you are a grunt and while capitalism seems to work for some it clearly isn’t working for all.
In summary I basically ask you to think before you act. If you are unhappy with your situation, are you sure you are on the right track to solve it? Or are you just following someone who says “he knows the way”. What is the wall you are standing on? Whose wall is it anyway? Or are you in front of one? Is it a just wall? Or do you think it a bad one and it should be torn down? And, when the wall comes down, will you step into the breach?