Global Problem Zones


It will hardly be rated as a revelation if the reader is reminded that the world faces a number of stubborn problems. Some are overrated and express a delusion, others are discussed out of a polite desire to be “correct”, and then there are those that, while pressing, are of such old standing that we have gotten used to them. However, the most dangerous of the challenges we face are those that we fail to identify. There might be several reasons for this oversight. Fashionable thinking imposed by opinion makers and intellectual laziness are good picks.

One of these stealthy jeopardies pertains to the soundness of the states that make up the society of nations. The unstated assumption is that where there is a people, there is a country for it. This fits only in an exceptional number of cases.

Mostly, the name of a country is a derivate of a people’s name. If that tagging would not be in some cases inaccurate, then this piece would not be penned. As things are, Sweden might be rather Swedish, Finland is largely inhabited by Finns, and Japan has a Japanese population -well, except for the Ainu. Mostly, however, the unity of a state and a people is only programmatic fiction rather than a fact.

Before proceeding, let us begin with an attempt to find a brief definition of “people” -even if that could be a book-length text. A people is a group bound together by a sense of community. In its simplest form, biological ethnicity can be that foundation. The larger a state’s territory, the less probable that the borders and ethnicity match. As Africa’s case demonstrates, the more numerous a population, the more likely that its insiders detect significant lines of separation. A useful insight here might be that mankind likes to form small homogenous units and to regard home-rule on its exclusive territory as its expression.

Shared genes is not the sole foundation of a natural community united by the members’ will rather than by command. A common language, shared religion, an interpretation of history, or a commitment to an idea, can be the glue of an association. If these factors converge, their hold multiplies.

To form a strong state, its people must feel as citizens and need to detect in it an expression of their individual self. To the extent that this is the case, a strong entity results that enjoys the loyalty of those that can feel free among their fellows.

An informed glance reveals that the international order is destabilized by badly drawn, arbitrary boundaries. The outcome is captive nations, suppressed minorities, peoples torn apart by a border and deprived of their own state. Populations are created whose loyalty is doubted by their “alien” rulers to the entities whose legitimacy is questioned by some of their inhabitants. Thus, locals in outlying provinces, and their ilk in neighboring states, might wish to redraw the map which creates a casus belli. The fear of the treason of captive minorities opens in such interstate conflicts an internal front. A way to wage a struggle for the “unity of the homeland” is to suppress the recalcitrant. That is a policy that will confirm that “this state is not ours”, and that “salvation” is either independence or to join a neighboring country where one’s own kind is the majority.

The fear of distrusted minorities annexed because of the coveted land under them, produces a defensive reaction. More often than not, it exacerbates the problem it intends to overcome. Land populated by “aliens” tends to lead to attempts to alter the era’s demographics. One instrument is to induce majority types to settle there to create a new artificial majority. The other approach is to claim that the indigenous are actually wayward majority types that have lost their identity. To restore it, the use of the local language has to be restrained and the majority tongue’s exclusive use pushed. Schools are useful instruments in this, and so are entrance exams that require native fluency to “decapitate” unwanted native populations. Ultimately, there is deportation and extermination to create desired conditions.

Pressure is to accelerate forced assimilation. The public use of a resented minority’s tongue -such as when the Doctor and the patient may not use their shared language in a hospital – is tied to risks. The writer speaks a language which can, in some places, provoke spontaneous verbal or physical abuse. Offices can also discriminate against persons whose accent or name betrays an unwelcome origin. The brutal pursuit of artificial homogeneity is likely to create human rights abuses. This confirms that the deeper the commitment to impractical, irrational projects, the greater the inclination to resort to violence to serve a “noble cause”.

In the abstract, a solution appears to be self-evident. If borders are drawn wrong, then rectify them to reflect the will of those affected due to their ethnicity or culture. Indeed, some bad borders are historic, reflect a victor’s land-grabbing, or represent a strategic security consideration. In other cases, – in Africa and the Near East, – the boundary is the fruit of haggling by outside powers who drew them with a ruler.

As reasonable as this might sound, the project is not quite viable. Borders express the claim to land, whereas man, being a territorial animal, is intoxicated by the desire to control the soil where he stands. Therefore, the “good frontier” remains, except for some highly obvious inequities, an elusive dream. The ideal line would need to unite what belongs together and separate what is distinct, and also to create countries for stateless nations. With no significant minorities, the end of the suppression of unwanted peoples would be within reach.

Good as that sounds, even given much missing good will, the idea will not fly in praxis. History, multinational empires, earlier persecution and responding migrations, then the manipulative insertion of peoples, and the deportation of the indigenous, furthermore the merger of families, have created overlapping ethnic realities that cannot be untangled. Ergo, in most cases, no line can be drawn to separate the “X”-es from the “Y”-s so that no “Y” is left in “X” territory, and no “X” in “Y-land”. While a decision to separate what does not fit could overcome some injustices, in most instances the result could not be a homogenous country.

How to proceed? The matter’s urgency is given by the fact that bad borders are a background factor of international friction and induce domestic tensions that undermine democracy and hinder development. Bowing to fashionable thinking, the solution might be close to “world government”. However, the UN’s and the EU’s records do not convince. Such institutions get kidnapped by internationalist elites that might not practice certain traditional forms of discrimination. Yet, being removed from their own masses, they are tempted to rule without the consent of the governed. Supranational government promises to solve problems by ignoring differences. The real solution lies in creating units small enough to give a “house” to the like-minded.

If we wish to have peace and order, then an approach that abandons the goal of the homogenous national state needs to be accepted. Secure and successful countries do exist that encompass historically settled nationalities that form local majorities. The outstanding example is Switzerland, which is one of the world’s richest (yearly $84000/person) and most stable states. Four languages and several religions find a home there for ethnics who, across the border, form states which have historically not gotten along.

What explains this anomaly, can it be copied? The answer: Provide a good internal order. It begins with the acceptance of not having an all-powerful central government, and it demands the abandonment of the goal of a homogenous state: No “one country, one ruler, one nation, one language”.

Starting from there, power and its responsibilities need to be de-centralized and assigned to the lowest level where its implied duties can be fulfilled. If the village qualifies to perform a task, then it should be in charge. If a district can handle a problem, then it should be allocated to it, and so on. Larger subdivisions – cantons, counties, – should follow ethnic/cultural lines. That way cultural autonomy can be granted without reducing the system’s ability to solve problems efficiently. The practical goal needs to be a national order that allows for interacting communities that are run by persons who carry the traits to the local majority. The benefit is that all can have the feeling that the governors share their individual identity, and that local peculiarities are not violated by “faceless bureaucrats” that are of another kind.

Perhaps there is a guiding principle that could remedy what being on the “wrong side of the border” frequently entails. An arrangement for the international community to strive for, is an order in which no historically resident indigenous group has reason to perceive it as a tragedy to be a part of a land that is co-governed by another nationality. Thereby borders would stop serving as instruments for the punishment of unwanted “aliens” that are planted at the wrong place.

Reducing ethnic tensions and its disputes entails the abandonment of some of the traditional goals of states. “Bigger is better” and “being dreaded equals success” are among them. Democracy and group rights do not bring chaos that precedes the dissolution of the country. Rights, respected identity and participation, are not subversive. The case of successful societies proves the point.

Chauvinistic nationalism’s instinctive desire to eliminate differences, so as to create a “race based” unity, is essentially dictatorial and stymies progress. A successful country is strong enough to not only tolerate, but even to thrive, by making itself into the home of its inherited minorities. The loyalty expected assumes that, where people feel accepted, and where the deserving can become successful, there these will feel “at home” by being “shareholders”. Federalism and localism are recipes to overcome discontent by making populations feel that they can “belong” without having to change their culture and deny what they are.

Pleading for the normalization of the status of historically resident, native-to-the-soil minority communities, would be incomplete without a parting point. Acknowledging rights is a two-way street. Once properly treated, such populations have obligations toward the people of state. Tolerance and cultural autonomy might be natural rights, even so, it is an abuse to exploit these to serve seditious causes. Lastly, the thoughts shared here pertain to the treatment of historical communities and do not intend to relate to contemporary group migration that can result in culturally alien rejectionist communities. The right of minorities to cultural autonomy does not include immunity for torts that disadvantage native majorities.

At best, the future will only bring ad hoc and piecemeal solutions for the general problem described. As things stand, even the discussion of the specifics behind the generalizations above is difficult. For that reason, to avoid angry protests, the essay is devoid of illustrations. Given the short-sighted perception of the interests of those states that think to be beneficiaries of an unstable order, adjustments will follow upheavals and will not be preventive. The dissolution of the USSR and of Yugoslavia might not be the end of a story but episodes of a tale that continues to unfold.

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