Countries are Breaking into Ministates, but That's Not Necessarily Bad 44TC

January 23, 1994|By RUSSELL WARREN HOWE

The explosion of the former Soviet Union into 16 republics, with more on the way -- some probably from within the great Russian Federation itself -- has encouraged the division of the former Yugoslavia into five of its earlier, Austro-Hungarian Empire parts, and the five seem likely to become seven or more.

The former British Somaliland has announced its secession from the formerly Italian southern portion of Somalia. If Kibris (Turkish-speaking northern Cyprus) is anything to go by, this secession is unlikely to be reversed.

Eritrea, freshly separated from Ethiopia, is sending out its ambassadors.

In Europe, a secessionist party recently swept northern Italy in the elections.

Polls indicate that, at the next British elections, a majority of Scottish seats in the House of Commons will go to candidates favoring "devolution" (autonomy), which seems sure to lead to independence somewhere down the road.

Irredentist movements persist in Brittany, the Basque country and Catalonia (where George Orwell fought for the nationalists.)

The perennial threat of secession in Quebec has revived the old desire for separatism in Pacific Canada, where the dreamers talk of confederating British Columbia, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories with California, Oregon, Washington state and oil-rich Alaska.

Secession -- Singapore's negotiated departure from Malaysia in 1965 is a good example -- is usually motivated by economic advantage for the affluent classes, often supported by the nationalistic separatism of simpler folk, who cling to their race, their tribe, their language group, their religion and so on.

Dr. Ali Mazrui, the Kenyan who heads the Institute of Global Cultural Studies at the State University of New York at Binghamton, has noted that both secessionism and tribalism are no longer automatically seen in Africa as heresies.

Are we on the threshold, there as elsewhere, of an Age of `D Geopolitical Parthenogenesis, when a nation, like an amoeba or a worm, can become two, or four or eight?

Nigeria, Africa's least successful large country, has more than 600 languages and dialects; its radio reads the news daily in 44 of them. Only the official language, English, is universal, and then only among literates.

The river from which the country takes its name has 17 names of its own along its course -- 11 in Nigeria itself, including, of course, Niger, Latin for black, given to it by 19th-century European explorers.

It's hard to imagine a colonially-invented tribal conglomerate like Nigeria -- or Zaire -- not being partitioned, and perhaps repartitioned, like India.

The explosion of Nigeria or Zaire would encourage partition elsewhere in Africa, notably in religiously and ethnically divided countries with artificial colonial borders such as Chad or the Sudan.

In South Africa, Afrikaners, the pale-faced Kurds of the southern hemisphere, want a separate Orange Free State; polls show 28 percent of whites support it.

The opposite seems less probable: Latter-day bids for empire such as Morocco's seizure of the western Sahara, China's of Tibet or India's of Sikkim seem no more likely to endure than South Africa's now-abandoned occupation of Namibia or Israel's attempt to have Muslim-Christian bantustans on the West Bank.

China's greed for a new "last empire" faces not only Tibetan nationalism of the Hibernian variety, and linguistic tribalism in the western marches, but also the challenge of the success of the "dragons" that ran away from home -- Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong.

Talking to Scottish nationalists on the terrace of the House of Commons, this Scottish-born reporter found that nothing made them salivate on their single-malts more than the prospect of both getting rid of English rule and being as economically successful as Norway, the country most similar to Scotland in population size, culture and natural resources.

One reason for secession is that the much-advertised "rise of terrorism" in the world is quintessentially in governmental, state terrorism. Random violence of the free-lance kind, such as the taking of hostages in Lebanon -- or even the bombing of the World Trade Center in Manhattan -- is less than in the 19th century, and immeasurably less than before that.

Our fairly recent ancestors faced highwaymen or footpads on a single-day trip by horse carriage from London to Oxford or by palanquin from Edo (Tokyo) to Yokohama.

Only a century ago, A. W. Kinglake, author of "Eothen," needed a bodyguard of cutthroats to accompany him from Alexandria to Cairo, or to venture out of Istanbul.

A recent Amnesty International report says terrorism by governments now accounts for more than 95 percent of all terrorism and "poses the greatest threat to human rights in the 1990s."

Amnesty International points to notorious situations such as those in Serbia, Israel, Eqypt, the Sudan, Morocco, Iraq, Iran, India, Mayanmar and China, along with similar scoundrel nations of the past such as Cambodia, South Africa and the Soviet Union.

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