A half-dozen of the planet’s most important countries are now infected by the nationalist mosquito. Europe (after the Second War) invented a large country called Yugoslavia which has again been divided into different nations in order to provide more jobs for high-earning politicians as well as to keep Balkan nations from reaching for each other’s throat. Spain has its autonomous community Cataluña itching for total independence, and threatening the country’s elected government in everything from school curriculuae to the language to be spoken in the courtroom. Scotland already has its own Parliament in Edinburgh, where no seats are held by anyone English. The British Parliament in Westminster has a multitude of seats occupied by Scotsmen.
But Mr. Salmond of the SNP wants Scotland to govern England: not just independence from the United Kingdom. As long as all governments are as weak and craven as they are today, there is no stopping people like Mr. Salmond. But students of history should not be fooled by movies like Braveheart into seeing the Scots as wild, kilt-wearing patriots. It is said that the remaining clansmen hate each other as much as they hate the bloody English.
Belgium will soon be divided (again) into French-speaking Walloons in the south, and Flemish-speaking northerners. The latters’ capital at Antwerp(Antwerpen, Amberes) is now applying for a division of their country.
Next on the list of nationalist-inspired independencies will be Normandyand Brittany in France. In both cases the natives speak a patois which seems to carry quite a lot of French. Cornwall in England will soon be clamouring, and Cornishmen speak a dialect of Celtish quite different from Standard English. In Canada that vast country will become half-French/half-English speaking, capitals Quebec and Ottowa. In Russia it will be the Ukraine and Georgia, for a start. Other once independence-crazed states will follow. The poor European Union will find it hard to keep up.
The same problems exist between northern and southern Italy, the former finding the latter too Mediterranean, swarthy and suntanned for their sophisticated tastes. How, they ask, can the incomparable Venice be compared with dusty old Palermo? ‘They might as well be in two separate countries!’ They soon will be.
Every nationalist has his or her day of course. The present elected leader in Cataluña is Artur Más. In Spanish his surname means ‘more’. I do not know what the word is in Catalan. Some eager beaver will tell me no doubt. Using the Spanish version, it is an appropriate name for this personage, who demands more and more and more. He is not old, nor is he falling to pieces. He is obviously highly intelligent, but he expects to hold referendums he is not allowed to hold; he also expects the newly independent Cataloña to become (automatically) a Member of the UE. A senior politician in that sad organisation has recently disabused Más of this notion, but this does not deter him; he has a Napoleonic bent, and, as the cameras show, a distinctly high opinion of himself. In his admiration for himself, one cannot help but be reminded of the young Mussolini in 1922.
But Switzerland! Well, Switzerland consists of a Federation of 23 Cantons but three are subdivided, making a total of 26 administrative units, enough one would have thought for any country, let alone one consisting of only 16,000 square miles. Surrounding it are France, Germany, Italy and tiny Liechtenstein. The rivers Rhone and Rhine rise here, forming wide valleys. The land is fertile and the summer temperature warm. Switzerland is prosperous, with a GDP among the highest in the world, if not the highest.
The country came under the control of the Holy Roman Empire(q.v.) in the eleventh century, but in 1291 the Swiss confederacies (cantons) Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden declared their independence from their Habsburg rulers and were later joined by Lucerne, Zürich (left) and Bern.
In the 15th century this Swiss Confederation continued to fight against Burgundy, France and theHoly Roman Empire. Swiss men were always in high demand across Europe as highly professional (and lethal) mercenaries. In 1648 the Habsburgs at last acknowledged its independence in the Treaty of Westphalia (now a part of Germany).
In 1798 French Revolutionary armies entered Switzerland and established a Helvetic Republic. The Congess of Vienna soon scotched that in 1815. Swiss control over Switzerlandwas established and the European powers guaranteed the nation’s neutrality.
During the First War this neutrality was maintained in spite of the contradictory affections of the French and German sections of the population. This was quite an achievement, when one considers both nations were actually engaged in a sanguinary war. Then again in the Second War the Swiss managed to maintain neutrality.
Women were not given the vote until as late as 1971, and suffrage is still restricted in certain cantons. Both the International Red Cross and the failing oldLeague of Nationswere established in Switzerland because of her neutrality.
In 1992 the Swiss rejected membership of the European Economic Area, thus putting a stop to the country’s application to join the European Community (now called the EU).
All men up to retirement age are still called up once every year to re-train as soldiers and learn about new methods of war. The nation is armed to the teeth, the mountains can be made unpassable, and Switzerland’s general popularity was much increased by Swiss banks admitting holding the property of Jews murdered in the Holocaust. The country released these funds as reparations to the victims’ families. Swiss banks have also quite recently begun releasing certain private data in ‘numbered’ accounts – something not all popular with the holders of such secret accounts.
The significant thing is that Italians, French and Germans have managed for a very long time to live and work together, despite separate languages. The present and clear cult of independence, mostly inexplicable, could surely learn something from Switzerland.