Nationalism has long been the cause of alot of pain and broken dreams in the history of the world. Yet nationalism is the force that brings about so many changes in so many places, even in this day and age.
I was working in Portugal several years ago when East Timor formerly declared it’s independence from Indonesia. Needless to say it was a big deal in Lisbon, at some level, as the nation watched a new country set out on the quest for freedom, prosperity… insert lofty goal. And of course, as I watched the ceremony in Dili, I can’t deny a feeling, based on all that I know from world history and the inequality that is the world economy, that East Timor would never really achieve much of a quality of life. For all the beauty and nobility of independence, you could spin the globe, crunch the numbers, and know that the new nation’s odds of a prosperous survival were slim to none.
Now we watch Kosovo. I know, I know, different details, different history, some different problems. But the facts still spell out the same feelings. Independence and freedom from whatever oppression, past or present, that certainly sounds good. No wonder lots of good people out there support the declaration. Yet what chance does it’s people have in this global economy and the political chess game that leaves a majority of the new nation as a bunch of expendable pawns; useful for flag waving news footage, but not worth a serious investment or some serious problem solving strategies. Powerful forces in the world of business and politics might have been salivating at the chance to use the cause and the region for their own goals, but now they can salivate even more as disorganization and internal struggles make it easy to profit.
Now you hear the whispers in different parts of the world get louder; Turkish Cyprus, Abkasia, Chechnya, Ingushetia, Palestine, Western Sahara, Aceh… places where the calls for independence grow louder now. And who would dare speak against many of those cases, where people have suffered and hoped for independence for so long.
While I don’t speak against most of these calls, I will add a question to the equation. How will they live? Will there be a way to seriously live without the threat of famine, violence, or some other terrible factor. Do they have some way to stand on their own two feet in a global economy that specializes in picking apart new nations without the luxury of lots of money or some magic resource?
Independence sounds lovely. But when calculating and dreaming of the kind of life people should have, I wish we would factor in what happens once you’ve got that independence. That’s the part that could really help make a better future for all people.