Statehood Doesn’t Pay Bills

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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.

Burning down the borderNow 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.

3 thoughts on “Statehood Doesn’t Pay Bills

  1. In one of my college history courses, we’ve been discussing Kosovo’s quest for independence. We’ve also been talking about countries being ready for such a big step, and the ensuing push from the US for these countries to be ‘democratic.’ What the US doesn’t recognize, at least not publicly, is that not all countries are ready for ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy,’ and ultimately, will fail.

    Good luck, Kosovo. But I think you’ll need more than luck to survive.

  2. Good points Mark, and I wish that more people in the media were asking the questions that you bought up. In the midst of all the chaos going on now, it makes me wonder how many things are going on behind the scenes that we’re not paying attention to – images like a McDonalds with broken windows or burning cars are taking up all the front pages.

    ps. I like how you can now see “related posts from the Past” under your entries now.

  3. Independence movements are usually like breakups in bad relationships – there’s fighting, drama, the cops are often called (UN, NATO, etc.) people’s friends get involved telling them to either work it out or leave him girlfriend.

    The only breakup that seemed to work out ok was the Czech/Slovak one, but they were more like adult lovers that realized circumstances put them together more than their own choice.

    There are the Quebec and Basque independence folks that garner as much sympathy from me as rich kid who doesn’t approve of his prep school.

    Also, the romantic and exciting move to independence seems easier and much more fun than the bureaucratic governance of a new nation. What happens when all the flags stop waving and the party ends?

    You have to draft a constitution, tax codes, legislative branch rules, political party system rules, create a court system, federal regulatory codes and systems of enforcement. That’s the fun part then there’s the roads, schools, police, fire, defense, hospitals, water, sewage, energy, communication systems, public transportation, housing…Oh and now that you’re a country there are a thousand different international bodies, organizations, committees, agencies, partnerships and diplomatic commitments you now need to join and manage. You country is also probably in debt so I hope you have a few Phd’s in international finance and Bono’s number on speed dial laying around.

    Independence is romantic, running a country is a lot of work. I guess the next time someone is a proponent of an independence movement ask them what happens after the party is over and the real work starts?

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