Ethnic Masses Are More Restless

By Richard C. Hottelet. Richard C. Hottelet is moder-ator of 'America and the World' on National Public Radio. | The Christian Science Monitor, March 20, 1992 | Go to article overview

Ethnic Masses Are More Restless


Richard C. Hottelet. Richard C. Hottelet is moder-ator of 'America and the World' on National Public Radio., The Christian Science Monitor


EARLIER this year, Prime Minister John Major appealed most earnestly to Scottish voters not to take Scotland out of the United Kingdom. He was not in the grip of a nightmare but responding to the growth of the Scottish National Party, which aims to do just that.

Sentimental nationalism has chafed under London rule for 300 years. Now it is approaching a point of political power just as the Europe of which Scotland is a part is becoming a larger whole. Adding to the apparent paradox, the feeling that animates so many Scots is bursting out all over Europe. Ethnic groups are demanding as never before the right of cultural, linguistic, and religious autonomy. Their goal is not always political independence but certainly a distinct voice in the government (including the economy) of the community into which history has put them.

"Coalition" has been the theme of postwar Europe with, however, a constant counterpoint of ethnic particularism. The Basque extremists of Spain have made their demands savagely, the Catalans with less violence but equal insistence. The Flemings and Walloons have in effect partitioned Belgium. France has its dissident Corsicans and Bretons. There are many more.

In 1976, a conference of intellectuals on "Europe of Regions" held in Denmark called for decentralization and reduction of nation-states by nonviolent means. One eloquent advocate, Denmark's Prime Minister Poul Schluter, reasoned that the new age of information based on knowledge and the individual was replacing the old collectivized industrial culture. Defining "region" loosely as a homogeneous cultural or economic community with common goals, the conference added to the better known cases such concerns as the Sami people of Lapland, the Greenlanders, Frisians, and Faroe Islanders. In the past few years, led by German federalists, the conference has become a movement to counter the centralization it sees in the Brussels bureaucracy of the European Community.

In 1985 a more formal "Assembly of European Regions" was established by 112 federal states, regions, and autonomous communities below the level of national government. The founding members included Germany's state of Baden-Wurttemberg, five Swiss cantons, two Austrian states, Wales and Scotland, as well as Crete and the Aegean Islands of Greece. This year, after the opening of Eastern Europe, the Assembly numbered 179. …

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