Is separatism pandemic?

November 4, 2017


The wind of separatism doesn’t blow only in Catalonia. On October 22nd two Italian regions, Lombardy and Veneto, voted for greater autonomy with a referendum that had no strict legal effect but with a strong political message. And in Europe there are several separatist movements, ready to claim their own identity and own right to self-determination, especially in Bavaria, Scotland, Corsica, Northern Ireland, Flanders - just to mention the most important ones. The question is obvious: why is there a new urge for these movements? What leads some people to not recognize their own State?


The separatist sentiment is often a reaction to an excessive and unregulated globalization, which leaves the single citizen lost. This mechanism is even stronger in Europe, where the EU contributed to soften the nations’ role and identity. That leads the individual to seek a new sense of belonging in a small, newly independent country, closer and apparently safer, favoring localism over globalism. The citizen feels mashed by the onrush of globalization, robbed of his or her own identity.


Identity is usually a key-word for separatists because they always say that the identity of the State where they actually live is not their own. They feel as a minority in their State while they would be the majority in a new independent one. So, what does "identity" really mean? Even if identity could seem a clear point of reference and offers stability in uncertain times, we shouldn’t fool ourselves: it is something more ideal than real and therefore it is an illusion to regard it as a foothold in the uncertainties of globalization. Thinking of identity as something sure presumes that it is a clear and established fact that applies to everybody within a society. On the contrary, there are always as many identities as there are individuals.  Everybody is unique, everyone has their own identity, different from those who live in a different nation, or region, or town, still different from their neighbors and even from another member of their family. What we define as “Nation’s identity” was and is still fundamental for history, but a nation is not a matter of “identity” anymore, or languages, race, religion or even geographic location. Today, a nation is the reflection of a decision to live together according to shared laws and values.


Moreover, separatist sentiments are usually fueled by political parties which have made independence a main point of their programs. The SNP (Scottish National Party) in Scotland, the “junts pel si” coalition in Catalonia, and the Lega Nord -especially in the past- in the Po Valley are parties which aim at achieving the independence of their region, exploiting it, in order to take power. That’s why they often foster their people, even with unrealistic promises or fake news – remember the many fake pictures that were spreading on the Internet, reporting the violence of the Spanish police or showing crowds with Catalan flags digitally added. They flatter people with promises of wealth and they present independence as the only magic solution to get there. In some cases, youth is the first victim because of its innate desire to stand for something.  In others, the youngs are lured by the separatist movements’ pledge to fight for their economic hardship.


Some separatists, as those in the Po Valley, and even those in Catalonia, are driven by alleged economic interests: richer regions don’t want to help poorer ones to keep “their” money for themselves. That is questionable not only socially – as State’s citizens should be bound by values such as mutual solidarity – but also economically, in fact their economy is prosperous because they are part of a countrywide system, which assures them a good internal market, a stronger bargaining power and a bigger attractiveness for foreign investments. Indeed, they are rich because they are part of a bigger nation. What would the big panettone industries in Lombardy say if the “terroni” didn’t buy their famous product anymore? Or towards which state would the major financial companies in Milan run in response to a declaration of independence?


Furthermore, some separatist movements are fed up by the central government ineffectiveness. And every so often they are not wrong. Instead, they are wrong to think that a division would be the magic solution to all their problems. The sociologist Daniel Bell once said that nations became too big to cope with small problems and too small to cope with the biggest one. The State and its role in society are constantly changing: its function was to ensure military protection in the feudal age, to ward individual freedoms in the 18th century and now it is more and more a “Welfare State”, focused on the citizens and their needs.


For this reason, a big centralized State cannot fulfill its social role in the best way possible. Thus, the right path to follow is that of decentralization and greater autonomy on some issues, in order to customize the solution to local problems better. Caution: autonomy not independence, and autonomy only on precise matters. How could a little, diminished and independent Catalonia or Bavaria cope with global warming, international terrorism, migration flows, demographic aging, technological and scientific development, pandemics, nuclear weapons, and so on? Rather, how could States such as Spain or Germany? It is insane to talk about more fragmentation of nations, while it is necessary to have more integration and cooperation. Only a “more perfect union” at EU level could really deal with global issues and even with economic giants such as U.S. and China. The solution are a more efficient organization and a redistribution of functions within the nations, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, not an unregulated fragmentation of countries. In such an interconnected and globalized world, the notion of borders is outdated and unity is the only real foothold which can ensure peace and prosperity.

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