Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Ethnic Nationalism and the Basque Challenge

I’ve touched upon the issue of ethnic nationalism at various points on Trans-Int and written at greater length on the matter in other publications (I’ll provide some references in a subsequent post). The very expression “ethnic nationalism” is not common in contemporary English language discussions, wherein the term “nationalism” is typically associated simply with the defense of the sovereign prerogatives of the state. In this latter sense – which does not in fact have a particularly long tradition, but has lately gained popularity in academic and journalistic settings by reason of political expediency – “nationalism” is, of course, massively rejected by convinced “EU-ropeans” or "Europeists", as well as by the euro-wannabees in America who have their natural habitat in universities and Democratic think-tanks. As I’ve tried to show in some of the writings to which I’ve alluded above, however, at the same time the process of European integration favors the development of what could be called “micro-nationalist” movements of an ethnic sort – or, more simply put, of ethnic nationalism.

As the expression implies, ethnic nationalism is premised upon the existence of ethnic groups: whether these are supposed to be demarcated by language, culture or “blood” (or, in other words, presumed common ancestry). Closer inspection of ethnic nationalist discourse shows that the assumption of some supposed “blood” tie is essential to the coherence of ethnic national ideology – even if contemporary ethnic-nationalist ideologues in Europe tend to be careful to deny such an assumption...even while making it. The central tenet of ethnic nationalism as a political ideology is that each ethnic group ought to have if not its “own” state – though this is the preferred solution for ethnic “nations” enjoying sufficient mass and a sufficiently “compact” territorial concentration – then at least distinct political representation in “autonomous” institutions of some sort. The right of “peoples” or “nations” to so-called “self-determination”, as recognized in various key UN resolutions, is nowadays often interpreted in this sense. Thus the assumption of ethnic-nationhood is also in the process of being smuggled into international law, where in fact it previously had no place.

If it was not already the case, with the Basque Parliament’s approval of Juan José Ibarretxe’s plan for a “free association” of the Basque country with Spain, the Basque country has now become the front-line of what promises to be a long conflict in Europe between ethnic nationalism and the liberal democratic conception of the state. The formula “free association” is, incidentally, taken from the UN-sponsored process of decolonization (and, more specifically, General Assembly Resolution 1541). It implies, in effect, that the Basque country is already substantively separate from Spain and hence that it is up to its inhabitants or perhaps indeed just its presumptively “indigenous” inhabitants – “the Basques” in the presumed ethnic sense – to determine their relation with the latter: i.e. to determine their relation to a state of which they are already citizens and whose current Prime Minister would not have been elected without their massive support.

Thankfully, the Barcepundit is there to cover the Basque challenge to the Spanish state and with a sensitivity to and knowledge of the fundamental political stakes involved that the mainstream English-language media decidedly lacks. See his recent post on “Zapatero’s First Big, I mean Really Big Test” and his follow-up posts here and here. (For the morbidly curious, see also here and follow the relevant links for the Barcepundit's attempt at dialogue with the blogger "Blex", who has also in the meanwhile left some comments on this post.) And for anyone who might doubt that the Basque version of ethnic-nationalism – like every version of ethnic-nationalism – is a form of racism, see too the post by John Chappell on Europundits to which Barcepundit links regarding the “Philosophical Basis of Basque Nationalism”.