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- Restless in Rio
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The separation itch
People are bored. They want to be cyberglobal and hyper-local, world citizens with the passports of microstates.
Banners at FC Barcelona's Camp Nou soccer stadium have long declared: "Catalonia is not Spain". That notion got a boost this weekend as pro-independence parties won Catalonian elections and strengthened the region's drive for a referendum on secession in defiance of the Spanish Constitution and of Mariano Rajoy, the embattled centreright prime minister.
Indeed, such is Spain's economic crisis that Rajoy declared in June that "Spain is not Uganda", prompting the Ugandan foreign minister to retort the next day that, "Uganda does not want to be Spain!"
So a majority of Catalonia's 7. 5 million citizens, it seems, no longer want to be in Spain - and a majority of Ugandans would rather be in Uganda. The crisis of the euro zone has accentuated longstanding Catalonian resentment over tax transfers to Madrid and sharpened the nationalism of the region with the biggest economy in Spain - larger than Greece's, as Catalans like to point out.
(Elena Salgado, the former Spanish finance minister, noted in 2010 that, "Spain is not Greece". Later that year, clearly irked, the then Greek finance minister declared that, "Greece is not Ireland". The former Irish finance minister, Brian Lenihan, retorted that "Ireland is not in Greek territory". Meanwhile, the secretary general of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development weighed in: "Neither Spain nor Portugal is Ireland". )
The euro crisis is also a crisis of euro-geography. Scotland has scheduled for 2014 a referendum on independence, 307 years after the political union that created the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom mutters about withdrawal from the European Union.
So much for globalisation, the disappearance of frontiers in Europe, borderless cyberworlds, hyperconnectivity and all the forces that seem to make a mockery of the nation-state and a case, at some point, for global governance.
People are bored and irked. They can't get new jobs. They want new borders, especially as the likelihood of actually having to defend them in war has become infinitely remote. They want to be cyberglobal and hyperlocal, citizens of the world with the passports of microstates. The desires seem to balance each other.
Across the Atlantic there are similar trends. In Texas - where Mitt Romney won by nearly 1. 3 million votes - secession chatter has increased. Larry Scott Kilgore, a Republican candidate, has announced he will run for governor in 2014 and legally change his name to Larry Secede Kilgore.
Texans, betraying an unlikely European itch, like to point out that the Texas economy is larger than Australia's. Australia, meanwhile, has many citizens of Greek descent but is definitely not Greece.
As Tom Wolfe writes in his new novel, "It's back to blood! Religion is dying . . . but everybody still has to believe in something. It would be intolerable - you couldn't stand it . . . to finally have to say to yourself, 'Why keep pretending? I'm nothing but a random atom inside a supercollider known as the universe. "'
As economic difficulties increase so do tribal sentiments. Random-atom angst sends people scurrying for new flags even as 800 million borderless cyberfolk unite in watching Gangnam style on YouTube.
Of course, immigration, lust and love have mixed the blood of the Scottish, Texan and Catalonian tribes (Call them "Scottexalonia" in their shared separation itch. ) "I'm a mutt, " Barack Obama once said. So, increasingly, is a wired, remittance-linked world where many live with, say, one foot in Birmingham and another in Lahore.
Glasgow has a substantial Muslim population. Texas is more than a third Hispanic. Catalonia has many Spanish-only speaking immigrants. The urge to throw up new borders is in essence an anachronism.
Or is it? The euro crisis is perceived as a crisis of overreach for pooled sovereignty. Perhaps a reaction is rational (even if the Catalans and Scots say they would like to be in the EU, once they run their own affairs). Economic resentment translates into a resurgence of identity with national culture.
In Texas, where the terms of entry into the Union in 1845 are still debated, it is a little different. The main resentments are social not economic. Cohabiting with all the pointy-headed, Subaru-driving, pro-choice liberals who elected Obama is too much for some Texans.
In 1996, I began a piece called "Global forces batter politics" with these words: "Throughout much of the world today, politics lags behind economics, like a horse and buggy haplessly trailing a sports car. While politicians go through the motions of national elections - offering chimerical programmes and slogans - world markets, the internet and the furious pace of trade involve people in a global game in which elected representatives figure as little more than bit players. "
Extrapolate out 16 years from that. National politics, as President Franois Hollande of France is only the latest to discover, is often no more than tweaking at the margins in the exiguous political space left by markets and other global forces. And that is in France!
Secessionist urges resonate in troubled times. But they face the headwind of business, political and global logic. I suspect that - less Kosovo than Quebec - all of Scottexalonia will succumb eventually to the good sense of union.
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