Professor Henry Srebrnik

Professor Henry Srebrnik

Monday, July 25, 2011

Reshaping the State to Avoid Secession

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal-Pioneer

If you can’t reshape a country politically, you may have to resize it.

That, simply put, is the theory posited by Ian Lustick, a professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania, in his co-edited anthology Right-Sizing the State: The Politics of Moving Borders.

What he means is that states unwilling to accommodate demands by ethnic, linguistic or religious minorities, and therefore unable to contain secessionism, may end up smaller than they once were.

In the past few decades, we have observed a number of nations acceding to sub-nationalist or regionalist demands, usually by reshaping themselves into federations or granting the units involved more autonomy.

In Europe, for instance, Spain, Italy and Great Britain are no longer unitary states.

The Spanish constitution, ratified in 1978, granted both Catalonia and Euskadi (the Basque region) their own instruments of self-government. The autonomous communities – more have been added since -- constitute a highly decentralized form of territorial organization, and Madrid hopes this arrangement will help dampen secessionist feelings in the country.

Italy, to counter centrifugal forces, now has 15 regions with limited autonomy and another five with “special” self-rule. They all acquired more powers following a constitutional reform in 2001.

In the United Kingdom, Tony Blair’s Labour government was elected in 1997 with a promise of creating devolved institutions in Scotland and Wales; both now have their own assemblies.

Northern Ireland has even been granted the theoretical right to join the Republic of Ireland, should a majority vote that way in a future referendum. The 1998 Belfast Agreement states that any future change in its status can be brought about by “a majority of the people of Northern Ireland.”

Even France, the epitome of a centralized state, has allowed a measure of autonomy for the Mediterranean island of Corsica, which is now termed a territorial collectivity.

India has reshaped itself numerous times, in order to contain the vast and diverse population within its borders. In 1956, there was a wholesale reorganization of the Indian states along linguistic lines. Since then, many new states have been carved out of existing ones, to satisfy tribal groups and other minorities. The country now has 28 states, along with seven union territories.

African states, largely artificial constructs, have been less successful in meeting demands by regional or ethnic groups, perhaps because there are simply too many such groups to satisfy. Many countries have become failed states as a result and so face eventual downsizing. This has already happened to Ethiopia and the Sudan, as well as to Somalia, which has effectively ceased to exist. Others, such as the Congo and Nigeria, may follow and break apart.

Canada, too, has faced the issue of nationalist discontent, centred in Quebec. The wholesale reshaping of the country under Pierre Trudeau, which gave us official bilingualism and multiculturalism, went far in meeting the demands of francophone Canadians.

However, many Quebec nationalists wanted more autonomy and legislative powers for the province. Attempts to satisfy them through asymmetrical federalism, in the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords, failed, and as a result separatists almost managed to pull the province out of Canada in 1995.

Since then, parliament passed the Clarity Act in 2000, setting out the terms by which any future referendum will be deemed legitimate, and Stephen Harper’s government recognized the Québécois as a nation in 2006. Will this suffice, or is resizing the country, through the departure of Quebec, still in Canada’s future?

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Case for Israel

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

As most people who follow events in the Middle East know, the Jewish state of Israel is under increasing ideological attack by those who wish to delegitimize, and thus eventually eliminate, the country.

They claim that the Jewish people have no right to the territory, but are interlopers and imperialists who stole the land known to these opponents as Palestine.

Yet Jews are one of the most ancient historical nations in the world. And Zionism attaches Jewish “nation-ness” to a specific territory, that of biblical Israel.

But the Zionist movement was about more than just the reclamation of an ancient homeland. It asserted that Jews, like other nations, needed sovereignty in order to survive and not remain helpless victims.

Hitler’s was only the last of many attempts to wipe out Jewish communities in Europe, beginning with the First Crusade at the end of the 11th century, when soldiers on the way to the Holy Land killed Jews in the Rhineland. Jews were perceived as just as much an enemy as Muslims.

In 1648-49, Bogdan Chmielnicki’s peasant army in eastern Europe massacred upwards of 300,000 Jews. And after the First World War, soldiers loyal to Symon Petliura in the Ukraine, murdered from 35,000 to 50,000 Jews in a series of pogroms.

Twentieth century Zionism was thus a form of nationalism, in response to these and other tragedies, in an era of nation-state building. It was no more “racist” than other versions. After all, anyone can, through conversion, become Jewish – even the leader of Hamas.

Whereas in truly segregationist societies, such as the old U.S. South or South Africa, neither Martin Luther King nor Nelson Mandela could have become “white.” These were ascriptive and immutable caste categories based on so-called race theories.

Historically, many Jews, especially on the left, had their own ideological reasons for opposing Zionism. The Jewish Labour Bund, the eastern European Jewish socialist party, had advocated instead its notion of do’ikayt (“here-ness”), which claimed Jews should focus on building viable communities in any place in which they lived.

And that opposition still holds true for some in today’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish sects, who are against it on theological grounds.

But the Second World War demonstrated the weakness of these competing beliefs – 6 million Jews were killed despite the (half-hearted) efforts by the Allied countries to save them. Jews were not the top priority in the war effort.

Despite the claims of many of today’s multiculturalists, it seems likely that, in the long run, national groups can only survive if they have a territorial base. Can Germany depend on Germans who emigrated to the United States, or Poland on Canadians of Polish descent? The same holds true for Jews, who are rapidly assimilating in such countries.

Today, almost half of the world’s Jewish population lives in Israel, where they don’t have to “work” at being Jewish – even if they are totally secular.

As for those who propose a “one-state” solution to the current Israeli-Palestinian confrontation, they should be reminded that such a prospect is highly unlikely.

Anyhow, why not have two states, as was proposed by the United Nations in 1947? The issue of borders acceptable to both sides is a different matter.

No one suggests neighbours Portugal and Spain should unite, or Norway and Sweden.

And those nations are closer in terms of culture, religion, and language to each other than are Israelis and Palestinians, nor have they recently fought each other.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Canada Courts a World Power

By Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh have declared 2011 the Year of India in Canada.

India has become one of the world’s most powerful nations, politically, militarily and economically.

In 2010, bilateral merchandise trade between Canada and India totalled $4.2 billion, an increase of 73 percent since 2004. Canadian merchandise exports to India increased 142 percent over this period, reaching nearly $2.1 billion in 2010. Two-way direct investment was more than $7 billion. But India remains Canada’s 15th-largest trading partner, and Canada ranks just 33rd on India’s list.

Canada and India have now entered formal discussions for a comprehensive free trade pact that could be worth $6 billion a year. India has also announced plans to locate North America’s first Indian Cultural Centre in Toronto.

This makes perfect sense. About 1 million Canadians of Indian origin live in this country, more than half of them in Toronto, which is home to the largest Hindu temple in Canada.

Toronto also recently became the first North American city to host the “Indian Oscars,” the International Indian Film Academy awards. The awards gala drew an audience of 22,000 in the Rogers Centre, with another 700 million worldwide viewing it on television.

India is now the largest producer of films in the world, and its production centre in Mumbai, formerly Bombay, has given the industry the informal name “Bollywood.”

Also, after China, India has the largest diaspora in the world, estimated at 25 million people, living in countries such as Australia, Britain, Canada, and the United States.

India retains strong links with its diaspora. It even issues Person of Indian Origin cards to people of Indian background living abroad, allowing them, according to the government, “to reconnect with their roots, as well as to respect their desire to participate in the development of the country of their origin.”

As India’s economy continues to strengthen, a growing middle class in the country seeks quality education for their children at the university level, and universities in India can’t keep up with the demand.

So about 160,000 Indian students are enrolled at universities abroad, mainly in Australia and the United States – but only 3,000 are studying in Canada.

Canadian universities are now working hard to recruit more Indian students. Senior Indian and Canadian university leaders and government officials recently attended a Canada-India education summit at Carleton University in Ottawa.

Some Canadian univerisites are also creating joint study or research programs with Indian universities.

York University’s Schulich School of Business plans to build a campus in Hyderabad, and the University of Waterloo is considering doing the same.

What a difference a century makes. In 1911, when India was a colony within the British Empire, King George V and Queen Mary had their durbar in Delhi. A durbar was a mass gathering in Delhi to commemorate the coronation of a British king and queen as emperor and empress of India.

A description of the event noted that Silver medal 1911, British India“The Sovereigns had appeared in their Coronation robes, the King-Emperor wearing the Imperial Crown of India with eight arches, containing six thousand one hundred and seventy exquisitely cut diamonds and covered with sapphires, emeralds and rubies.”

A feature film, titled “With Our King and Queen Through India,” was released a year later. This was the high tide of British imperialism. It must have seemed to those in attendance that it would never end.

Yet, just 36 years later, a near-bankrupt Britain granted India (and Pakistan) their independence. Nothing lasts forever.