Monday 11 May 2009

'Rattachisme' elsewhere

The impending electoral victory of the Tories in next year's general election in the UK has started to awaken hopes (or fears) of an acceleration in the breakup of the UK.

The UK is not Europe's only shaky state, though. There are a number of other states where people actively discuss options for 'after the divorce'. We have already seen peaceful divorces (the old Czechoslovakia) and incredibly bloody divorces (the old Yugoslavia). Spain is another example of centrifugal forces at work, though so far without breaking the state up.

But another, smaller, and less news-worthy example is perhaps a better analogy for Northern Ireland – Belgium. The history of Belgian governance is a case-study that people in Northern Ireland should be aware of, because its parallels are interesting and it has so far managed to conduct its communal squabbling without a single death.

For many years Belgium was dominated by French-speakers (parallel: unionism), who imposed their symbols on the state and country, and seriously attempted to impose their language on the Flemish. In the last half-century the Flemish community has enjoyed a resurgence, and now enjoys a comfortable (60%) majority of the population, with a proportionate membership of the Parliament. But, in a spirit of power-sharing (parallel: GFA) the constitution reserved exactly half of the cabinet positions for members of the two communities (parallel: two main communities in both Belgium and NI).

The good news for unionists is that despite having achieved political dominance after over 100 years of struggle (parallel: how many years is it since 1922?), the Flemish community have not sought to break up Belgium and create a 'Greater Netherlands' comprising the Netherlands and Flanders.

The bad news for unionism, though, is that debate on "post-Belgium" is not over, and it is now the 'losers' – the out-voted, out-numbered, previously-dominant French speakers who are debating what to do if, or when, Belgium is dissolved.

On Saturday, in Liége in Belgium, an informal gathering called the Etats généraux de Wallonie (EGW) discussed options for post-Belgium, with the outcome being that the majority (75%) of the participants opted for an orphan Wallonie to seek unification with France – called rattachisme. Only 16% voted for an independent Wallonie.

Although the meeting, and the result, have no official importance, it is nonetheless interesting to note that public opinion tends strongly towards unification with a larger and historically 'significant-other' state next door, rather than attempting to go it alone, with the risk of becoming the new Albania.

In the light of any 'post-UK' discussions, it is clear that the same options would face Northern Ireland – and hopefully public opinion here would be as pragmatic as in Wallonie.


david h jones said...

nice piece, but last two paragraphs are a little muddled.

Surely, from a Unionist point of view, the rattachisme version is to join Britain (or, rather, remain in Britain) rather than join the Republic. After all, the decision isn't an economic one, the Unionist would see Britian (if 'Britain' still exists as a unified state that is) as their 'next of kin' in the same way as French-speaking Wollonia sees France. It's the Catholic/Nationalist who go for the rattachisme option.

I don't think you either need to make disparaging remarks like 'becoming the new ALbania'. There's no reason why Wallonia would be any worse of as an independent state than any where else. Size is irrelevant. You could just as easily talk of 'becoming the new Slovenia/Estonia/Monaco'.

To continue the Albanian analogy though, the option for Wallonia is either the join a greater France (Albania) or do as the Kosovars have done and create an independent Wallonia (Kosovo). This would be intersting, as the international community has a fettish with keeping current state borders hence the nonsence that Belarus is recognised as an independent state but Chechnye, Abkhazia are not. Of course, the French state has been one of the biggest supporters of this doctrine as they're so paranoid of anything which could undermine their Jacobin anti-Breton/Basque/Catalan state. If Wallonia does vote to join France - and why not - then France and by implication, would have to make a valte face of the sort it wouldn't allow others to do. This would then lead, legitimately to the rattachisme of Ireland, Kosovo/Albania, Republiks Srpska and Serbia. It could be interesting!

In any case, I'm all for an independent Flanders and up to the Wallonians to decide where they want to be.

Horseman said...

Hi David,

Thanks for the comments. I was thinking about the break-up of two federal (or nearly) states - Belgium and the UK. Of course unionists would like to keep an attachment ... but to where? England will not want Northern Ireland as its personal charity case, and Scotland will not touch it with a barge-pole. So the option for orphan NI is (and always has been) - re-unification with the south (rattachement, you might say).

Wallonie may not quite be Albania (and France certainly isn't), but its a pretty poor place with low productivity, rust-belt industry, high unemployment and dependency rates, and not much else. Yes, it is fairly central, but it lacks sea access and has no major airport. Unless it transforms itself it would be a basket-case as an independent state. Much better to join France. Would France want it, though?

Mack said...

For NI, Belgium offers some interesting options.

#1 The direct equivalent of Belgium is an independent 'shared' NI - both Irish and British (Dutch and French)

#2 Repartition. Which the Wallonie option discussed above. Difficulty in NI with large non-contiguous Nationalist areas in the East, but maybe some arrangement could be made

#3 Everyone's favourite - union of the complete territory with either Ireland or Britain - doesn't seem to be discussed by the Belgians (Belgium as part of the Netherlands or France) at all.