I'm charmed by Europe's ethnic diversity. Hop on a train for two hours and you step out into a different culture, different language, and different heritage. As I watched Europe unite, I (like many of my European friends) feared that this diversity would be threatened. But just the opposite is happening.
In today's Europe, there are three loyalties: region, nation, and Europe. Ask a person from Munich where he's from, and he'll say, "I'm Bavarian," or "I'm German," or "I'm European," depending on his generation and his outlook. Ask somebody from Barcelona, and she'll say, "I'm Catalan," or "I'm Spanish," or "I'm European."
It wasn't always this way. Modern political borders are rarely clean when it comes to dividing ethnic groups. And most of the terrorism and troubles in Europe — whether Basque, Irish, Catalan, or Corsican — have been about ethnic-minority separatist movements threatening national capitals. Appreciating the needs of these people, peace-loving European leaders strive to make the Continent's minority groups feel like they belong.
What's going on? Barcelona is less threatening to Madrid. Edinburgh doesn't scare London. Brittany gets along with Paris (and I don't mean Spears and Hilton). As power shifts to the EU capital of Brussels, national capitals recognize and accept that their power is waning. And the European Union supports transnational groups in the hopes of reminding big nations that they have more in common than they might realize.
A castle-archaeologist friend of mine, Armin Walch, is the "Indiana Jones" in Austria's Tirol region. When Armin wants money to excavate a castle, he goes to Brussels. If he says, "I'm doing something for Austria," he'll go home empty-handed. So instead, he says he's doing something for the Tirol (an ethnic region that spans parts of Italy and Austria, ignoring the modern national boundary)...and gets funding.
Europe is burdened with the image of a too-politically-correct bureaucracy, notorious for dictating the proper curve of a cucumber in 23 official languages. But they don't mind the teasing. While attempting to honor the linguistic and idealistic wishes of its unruly gang of members isn't always efficient, Europe understands that watching out for its ethnic underdogs is essential for maintaining its hard-won peace.
About This Entry
You are reading "Fewer Borders, but More Ethnic Diversity", an entry posted on 12 August 2009 by Rick Steves.