Friday, February 12, 2010

The EU, Diasporas, and Conflict

Seems most of the problems in Europe and Eurasia are derived from tensions between diasporas that seek either unification with other countries or their own independence, and the governments of the countries that host them. One region that has traditionally had some issues is the one I am visiting right now: Cluj-Napoca, a Romanian city with a sizable Hungarian diaspora.

Romania's Hungarian diaspora is the result of the usual tug-of-war between Central and Eastern European countries that went on throughout the centuries. Only a couple of hours ago I heard high school kids speaking Hungarian, and this morning Cristina and I visited a Catholic church where wreathes decorated with Hungarian flags lay beneath a sculpture of the crucified Christ. To counterbalance this Hungarian-ness there is a more nationalistic fervor amongst "traditional" Romanians living in the city.

But things have been OK here in Cluj, as opposed to the much more worrying state of affairs one encounters in the Balkans, Moldova, Ukraine, and the various Eurasian countries.

The difference seems to be the EU. Cristina noted this morning that the EU makes borders less relevant. Hungarian-speaking Romanians who wish to travel from Romania to their friends and family in Hungary, or vice-versa, can do so relatively painlessly, as opposed to those who must travel from country to country outside the EU.

The difficulties of traveling to Russia are especially pronounced. Even a tourist must jump through a series of gauntlets to get in (this includes the need for an official letter of invitation from somebody within the country; hotels will write these for the tourists who plan to stay in them).

It seems that with more open borders between countries the potential for conflict between those countries would be diminished. While throwing open the border between Azerbaijan and Armenia would be foolish if done tomorrow, it seems in the long run that fluid borders could provide a safety valve for releasing pressure that has traditionally come from diasporas that, due to their present political situations, feel (or literally are) trapped within their countries.

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