An afternoon in Ohrid

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Meditations on Nation States

One of our Gostivar delegates at the model UN
Last week Kerry took her team to the model UN, and I tagged along to help out where I could.  That, combined with a conversation with a former Macedonian army soldier who had fought in Afghanistan (yes, Macedonia is part of the coalition of the willing), got me meditating on nation states.  After the end of WWII, his family had been forced from their home in what is now the northeastern part of Greece around Thessaloniki and as Slavic Macedonians, and moved into the Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.  The boundary that exists today, which had been blurry for centuries, was established .  This is the story of the Balkans, with shifting boundaries as a result of many, many wars after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

Nations are rather like football teams.  We proudly proclaim our allegiance, identify with our nation, and become 'different' from others not from our country.  Yet it is a fairly recent phenomena.  The United States acquired its boundaries in a number of ways, through wars that we won or reached a compromise about and through outright purchases.  How did the people in those areas feel when suddenly they became a territory of the US instead of France of Spain?  Americans felt we had a right to much of the land through 'Manifest Destiny'.  Our country isn't even contiguous but hop-scotches around.  But now our boundaries aren't contested, and we are Americans.

Other places weren't so lucky.  Nations that didn't exist before were carved out by winners of conflicts from empires that collapsed or were defeated, often for political gain.  People living there had little say.  How did Afghanistan come into being?  Do the Pashtuns and the Waziheris consider themselves Afgans, or is that just a citizenship dreamed up by Western nations.  Have the Western powers forced this concept of nationhood onto a world that doesn't identify that way?  How about Hungary?  The Magyars didn't arrive until the 9th century, long after the Slavs had come through, and they are considered recent arrivals by the Greeks.  Why isn't it called Dacia?  Many problems in this region and in the world are caused by these artificial lines.  But how else can we organize our world?  I don't know.  Anyway, enough meditation for today!

Looking up at the King Mathias Church in Budapest
I have had the great fortune to travel this spring.  I took a river cruise up the Danube from the Black Sea up to Budapest - my friends and I had a great time and we saw some beautiful places.  I'm slowly loading pictures up to Facebook, so if you want more you'll be able to see it there.

Looking down the forest path on Snake Island
Yep, there are snakes on Snake Island

View of Albania and village from the Island

After coming back, Kerry and I along with a couple of other volunteers went down to Lake Ohrid and Lake Prespa on the southwestern border of Macedonia to visit the Museum of Water and Snake Island.  The weather was perfect and the lakes were crystalline clear.  We had to get a taxi from the nearest town and drive over a mountain on a dirt road to get to the village closest to the island and then hire a local fisherman to ferry us out to the island, which is part of a national park, and it all added to the adventure of the day.  We tromped all over the island seeing turtles, Roman and byzantine ruins, nesting cormorants, and yes, snakes.  It was a glorious day!

1 comment:

  1. You have made some interesting observations. Refreshing to hear your perspective on nation states.