My wife and I just spent a marvelous week cruising on the Adriatic with ports of call all along Croatia. Our motor yacht, Le Monet, a jaunty Croatian-registered ship, picked us up in Venice and took us to many of the main points of interest along that lovely, island-studded coastline, including Pulu, Split, Hvar, Zadir, and Dubrovnik
No, relax, this is not a travelogue piece. Constantly, we passengers, about 50 grads of Oberlin, William and Mary, Case Western and a few interlopers from other universities, heard stories from our Croatian guides and crew members about the 1991-2 Yugoslav Civil War. We were horrified and yet fascinated. These handsome, tall, well-educated Croatians admitted that they look just like Serbs. You can't tell one from another, said one guide in Zadir—who had returned from school in Arkansas just in time to watch the bombs fall in her neighborhood, killing neighbors and friends. Some of the evacuated Serbian population had lived before the war for years in peace next door to her family's home.
I asked one guide in Dubrovnik why that historic walled city—not the new one that surrounds it–was badly shelled during the war. Her response: "Because if the Serbs couldn't have it, they didn't want us to have it."
Then she amplified: "You see the thinking is often like this. If you could make your neighbor blind, you would be willing to have one of your own eyes put out."
To paraphrase an earlier US presidential campaign phrase, "It's the culture, stupid."
Look at the same effect in Ireland. I've been to Ireland, both North and South, many times. I certainly can't tell an Ulster Protestant from an Irish Catholic. But even now, as the violence diminished, the place still has its upsets.
A more recent example of the power of culture to divide and destroy: a New York Times article by Michael Kimmelman, With Flemish Nationalism on the Rise, Belgium Teeters on the Edge (August 4th):
"The other morning Damien Thiéry was in the meeting room of the town hall here, where every month or so, at public council sessions, Flemish nationalists harass him.
"The population of this bedroom community outside Brussels is 84 percent French-speaking. More than a year ago it picked Mr. Thiéry, a Linkebeek native, as mayor. But Linkebeek is within the Flemish north, and the region's Flemish government has so far declined to ratify his election.
"Mr. Thiéry is not Flemish."
So what? Well, Kimmelman continues:
"The German newspaper Die Tageszeitung a few days ago called Belgium the 'most successful "failed state" of all time.' The Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme offered to resign last month, saying that the 'federal consensus model has reached its limits,' and that he couldn't bring harmony to the country's Flemish and French-speaking regions, raising the specter that this nation of 10.4 million might split up for good."
If this doesn't speak to the situation developing in California and other Southwestern states, I don't know what does. The mayor of LA clearly speaks only for Hispanics. The possibility of whole U.S. sections being subsumed into a non-functional ethnic ghetto is no longer far-fetched. In the context of further quotes from Kimmelman's New York Times piece, it's highly discomfiting:
"'We have two separate cultures in Belgium,' said Mr. Thiéry, a sturdy man wearing shirt sleeves on a warm summer day, clearly exasperated. 'It wasn't this divisive when I grew up. Protesters shout, "French people get off our territory" at our meetings. Flemish authorities refuse to give contracts to our French-speaking schoolteachers; they give Flemish children here 179 euros a year for school trips and other expenses, French children, 68 euros. If we want subsidies, we are obliged to stock our library with 75 percent of the books in Flemish, but it's ridiculous to have a Flemish library in a mostly French-speaking town.'
"Should Flanders ever secede, an independent Flemish nation that hoped to regain European Union membership would need to respect popular elections, including his, he added ruefully. 'Ironic, no?' he said.
"Els Witte is a Belgian historian. At her apartment, up the street from the headquarters of the European Union in Brussels, she pondered the bad marriage of French-speaking Wallonia and Dutch-speaking Flanders.
" 'A language is a culture,' she said. 'In Belgium the two cultures know very little about each other because they speak different languages. There are singers known in one part, not in the other. Television is different, newspapers, books.'"
"Francophones have now come to talk about 'linguistic cleansing.' Flemish, many of them openly resentful of subsidizing poorer French-speaking compatriots, who for years lorded it over them economically and otherwise (unemployment today is three times higher in rust-belt Wallonia), say the issue is preserving national heritage."
Let's briefly recall that historic speech former Colorado Governor, Richard Lamm gave to a DC group of immigration reform writers in October, 2003 entitled "How to destroy America". The following is a part of my account of that speech (which I heard in person) as written up by Frosty Wooldridge:
"Arnold Toynbee observed that all great civilizations rise and fall and that 'An autopsy of history would show that all great nations commit suicide.'"
" 'Here is how they do it'" Lamm said:
" 'Turn America into a bilingual or multi-lingual and bi-cultural country. History shows that no nation can survive the tension, conflict, and antagonism of two or more competing languages and cultures. It is a blessing for an individual to be bilingual; however, it is a curse for a society to be bilingual.
" 'The historical scholar Seymour Lipset put it this way: "The histories of bilingual and bi-cultural societies that do not assimilate are histories of turmoil, tension, and tragedy." Canada, Belgium, Malaysia, Lebanon all face crises of national existence in which minorities press for autonomy, if not independence. Pakistan and Cyprus have divided. Nigeria suppressed an ethnic rebellion. France faces difficulties with Basques, Bretons, and Corsicans.'
"Lamm went on:
" 'Invent "multi-culturalism" and encourage immigrants to maintain their culture. I would make it an article of belief that all cultures are equal. That there are no cultural differences. I would make it an article of faith that the Black and Hispanic dropout rates are due to prejudice and discrimination by the majority. Every other explanation is out of bounds.
" 'We could make the United States an "Hispanic Quebec" without much effort. The key is to celebrate diversity rather than unity. As Benjamin Schwarz said in the Atlantic Monthly recently: "The apparent success of our own multi-ethnic and multi-cultural experiment might have been achieved not by tolerance but by hegemony. Without the dominance that once dictated, however ethnocentrically, what it meant to be an American, we are left with only tolerance and pluralism to hold us together.'"
"Lamm said, 'I would encourage all immigrants to keep their own language and culture. I would replace the melting pot metaphor with the salad bowl metaphor. It is important to ensure that we have various cultural sub-groups living in America reinforcing their differences rather than as Americans, emphasizing their similarities.'"
We must not let it happen here.
Donald A. Collins [email him], is a freelance writer living in Washington DC and a former long time member of the board of FAIR, the Federation for American Immigration Reform. His views are his own.