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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Europeans Can Weather Threat Of Nationalism

Over the past few years, commentators have often warned us that the irrational, belligerent demons of European nationalism are reasserting themselves, poised to throw the continent back into a Dark Age of conflict. It is time to ask if this picture has been painted too black. Obviously, the wars in former Yugoslavia, now entering their fourth year, are proof that Europeans must not be complacent. Even if a settlement is reached before the summer is through, the Yugoslav wars have been so bitter that the seeds for conflicts between future generations of Serbs, Croats and Muslims are already sown. In the same way, it would be daring to predict a peaceful solution of the problems dividing Russians and Ukrainians. Even if an all-out war between Russia and Ukraine can be avoided, it will not be easy to prevent some blood being spilled in Crimea. Elsewhere in Europe, there are brighter clouds on the horizon. One of Europe's most intractable issues since the collapse of Communism has been the status of ethnic Hungarian minorities in Romania, Slovakia and Serbia. Relations between Hungary's first post-Communist government, a center-right coalition, and the three neighboring states were plagued with tensions. Recently, however, there have been signs of improvement. The fall from power of Slovakia's nationalist leader, Vladimir Meciar, and of Hungary's center-right government has taken much of the sting out of Slovak-Hungarian relations.. Serbia and Hungary are also involved in a tentative dialogue to improve mutual ties. The relationship between Romania and Hungary remains prickly, but at least there has been no violence as bad as that which broke out between members of the two nationalities in Transylvania in 1990. Further south, one cannot rule out trouble in the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia and in the mainly Albanian-populated province of Kosovo in Serbia. Here various competing nationalisms clash: Albanian, Serbian, Greek, Slav Macedonian, Bulgarian and Turkish. Yet it is possible to draw some comfort from the fact that, despite all predictions, the two regions have stayed relatively quiet. To be sure, it is a tense stand-off, but no one seems eager to drag the regions into Bosnian-style turmoil. In central Europe, the Czechs and Slovaks have shown how splitting one state in two can be done without going to war, while Poland and its German minority have shown how common sense and a readiness to compromise can prevent old wounds from reopening. Meanwhile, the fears of resurgent right-wing nationalism in reunited Germany have been shown to be greatly exaggerated, even if there is still violence against ethnic Turks. None of this is to suggest that an era of sweetness and light is dawning over Europe. The likelihood remains that one or two more conflicts will flare up before this century is out. This is especially true for areas containing new states and new nationalisms, such as the Balkans or Ukraine. But even here, there is no longer the great-power rivalry among outside countries that helped to stoke wars in the past. There is a real chance these days to put out conflicts before they start, and it must be seized.