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Monday, March 4, 2024

Political Ambiguity: National unity and its job in keeping nations together


In our daily lives, we may joke around about a city, a state or a people that wants to become independent. According to a 2009 Rasmussen Reports survey, 18 percent of Texans support their state’s secession. The survey concludes that Texas exhibits comparable results to other states, but we just hear a lot about the Lone Star State in the news. But it does raise the question of whether there could ever be a time in the near future when a place or a people united in a common cause asks for separation from the United States.

There are many forces that may pressure a people to want to become independent. They may have a distinct culture which runs contrary to the mainstream of the rest of the country. Potential secessionists may feel absolutely alienated, or feel as if they are subject to some gross injustice. These people feel so strongly about breaking apart from their own country that they are willing to accept the great risks involved. Economic troubles or grave social injustices may unite previously polarized groups to seek independence from a country that they feel no longer represents them.

Nationalism or patriotism does not necessarily prevent secession. What ultimately keeps people together is a set of common values. A cohesive national identity holds people together no matter where they reside, or what their political or religious beliefs might be.

We must ask ourselves — what forces exist today that might have prevented secession in 1860? The U.S. at the time was a looser union than our present one. People at the time often identified with their state or religion before their country. After the civil war, “these” United States became “the” United States. The country became a single entity, rather than a country whose people had greater loyalty to their region. If a potential secessionist movement were to arise in 21st century America, it would have to destroy the central beliefs that exist despite many social divisions. Since the Civil War, we have never seen a people severely isolated to the point where they wish to leave the rest of the nation.

Ukraine is a recent example of a country that has increasing separatist sympathies. Much of Eastern Ukraine, through language and culture, shares many commonalities with citizens of Russia. In fact, many of the people who live in Eastern Ukraine identify as Russian.

Events in the last three years have certainly pushed people in this region to side more with Russia and to lose their sense of unity with the rest of Ukraine. They feel at odds with those from Western Ukraine, who predominantly speak Ukrainian and tend to identify more with the rest of Europe. With the coup and toppling of pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych, Russian-speakers in the east have seen event after event push them closer to separatism. The new Ukrainian government has failed to answer the concerns of Russian-speakers in the east. The Ukrainian government objected to Russian becoming the second national language, laid the blueprints for speedy integration into the European Union and enforced great cultural changes which include downplaying Ukraine’s historic relationship with Russia.

Whether or not you are convinced that common national identity can prevent secession, it’s important to have a conversation on this topic. You might come away with a different perspective about the United States, a country that has been generally successful in putting national unity ahead of any loyalty to state or social class. Analyzing the situation in Ukraine can provide explanations for secessionism. There are many other reasons a nation might want to secede. This will surely complicate how we gauge whether or not secession will become a reality in the United States.


You can reach JUSTIN CHAU at jtchau@ucdavis.edu.


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