EU has to choose its model: Italy or Yugoslavia

May 28, 2010

The European Union has rarely looked so united. The disparate members have joined up to mount a strong defence of the region’s single currency. But the EU has also never looked so close to dissolution, divided by tensions between more and less fiscally responsible and economically successful countries. The fate of the union could follow either of two historical precedents with starkly different outcomes.

Exactly 150 years ago, on May 27, 1860, Giuseppe Garibaldi started to besiege Palermo. The city was the capital of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, which had lasted in roughly the same form for almost six centuries. Most of the establishment at the time, including the Pope and Emperor Napoleon III of France, dismissed the notion of an Italian nation.

The romantic nationalist Garibaldi proved them wrong. Italy was unified under the Turin-based king of Sardinia. Huge regional differences in history, economy and culture have been diminished by the flow of people from south to north and of government money and bureaucracy in the other direction. The unified Italy has survived and prospered.

The less optimistic precedent is Yugoslavia. An expansion of the Kingdom of Serbia, the country was created after the First World War. Strong Slavic ethnic identity made it only slightly less likely to succeed as a nation than Italy. And Yugoslavia’s disparate peoples seemed on the path to unity for most of the following six decades.

But everything fell apart quickly 30 years ago, after the May 1980 death of Marshall Tito. Without Yugoslavia’s longstanding autocratic leader, the Serbian nationalism that had supposedly been crushed proved a potent divisive and destructive force.

Overall, the last two millennia of European history look more Yugoslav than Italian. But the last half-century has been more Italian, helped by the increasingly free movement of ideas, money and people.

For the future, much depends on the region’s collective memory, a term coined by Maurice Halbwachs, a French — or is that European? — sociologist. Europeans may choose to read their history as an inevitable movement towards unity. If they do that, Athens and Berlin may prove no more distant than Palermo and Turin.


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Christian Europe will end up as Yugoslavia only. Already French and Belgium has anti Muslim veil laws. For Europe to be united Europe should erase the Christian roots.

USA , China, India are prime examples of Multi Cultural states , the reason is both Christianity and Islam do not find a place in governance

Posted by Ramadurai | Report as abusive

“Athens and Berlin may prove no more distant than Palermo and Turin” – I would call that wishful thinking !

Posted by peshwari | Report as abusive

Nice try, but I think this post is flawed by its misunderstanding of Italian and Yugoslavian (Balkan history). First and foremost, if Italy is what the future of the European Union is modeled after, they have more serious problems than Athens’ debt and Berlin’s reluctance: Italy has a significant portion of its economy in the black and grey market’s. In fact, the decline of Italian GDP relative to the UK, France, and Germany can be traced to this shift more than rising debt…etc. Its lack of faith in its government is widespread. Furthermore, though Italy is one “nation” it is hardly unified. I can’t think of many other countries more fractious than Italy: the North truly does not like their southern counterparts, who they feel do not work and steal tax money and entitlements. The Lega Nord is my case in point. Having lived there I can tell you that Italy is holding on to national identity by a thread, though its local allegiance to town and family are perhaps stronger than ever (so you may have been correct in your analogy after all, as this is the trend we see in the EU: allegiance to nation, not continent).

Then we get to Yugoslavia: This too is a flawed comparison. Keep in mind that Yugoslavia was constructed after WW1 as a way to consolidate the Balkans, without regard for national identity, economic security…etc. Your tale of Serbian expansion is flawed: Serbian expansionism and the repercussions (assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand) caused WW1…not the unification of Yugoslavia. Can a nation built on false ideals (the power of nationalism, or super nationalism, over local identities, for example), like Yugoslavia, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, or Afghanistan, survive? Or, more accurately, can they survive democracy? I think the answer is clear on that question: Not Likely. So don’t count on Europe.

Posted by pcasinelli | Report as abusive

Sad but true.
I believe most Europeans remember the wars that plagued Europe in the 20th Century, and realize that dissolving the union is not an option.
However, the idea that the European welfare state is too costly and unproductive to survive in the 21st Century seems too vague and distant for most people – in Europe and elsewhere.
Europe is facing hard times –
Let’s hope that Europeans will make the right decisions, and getting rid of the irresponsible politicians that created this financial mess seems like a good way to start.

Posted by yr2009 | Report as abusive

Many a northern Italian would beg to differ with you on the supposed “success” of a united Italy, with its one-way flow of confiscated revenue.

Posted by Mega | Report as abusive

I am reminded of the US. The US didn’t make it under the Articles of Confederation, as money problems, albeit because of different states producing different currencies, forced them to adopt a new measure, the US Constitution. If the EU is going to turn into the United States of Europe, they have to embrace federalism more fully, and give the central government accounting oversight into each country’s budget, create euro bonds that are guaranteed by the eurozone with other national bonds that are not guaranteed, and offer a lending facility of euro bonds to any indebted state(s) that will allow a country to balance its books while safely shifting the onus of default on the much safer eurozone. It’s why California’s fine, and greece has rocked markets for months.

Posted by theinfamoushw6 | Report as abusive

The reference to Yugoslavia is quite a poor choice for this article. The breakup of the federation was only partially due to ethnic tension.

According to Michel Chossudovsky’s book the ‘globalisation of poverty and the new world order’ the breakup of Yugoslavia was aided and abetted by western powers notably the US and Germany. I quote: “The deep seated economic crisis that preceeded the civil war has long been forgotten. As had the economic interests of the US and Germany in laying the groundwork for the disintegration of Yogoslavia go unmentioned, as does the role of creditors and interntional financial institutions…. Yugoslavia’s implosion was partially due to US machinations. Despite Belgrade’s non-alignment and its extensive trading relations with the European Community and the US, the Reagan administration had targeted the Yugoslav economy In a “Secret Sensitive” 1984 National Security Decision Directive (NSDD 133) entitled “US Policy towards Yugoslavia.” A censored version, declassified in 1990, elaborated on NSDD 64 on Eastern Europe issued in 1982. The latter advocated “expanded efforts to promote a ‘quiet revolution’ to overthrow Communist government parties,” while reintegrating the countries of Eastern Europe into a market oriented economy,”
Secessionist tendencies, feeding on social and ethnic divisions, gained impetus precisely during a period of brutal impoverishment of the Yugoslav population. The economic reforms (imposed by the IMF) “wreaked political havoc. . . Slower growth, the accumulation of foreign debt and especially the cost of servicing it as well as devaluation led to a fall in standard of living of the average Yugoslav. . . The economic crisis threatened to end political stability … it also threatened to aggravate simmering ethnic tensions.
These reforms, accompanied by the signing of debt agreements with the official and commercial creditors, also served weaken the institutions of the federal state creating political division between Belgrade and the governments of Republics and Autonomic Provinces. “The [Federal] Prime Minister Milka Planinc, who was supposed to carry out the program, had to promise the IMF an immediate increase of the discount rates and much more for the Reaganomic arsenal of measures. . . And throughout the 1980s, the IMF and World bank periodically prescribed further doses of their bitter economic medicine and the Yugoslav economy slowly lapsed into a coma.
From the outset. successive IMF sponsored programs hastened the disintegration of the Yugoslav industrial sector.” Industrial output fell to zero in just a few years. Then, after all national interests were sold at a fraction of their worth, mostly to those who were only interested in asset stripping, the currency was devalued and national debt therefore increased proportionally overnight. In the 90’s the US and world bank froze lending and would not resume until elections had been held in each state. The CIA predicted a blood bath. Belgrade could no longer support the autonomous republics economically, and political tension increased to breaking point.

Posted by steams | Report as abusive

I am wondering last (30 years) why europian leaders (all kind of them) hold a hands on they eyes and denies simply facts about things of Balkan peninsula. Actual propaganda can bring some short or medium term results but can not change facts. I am saying all of this becouse of taking serbian nationalism as a joker key for troubles on Balkan even in this kind of digression about future of EU. But everyone forgot and dont wanna to see that that kind of nationalism HOLDS a Otoman Kingdom during few centuries on the borders of europian countries with tremendous victims, than first and the second world war etc..etc… WITHOUT any kind of price after that terible times, or just some respect… so EU is in deep problems becouse their leaders must in some moment of time pay a price of arogancy and fashion of hideing a facts and true and context of things as the people who vote them in exchange for a couple of procents of higher monthly income etc..etc…

Posted by quixoticer | Report as abusive

Napoleon III dismissed the notion of a unified Italy? To the contrary, he supported it, fought for it (re: the battle of Solferino) and France was thanked by the new nation led by Cavour by receiving the County of Nice in 1860.

Posted by Intra | Report as abusive