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One Europe, Many Tribes

As the Eurocrisis drags on, it’s no longer just the Continent that’s divided—it’s the countries themselves
One Europe, Many Tribes
Illustration by 731

Italy, unified in 1870, is newer than Nevada. Spain was split down the middle by a civil war as recently as the 1930s. And reunited Germany, dating back only to 1990, is younger than two of the Jonas Brothers. Just a reminder that, for all their claims to antiquity, many of the nations of Europe have been nations for only the briefest of times. For most of history they were rivalrous territories, kingdoms, duchies, principalities, and city-states. They were bound by language and culture—and riven by tribalism.

As Europe’s financial crisis drags on, the tribes have returned with a vengeance. It’s not just Greece vs. Germany. Today it’s Sicily vs. Lombardy, Berlin vs. Bavaria, Andalusia vs. Catalonia. Keep this in mind as optimists point to the successes of the campaign for “more Europe,” such as the European Central Bank’s agreement on Sept. 6 to support the bonds of hard-pressed countries that comply with deficit reduction agreements. Europe is boiling over with regional grievances. Money is the issue—who gives it and who gets it. The 1999 launch of the euro has forced an unwanted intimacy on Europeans in flagrant disregard for Robert Frost’s poetic dictum: “Good fences make good neighbors.” And the euro entices separatists to strike out on their own, figuring even small nations can survive if they share a currency. (Malta, a euro-zone nation, has fewer people than Dublin or Dresden.)