By William Markiewicz

The family of nations, like all families, has its powerful and its meek members, those who ruled and died, those who passed like a comet, and those who barely survived at the far end of the power scale. Here's a look at some "Cinderella" nations.


The Gypsies, in centuries of wandering, have often created minor annoyances among the local populations. There were small thefts and their standards of hygiene didn't always agree with their neighbours. But there was never a Gypsy Ghengis Khan or Attila. Gypsy violence in general was almost non-existent. They had a reputation of being virtuoso musicians. All they earned was scorn, and finally, near extermination.


The Jews were freed from ghettoes during the Napoleonic wars so it's not been much more than 200 years since they began to play a social role among the general population. They have often won prominence in science, arts, letters - it didn't help them. There has been only one violent Jewish name - Dillinger. All the theories about "Jewish conspiracy for world domination," etc., were never accompanied by names for the simple reason that there were none. When names were needed in order to make the accusations sound more serious, non - Jews like Rockefeller, Ford, Stalin, Beria, Tito, even Hitler were put on the "Jewish" list. The most curious fact is that there were always enough who believed. We know how it ended.


The Serbs were under the Turkish yoke for 500 years after their defeat at Kossovo. They never gave up their struggle to keep their identity and gain freedom. Goethe learned Serbian (Serbo-Croatian) in order to read the heroic Serbian sagas in the original. The Turks converted part of the population to Islam. Those who resisted were chased away from the cities to the hills and mountains. They remained peasants, isolated from the world throughout the centuries while the "Muslim Slavs" not only remained city dwellers but became very influential subjects of the Ottoman Empire. Serbo-Croatian was one of the official languages at the Sultan's Court. Those Muslim Slavs called themselves by the Turkish word, "Rajas" (gentlemen) while calling the Christian Serbs "Papas" (hillbillies), another Turkish expression. After World War I, the Ottoman and the Austro-Hungarian Empires ceased to exist and the Kingdom of the Serbs was reborn. The Croats and Slovenes, fearing that Italy which was among the victors would absorb them, asked the Serbs to form the "Kingdom of Southern Slavs" which became Yugoslavia. As for the Muslims, they had no pretension to statehood as Islam was considered a religion not a nationality. Of course, nobody objected to Serbian dominance because the Serbs were not only the first rulers but also the Serbian population, being peasants, were naturally the most numerous and they were the only ones among the Slavic population of the region to have a history of their own state and a royal family. Yugoslavia between the two wars was peaceful; everybody minded his own business. The Serbian majority held no grudges against the formerly oppressive Muslims. Croats and Serbs, until WWII had no serious conflicts. Latent tensions arose when the Croats realized that they were more prosperous, better organized and more sophisticated than the Serbs who carried the heavy heritage of 500 years of total isolation. Yugoslavia probably would still have survived if the fatal blow hadn't come from outside in the form of WWII and the Nazi invasion. The Croats easily accepted the Germans because they had been loyal subjects of the Hapsburg empire for centuries. The Muslims, who considered themselves a religion not a nation, were lured to the German side by the intervention of the Great Mufti of Jerusalem who promised them a triumphal entry into History. The Serbs saw in the Germans just one more invader, refused collaboration, and paid the price. Yugoslavia was perhaps the only country in Europe where the non- Jewish population -- the Serbs -- was numerically victim number one. In Tito's Yugoslavia, again, there were no vendettas. After Tito's death, the second fatal blow to Yugoslavia came again from outside and again from Germany, this time not through military invasion but through precipitant recognition of Croatia. It is unprecedented in political tradition to recognize a new state before it has settled its border and minorities problems. Germany simply repaid the Croats for their loyalty. The rest was a snowball effect. The Serbs, because of their lack of diplomatic traditions, have lost the propaganda war. Consequently, the international authorities who never took the trouble to study the Balkan "dossier," have declared the Serbs to be foreigners in the regions they were the first to settle and they are forced to give away to their former oppressors the land they've worked as far back as memory goes.


The heroic mountain nation whose population and territory are sliced between Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Caucasian states, has a long historical tradition of martyrdom in its struggle for freedom. The political alliances of our epoch don't favour Kurdish prospects which may remain bleak for a long time if not forever.


Armenian history is marked by a glorious fight for freedom, defeats, martyrdom and quasi-extermination. Only now, after centuries, Armenia seems to take its place among the nations.


A people of great culture and spiritual traditions, still among enslaved nations. In spite of the overwhelming power of the Chinese oppressor, the Tibetan topography permits, as in Kurdistan, Serbia and Afghanistan, a very long resistance and sustained dreams of final freedom.

Now let's take a look at nations whose fate, though not tragic, could have been better:


Catalan culture is older than French. They have glorious artistic, literary and musical traditions. They are also a very industrious peace loving nation. There is a Catalan rhymed proverb: "I am Catalan and out of stone I make bread." Their Capitol, Barcelona, is the only city in Europe with peace from Roman times until the Spanish Civil War, so, perhaps like nowhere else, Old Europe settled in uninterrupted layers there. Still the Catalans were never independent, they have always been shared between Spain and France. Now in Spain they possess a certain autonomy.


Brittany was an independent kingdom until a Breton princess married a French king and gave him Brittany as her dowry. Along with their independence, the Bretons lost their culture and their language. Some Breton separatist movement has always persisted. During the war the Germans co-opted European minorities including the Bretons, promising them independence. A Breton SS was formed which was finally disbanded by the Germans because they behaved with extreme brutality toward the French, who, after all were German allies under Petain. Presently there is some return to the Breton language and Celtic culture especially among young people, though more a fad than any political movement.


The Western separatists periodically raise their heads. From their political and media circles we learn that because of Federal "injustices" Alberta and British Columbia should take Quebec's example in the drive toward independence. The UN declared Canada as the best country to live in 1994. So, what is Canada missing? Perhaps a spark of love for the country. Was poet Leonard Cohen right in naming Canadians a people of small soul?

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