Wednesday, August 14, 2013
Let's Give Back some Occupied Territories!
My Rock of Gibraltar (Not Yours)
Sure, Britain should give the rock back to the Spanish. But why stop there?
Francis Drake setting sail from Plymouth to fight the Spanish Armada it was not. Yet on Monday the British press ran heavy with images of the helicopter carrier HMS Illustrious leaving Portsmouth Naval Base, destination Gibraltar. Madrid is kicking up a fuss, again, over the Rock they have coveted ever since ceding it to Britain "for ever" in the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht. And London, says the Times of London, "is drawing up plans to take unprecedented legal action against Spain for imposing additional checks at the Gibraltar border."
I'm sympathetic to the Spanish claim. Rather than waste time and money on a fruitless diplomatic brawl, Prime Minister David Cameron should say he's prepared to relinquish Gibraltar to Spain—on just one condition.
That would be a declaration by the Spanish government that it will renounce its own claims to the cities of Ceuta and Melilla, which lie opposite Gibraltar on the northern coast of Africa. Morocco has long claimed these Spanish enclaves for itself, and in July 2002 it even sent troops to seize an uninhabited Spanish islet near Ceuta. Madrid responded a week later by deploying its navy, air force and special forces to bloodlessly retake the island, but tensions still simmer.
Spaniards might object to returning the two cities on the grounds that local inhabitants overwhelmingly consider themselves Spanish and wish to remain a part of Spain. Then again, the last time Gibraltarians took a vote on their sovereignty, 99% of them wished to remain British.
Of course, Madrid couldn't just turn over Ceuta and Melilla without asking Morocco to readjust its own territorial claims. Since 1975, Rabat has occupied the Western Sahara—a territory larger than the U.K.—though no other country recognizes Moroccan sovereignty. The Moroccan position is contested by an Algerian-backed group called the Polisario Front, which administers a "country" called the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.
But the leadership in Rabat could hardly be asked to deliver such a political prize to its arch-rivals in Algiers without expecting some commensurate sacrifice.
It's been more than 50 years since Algerian independence led to the exodus of nearly one million pieds-noirs and the seizure of their properties by Ben Bella's government. And though the French government did pay some small indemnities to their displaced kinsmen, the Algerian government has never recognized, much less atoned for, the injustice it did to an indigenous community that had considered itself Algerian for generations.
If Algiers were to compensate each pied-noir (or a descendent) to the tune of $10,000, in 1962 dollars, for the emotional pain and economic loss of losing a homeland, it would cost Algeria about $74 billion, which is the equivalent of a year's worth of its export earnings from oil and gas. It's a small price to pay, morally speaking, for the sake of the pieds-noirs and the glorious independence of Western Sahara.
Now it would be Paris's turn to make good. Independence for the Pacific outpost of New Caledonia, perhaps, or the South American one of French Guiana? Restoration of the Port of Calais to the English crown?
The possibilities are intriguing, but what clearly makes the most sense is to restore Alsace, and maybe Lorraine too, to Germany.
There are several good reasons for this: Most of the territory was German-speaking before World War I, after which it was seized by France as part of the Carthaginian Peace of Versailles. The European Union has dissolved national borders anyway, so return of the territories would symbolically signal the overcoming of past nationalist rivalries.
And, let's face it, the French will need a bailout from Berlin eventually, so they may as well make a down payment now. I'm betting the typical Frenchman these days cares more about the security of his pension than he does about the language on the label for his Muscat d'Alsace.
As for the Germans, it won't do to point out that they've paid into every Holocaust reparation fund, or that they're carrying Greek civil servants, Portuguese pensioners and Spanish bankers on their financial backs. There is still the Schleswig-Holstein Question! Just because the world has forgotten what the question was doesn't mean we've forgotten that there was a question. Or that Schleswig-Holstein used to belong to Denmark until Bismarck seized it in 1864.
Yes, it's time to give it back—and pay it forward. Only then will the Danes be able to restore full sovereignty to Greenland. And only when Greenland is truly free will it be able to atone for Björk. Or is she from Iceland? Whatever. Greenland must have been guilty of something at some time, and they will pay. Somewhere down this line, Orange County secedes from California, English becomes the sole official language of Quebec, the Byzantines are restored to Constantinople, and Al Gore wins the Florida recount.
Alternatively, maybe Gibraltar should just remain British.