Letter: Ethnic separation is not possible without violence

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NEAL ASCHERSON rightly claims that ethnically mixed communities are most often the results of imperial colonisation and that forced co-existence frequently ends in violence ('Better peaceful separation than forced tolerance', 16 May). But it is difficult to accept the solution he implies. Does he seriously believe that a less violent recipe for ex-Yugoslavia would have been to enable every ethnic group in every corner of the country to create its own mono-ethnic state or to join their ethnic brethren elsewhere?

Mr Ascherson seems to think that all would have been well had the borders of the independent Croatia been revised so as to enable the separatist Serbs to secede. But populations are so ethnically mixed, it is nave to think that separation is achievable by non-violent means.

Although internationalism may never overcome nationalism, it can perhaps try to temper it. Germany with the rest of the EC, as well as the United States, made a historic mistake in the aftermath of the Cold War by not working quickly towards a new system of European security with effective safeguards for human and minority rights in multi-ethnic states. This would have contributed to defusing the tensions and to deterring nationalist expansionists in other conflicting areas.

Mr Ascherson seems to advocate a separate state for every ethnic group in every corner of the globe. This apparent acceptance of unbridled nationalism as the ultimate criterion in international affairs conjures up a world in which ethnic xenophobia is unchallenged, in which every attempt at multi-ethnic and multi-cultural harmony is abandoned, and in which the spectre of 'ethnic cleansing' reigns eternal.

Ivan Prpic

London W12