The impact of globalization on the life of people has been stunning. In the age of instant global communication and easy worldwide travel, people assumed that globalization would cause the world to turn into a more homogeneous place. In effect, sipping a latte in a Starbucks or having a burger at McDonald’s is basically the same experience in Seoul, New York or Abu Dhabi. Social networks such as Facebook and Twitter provide us with an unprecedented sense of interconnectedness within the global village. The emergence of the Internet has remarkably bolstered the perception that borders no longer matter. There is also a strong case for the positive effects of globalization on the spread of such universal values as democracy, freedom and human rights. In particular, developments in trade, business, finance, culture and technology seem to confirm the inexorable decline of nation states and their borders.
On the other hand, globalization has created complex 21st-century challenges. First and foremost, globalization has in effect produced the so-called “globalization divide” between those who have successfully ridden its wave and those who have not, with the result of increasing disparities in income and employment. Moreover, globalization has provoked the fear that if you integrate globally, you may lose your identity. In particular, with the rise of inequality and poverty in the wake of the global financial crisis of 2008, the forces of “deglobalization” or separatism have come to the fore in various parts of the world.
In a referendum held in September, Scottish voters decided to stay in the United Kingdom after a prolonged battle between backers and opponents of independence. The process of referendum, however, has refreshed and strengthened the resolve of separatists elsewhere in Europe, including Corsica, South Tyrol, Flanders, Bavaria and Veneto, although their methods and goals vary greatly.
Spain is currently faced with the great challenge of keeping together various regions with a marked sense of traditional identity and autonomy and achieving national unity. This is not an easy task when considering that there are strong elements of separatism in quite a few regions, such as the Basque Country, Galicia or Catalonia. On Nov. 9, Catalonia held an unofficial poll that asked Catalans whether they wanted to live in an independent state. Voter turnout was only 37 percent, but more than 80 percent of the approximately 2.3 million who did vote opted for full independence. As one of the richest regions in Spain, Catalonia contributes about one-fifth of the national GDP. Therefore, Catalan secession, which does not appear likely at present, would not only have a deep economic impact on Spain, but would embolden other independence-minded regions as well. I am convinced that the Spanish government will find a democratic and peaceful solution jointly with the Catalan regional government.
From Kurdistan to Quebec to Chechnya, the wish for greater autonomy or outright independence is fueled by an increasing sensitivity to the cultural, historical and social diversity of each reason, as well as economic motives. Separatist movements may be one facet of the resurgence of nationalism. In Asia, Europe and elsewhere, nationalist politicians are on the rise and nationalist parties are still growing in strength as people to protect their interests against uneven and inequitable waves of globalization, demanding jobs and a greater voice in economic and political life. There is also evidence that protectionism is increasing.
Globalization and localization are the two main forces that drive the 21st century: the former promotes integration while the latter boosts fragmentation. One of the most important tasks of the global community may be how to harmoniously manage and judiciously cope with these two apparently conflicting and contradicting trends.
By Park Hee-kwon
Park Hee-kwon is Korea’s ambassador to Spain. ― Ed.