Shards of Europe

PRINCETON – As European leaders struggle after another failed summit, they should think hard about what their continent – and the world – might look like if they continue to produce unsatisfactory solutions to Europe’s financial and economic problems. What would follow the disintegration of the eurozone and – almost certainly with it – that of the European Union?

The best place to consider that question would not be Brussels, but Tiraspol, the capital of the entity that calls itself the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic, or Trans-Dniestr. This territorial sliver with a population of a half-million emerged in the early 1990’s, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union (population almost 300 million), when it broke away from the Republic of Moldova (population four million), which had separated in the 1940’s from Ukraine (population 50 million).

Trans-Dniestr has its own government and parliament, army, constitution, flag, and a rousing Soviet-style national anthem; of course, its nationhood would be incomplete without its own currency. This political entity is a precise counterpart in the political world to a well-known physical phenomenon of splintering or fissuring. When stressed, a big surface bifurcates in big chunks, but then the disintegration continues into smaller and smaller fragments.

Of the six larger EU states, only France has a really well-defined centralized political system.  Poland’s centralism comes close, but strong regional differences persist – a legacy of the three large and quite different imperial systems that encompassed today’s Poland in the nineteenth century.