July 21st, 2005

[BLOG-LIKE POSTING] New Brunswick and Northern Ireland, separated at birth?

The history of the province of New Brunswick in the second half of the 20th century is mainly the history of the relationship between the Acadians who make up a third of that province's population and the majority Anglophones. Without taking into account the history of conflict and collaboration in the province, there'd be little to distinguish New Brunswick from its neighbours.

Up to the mid-17th century, the main Acadian centres were in the fertile Annapolis Valley of the modern province of Nova Scotia, but le grand dérangement--the ethnic cleansing of the Acadians by the British in the Seven Years War, arguably the first act of ethnic cleansing in modern Western history--ended up scattering the Acadians around the North Atlantic basin. Of the three Maritime provinces, the Acadians had the strongest foothold in New Brunswick, living on the province's northern and eastern peripheries in isolated farming and fishing villages, separated from the mercantile towns of the St. John valley and elsewhere in southern New Brunswick. United by their language and Roman Catholic religion, the Acadians thrived, a high birth rate and relatively low rate of emigration pushing their share of New Brunswick's population up from one-fifth of New Brunswick's population at Confederation to almost two-fifths of the population by the 1950s.

New Brunswick's Acadians were a dynamic population. By the same measure, they were a relatively deprived population. Though New Brunswick was a poor province, the Francophone-majority areas in the north and east of the province were in worse shape.

At the time, New Brunswick had more than 1,000 taxing authorities. There were glaring inequities across the province in basic services, especially education, and health and welfare.

Richer areas (mainly English, in central and southern New Brunwick) had the money to hire good teachers and offer good programs. Poorer areas (mainly French, in the north and east) did not.

It was the same with welfare and municipal services. There were vast discrepancies in the rates welfare mothers received in different areas, and in the quality of other services such as streets and roads. It had been that way for generations.

The election of Louis-Joseph Robichaud to the position of premier of New Brunswick in 1960, representing the Liberal Party, changed things radically. Throughout his tenure in the 1960s, Robichaud began to unify the province, establishing uniform systems and centralized funding for social services across the province, enfranchising the language rights of the Francophone minority by (among other things) founding the Université de Moncton in 1963 and declaring the province officially bilingual in 1968. These reforms precipitated a counter-reaction, but Robichaud's Conservative Party successor Richard Hatfield refrained from rescinding the reforms, and so, despite the brief prominence of the separatist Parti acadien in the 1970s and the English-unilingual Confederation of Regions Party in the 1980s and early 1990s, New Brunswick has managed to avoid a complete breakdown in relations.

This has puzzled some Canadian political scientists. Consider: Like Northern Ireland, New Brunswick after the Second World War was home to a relatively disenfranchised minority group making up a third of the population, this group later organizing in the 1960s to demand full equality with the majority population despite the majority's often vehement reluctance. Northern Ireland went through its Troubles; New Brunswick managed to avoid civil chaos. Why?

Four reasons come to mind.

1. The two groups weren't hermetically separated. New Brunswick is, with Québec, the only Roman Catholic-majority province in Canada. While Acadians and Irish did fight for control of the Roman Catholic Church in the province (the Acadians won), the fact remained that the two groups did mix. Intermarriage, while still relatively rare, does seem to have happened more frequently and with less fuss than in Northern Ireland. To some extent, New Brunswick's groups knew each other.

2. The majority population was divided. Two-thirds of New Brunswick's population is Anglophone, but this population is divided on ethnohistorical grounds between Loyalists, Irish, Scots, and even some Danes. Language unifies, in a certain way; ancestry and religion divided in many more. There was no monolithic Anglo body in New Brunswick.

3. The wider environment was relatively relaxed. New Brunswick's shift towards a unified bilingual provincial society occurred in the context of a Canada that was moving towards some sort of nation-wide bilingualism. If, say, Québec had gained independence as an independent Republic of Laurentia in this time frame, relations would be far more fraught.

4. No side could blame the other for their historical traumas. The Acadians were deported at a time when there was no British settlement at all in New Brunswick; the Loyalists were driven from their homeland by their co-ethnics. It would be possible for Acadians to demonstrate a decided hostility towards Anglos in general, assuming a false homogeneity of Anglophones across space and time, possible but quite pointless.

[BRIEF NOTE] The Sudeten Germans and the Bohemian Environment

One interesting fact about the Czech Republic is the way in which, over the 20th century, it was transformed from an aggregate of regions and distinct ethnic populations into a nation-state as homogeneous as any in western Europe. The post-Communist era has enlivened by the abortive Moravian nationalist movement and by the continuing struggles of Czech Roma, but by and large the fate the minorities which survived the Second World War has been one of decline.

For that matter, the population history of the Czech Republic has been characterized by decline, or at least by a rate of population growth never able to make up for the losses of the Second World War. The Czech population reached its post-1945 peak population in 1991 of 10.3 million people, but even there there were still 300 thousand fewer people living in the Czech lands than in 1930. War casualties and the Holocaust played a role, but not much of one since the Czech lands were lightly touched by the Second World War. By far the most important reason for the Czech population shortfall is the expulsion of the Sudeten Germans after the Second World War, as punishment for the almost three million Germans' enthusiastic support for the Nazis and in revenge for their unhappiness with their inclusion in the Czechoslovak state after the collapse of Austria-Hungary. As Philipp Ther notes in his review of Nationale Frage und Vertreibung in der Tschechoslowakei und Ungarn 1938-1948: Aktuelle Forschungen,

the six years of German occupation in the Czech lands [. . .] resulted in "total exclusion and total separation." Although the occupational regime was less harsh than in Poland and in Serbia, it still created such hatred against Germans that the vast majority of Czechs demanded their expulsion to Germany. In his article, Suppan implicitly criticizes the position of prominent Sudeten German historians. He does not demand an explanation by the Czechs as to why they expelled the Sudeten Germans, but instead he explains the change of attitudes among Czechs during the war which caused the expulsion.

[. . . In] Czechoslovakia, where almost 6 million hectares of land, 11,200 factories, and 55,000 small businesses were dispossessed. The property of the expellees fell into the hand of the states that "transferred" them. This gave the new regimes in East Central Europe ample possibilities to build up political allegiances among the populace and to transform society.

The expulsion remains an active issue in the Czech Republic and between the Czech Republic and Germany, but the assimilation of the Sudeten Germans into post-War West German society has mostly neutralized the issue. Its legacies remain in the Czech lands, where regional population statistics demonstrate that the effects of the deportation were not uniform across the Czech lands. The region of Moravia, for instance, saw a slight increase in its population over its 1930 peak. The former Sudetenland, located in the north and west of Bohemia adjacent to Germany, is particularly underpopulated, never having regained its previous heights.

Under Communism, northern Bohemia not only became a major industrial centre, but it gained fame as one of the most heavily-polluted areas of the world thanks to policies which maximized energy consumption and industrial production at the expense of the natural environment. The summary of Eagle Glassheim's 2004 presentation paper "Ethnic Cleansing, Communism and Environmental Devastation in Post-War Czechoslovakia" (Word format) raises interesting issues as to why northern Bohemia fared so badly.

Some observers have suggested a link between the expulsion of the Sudeten Germans and the subsequent environmental devastation of the region. Writing under a pseudonym in the 1980s, the dissident Petr Príhoda argued that new settlers lacked a sense of place. In contrast, the long-established Sudeten Germans had held strong regional identifications, tied closely to the built and natural landscape (their "Heimat" or homeland). According to Príhoda, Czech newcomers were alienated from the land and each other, allowing easy control by a Communist Party intent on exploiting the region’s natural resources and industry, regardless of the human and environmental costs.

[. . .]

Contrary to Príhoda, I have found that a strong regional identity did develop in north Bohemia during and after resettlement in the latter half of the 1940s. In contrast to Sudeten German romantic, pastoral and historical visions of homeland, however, Czech settlers and settlement officials stressed a modern, production-oriented, materialist identity. Rather than a lack of solidarity and identification, then, it was these new visions of an industrial landscape that contributed to the region’s infamous environmental mess in the 1960s and beyond.

Glassheim concluded that northern Bohemia became such a mess not because the Czechs who resettled the area were unattached to the land, but because the land was presented as a space where industrial modernity could operate untrammelled by tradition, as a site for mass production and mass consumption regardless of the human and environmental cost.

Northern Bohemia after 1945 was a tabula rasa for Communism. It will be interesting to see what this region, with its new history and the cautious relationship to its old one, will become in the context of a uniting Europe even now that its inclusion within the Czech lands is beyond any doubt.