Russia, since the publication of the article (15.09.08), has done just that, it has already claimed independence for the provinces, and the West doesn’t know what to do about it. Though the various Western governments haven’t offered the “right-to-independence” rhetoric that Masso warns about in the article, they don’t really claim Georgia’s integrity very assertively either.
A Free Osset?
The leaders of the Georgian areas of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, announced Monday that they soon intend to demand international recognition of their provncinces’ independence. Russia, in the aftermath of the Georgian-Russian conflict, has also begun to once again demand “independence” for those provinces.
South Ossetia and Abkhazia had already declared their independence early in the 1990s, but no other state has recognized them. There is little likelihood that the West recognizes their autonomy even now. Many people, however, believe that in this situation we can no longer expect the Georgians and Ossetians to be able to live together in the same country.
Russia appeals to the Kosovo precendent, while it remains comforably silent about Chechnya. As the West supported the creation of a second Albanian state in Kosovo, Russia already hinted that the separatist regions in Georgia also needed full “sovereignty”. In fact, Russia couldn’t care less about the tiny national groups’ autonomy. Otherwise, they would support the independence of the Caucasus states within Russia, Chechnya and North Ossetia (with its half a million population, ten times as big as in South Ossetia ), as well as the Ingush, Dagestan and the Balkar.
It will be interesting to see how the West reacts to the Georgian regions’ claims of independence”. In case of Kosovo, the West assured it was an exception, and would not set a precedent.
Now opposed to each other, are on the one hand, Georgia’s territorial integrity and on the other hand Russia’s strong support to the separatist regions, but also a background of years of violent convlict and the West’s mistrust of the ability of the ethnic groups of the region to coexist peacefully.
There are about 50 000 ethnic Ossetians in South Ossetia. If the West is driven to support the separatist intentions of such a small minority to “gain independence” from the mother state, the case will inevitably become a precedent that applies to all the world’s ethnic groups and minorities, but also to Europe’s own minority and multi-cultural policy.
The situation in the West is challenging in any case. If we defend Georgia’s territorial integrity, then good relations with Russia are jeopardized and we’re exposed to her accusations of our double standards. However, if the West accepts the Ossetian and Abkazian aspirations of independence, in order to please Russia or just because it does not believe in the possibility of peaceful co-existence in the region, it would have to admit that Kosovo was not “exceptional” and that even small ethnic minorities have a right to their own nation state, as long as they are willing to resort to violence – or to the aid of violent supporters – to achieve the goal.
After that, it will be even harder to justify denying the Kurds or the Tibetans a state of their own. If the West were to support Georgia’s disbandment with the reassurance that it is just another exceptional case, it would be all too easy to make a cynical conclusion that, minority separatism can to be supported exceptionally, whenever the states from which the minorities are seeking speration are not very big or very influental.
At the same time, Europe would have to watch itself in the mirror. If we acknowledge that we cannot expect the mountain peoples with relatively similar cultures and habits to be able to co-exist within one state, can Europe continue to believe that the arrival of hundreds of thousands of immigrants from very different cultures will ultimately lead to a successful multicultural coexistence up here?
According to the official multiculturalism doctrine, the nation state should no longer be based on one people’s ethno-cultural identity, and the coexistence of different groups that grow along with new migratory waves, will be enriching, uncomplicated and harmonious, if only we get rid of the xenophobia and prejudices of the indigenous populations.
If the EU accepts the idea that even the smallest ethnic groups in Europe’s periphery, like in the Balkans and the Caucasus, need a separate state in order to be able to live in peace, it pulls the mat from under its own official multiculturalism teachings.
In the light of the current trend, it no longer feels such a far fetched idea that at some point minorities could be claiming independence within the EU as well – not only the native ethnic minorities, such as the Basques, Flemings and the Catalans, but also some relatively new minorities like the Russians of North-East Estonia or perhaps the Arab speakers of southern Sweden. What will be the EU’s response then?
It is possible that Western countries for now will stand behind Georgia’s territorial integrity, as the inclusion of such a point in President Sarkozy’s peace plan allows us to hope. In that regard, the above considerations are just speculations this far.
But the selectivity in understanding the aspirations for independence still seems to be the trend of the moment. The criterion for understanding is not so much the capacity of the irredentist groups to actually function as a state, as realpolitik specualtions and the presence of violence or the threat of it. This trend is not encouraging for small nations – not even for Finland.
NOTE: Commentor, Marscitizen observes in the comment section to this post that, the Flems comprise the majority of Belgium’s population, not the minority as Masso believes. It’s just an oversight on her part, but it’s a point well taken, and an observation much appreciated. KGS