Two years ago, I wrote about the double standards of many governments when dealing with the self-determination movements across the world. Sometimes, they are supportive of the right to self-determination –except when they support the principle of territorial integrity.
The original post is available here.
Yesterday, the UN International Tribunal issued its ruling on the process of independence from Serbia of the territory of Kosovo. Full ruling available in this link [ENG].
The conclusions are devastating for those, like the Spanish state, who believe the right of territorial integrity of a sovereign state is above the right to self-determination of the people, or part of the people, that make up that state. That Spain stood alongside China and Russia, those beacons of democracy!, against the formal recognition of Kosovo’s independence should have been a clue as to what was coming and whose moral compass was, and still is, pointing the wrong way.
In the end, despite the repetitive caveats and disclaimers, this ruling provides legal cover for those stateless nations/countries/regions, call it what you will, who have a settled will, democratically expressed, to secede from the macro-state.
Let’s hope the Spanish state takes note and ceases to issue veiled threats of military aggression if the peoples of the Basque Country or Catalonia decide to exercise their democratic right to self-determination.
Original post (30/08/2008) - Whose right is it?
Amidst all the noise regarding the events in the Caucasus and the Balkans, the western media is doing a very good job in dumbing down the Georgia-Russia conflict as if it were a simple choice between the goodies (the West obviously) and the baddies (Russians of course).
Many others have written endlessly about the authoritarian nature of the Russian government, and its lack of democratic credentials. We could write about the Georgian president and his miscalculation. We could write about the Ossetian militias and how Georgians have been driven away from Abkhazia and South Ossetia in a tidy exercise of ethnic cleansing. We could write how the Russian government caricaturises the Georgian President as some sort of crazy despot, despite Georgian elections being overseen by the OECD, unlike Russia. We could write how it is Georgia’s turn now, then it will be Ukraine and Crimea, then Poland’s energy dependency on Russia, and after that it will probably be the Baltic Republics’ (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) turn.
But not many people is paying attention to the key socio-political issue: the selfish manipulation by states of the debate on the right of self-determination versus the principle of territorial integrity.
In the last few months, we have seen how the Russian government comes out to defend the territorial integrity of Serbia, against the right of self-determination of Kosovar people. A few months later, they send troops well inside Georgian territory to defend the right of self-determination of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, without a care in the world for Georgia’s territorial integrity.
It is the exact opposite with the western states: support for the right of self-determination in Kosovo but deny exactly the same right in South Ossetia.
And the fact of the matter is that neither the West or Russia can claim the moral high ground. Both sides have switched from defending one right to supporting the other. Their positions are not based on a consistent ideological framework, but driven by geo-political and economic considerations.
The outcome however, has been the same in both cases: the right of self-determination has succeeded in both Kosovo and South Ossetia.
The lesson of the last few decades in Europe is that if there is "on the ground consensus", and some degree of external help, in the end it is the people’s right (self-determination) the one that prevails above the right of territorial integrity of states. It is also a confirmation of the politics of fait accompli: whatever happens on the ground becomes the new status quo and the new accepted reality.
But the right of self-determination does not always reign. If in doubt, ask the Kurds, who have no external support whatsoever for their cause and must be the largest and most fucked up stateless nation in the world jointly with Tibet.
The question is: will the Russian government do the same trick in Crimea? My answer: yes, without a doubt.