Saturday, December 20, 2014

10 Separatist Movements to Watch in 2015


Last year, in my annual look forward at what the coming twelvemonth promises in the way of ethnonationalist struggles and new-state movements, my predictions were sadly accurate when it came to a few movements in particular that came to dominate the headlines in 2014.

ISIS comes to town ...
No. 3 a year ago was what I referred to then as “Al-Sham”—the territory of “Greater Syria” referred to in Islamic State’s erstwhile, and still colloquially widely used, name ISIS, standing for the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham.  (Al-Sham can also be translated as “the Levant,” hence its other English acronym, ISIL.)  At that time, December 2013, ISIS was confined to Syria, but I alluded to announced plans (not widely reported at the time) to annex Iraq’s vast, adjacent Anbar province, which they then proceeded to do.  I also wrote, at the time, “ISIS has no particular quarrel with Kurds, who are after all fellow Sunnis—not like the ‘heretical’ Druze and ruling Alawite Shiites—but that could change, since when it comes to the areas they are finding it easier to assemble into a coherent territory, Kurds are—I can’t believe I’m typing this—Kurds are in their whey.”  And how.  I did not predict such a colossal battle as the siege of Kobanê—nor the barbaric slaughter and enslavement of the Yezidi minority.  Syria’s embattled ruling Alawites were no. 8 on my list two years ago, but the advent of ISIS has pushed them far down the list and out of sight.  As might be expected, ISIS is on the 2015 list too, at no. 2 (see below), and the Kurds—who have had a roller-coaster of a year and were no. 4 on last year’s list, no. 1 the year before, and no. 3 for 2012—are this year’s no. 1 (see below).

In Ukraine in 2014, the patients took over the mental hospital.
In Ukraine, too (“West and East Ukraine” were no. 8 last year), I wish I had not been as prescient as I was.  “There have been pro-Moscow counter-demonstrations,” I wrote, referring to the Euro-Maidan movement then, a year ago, in its first weeks, “but so far no open demands for a partitioning of the country along linguistic lines or for re-annexation of the east to Russia.   But Lvov and other ethnic-Ukrainian-dominated western oblasts are declaring themselves no longer subject to the Ukrainian central government’s authority, moves which [Ukraine’s president at the time, Viktor] Yanukovych angrily decries as ‘separatism,’ so perhaps the seeds have already been planted.”  Indeed, in the months since Yanukovych’s replacement by a pro-Western government, Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts in eastern Ukraine—or shifting territories therein—have become de facto rebel states amidst a war that has already killed almost 5,000.  It all started, of course, with Crimea, which I was presciently flagging as a trouble spot shortly thereafter during the Winter Olympics in Sochi, when no one thought Vladimir Putin would dare an outright invasion and annexation.  But in December 2013, I was more naïve, writing, “A drive to split Ukraine would also run right through Crimea, where Russians outnumber Ukrainians but where the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar Nation openly sides with the E.U. proponents.”  Alas, I underestimated the Islamophobia of the Putin regime and his readiness to roll right over and marginalize the indigenous Tatar minority.  Novorossiya—or “New Russia,” as the “people’s republics” in Donetsk and Luhansk call themselves collectively—is no. 5 on this year’s list (see below).

Slavering Serb “Chetniks” in Crimea, returning the favor after Cossacks
lent their cutlasses to the Serb side in the Bosnian and Kosovo wars.
Of the three movements it took no great insight to add to the list, Scotland (no. 1 last year), Catalonia (no. 2 last year), and northern California’s State of Jefferson (or at least three counties of it) (no. 7 last year) (or counties of it) already had votes scheduled.  The Jefferson results in June disappointed statehood proponents, and that cause has fizzled quite a bit.  But Scotland and Catalonia, though unionists mock their referenda as failures, are showing quite a bit of life in them yet, and they remain on the list, at nos. 10 and 9, respectively (see below).

2014 saw the rise and fall of a movement to create a separate state
for people who never take their prole caps off, even at city-council meetings.
A few movements from last year’s list petered out rather unexpectedly.  In French Polynesia (no. 6 last year), things looked evenly divided politically a year ago, but in July the colonial government in France pressed a prosecution for charges of corruption against Gaston Flosse, the pro-French president of the territory.  By September, his party, Tahoera’a Huiraatira, had replaced him with his son-in-law, Édouard Fritch.  Flosse’s party is unpopular and Fritch thus at a political disadvantage, but the party has gone behind his back in pressing a compensation claim against Paris for the effects of nuclear testing in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s.  Initially, Flosse had planned on calling an early referendum on independence, which, the hope was, would result in a “no,” thus inoculating the territory against separatism for another generation.  (Unionists in another French Pacific territory, New Caledonia, are taking a similar approach.)  But after Flosse’s judicial take-down, that plan, if implemented, could, unionists feared, backfire and end French rule, so the nuclear-compensation bid is a new effort to woo anti-colonialists and peel nationalists away from the independence cause.  It seems to be working.  Separatists are a minority still, and they have unable to make any political hay out of Tahoera’a Huiraatira’s troubles.

French Polynesia’s roller-coaster politics in 2014: President Gaston Flosse was garlanded with leis—
and then with subpoenas and court orders.
A year ago, Libya (no. 10 on the list back then) seemed to be coming apart at the seams: the Berber minority, as well as traditional leaders and trade-unionists in the formerly independent eastern region, Cyrenaica, were holding Libyan oil facilities hostage demanding more autonomy, and Cyrenaica and the southern, formerly French region of Fezzan both unilaterally declared autonomy and formed governments.  But a year later the tables have turned—in an almost absurdly unexpected way.  Cyrenaican nationalism has declined as a factor in the still fissiparous politics of Libya, and armed militias left over from the 2011-12 civil war, whose grievances are rarely openly regionalist, have become the real threat, along with Ansar al-Shari’a and other jihadist groups, which operate, again, mostly in the east.  Most grievously in 2014, the mishandling of a militia skirmish originally related to the Cyrenaican separatist cause was mishandled so badly that a coup d’état turfed the sitting government out of the capital, Tripoli, forcing it to relocate—wait for it—to Cyrenaica, where the president now runs a parallel government.  The oil is flowing, though, so the international community is willing to treat this odd state of affairs as business as usual.  The upshot is that Cyrenaica is now home base for the original unionists, and the rebel government in the capital is pursuing an agenda that has little do with partition or autonomy.  (However, a new faultline might be the radical Islamists, including some Tuaregs, who are decamping to Fezzan in ever larger numbers as Nigeria and Mali claw back Islamist-rebel-claimed regions.)  I do not predict Libya will move toward subdivision in 2015, but once the current crisis has resolved itself—maybe with another civil war—expect the Cyrenaican regionalist agenda to reemerge.  After all, that’s where all the oil is.


And in the heady run-up to the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, I listed the Caucasus Emirate movement as no. 5, fearing that they—more so than the more moderate Circassian activists, with their far more legitimate grievances—would disrupt the Games, perhaps in a spectacular way reminiscent of Munich in 1972.  But the F.S.B. ( K.G.B.) and hordes of Cossacks (yes, it is 2014, not 1814) worked mightily, and successfully, to tamp down both jihadists and ethnic autonomists in the Black Sea and North Caucasus region.  Perhaps only temporarily, though: the latest news (reported on recently in this blog) is that one faction of the now divided Caucasus Emirate group is aligning itself with Islamic State (a.k.a. ISIS).

Circassian and Caucasus Emirate unrest were mostly no-shows at Sochi in 2014.
But now that the Emirate has fallen in love with ISIS, they at least will be back.
Without further ado, then, here is this year’s list: the ten separatist movements to watch in 2015.

10. Scotland


But, wait, wasn’t that all settled in September?  Why is Scotland (which was no. 1 last year and no. 4 the year before) on the list again?  Well, in a way it was settled, with the stay-in-the-United-Kingdom vote beating the independence vote by 55%-45%, and this in a vote that on election eve was polling too close to call.  Unionists interpret this as Scots deciding, once push came to shove, that the status quo was not too bad.  But, in another sense, as the U.K.’s prime minister, David Cameron, pointed out in his “Better Together” campaign for the no side, there was no vote for the status quo.  This is because Westminister threw wavering voters so many promises of perks of autonomy and quasi-independence in the weeks leading up to the vote that once these are implemented, the Union will be a different one, with less power in the center.  One thing that everyone agrees on now—and, say what you will, we have Scotland’s pro-independence former premier Alex Salmond to thank for that—is that the structure of the Union will be completely rethought.  For Scots, even though their geographically proportionate share of North Sea oil revenues is not going to be on offer, that can still mean goodies like better environmental protection, more public funding, and in general the chance to build a more Scandinavian-style social democracy north of the border, as befits the Nordic-inflected culture of Scotland.  For Wales and Northern Ireland, it will mean longer leashes too—and, what luck!, they didn’t even have to advocate for it themselves (in fact, Northern Ireland Protestants have fought the idea of Scottish independence tooth and nail, since it calls their own identity as Britons into question).  And for England, coming changes should mean fixing a situation where there is almost no level of governance to speak of between Westminster and the municipalities—county boundaries nowadays are as quaint and meaningless as hedgerows—and where Scottish parliamentarians can vote on, for example, both Scottish and English education policy, while English M.P.s can vote only on their own.  In short, we might see England getting a parliament as well, which means that it would take over many of the functions now served by the House of Commons and the House of Lords.  (Watch also for regional-autonomy movements in Cornwall, Yorkshire, Wessex, and elsewhere to pick up steam.)  Then we might find a situation in which all the U.K. government is involved in is monetary and foreign policy.  As I argued in an editorial in this blog on election eve, Cameron’s fear-mongering about ejection from the European Union (E.U.) and inability to use the pound were largely invented, as he more or less admitted as soon as the voting was over—and “independence” could have meant all sorts of things for Scotland, including the very comfortable, very self-governing status enjoyed by the Isle of Man, Jersey, and Guernsey, “Crown Dominions” which are really independent Commonwealth realms (in the way Canada, Australia, and Jamaica are), but in “free association” with the U.K.  Thus, I argued, the referendum was not about whether massive changes were coming, but about whether Scots would have an equal, rather than a subservient and petitioning, voice in the way those changes were chosen and implemented.  Sadly, not enough of them really understood the question.  But, even if there isn’t another referendum soon—not this year, certainly, but within five years is possible—Scotland is set to receive a lot more self-government in the months and years to come, and Wales, Northern Ireland, and, yes, England, will get a lot too.  Oh, and there might still be another referendum anyway: membership in the Scottish National Party (S.N.P.) more than tripled in the weeks after the vote, and polls show that if the same ballot were presented today, Scots would secede by a hefty margin.  So the idea of Scottish independence is not going away at all.

Don’t look behind you, Cameron.

9. Catalonia


This one was supposedly settled too but, of course, wasn’t really.  About 91% of the votes cast in Spain’s wealthiest subdivision, the Autonomous Community (i.e., republic) of Catalonia, on November 9th said yes to the question, “Do you want Catalonia to become a State?” and about 81% voted yes to the second question, “Do you want this State to be independent?”  (No explanation was given what the difference was—for example, in what sense Catalonia is not already a “State” if being a state does not entail independence.)  But, despite all the hype and the months of building public interest and passion, turn-out was only somewhere between 37% and 41%, inviting the Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, to deride the whole hullaballoo as a “deep failure.”  But indeed the reason for the low turnout was surely that the central government in Madrid had declared the looming vote illegal and unconstitutional and promised to stop it.  As soon as Catalonia’s president, Artur Mas, tried to climb down and cancel it, though, the crucial junior partner in his ruling coalition, the radically separatist Republican Left of Catalonia (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, or E.R.C.), threatened to quit in protest and knock Mas’s separatist coalition out of power.  So Mas had to do a careful diplomatic dance in order to both stay in power locally and keep Madrid from sending in the tanks.  The compromise was spinning it a non-binding “participation process,” or opinion poll, on “self-determination” rather than independence.  Luckily, the weasel usage of the undefined term State (see above) had left some wiggle room.  But compromise has its risks: Catalan voters were disgusted by Mas’s waffling.  If anything, this may strengthen the hand of the E.R.C. against the currently more numerous moderate, gradualist independentists.  The “street” in Spain does seem to be shifting leftward these days: for example, not only is public opinion in the Basque Country, the second most independent-minded of Spain’s autonomous regions, becoming more separatist, but radical leftist Basque separatists are forming informal political ties with some of Vladimir Putin’s nominally-socialist puppet states, the Armenian-populated Nagorno-Karabakh Republic in Azerbaijan, and Ukraine’s pro-Russian Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic (which are not people’s republics at all in the way that Basque radicals are used to thinking of) (see below under “Novorossiya”)—all just to stick a thumb in the eye of Madrid, and of NATO and the E.U.  That’s more anti-establishment than Mas would like things to be drifting, but then again he’s had his chance to exercise real leadership and blew it.  Don’t let last month’s anticlimactic referendum fool you: Spain is fragmenting, and disappointment over what happened—and especially what didn’t—in November will only deepen the cracks.  Catalans (who were no. 2 on last year’s list and no. 6 the year before) are just looking for the next vehicle for their frustration and impatience.



8. East Turkestan


For decades, Tibet (no. 7 on this list two years ago) and Taiwan had dominated the large area of the Chinese Communist Party’s collective brain labeled “paranoid fantasies.”  But now the most serious threat to the unity of the Chinese state is the tiny Uyghur national minority, who form only a slight majority in the vast far-western Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, the People’s Republic of China’s largest province-level jurisdiction, known by nationalists as East Turkestan (which was no. 9 on last year’s list).  Uyghurs are different: their land is an arid swath of Central Asia, they are Muslim, and they speak a Turkic language related to those of formerly Soviet republics like Azerbaijan and nearby Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.  In the early 20th century, Xinjiang (called Sinkiang, in English) was a far-flung, thinly governed part of the old Chinese Empire, then a Soviet satellite of sorts for a while, till Josef Stalin, at Yalta, negotiated it away to the Nationalists who were running China as the Second World War ended.  The Nationalist Kuomintang (KMT) promised, and to some extent granted, Xinjiang some autonomy, but once Mao Zedong seized the territory in 1950, ruthless central control was imposed and it became a Glorious Worker’s Paradise where all were treated equally—actually, I’m just kidding about that last part.  During the Cultural Revolution in Xinjiang, Maoists, in a frenzy similar to what was happening in the rest of the country, embarked on an orgy of destruction, much of it focused on obliterating the Muslim religion.  Alas, little has changed.  Muslim holidays, prayers, and dress are criminalized as part of the official ideology of denouncing all religion as superstition.  In the old Maoist China, worship of Mao was the only worship permitted; today, Chinese—and their smaller captive nations as well—are really only allowed to worship money.  (Buddhism of the type practiced half-heartedly by the ethnic Han majority gets a pass.)  For several years now, a sporadic Uyghur uprising has been claiming lives on a regular—recently almost weekly—basis.  Most unrest takes the form of crude knife or hatchet attacks by Uyghurs on civilian targets like marketplaces.  According to Beijing, that is: as with much else in this closed, totalitarian society, no one knows what is really happening in these incidents—whether Uyghurs are being provoked, whether agents provocateurs are staging the attacks in “false flag” operations to discredit Muslims, or whether, indeed, some of these events are even happening at all.  And some of the alleged Uyghur terrorist attacks have happened far afield—in Kunming, even Beijing.  This is a far cry from the peaceful approach taken by proponents of Tibet’s autonomy or independence, and Beijing is making much of supposed links to Islamic radicals in places like Pakistan, Central Asia, even—implausibly—Turkey.  But Beijing had better be careful what it wishes for: after seeing what has been going on in Hong Kong this fall, Uyghurs may be awakening to the fact that—even though Han Chinese are threatening to soon outnumber them in their own region, as part of Beijing’s internal-migration program to dilute the local culture—there is still some strength in numbers.  Uyghurs do, if they play it right, have the capacity to make Xinjiang ungovernable.  It’s possible a truly general uprising would result in a bloodbath that would make the Tiananmen Square massacre look like nothing.  But if it happens in the context of a general unraveling of Chinese unity—with separatist sentiment on the rise in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Tibet as well—then anything can happen.  I predict that, if nothing else, there will be more and greater interethnic carnage in China’s wild west in 2015, and a further official crackdown on Uyghur religion and culture—which, of course, will only create more radicals.



7. Republika Srpska


One of the many odd side-effects around the world of Russia’s invasion and annexation of Ukraine’s Republic of Crimea this spring has been the stirring of similar irredentist feelings among the Serb ethnic group in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Back in the 1990s, when the West was demonizing Serbia and the Serbs in adjacent republics as the villains of the Wars of Yugoslav Succession, Russia responded with a warming of relations with Serbia, especially as Belgrade with its bitter, foam-flecked nationalism became diplomatically isolated in the years that followed.  The secession of Serbia’s Kosovo province, under North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) cover, exacerbated the matter, with Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, starkly opposed to Kosovo’s independence and asking President Bill Clinton, at one point, why in God’s name he wanted to help along “the Islamization of Europe.”  And Putin has made much of the Kosovo precedent in justifying the Crimean land-grab and in pointing fingers at Western hypocrisy on the subject.  Nationalist Serbs that now find themselves outside Serbia, in places like Croatia, Bosnia, Macedonia, and Kosovo, have remained more fiercely nationalistic and more enamored of the idea of a “Greater Serbia” than the more cosmopolitan and pragmatic Serbs in Serbia itself, who are groping for a face-saving way to make peace with the reality of Kosovo so that everyone can be in the European Union (E.U.) together.  And no Serbs are more passionate than the Serbs of Bosnia, whose designated half of the two-part federation, Republika Srpska (translatable as “(Ethnic) Serb Republic,” as opposed to the “Republic of Serbia” called Republika Srbija) is more or less completely self-governing and separate from the other half, shared by Croats and (Muslim) Bosniaks.  So when the Russian–Ukrainian conflict erupted a year ago, it pushed Bosnian Serbs’ nationalist emotional buttons: reclaiming lost lands (Bosnia, analogous to Ukraine) and reattaching them to the motherland (Serbia, analogous to Russia), and of course ruthlessly rolling right over any Muslims that stand in their way (Bosniaks or Kosovars, analogous to the disenfranchised Crimean Tatars).  Just as Russian irregulars, including Cossacks, fought on the Serb side in the Bosnian and Kosovo wars, so have Serb mercenaries been joining battle in Ukraine on the side of ethnic Russians.  Bosnian Serbs don’t seem to care much whether they ever join the E.U. or not; they’d rather be part of an expanded Serbia that—in this emerging Second Cold War—joins the new anti-NATO axis of Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Syria, and Iran in thumbing its nose at the West.  Mind you, Serbia itself would never ignite another war by offering to annex half of Bosnia, and the international community would never accept the logic of two Serb republics, so it is a non-starter.  But life is economically rough in Bosnia, and Serbian political culture, like its Russian counterpart, is dominated by a persecution complex.  The Srpska president, Milorad Dodik, says, with probably only a little bit of exaggeration, that 99% of his subjects crave independence.  The eastern half of Bosnia (“half” not being the best word for the meandering gerrymander that is Srpska) could be the site of a hasty, ill-thought-through declaration of independence, and a messy, murky guerrilla war (à la eastern Ukraine, but in miniature) during 2015.  Stranger things have happened.

President Milorad Dodik kisses a Serbian flag at his inauguration in 2010.

6. South Yemen


As much as Iraq and SyriaYemen is arguably the emerging front in the Sunni vs. Shiite war within Islam that has always been a subtext of the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings and their ongoing aftermath.  (South Yemen was no. 4 on this blog’s first of these lists, for 2012.)  North Yemen (on a map it looks more like West Yemen, but its capital is almost due north of the Southern one) was the mountainous, Shiite-dominated portion that became an independent kingdom during the Arab Revolt in the 1910s.  South Yemen was the United Kingdom’s former Aden Protectorate, which became independent in 1967.  Through the latter part of the Cold War, this divide was less a sectarian one than a geopolitical one, with the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, in the south, being a Communist client state of the Soviet Union and the north a pro-Western bulwark.  But when the Cold War ended, the two reunified, almost simultaneous with Germany’s unification and for similar reasons.  Since then, the northern, Shiite Arab tribes, including a powerful one called the Houthis, and the southern, Sunni Arab tribes have chafed at sharing a country.  The southern separatist insurgency, called the al-Hirak movement, was reawakened when the Arab Spring toppled Yemen’s post-unification Shiite dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2012, but it bumbled along with no real way to get traction for a while—hindered mostly by the necessity of acquiescing to the central government in order to let them fight the Sunni extremists of al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula (A.Q.A.P.), who were also searching for a South Yemeni foothold.  But the sudden shift of al-Qaeda resources and attention to Iraq and Syria in 2014 (see below under no. 2, “Islamic State”), combined with a Shiite-led invasion of the capital, Sana’a, by Houthi militias over the past few months, have changed the whole political landscape.  The Houthis may or may not be backed by Iran or by Lebanon’s Shiite-dominated Hezbollah militia or both, as detractors claim, and al-Hirak may or may not be in league with al-Qaeda or Saudi Arabia or both, as its enemies say, but both groups have been able to make enough headway that the central government has capitulated to the Houthis and more and more southerners are feeling that there is no unified, pluralist alternative to secession.  Yemen is breaking up in spite of itself.  In 2015 this may become permanent.



5. Novorossiya


When the Russian Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire conspired, two centuries ago, to dismember and divvy up Poland and Ukraine, Catherine the Great ended up with the southeastern portion, the Donbas (Donetsk basin) and Crimea, an area plastered on Czarist maps with names like “Little Russia” (Malorossiya) and “New Russia” (Novorossiya), while regions like Transcarpathia, Galicia, Bukovina, Silesia, and Bessarabia became Habsburg lands centered on vigorously multi-cultural cosmopolitan cities like Lvov and Odessa.  In reality, this cultural and geopolitical divide in Ukraine is long-standing.  When Russian Bolsheviks in the Russian Civil War consolidated their control over the entire area, pushing out the more multi-ethnic and progressive Mensheviks of western Ukraine, these differences rapidly declined in significance: everyone was ruled directly from Moscow anyway, under a Russophilic hegemony thinly disguised as a petty-nationalism-transcending Red internationalism.  Thus, there were no real administrative implications when Nikita Khrushchev (during a vodka bender, according to popular belief) swapped Crimea from the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (R.S.F.S.R.) over to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.  But when the Soviet Union unravelled in 1990 and internal administrative boundaries became international frontiers, it suddenly mattered quite a bit.  Crimea, dominated by ethnic Russians, including many rootless military families, resisted inclusion in independent Ukraine, but Boris Yeltsin, Russia’s first post-Communist leader, did not press the matter.  Russian-speakers who dominated the southeastern oblasts were willing to reclassify themselves as Ukrainian nationals.  But when, in late 2013 (Ukraine’s divisions premiered on last year’s list at no. 8), Ukrainian nationalists began to push back against diplomatic bullying from Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, over the question of ties to the European Union (E.U.), and when the Ukrainian parliament removed the pro-Russian president under popular pressure, Novorossiya boiled over.  After Putin’s sotto voce Blitzkrieg and Anschluß of Crimea, to which the stunned West to all practical purposes acquiesced, Novorossiyans wanted a similar deal.  With heavy covert (but only half-heartedly denied) backing from Russia, two of the several oblast rebellions gelled over the summer as the Donetsk People ’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic (loosely federated as the Federal State of Novorossiya).  Slow to react, the central government in Ukraine eventually moved in, and the resulting grinding war has so far cost nearly 5,000 lives, with pro-Kremlin rebels still in control of big parts of those two oblasts.  For whatever reason, Putin has declined to recognize the republics, let alone annex them, but he has also not called off his dogs.  His strategy now seems to be to permanently destabilize the rump Ukraine, so as to make it an unappealing morsel for NATO or the E.U. to ever want to swallow up.  It has worked.  Putin has won.  No one thinks Ukraine’s central government can ever fully reassimilate the rebel areas.  In 2015, we will learn if the situation will drift into a “frozen conflict”—like Transnistria (no. 3 below), Armenia’s client state the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (N.K.R.), or Georgia’s Abkhazia and South Ossetia (no. 4 below)—or if more oblasts will declare their own “people’s republics”—TranscarpathiaOdessa, and Kharkiv seem ripe for it—or if Putin will pull his support and allow the Kyiv government to move back in, perhaps as a way of easing sanctions against Russia.



4. Abkhazia and South Ossetia


As with Novorossiya, so with the Republic of Abkhazia and the Republic of South Ossetia, two Russian puppet states in what nearly the whole rest of the world regards as the Republic of Georgia’s territory.  These territories were only very quietly backed by Russia when they rebelled, mostly of their own accord, after the fall of Communism, fearful of Georgian hegemony—and expressing that fear by ruthlessly ethnically cleansing ethnic Georgians from these lands.  But in 2008 when Georgia finally decided to bust a move and reclaim these rebellious, unrecognized de facto states for good, Russia stepped up its game, gave Georgia a bloody nose in a five-day war, and formally recognized the two republics as independent.  (Venezuela and Nicaragua have followed suit, mainly just to piss off the United States, along with Nauru, the world’s third-smallest country.)  Abkhazia and South Ossetia—Abkhazia more stridently—have openly asked to be annexed by Russia, and a brand-new Russo-Abkhaz treaty seems like a preliminary step toward just that.  But there is tension too: Belarus and Kazakhstan, two countries traditionally reliable as Russian vassal states, are balking at the idea of Abkhazia and South Ossetia joining Putin’s new eastern Eurasian Union trade bloc; they fear that an extension of Putin’s irredentist agenda might mean their countries, or the large ethnic-Russian dominated parts of them, getting swallowed up too.  How far will Putin push things?  In 2015 we may find out.  The same can be said for Transnistria (see below).



3. Transnistria


Like Abkhazia and South Ossetia (see above), the area east of the Dniester River in the newly minted Republic of Moldova consisted, in the early 1990s, of ethnic minorities—mostly Russians and Ukrainians—who feared being finding themselves marginalized in a country dominated by possibly nationalistic and chauvinistic ethnic Romanians (Moldova, or Moldavia, being merely a subdivision of traditional Romania).  The newly sovereign Russian Federation exploited those tensions by carving this slender splinter of a nation out of Moldova using Russian tanks and Russian cash, but it never went as far as recognizing its self-declared independence.  However, Transnistria (or the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic, as it is formally known) has—again, like Abkhazia and South Ossetia—has become impatient watching Crimea rapidly go, in the spring of 2014, from being solidly part of Ukraine to being solidly part of Russia in a matter of weeks.  Transnistria wants an end to its ambiguous status and isolation and not just be a place-holding chess piece that prevents Moldova from joining NATO.  Last month, Moldovan elections narrowly returned anti-Kremlin parties to power, which has irked Transnistrians.  Ukraine has fortified its border, and Russia is sending “humanitarian convoys” to the pseudo-republic—eerily similar to how it ships arms into southeastern Ukraine (see above).  Moreover, if Russia does ever attempt to ignite more oblast-level uprisings in ethnic-Russian-dominated areas of Ukraine, Odessa Oblast is a likely candidate—and that could help create a geographically continuous arm of Russia stretching from Donetsk to Crimea all the way to Odessa and Transnistria.  This would bring Russia closer to Catherine the Great’s dream of turning the Black Sea into more or less a Russian lake.  If Vladimir Putin truly isn’t done expanding his geographical reach—and why should we assume he is?—this seems like his next project.  I modestly predict that Odessa Oblast and Transnistria will erupt in Ukraine-like violence in 2015.

Nina Shtanski, foreign minister of Transnistria

2. Islamic State

The short game ...
Not to say, “I told you so,” but this blog was covering the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) with alarm way back in September 2013 when they had captured one little town in Syria.  It was clear they were looney-tunes.  But even when, over the course of 2013, they expanded their hold in the chaos of the civil war in northern and northeastern Syria, I did not fully predict (though al-Sham was no. 3 on last year’s list) that during 2014 this radical reincarnation of al-Qaeda in Iraq (A.Q.I.) would capture most of Iraq’s far west, push boldly toward Iraqi Kurdistan, and create a massive quasi-state in the Syrian–Iraqi borderlands that would impose a reign of terror, committing ethnic cleansing, slavery, and outright genocide against Shiites, Kurds, resistant Sunnis, and, most grievously, Iraq’s ancient—older than Islam—Assyrian (Christian) and Yezidi religious minorities.  In 2014, President Barack Obama, who had just rather belatedly finished extricating the United States from George W. Bush’s disastrous and illegal Iraq War, went back into Iraq with a bombing campaign designed to at least contain and maybe defeat ISIS (now renamed simply Islamic State).  (Let’s never forget that Bush’s lies and crimes created the very power vacuum that ISIS is now filling in the first place.)  But the reality is that it will take far more than bombing to do the job.  And on the Syrian side U.S. and NATO policy is further complicated by the fact that anything done against ISIS benefits the brutal anti-Western Alawite Shiite regime in Damascus—and vice versa.  No wonder millions of average Iraqis and Syrians are so confused that they seem convinced that ISIS is actually, in some convoluted way, working for the U.S.  It would be kind of like Obama to decide to merely kick this can down the road until it becomes his successor’s problem, but along the way, during 2015, something might just have to give.  And that brings us to ...

... and the long game
1. Kurdistan


... because (see above), just about the only way that Islamic State can be contained on the ground is with the central help of Kurds (whose aspirations to statehood were no. 4 on last year’s list and no. 1 the year before).  When ISIS first started expanding northward, in 2014, from Fallujah to Mosul and Nineveh, the Kurds dug in their heels and slowed them, even stopped them, while the official (Shiite-dominated) army of Iraq dropped its guns and ran screaming.  The West took due note of this, and strengthening the Kurds is becoming another question—along with opposition to ISIS in general—on which the West and Iran agree.  Kurdistan is a perennial entry on my annual “separatist movements to watch” lists, but that is not because I am wrong again and again about their imminent independence.  In fact, the necessary conditions for Kurdish independence have been steadily falling into place for years—first the no-fly zone over northern Iraq in the 1990s that allowed them to build real autonomy outside the killing range of Saddam Hussein; then the 2003 war which overthrew Hussein and granted Kurds a constitutionally enshrined autonomous region; then growing economic cooperation between Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkey; then the civil war in Syria, which prompted the regime there to withdraw from the far north and allow the creation of a de facto Kurdish buffer state called Rojava along the border with Turkey; then the peace deal between Turkey and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (P.K.K.) which ended decades of strife and opened the space for some sort of autonomy there; and now the rise of Islamic State, which is gradually revealing to the world that the only way to keep Sunni radicalism at bay is by creating an independent pro-Western state straddling the deeply strategic Asia Minor–Arabian Peninsula divide, defended by the region’s most committed and fierce military (the Peshmerga), and with a constitution crafted by the most liberal, progressive, and egalitarian society in the Muslim world.  That country would be the Republic of Kurdistan, and it would include Iraq’s Kurdistan Region and some already-Kurd-governed areas to the south provisionally, possibly adding Syria’s Rojava, and maybe eventually (probably not soon) parts of Turkey or (perhaps never?) Iran as well.  Kurds are the world’s largest stateless people.  They’ve had shit thrown at them from every possible direction, going back centuries.  They’re ready, and the world needs them.  No one deserves it more.


[For those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with my forthcoming book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas to be published by Litwin Books under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements and Aspirant Nations, from Abkhazia to Zanzibar.  (That is shorter than the previous working title.)  The book, which contains 46 maps and 554 flags (or, more accurately, 554 flag images), will be on shelves and available on Amazon on March 1, 2015.  I will be keeping readers posted of further publication news.  Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even though you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook and see this special announcement for more information on the book.]



Saturday, December 13, 2014

Beijing Folds Up Umbrella Revolution; Papua Army Massacre; a Shia–Sunni Federation for Yemen?; New Kosovo Premier: The Week in Separatist News, December 6-12, 2014

Hong Kong’s streets have been cleared, but no one is conceding defeat (see below under “Asia”)
EUROPE

Kosovo Names New Government; Mustafa of L.D.K. to be Premier.  After a six-month stalement, the parliament of the partially recognized Republic of Kosovo has formed a new government.  The new prime minister, after a 73-to-38 vote by legislators, will be 63-year-old Isa Mustafa, of the Democratic League of Kosovo (L.D.K.).  Mustafa is expected to continue three-way negotiations with Kosovo’s former parent country, the Republic of Serbia, and the European Union (E.U.), on formalizing Kosovo’s independence in preparation for admission of both countries to the E.U., and to move more aggressively than his predecessors in seeking prosecution for war crimes committed by Kosovars in their struggle for independence in the 1990s.

Isa Mustafa, Kosovo’s new prime minister, with Kosovar and Albanian flags
2014 Was Slow Year for Kosovo Recognition; “Institutional Gridlock” Blamed.  Though 2014 was touted in advanced by the Republic of Kosovo’s foreign ministry as a watershed year in the breakaway province’s international recognition, in fact only four new states established diplomatic relations with Kosovo this year.  One Kosovar political scientist, Afrim Hoti, blames “institutional gridlock” within the foreign ministry for the slowdown.  The new diplomatic partners Kosovo snagged in 2014 were all small third-world nations: the Solomon Islands (as reported at the time in this blog), Togo, and two miniature monarchies: Tonga and Lesotho.  (Rumors that Burma (Myanmar) and Fiji were granting recognition turned out, embarrassingly, to be just that, as reported at the time in this blog.)  Kosovo had racked up twice as many new diplomatic partners in 2013, by contrast, including major nations like ThailandEgypt, and Libya, as well as, for example (as reported at the time in this blog), El Salvador.  In December 2012, the Commonwealth of Dominica, a former British colony in the Caribbean, became (as reported at the time in this blog) the 97th country to recognize Kosovo, putting Kosovo past the point where 50% of the world’s countries recognize it.  But membership in the United Nations General Assembly has been blocked by the Security Council vetoes wielded by the Russian Federation, an ally of Serbia, which still claims Kosovo, and by the People’s Republic of China, which takes a principled stand against separatism in general.  In addition, major nations such as Spain (fearful of encouraging its own Catalans), India, and Indonesia, as well as most of Latin America, refuse to recognize Kosovo.

The 110 countries that recognize Kosovo’s independence are in green.
Ukraine Fortifies Border with Transnistria as Kremlin Reacts to Moldova Vote.  After last week’s elections in Moldova (reported at the time in this blog) allowed a new Western-leaning, Kremlin-wary government to squeak narrowly into power and the decades-old, and with the Russian-backed separatist regime in Moldova’s de facto independent Transnistria region (a.k.a. Trans-Dniester Republic, a.k.a. Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic, etc.) openly asking to be annexed by Russia, tensions were already high.  Add to this a mysterious Russian “humanitarian” convoy headed to Transnistria that eerily recalls similar convoys that heralded the separatist rebellions in Crimea and the Donbas earlier this year.  (This blog has been predicting an eventual Russian grab for Transnistria, as long ago as March and April of this year.)  The Ukrainian government is not taking any chances, and its military is now digging a 33-kilometer-long trench as it fortifies the border between Transnistria—a self-declared republic on a slender crescent of land which separates Moldova from Ukraine along the entirety of their shared border—and Ukraine’s Odessa Oblast, which has been the center of mostly aborted unrest by ethnic Russians.  As Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, told media this week, “Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine are three countries in our eastern neighbourhood that have taken sovereign decisions to sign an association agreement with the E.U.  Russia is creating problems for all three of these countries.”



Russo-Austrian Opera Diva Criticized for Posing with Novorossiya Rebel Flag.  In St. Petersburg, the renowned opera singer Anna Netrebko has placed herself on the side of the pro-Kremlin separatists in eastern Ukraine, by posing with a flag of the self-styled Federal State of Novorossiya (or “New Russia,” consisting of the Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic) during an event at which she donated 1 million rubles to the cause of building an opera house in the war-torn city of Donetsk.  She posed for the flag with Oleg Tsaryov, a former member of Ukraine’s parliament who sides with pro-Russian rebels.  She later claimed that she did not recognize the flag and that the photo was not her idea.  A spokesman for the foreign ministry in Austria, where Netrebko lives and has dual citizenship, said, “Her meeting with a separatist leader and having a photo taken in front of a separatist flag is highly problematic.  Given the really difficult situation we are facing in Ukraine, this is anything but helpful.”  Austrian Airlines also severed its celebrity-endorsement contract with her, adding, “We distance ourselves from extreme political positions and the use of armed violence.”  This is not the only time that Austria and Russia have found themselves on opposite sides of a politically-tinged scandal in the world of vocal performance.  When the bearded drag-queen Conchita Wurst won the Eurovision Song Contest in Copenhagen in May, Russian nationalist leaders in Russia and Ukraine condemned the win as an example of Western decadence.

Tsaryov and Netrebko in the now infamous photo with the flag of Novorossiya
(whose resemblance to the flag of the Confederate States of America is,
as described in detail in an article in this blog, more or less coincidental).
American Conspiracy Theorist Says Jews Planning “Second Israel” in Ukraine.  An American conspiracy theorist, Wayne Madsen, who believes that Cable News Network (C.N.N.) is controlled by Jews, and who was a key figure disseminating the widely-believed folklore that President Barack Obama was concealing his true birthplace in Kenya (the so-called “birther” view), now has a theory about Ukraine, and, once again, Jews are in the middle of it.  According to Madsen, the government of Israel is aware of, and worried by the implications of, the supposed fact that the contemporary communities identifying themselves as Jewish Ashkenazim are in fact descendants not of the Israelites of the Old Testament but of Khazars who converted to Judaism centuries later.  The Khazars were a Turkic-speaking people of medieval Central Asia about whom little is known, including who their actual descendants are.  The “Khazar” theory of Jewish origins is a common anti-Semitic libel in the Muslim world, especially where that overlaps with the Russian sphere of influence.  Madsen claims that when Western nations side with the government of Ukraine against Russia, they do so at the bidding of their puppet-masters in Israel, who are making secret plans to establish a “second Israel” in Ukraine—since the old Khazar empire included part of what is now Ukraine.  The Turkic-speaking Karachay and Balkar nationalities in Russia’s North Caucasus region likewise claim descent from Khazars and some in those communities wish to join together in an autonomous or independent republic called New Khazaria.  Madsen makes no mention of the existing—but eerily Jewless—Jewish homeland that already exists in Russia, the far-eastern Siberian wasteland called the Jewish Autonomous Region (J.A.O.) dating to the Josef Stalin era.

“Next year, in Sebastopol!” (according to an American wingnut)
Russia Threatens BuzzFeed over “Extremist” Coverage of Chechen Bombing.  The bureau in Russia responsible Internet censorship threatened this week to ban the United States website BuzzFeed after its coverage of the December 4th and 5th Islamist terrorist attacks (reported at the time in this blog) in Grozny, capital of the Chechen Republic, was deemed to “contain appeals to mass riots, extremist activities or participation in mass (public) actions held with infringement of the established order.”  The offending article (read it here) contains a link to a YouTube video embedded in an article hosted by Kavkaz Center, a pro-Islamist news website covering the Caucasus which is banned in Russia for its cheerleading coverage of the region’s uncontrollable Islamist separatist insurgency at the hands of the Caucasus Emirate movement.  (For example, the site refers to the Grozny attack as a “successful raid of Mujahideen on the Russian-occupied city of Jokhar [i.e. Grozny], the capital of the Islamic Emirate of Caucasus.”)  YouTube shortly after removed the video for its incitement to violence, after which BuzzFeed removed the now-broken link.  The Russian agency then thanked BuzzFeed for its “cooperation.”  This was the first time the Russian watchdog agency had come to loggerheads with a U.S. news source in its campaign to eradicate dissenting views from the airwaves and Internet.

The jihadist attack this month in Grozny
Russian Security Forces Kill 4 Militants in Kabardino-Balkaria.  Security forces killed four alleged militants on December 11th in a shoot-out in a Nalchik, capital of the Russian Federation’s Kabardino-Balkar Republic, in the southwestern North Caucasus region.  The republic, which is shared by Kabardin (Circassian) and (Turkic-speaking) Balkar ethnic minorities, is in an area claimed by the jihadist separatist Caucasus Emirate movement.



Former Scots Separatist Premier Salmond to Run for Parliament—the One in London.  The former First Minister of Scotland and head of the Scottish National Party (S.N.P.), who resigned in September after bringing Scotland to the brink of independence in a referendum, now says he will run for Parliament—the British parliament, that is.  Alex Salmond, who is currently the S.N.P. M.S.P. (member of Scottish Parliament) for East Aberdeenshire, made the announcement at a party meeting December 7th in the town of Ellon.  The riding he plans to seek is that of Gordon, in Aberdeenshire, currently represented at Westminster by Sir Malcolm Bruce, of the Liberal Democratic Party.  Though this puts him out of Scottish politics in a way, Salmon reiterated that he fully expects a repeat referendum on independence in his lifetime.

Alex Salmond
Scottish Terrorism Suspected to Be Extradited from Ireland to U.K. after Final Appeal.  In a United Kingdom court, a pro-independence Scottish terrorism suspect lost his appeal against an extradition order to bring him home from the Republic of Ireland, where he has been living for decades.  The defendant, Adam Busby, who is 65, had to be brought to court in an ambulance because of his severe debilitation from multiple sclerosis.  In 2009, under the rubric of the supposed “Scottish National Liberation Army”—which may have consisted only of himself—Busby phoned a newspaper in Glasgow, Scotland, and threatened to poison the water supply in major U.K. cities.  He also apparently claimed he had mailed poisoned packages to leaders such as the U.K. prime minister at the time, Gordon Brown.  He is also charged with phoning in various bomb threats in 2010.

It’s back to Blighty for Busby the bomber
Basque Terror Group Endorses Far-Left Party in Spain—or Not?  In Spain, according to a report in Newsweek, jailed spokespeople for the recently disarmed Basque terrorist group ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, or Basque Homeland and Freedom) announced December 8th that the organization was supporting Pablo Iglesias and his far-left political party Podemos in Spain’s upcoming national elections.  Podemos holds no seats in national Spanish legislatures but has five of Spain’s 54 seats in the European Parliament.  Newsweek’s information, to my knowledge, is not confirmed by other sources and seems sketchy in light of the fact that there are Basque pro-independence parties.  In fact, Iglesias recently said that he would sue Spain’s ruling People’s Party (P.P.) for slurs that Podemos was on the side of “Castrists, Chavists, and ETA” (referring also to Cuba’s dictator Fidel Castro and Venezuela’s late left-wing populist president Hugo Chávez).  It seems at this point that ETA, rather than changing its political stripes, is merely being used as a pawn in a war of words between larger parties.  (Thanks to a reader—see comments section, below—for calling my attention to the discrepancy.)

ETA—still fighting the Man after all these years.  (Nice berets, by the way.)
German Judge Jails “King Peter” for Driving with Royal “New Germany” License.  A self-styled “King of Germany,” who claims to rule over a 9-hectare area in Germany’s Saxony–Anhalt state called “New Germany” (Neu-Deutschland), was jailed on December 4th for using a driver’s license issued under the name of his imaginary realm.  (Earlier, he seemed to have been calling his state simply Königreich Deutschland.)  The 48-year-old King Peter—a.k.a. Peter Fitzek, a former cook and video-store manager—appeared in court in Neustadt in full royal regalia, but was sentenced to three months behind bars for using a fake driver’s license.  This was his ninth conviction for the same charge and his 24th in total.  When Fitzek tried to invoke his immunity as a head of state, the judge told him, “You have built a fantasy world with a fanciful political worldview.”  King Peter claims over 3,000 “citizens” and a currency called Engel-Geld, or “angel money.”  A Kingdom of Germany does not even exist historically.  Until 1918, Germany was a confederated empire, whose constituent kingdoms included Bavaria, Saxony, and Prussia, with the King of Prussia holding the imperial crown.

King Peter fights city hall
Saxony State Premier Sounds Alarm over Hate-Crimes against Sorbs.  Meanwhile, in the real Germany, and also in Saxony, Stanislaw Tillich, premier of Saxony Free State, in the former East Germany, warned on December 19th that thuggish xenophobic violence in his state is not directed only at Muslims or at immigrants—as with recent hate rallies in the Saxon capital, Dresden—but also at the indigenous people of the region of Lusatia (Lausitz), the Slavic-speaking Sorbs (also sometimes called Wendish people).  Tillich is one of about 60,000 total Sorbs in Germany, and he says the group has been victimized by hate crimes, in a continuation of prejudicial treatment he received growing up in East Germany—and of policies before that, during the Nazi era, when Sorbs were officially denigrated as Untermenschen (“subhumans”).  He accused extremists of using the pretext of general anxiety about refugees and immigration to “misuse this situation and rail against everything different.  That prompts some to become abusive toward Sorbs.  I regard that as alarming.”

Saxony’s premier Stanislaw Tillich with fellow Sorbs
Karelia’s Ingermanland Finns Recall Stalin’s Deportations on Anniversary.  In the frozen far-northwest of Russia early this month, an organization called the Ingermanland Union of Finns of Karelia marked its 25th anniversary.  In addition to cultural preservation, the Union is devoted to preserving the memory of the deportations during Josef Stalin’s rule, in 1942, when 28,000 or so Finno-Ugrian-speaking indigenous people (variously known as Karelians, Russian Finns, Ingermans, Ingrians, Veps, etc.; the boundaries among the groups are not always clear) were deported eastward, along with many ethnic Germans, to keep them away from the vicinity of Leningrad (St. Petersburg).  Thousands of them died in deportations to places such as Yakutia (now called the Sakha Republic) in Siberia.  Karelians and related peoples make up only a minority of the Russian Federation’s Republic of Karelia, outnumbered by ethnic Russians.  Karelia’s Ingermanland Finns number only 441.

The once-vast nation of Ingria (shown in green) now numbers only a few thousands
BITS OF ASIA THAT LIKE TO PRETEND THEY’RE PART OF EUROPE

Uruguay Veep Hints at Plan to Be First to Recognize Nagorno-Karabakh.  The vice-president of Uruguay, Danilo Astori, surprised many on December 8th when, on a state visit to Armenia, he declared that his country was interested in becoming the first country to grant diplomatic recognition to the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (N.K.R.), an Armenian puppet state carved out of Azerbaijan’s western flank by Armenian and Russian forces after the fall of Communism.  (But Uruguayan recognition of the N.K.R. has been rumored as long ago as 2012, as reported at the time in this blog.)  Armenia and the Armenian-American (i.e., Armenian-U.S.) diaspora prop up the N.K.R., but neither Armenia nor Armenia’s ally, Russia, nor any other country has taken the step of recognizing it.  But, as Astori said in a joint press conference with the speaker of Armenia’s parliament, Galust Sahakyan, in response to a question about N.K.R. recognition, “My country is working toward that direction.”  Astori also laid a wreath at the Dzidzernagapert Armenian Genocide Memorial and spoke of plans to build an Armenian Genocide museum in Montevideo, the Uruguayan capital.  Uruguay is one of several left-leaning states in Latin America which have allied themselves against United States foreign influence—the others are Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Bolivia—and, in a Cold War–style polarization, make a point to take positions contrary to U.S. foreign-policy positions on matters such as Crimea, Cuba, Iraq, Palestine, and Puerto Rico.


Vice-President Astori honors Armenian genocide victims;
will he turn around and lend legitimacy to ethnic cleansing by Armenians next?
Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh Dispute Facts of Armenian Soldier’s Death.  An Armenian soldier was killed in a clash with Azerbaijan’s military on December 8th, at an unspecified location, possibly or possibly not along Azerbaijan’s de facto border with the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (N.K.R.), which is maintained by Armenia’s military on what the world regards as Azerbaijani territory.  Each side has a different version of the soldier’s death: an N.K.R. spokesman said that Azerbaijani forces attacked Armenian positions, while the defense ministry in Baku says Azerbaijani soldiers were defending themselves against an Armenian assault.  Cease-fire violations are an almost routine occurrence in the decades-old “frozen conflict.”


South Ossetia President Won’t Rule Out Annexation to Russia in Coming Treaty.  The president of the Republic of South Ossetia, a Russian puppet state on what most of the world regards as part of the Republic of Georgia, said on December 10th that his country would soon sign a treaty with Russia like the one signed a few weeks ago (discussed last week in this blog) between Russia and South Ossetia’s sister republic in Georgia’s west, Abkhazia.  The details are yet to be worked out, said the president, Leonid Tibilov, but he explained, “The range of [possible levels of] integration can be pretty wide: from becoming a subject of the Russian Federation to an associated partnership.”



MIDDLE EAST


With Caucasus Emirate Divided, Some Suspect ISIS Role in Chechnya Attack.  Some experts on the Caucasus region are speculating strongly that Islamic State (a.k.a. Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS) had a role in the December 4-5 terrorist attack (reported at the time in this blog) in Grozny, the capital of Russia’s Chechen Republic, which left 20 dead.  As reported last week in this blog, the Caucasus Emirate movement was quick to claim responsibility, but the editor of the Caucasian Knot news-website Gregory Shvedov pointed out, “The underground intends to demonstrate that the existing security system is not effective.  We reported a split in the ‘Caucasus Emirate’ with some insurgents joining ISIS. There is still a question who really was behind the current attacks.”  Though they have coeval aims and use the same Ottoman Empire jargon of “emirates” and “caliphates,” the Caucasus Emirate and ISIS are not firmly linked; the Emirate has not aligned itself very strongly with ISIS’s global-caliphate agenda, as some in groups like Nigeria’s Boko Haram (as reported in this blog) and Somalia’s al-Shabaab have.  But one faction may be making common cause.  Such an alliance would cause an odd triangulation in the region: ISIS is fighting both the “Great Satan” the United States and the Syrian government which the U.S. wants to step down, while Russia, a deadly enemy of the Caucasus Emirate, is an ally of Syria.  A wider conflagration on these terms would find a Syria–IranIraq–Russia axis allied against KurdistanTurkeySaudi Arabia, moderate Syrian rebels, and the U.S., while ISIS and the Caucasus Emirate would be at war with all of the above.

Are some factions of the Caucasus Emirate now in bed with ISIS?
Kurds Eager to Fill Void in European Natural-Gas Supply Left by Russian Conflict.  The dramatic Russian entente with western and central Europe over the past year has presented stark geopolitical choices to countries dependent on natural gas piped through Ukraine from Russia.  But the timing may have one advantage.  With Iraq and Syria fragmenting rapidly, resource-rich Kurdistan seems headed for eventual independence, and that could help Europe.  As Dilshad Sha’ban, deputy head of the (Iraqi) Kurdish parliament’s Natural Resources Committee, pointed out this week, Kurdistan is capable of meeting as much as 30% of Europe’s natural-gas needs.  “The Kurdistan Regional Government will produce a surplus of natural gas that will be exported abroad in the next three years, and sold to Europe,” Sha’ban said, adding, “Annually, the K.R.G. spends three billion U.S. dollars generating electricity.  There is a plan to use Kurdish local natural gas to produce electricity in the first stage and then in the next stage, the gas will be exported abroad.  Recently, we met with the French Consul in the Kurdistan Region who emphasized that France and Europe in general are hoping the Kurdistan Region’s natural gas will fulfill a portion of their requirements.  The Ministry of Natural Resources has signed an agreement with ExxonMobil, Butash Oil, Genel Energy, and some other companies in order to produce natural gas and soon production will start.”

Waving Kurdish flags
Kurdish Cabinet Member Backs Autonomous Region for Iraq’s Sunni Arabs.  The deputy prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government (K.R.G.), in northern Iraq, said on December 9th that the central government in Baghdad needs to devolve more power to regions and communities, including allowing the creation of an autonomous region for Sunni Arabs.  The official, Qubad Talabani, added that this was perhaps the only way to stop discontented Sunnis from joining Islamic State (a.k.a. Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS).  But Talabani said he opposed outright separatism, adding, “It seems counterintuitive, but the only way you’re going to keep Iraq together is to give up power from Baghdad.”

The idea of a Sunni Arab autonomous region now has Kurdish support.
Houthis and al-Hirak Agree to Work Together toward Federation of Two Yemens.  Media in Yemen are citing anonymous insider sources attesting to a firm alliance that has emerged between the predominantly-Shiite Houthi militias that have taken over the national capital, Sana’a, on the one hand, and, on the other, the al-Hirak movement fighting to reestablish an independent South Yemen.  Their aim is not a full partition of the country but the creation of a loose federation more on the model, say, of the post-Communist Czecho-Slovakia.  The South Yemeni delegate to the alliance is reportedly Ali Salim al-Beidh, former president of the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, a.k.a. South Yemen, which was dissolved when the two Yemens reunified in 1990.  Rumors have it that the predominantly-Sunni al-Hirak movement is allied not with radical Sunni Arab groups like al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (A.Q.A.P.) which operate in the area but with Shiite power-brokers in Lebanon and Iran.


Irish, Danish Parliaments Take Up Recognition of Palestine.  The Irish political party associated with the Republican struggle for independence and for unification of the island, Sinn Fein, moved in the parliament in Dublin on December 9th to call on the government of Ireland to grant diplomatic recognition to the State of Palestine.  A similar motion passed the upper house of parliament in October, and this follows similar non-binding resolutions (discussed last week in this blog) in the legislatures of Belgium, France, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.  The resolution calls on Ireland to “officially recognize the State of Palestine, on the basis of the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as the capital, as established in U.N. resolutions, as a further positive contribution to securing a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.” It also states that “continued Israeli settlement construction and extension activities in the West Bank is illegal and severely threatening the establishment of a viable Palestinian state.”  Pro-Palestinian sentiment is uncontroversial in Ireland.  The government has said it will not oppose the bill.  Meanwhile, Denmark’s parliament took up the question of Palestinian statehood on December 11th.  One of the parties sponsoring the Danish bill was the separatist Inuit Ataqatigiit (I.A.) party in Greenland, a Danish possession.  But the measure was defeated handily.  Nonetheless, the country’s foreign minister, Martin Lidegaard, said that eventual Danish recognition of Palestine was likely.

Many Irish nationalists see themselves as natural allies of Palestine.
ISIS Publishes Slave-Owners’ Manual for Jihadists, with Rape Tips.  The Islamic State, also known as Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, published on December 3rd a pamphlet outlining the “rules” that govern the treatment of slaves captured by jihadist fighters, according to their deviant interpretation of Islam.  The Arabic pamphlet, titled Questions and Answers on Taking Captives and Slaves (Su’al wa-Jawab fi al-Sabi wa-Riqab), bears the imprint of ISIS’s Research and Fatwa Department and explains, for example, that a female captive, even a young girl, may be raped.  “If she is a virgin,” the pamphlet says, her new owner “can have intercourse with her immediately after taking possession of her.  However, if she isn’t, her uterus must be purified.”  It also explains, “It is permissible to beat the female slave as a form of disciplinary beating, but it is forbidden to beat for the purpose of achieving gratification or for torture.”  That, I suppose, would be an example of decadent Western fetishism.

Worse than al-Qaeda ever was: Islamic State’s “peculiar institution”
AFRICA

Last Remaining French Prisoner of Malian Islamists Freed in Shady Prisoner Swap.  The French government revealed on December 9th that the last French hostage held by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (A.Q.I.M.) in Mali had been released.  But rights groups and other observers expressed outrage that the release was apparently negotiated in a deal that involved the prior release of four Islamist terrorists held in Bamako, the Malian capital.  The four were a Western Saharan (Sahrawi), a Tunisian, and two Tuaregs from northern Mali closely associated with the Tuareg terrorist group Ansar al-Dine and its feared fanatical leader, Iyad Ag Ghaly.  That group, along with A.Q.I.M. and others, ran a separate state in northern Mali called Azawad for much of 2013 before being ousted by French troops.  Ironically, the two Tuaregs had been arrested in 2011 for the kidnapping of Serge Lazarevic, the French citizen released this week.  The other Frenchman kidnapped with Lazarevic on that occasion, Philippe Verdon, was found shot to death in 2013.   Drissa Traore, of the Malian Association for Human Rights (Association Malienne des Droits de l’Homme, or A.M.D.H.), said of the prisoner release, “The liberation is a violation of the rights of the victims but also of the principles that say the government should not interfere with the work of the judiciary.”  The French government has for decades come under harsh criticism from nearly every other modern democracy for its unapologetic practice of negotiating with terrorist kidnappers, including paying ransoms which are then used to finance later kidnappings.

Lazarevic and Verdon in capitivity with Ansar al-Dine gunmen.  (The “Al-Andalus” logo
refers to Ansar al-Dine’s long-term aim of “recapturing” Andalusia, in Spain.  That’s a whole other story.)
Emir of Mubi Returns to Palace as Nigeria Regains Adamawa Areas from Boko Haram.  With order beginning to be restored to much of Adamawa State and neighboring areas in northern Nigeria as the central government wrests back control from the self-proclaimed caliphate of the Boko Haram terrorist group (as discussed last week in this blog), a local traditional monarch returned to his palace in the town of Mubi on December 12th in a symbolic moment of a return to normalcy. As he led prayers soon after his return, the Emir of Mubi, Abubakar Ahmadu, said, “We appreciate the gallant efforts of the Nigerian military, the hunters, and the vigilantes that saw the liberation of our towns.  We are optimistic that the remaining towns will soon be liberated.”
The emir is on his throne, and all’s right with the world
Mombasa Separatists Suspected in Lethal Machete Attack on Police Camp.  Unknown persons armed with machetes attacked a police camp at Mwanamwinga, near Mombasa, Kenya, on December 11th, killing a police corporal and injuring two others.  They then stole weapons and left.  The commissioner for Kilifi County, where Mwanamwinga is located, said he suspected the Mombasa Republican Council (M.R.C.), an often violent group which wants independence for Kenya’s coastal region, which has a Muslim majority in this mostly Christian country.


The Mombasa Republic flag
Three Jubaland Militiamen Turn Up Dead outside Kismayo.  The bodies of three dead soldiers with the military of the autonomous Jubaland State of Somalia were found by a military base, not far from the presidential palace just outside Kismayo, the Jubaland capital, on December 7th.  Mogadishu and Kismayo are mum, but Garowe Online quoted independent sources as saying that the three—two men and a woman—had fought alongside a militia which three months ago had surrendered to the African Union (A.U.) mission in Somalia, known as AMISOM, which is battling the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Shabaab militia alongside troops from Kenya.



ASIA

Police Dismantle Last Hong Kong Protest Camp; Democracy Activists Not Giving Up.  Police in the People’s Republic of China’s semi-autonomous Hong Kong Special Administrative Region arrested over 200 people as they dismantled on December 11th pro-democracy protest camps blocking highways since September, putting a symbolic end to the so-called “Umbrella Revolution” that challenged the Communist Party dictatorship’s chokehold on power more seriously than anything since the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989.  These protests were in response to a decision from Beijing to allow only candidates hand-picked by the central Communist Party to run in Hong Kong elections.  For democracy advocates, this clearly violates the spirit, and probably also the letter, of the 1984 treaty which transferred sovereignty over the territory from the United Kingdom to Beijing in 1997.  The Chinese government conceded nothing, and on paper the movement achieved nothing.  But the spectacle of hundreds of thousands of Chinese citizens taking over the major public spaces and demanding drastic revolutionary political change, without being gunned down, proves for many that the dictatorship knows its days are numbered.  And activists are very far from conceding defeat.  One protester, Cat Tang, said, “We have learned we have power when we are together and have enough people.  Today, we don’t have enough people.  But tomorrow, sometime, we can.”  “This is the start, the very beginning,” said another, Charlotte Chang, aged 19, “and the pressure will accumulate.  The next protests will be more aggressive,” she said, adding, “Those who claim political neutrality cannot go on.  You can’t pretend not to care.”  And, as Lee Cheuk-yang, a Hong Kong legislator, put it, “The young people have awakened.  This is really the gain of the movement.”


Caution—men at work burying democratic hopes
7 Xinjiang Students Jailed for “Separatism”; 8 Other Uyghurs Face Execution.  A court in Urumqi, capital of the People’s Republic of China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Regionhanded down three-to-eight-year prison terms on December 8th to seven students—all but one from the predominantly-Muslim Uyghur nationality—on charges of “separatism.”  The seven were allegedly allies of Ilham Tohti, the Uyghur scholar and human-rights activist whose life sentence on “separatism” charges, given him in September, prompted an international outcry.  On the same day, another court in Urumqi sentenced eight Uyghurs and gave prison terms to another four for their supposed role in knife and bomb attacks in the ongoing ethnonationalist strife in the area.  The World Uyghur Congress (W.U.C.), based in Germanycalled the sentences “unacceptable.”  In other Uyghur news, a Uyghur linguist named Abduweli Ayup has been freed served after serving part of a sentence for “illegal fund-raising” for selling t-shirts to raise money for Uyghur-language education, and the city of Urumqi has banned the wearing of face-covering veils in public—which, mind you, puts Communist China in the company of many major cities in western Europe’s supposedly pluralistic democracies when it comes to religious freedom.  Meanwhile, in a captive nation at the other end of China, an activist named Hada was released from prison in Hohhot, capital of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, after serving 15 years for “separatism.”

Ilham Tohti
Rights Group Says Pakistan “Disappears,” Executes Sindhi Nationalists.  The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (H.R.C.P.) is reporting that the grisly repressive techniques that Pakistan’s military has long used in its rebellious province of Balochistan, including abductions, extrajudicial killings, and “disappearances,” are also being used against separatists in its other coastal province, Sindh.  Such “custodial killings,” according to the H.R.C.P., included one instance in which, according to a news source, “a young wounded man was taken away from Karachi’s Civil Hospital by over a dozen men, including some in police uniform; the man’s body was later found dumped near Hyderabad.”  But there have been many other such cases over the past several weeks, even though the movement to create an independent Sindhudesh is far less popular or organized than the pro-independence insurgency in Balochistan.

Enemies of the state, needing liquidation? Sindhi nationalists on parade
9 Killed in Bus Bomb on Mindanao; Moro Rebels Suspected.  On Mindanao island in the southern Philippines, nine people were killed on December 9th in a bus bombing in which separatists are suspected.  The explosion occurred in Maramag, in an area outside the Moro ethnic group’s Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) but within the area claimed as the Bangsamoro Republic (variously spelled) by the more radical Moro rebel group, the Moro National Liberation Front (M.N.L.F.).  The ARMM is set to become an even more autonomous region called Bangsamoro, under the terms of a deal negotiated by Manila with another group, the rival Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).  An al-Qaeda-affiliated separatist terrorist army, the Abu Sayyaf Group (A.S.G.), also operates in the region.


OCEANIA

800 Papuans Rally against Military Beating of 12-Year-Old; Troops Open Fire, Kill 5.  On December 8th, in Enalotari, on the Indonesian-ruled portion of New Guinea, police and military opened fire on about 800 Papuans demonstrating peacefully.  Five people were killed, mostly teenagers, while 17 others, including five schoolchildren, were injured.  The demonstration was in response to an incident during a Christmas-tree-decorating ceremony in the town, when a group of Indonesian soldiers savagely beat a 12-year-old boy with rifle butts.  The boy’s condition is unknown.  Most residents of the states of Papua and West Papua are Christian or follow tribal religions, while the majority in Indonesia is Muslim.  Indonesia’s minister for security affairs, Edhy Purdijatno, said the soldiers at the demonstration did nothing more than “defend themselves” from “a bunch of people fighting the authorities.”  Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch (H.R.W.), said of the incident, “The Indonesian government needs to investigate why security forces found it necessary to fire into a crowd of peaceful protesters.  Ordinary Papuans are too often victims of security force abuse for which no one is ever punished.”

The scene in Papua this week after the army moved in
Queen of Cook Islands Denounces Local Anti-Gay Laws.  The hereditary monarch of the Cook Islands, in the South Pacific, has come out with a strongly worded statement about legislation discriminating against gays and lesbians.  Marie Pa Ariki, known as takitumu, or paramount chieftainess, or queen, of the Cook Islands, told an interviewer that gays and lesbians “are knowledgeable and contribute to society and to home life. They are human like everyone else … we are all wahanau”—using a Polynesian word for family.  She denounced laws that criminalize homosexual intimacy in the islands, “but,” she added, “Pacific Island conservatism is changing now. People are learning.”  The Cook Islands is a constitutional monarchy, but that monarchy has nothing to do with Queen Marie, whose authority is not recognized by the state; the Cook Islands are, via their “free association” arrangement with New Zealand, in the Commonwealth of Nations, and so their head of state is Queen Elizabeth II.


Marie Pa Ariki, traditional Queen of the Cook Islands
NORTH AMERICA

Uruguay Uses Gitmo Prisoner Deal to Seek Release of Puerto Rican Independence Activist.  The Republic of Uruguay, is agreeing to accept six prisoners (or “detainees,” as the misleading euphemism would have it) from the United States’ illegal prison camp in occupied Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and hopes that it can use leverage from this favor to secure the release of U.S. political prisoners, including an independence fighter from Puerto Rico, a U.S. colony in the Caribbean.  In an open letter to President Barack Obama, Uruguay’s president, José “Pepe” Mujica, affirmed his commitment to accepting the Guantánamo prisoners, writing, in pointed language about U.S. policy, “We have offered hospitality to human beings suffering an atrocious abduction in Guantánamo.  Since the time of our independence, and even before, individuals and sometimes large groups of people have come to this country seeking refuge from international wars, civil wars, tyranny, religious and racial persecution, poverty and also destitution.”  In exchange, Mujica hoped that the U.S. would consider releasing three Cuban spies who have been held since 1998 and the 70-year-old Puerto Rican separatist, Oscar López Rivera, who is more than thirty years into a life sentence that has included twelve years of solitary confinement.  There is almost no chance that the U.S. will agree.  For Mujica, though, the these matters are personal.  A former leftist guerilla with the Tupamaros National Liberation Movement (Movimiento de Liberación Nacional-Tupamaros, or M.N.L.–T), Mujica spent thirteen years in prison, including spending two years in brutal solitary confinement boxed up at the bottom of a dilapidated horse trough.

Still behind bars, but Pepe gave it the old college try
Gitxsan Activists Block British Columbia Highway to Protest Natural Gas Plans.  Members of the indigenous Gitxsan nation in northern British Columbia, Canadablocked a highway in their territory on December 6th.  According to the protestors’ press release, “Gitxsan hereditary chiefs Spookw and Luutkudziiwus closed Hwy. 16 at New Hazelton on Dec. 6, 2014, in protest over the recent B.C.E.A.O. [British Columbia Environmental Assessment Office] approvals of two natural gas pipelines proposed for Gitxsan territory, and one L.N.G. [liquid natural gas] terminal proposed for the Skeena Estuary.  The chiefs say these projects threaten to collapse the Skeena salmon run that all upstream nations rely on.  About 65 people collected at Hwy. 16 on Saturday to support the closure.  Attendees cited a number of issues that render the proposed L.N.G. projects unacceptable including: low provincial L.N.G. tax revenue, job loss to temporary foreign workers, potential of toxic air emissions on the north coast, potential of conversion of the pipelines to carry oil, and high risk to juvenile salmon at the Petronas L.N.G. site on Lelu island.”  The site of the protest, called Madii Lii in the Gitxsanimix language, is owned by Chief Luutkudziiwus (a.k.a. Charlie Wright) on behalf of his matrilineal extended family (“house”), and the area has for several weeks been sealed off by Gitxsan activists to prevent unauthorized economic activity on the territory.

Gitxsan activists at a roadblock
Utah Flushes Hundreds of Polygamists out of Fundamentalist Mormon Compound.  In the Utahan half of the state-line-straddling twin community of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona, state authorities moved in this week to enforce some of the most extensive evictions yet of polygamous families from the elaborate compound of the imprisoned child-rapist Mormon “prophet” Warren Jeffs and his Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints (F.L.D.S.) community.  The small, marginal F.L.D.S. conservative Mormon community follows the spirit and laws and social structure of the sect’s founder, Joseph Smith, far more closely than the assimilationist offshoot Church of Latter-Day Saints in Salt Lake City with its tens of millions of members around the world.  The evictions, focusing on fourteen households—which, mind you, means a lot more folks than fourteen average American households—occurred mostly without incident.  The compound has been taken into the possession of the State of Utah, but most occupants are refusing to pay the state’s $100 monthly “rent”—presumably under the orders of Jeffs, who many believe still controls the community from prison.

Hilldale, Arizona—an average American community, except for
the heavily-armed citadels, the razorwire, the harem chambers,
and the rows and rows of magical Masonic underwear on the clotheslines.
SPORTS

Olympic Committee Green-Lights Kosovo for 2016 Games; Serbs Furious.  The International Oluympic Committee (I.O.C.) on December 9th granted full recognition to the disputed Republic of Kosovo, removing the last hurdle for the mini-state to send athletes to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  This week’s decision is a ratification of a decision made in October.  The government of Serbia, which still claims Kosovo, reacted angrily, with its foreign minister stating, “We see this decision as unacceptable and unprincipled, therefore maintaining that it contravenes the Olympic Charter.  The act represents a biased politicisation of sport, while the International Olympic Committee, a universal organisation dedicated to the development of sport and the promotion of understanding and friendship, has assumed the role of a political arbiter.”  The minister, Ivica Dačić, did not explain how it was that not granting Kosovo recognition would not have been a political arbitration as well.  Some questions the I.O.C. cannot simply dodge.

Besim Hasani, president of Kosovo’s Olympic Committee
European Football Body Bans Matches in Disputed Crimea.  The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) has courted controversy before by promoting separate national teams for the partially-recognized Republic of Kosovo and for Gibraltar, a self-governing overseas territory of the United Kingdom which Spain would like to reclaim.  This time, UEFA is dodging the question of whether Crimea is part of Russia, which invaded and annexed it in March, or—as nearly the entire rest of the world regards it—part of Ukraine.  Crimea is, for football purposes, now a “special zone” where no matches will be held until the peninsula’s status can be resolved.  “The UEFA executive committee has prohibited clubs from Crimea playing in the Russian Football Union, and the Russian Football Union may not organise any competition in the Crimea,” explained UEFA’s secretary general, Gianni Infantino, at a press conference, adding, “We trust the associations will respect these decisions.  If one of the associations does not respect this decision then a disciplinary case would have to be opened.  It is not up to UEFA to determine any political situation.  Having discussed this with the Ukraine and Russia and Ukrainian and Russian football authorities, the executive committee came to the conclusion that for the time being the decision has to be to consider Crimea as a special zone.”



[For those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with my forthcoming book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas to be published by Litwin Books under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements and Aspirant Nations, from Abkhazia to Zanzibar.  (That is shorter than the previous working title.)  The book, which contains 46 maps and 554 flags (or, more accurately, 554 flag images), will be on shelves and available on Amazon on March 1, 2015.  I will be keeping readers posted of further publication news.  Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even though you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook and see this special announcement for more information on the book.]



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