Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Liberland’s Empty Promises to Syrian Refugees Scorned by Other Micronations

In the midst of the Middle Eastern refugee crisis roiling Europe, an unrecognized “micronation” on a chunk of no-man’s-land between Serbia and Croatia is trying to market itself as a haven for tens of thousands fleeing civil war in places such as LibyaIraqYemen, and, especially and most tragically, Syria.  The so-called Free Republic of Liberland was declared April 13th (as reported at the time in this blog; see also article here) on three nearly empty square miles of grassy fields, thickets, and riverbank along the Danube River, one of several shards of intersecting claims by Serbia and Croatia as a result of the shifting course of the winding Danube over the decades.  Neither side presses its claim, but both are clear that Liberland has no right to set up shop there.  The republic is intended as a libertarian utopia, founded by Vít Jedlička, a 31-year-old officer in the Czech Republic’s small libertarian Free Citizens’ Party (Strana svobodných občanů).  Croatian and Serbian police and border agencies have quietly foiled attempts by Jedlička to do more than raise a flag there.  Meanwhile, despite Jedlička’s big talk to the contrary, the chances of any kind of international recognition are close to nil.

Vit Jedlička
Indeed, even among the hundreds-strong community of micronations around the world, Liberland is an outcast.  As far as I can tell, only the risible Kingdom of North Sudan—founded last year along the border between Egypt and Sudan by an American from Virginia so that he could make his seven-year-old daughter a “princess” (as reported at the time in this blog)—has extended diplomatic recognition.  They have also gotten an endorsement from Switzerland’s libertarian Unabhängige Partei (“Independence Party”) (which uses the exclamatory acronym UP!); much of Liberland’s support and organizational energy seems to come from Switzerland.  (Unlike many libertarian parties which pander to the xenophobic right, UP! supports abolishing all restrictions and controls on movement across any borders.)  The reaction from other micronational leaders, who tend, at least in Europe and Australia, to be more left-leaning than Jedlička, has been cold.  Now Jedlička is raising more hackles by wading into the debate over the flood of migrants to the Balkans by offering citizenship to anyone willing to pay his $10,000 passport fee.  A couple weeks ago Jedlička told media that among the 380,000 or so citizenship applications received since April are now 20,000 from Syria and nearly 2,000 from Libya.

“Bring us your tired, your poor, your hungry ...
and we will take every last penny they have and then turn them out into the cold.”
This is not surprising.  Other micronations, such as the Grand Duchy of Flandrensis, a Belgium-based micronation project which administers no territory (though it claims some islands off Antarctica), report a sharp increase in applications from the Middle East.  Doubtless this is because of desperate and ill-informed war refugees grasping at straws and not realizing from their web-surfing that some online citizenship-application forms are not from physically existing countries.  On September 22nd, Niels Vermeersch, the Flandrensisian grand duke and head of state, posted on his Facebook page, “On a weekly basis we receive requests for the Flandrensisian citizenship from the Middle East with often sad stories.  Those people are so desperate that they are willing to try everything and they don’t seem to know that Flandrensis is only a micronation.  We believe that every human being has the right to a home and a decent life.  That is the world we want for our future generations to come!”

Big plans for Liberland
Thus the news out of Liberland particularly infuriates Vermeersch. “Where do they plan to put them?” the post continued.  “How will they feed them?  Where will these people work & live?  ...  Liberland used this crisis to get press and it is cruel to give those people false hope, using misery of refugees to make money.”  Georg von Strofzia, foreign minister of the Kingdom of Ruritania (the fictional nation from The Prisoner of Zenda, asserted to be within the Czech Republic), added, “Three square miles!  That’s 7 square kilometers!  This isn’t Dubai.  There is no treasury to pay to import food for these people.  The sanitation problems would be a nightmare.”  This, of course, despite long-term plans to erect a futuristic city on the spot.  (See the artist’s rendering at the top of this article for one such plan.)

Alleged scenes of Liberlandic nation-building can be found on YouTube.
But it’s not clear if anything is actually being built there.
Prince Jean-Pierre IV, of the Principality of Aigues-Mortes, a high-profile micronation in a walled Medieval city on the Mediterranean coast of France, agreed, writing September 30th on the “Micronations and Alternative Polities” Facebook group, “We all agree that Liberland is a scam and that it gives a very bad image of micronationalism.”  And Olivier Touzeau, Emperor of Angyalistan (a French-based micronation whose territory is “the horizon”), added in what became an official communiqué on behalf of the Organization of Microfrancophony (Organisation de la MicroFrancophonie) and co-signers from Aigues-Mortes, “The micronations who publish passports are faced with the serious problem of the refugee crisis and the actions needed to give hope to humanity without fooling anyone.  Liberland just did exactly the opposite of what can be hoped from a serious micronational project.  We strongly condemn the despicable initiative of the leader of the free Republic of Liberland, offering Syrian refugees to come to his claimed territory for $ 10,000.  The free Republic of Liberland is a media smokescreen that throws ridiculous and vain shadows at the expense of human distress on the ideals of most serious micronations and shows thus the full extent of the intellectual swindle it stands for.”  (See my recent blog article for more on these micronations.)

Flag of the Grand Duchy of Flandrensis
So far, several other micronations have signed on to Emperor Olivier’s declaration, including, in addition to Aigues-Mortes and Flandrensis, the Cyanocitta Cristata Principal Republic (an environmental project; Cyanocitta cristata is the scientific term for the bluejay), the Principality of Hélianthis, Ladonia (on the coast of Sweden), the Empire of Lemuria (not to be confused with either the Indian Ocean protocontinent or the mythical “sister city” to Atlantis), Lykosha (an online community which gathers under a lupine banner), the Republic of Navalon (an ecological “floating island” project), the Republic of Padrhom, the Holy Empire of Réunion (declared by citizens of Brazil on the eponymous French territory of the African coast), Ruritania (see above), the Kingdom of Ruthenia (not to be confused with Transcarpathian Ruthenia, a.k.a. Ukraine’s Transcarpathia (Zakarpattia) oblast, discussed frequently in this blog—e.g., articles here and here), the State of Sandus, the Republic of Saint-Castin (located within Quebec), and the Consulat of Surland (five islands in the Moselle River, in France).

Jedlička even went so far as to host, at a hotel in Istanbul, a Liberland recruitment drive on September 16th.  Turkey is the point of transit for most European-bound refugees from Syria and elsewhere.

H.I.M. George II, Emperor of Atlantium
George II, Emperor of Atlantium (which is surrounded by New South Wales, Australia), thundered, “Liberland is a financial scam dressed up in the language of ‘freedom’ that is used by libertarians and other conservatives to deliver the exact opposite: the entrenchment of power and privilege and the denial of opportunity.”  (His comments remind me that I lament still that he was unable to attend this summer’s 3rd PoliNation conference and micronational summit in the Italy-based Republic of Alcatraz (attended by this blogger and reported on in this blog), where his presentation was to have been titled “Reclaiming Micronationalism: How Libertarians Ruined a Good Thing.”)
Liberland’s one building.  It doesn’t look like it can sleep 10,000.
Jedlička may or may not have his heart in the right place, and he may or may not believe that he will really build a shining city of freedom on his little plot of land.  But at the very least he needs to scale back his big talk, and not raise false hopes among desperate people.

Swiss volunteers scouting Liberland for a good spot for a refugee camp
[Thanks to Emperor Olivier, Michael Cessna, and Queen Anastasia for information for, and corrections to, this article.]

[You can read more about many micronations and other separatist and new-nation movements, both famous and obscure, in my new book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas just published by Litwin Books under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements and Aspirant Nations, from Abkhazia to Zanzibar.  The book, which contains 46 maps and 554 flags (or, more accurately, 554 flag images), is available for order now on Amazon.  Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even if you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook and see this interview for more information on the book.]

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Somalia’s New Autonomous Regions Hit Lethal Snags on Road to Federalism

The barely functioning Federal Somali Government (F.S.G.) is pushing forward this fall to replace its original system of small administrative regions with large autonomous “regional states,” officially enshrining a fragmentation that has been going on over a quarter-century of civil war.  But the plan is running into problems, notably with outbreaks of factionalism and fighting in the central Galmudug and Hiiraan regions.  Some say it is long past time to abandon the whole idea of Somali unity.

It’s only gotten more complicated since.
The most well known of these states, Puntland State of Somalia, has been de facto self-governing since 1991, when Somalia fragmented in civil war following the end of its sponsor state, the Soviet Union.  Today, Puntland is in most ways independent, though the government is nominally “unionist.”  Another region, the former British Somaliland, is the de facto independent Republic of Somaliland, which, unlike Puntland, does not pretend to be part of the Federal Republic of Somalia, though Somalia insists it is.  Somaliland is diplomatically unrecognized, but treated by the United Nations and many states as independent in every respect other than the exchange of ambassadors—mostly because of its oil wealth, exploited by firms from the United Kingdom, Canada, the United Arab Emirates, and elsewhere.

Puntlanders with their flag
The federal government gave its blessing last July to an officially autonomous “Central Regions State,” just south of Puntland.  (That’s the occasion for the flag display at the top of this article.)  That entity has now reverted to calling itself Galmudug Regional State (Galmudug being a portmanteau of the names of the smaller Mudug and Galduduud administrative regions), the name used when it first declared itself self-governing in 2004 amidst the chaos of the Somali civil war.  Galmudug’s formal establishment last year created tensions not only with Puntland—the two states’ shared border is in dispute—but with neighboring entities on its western and southern side which have long aspired, with less success, to formal autonomous status, notably Ximan and Xeeb (also spelled Himan and Heeb) State and Hiiraan State.  Puntland, jealous of threats to its preeminence as a stable, economically viable, and (not incidentally) territorially expansive pseudo-state, has (as discussed before in this blog) repeatedly threatened to withdraw from the Somali federation whenever another autonomous state begins establishing itself.

Mudug + Galgaduud = Galmudug
Internally, Galmudug is riven by factionalism within Ahlu Sunna, a moderate Islamist militia whose conservative faction controls some areas of Galmudug, including the town of Dhusamareb.  Twenty people were killed in a two-day battle for Abudwaak this month between the Interim Galmudug Administration (I.G.A.) and the traditionalist Ahlu Sunna Wajameeca faction, with the I.G.A. securing control of the town.

Warring Ahlu Sunna factions make a stable Galmudug difficult to achieve.
Just last week the newly elected president of Galmudug, Abdikarim Guled, said that Galmudug was in talks with Puntland to end their hostilities.  The Puntland–Galmudug conflict swirls mostly around rival claims on the Northern Mudug administrative district (in the terms of the old, vestigial map of Somalian regions and sub-regional districts), where Galmudug’s newly relocated capital, Adado, sits.  Local clans do most of the fighting in these disputes.  Formerly, Galmudug used the southern part of the city of Galkayo as its capital; Galkayo straddles, Berlin-like, the de facto border between Galmudug and Puntland.  Adado is farther south but is still claimed by Galmudug.  Awkwardly, it is also the capital of the aforementioned Ximan and Xeeb State, an intermittently self-governing landlocked pocket of desert which theoretically aspires to be a Mogadishu-recognized autonomous regional state.

To add to the mess, al-Shabaab (literally “the Youth”), a radical Islamist terror group which affiliates itself with al-Qaeda, is in a constant tug-of-war with these entities, the central government, and with the African Union (A.U.) Mission in Somalia (Amisom), a peacekeeping group dominated by Ethiopia and Kenya, for control of remote towns.  Just last week, federal troops, joined by some of the 2,000 Amisom troops there from Djibouti (a country which sponsors insurgent separatists in western Somaliland, incidentally), drove al-Shabaab out of two Hiiraan villages.  Hiiraan and Middle Shabelle (also called Hiiraan and Jawhar) Regional State was supposed to begin its implementation process on September 1st and complete it in December.  So there is a big push to stabilize that region so it can keep to its timetable.  There is also tension within Amisom, since Djibouti—which sponsors insurgent separatists in western Somaliland, incidentally—suspects Ethiopia of having an anti-Djiboutian agenda in the peacekeeping operations.  Djibouti is ruled by its Issa (Somali) minority, which is in perpetual conflict with its Afar majority, which is also a powerful minority in neighboring Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Somalian subdivisions—old style ...
The current parliamentary system is an arcane one involving unelected traditional clan elders as a sort of estate or upper chamber within the representative system.  But one of the plans being considered divides Somalia into seven large legislative districts: Puntland, the Interim Jubba Administration in the far south (also called, at various times, Jubaland, Jubbaland, Azania, or even Greenland), the Interim South West Administration (also called sometimes Asal, just to the north of Jubaland) (see article from this blog), Galmudug, Benadir, Somaliland, and the Hiiraan–Shabeelle entity (see above).  Jubaland, in particular, is supported by the A.U. and by the Kenyan military command which operates through the A.U. in southern Somalia; Kenya sees it as a useful buffer state between the Kenyan homeland and the al-Shabaab-ruled areas bent on exporting terrorism across the border into Kenya.  (See an article from this blog on Jubaland.)

... and old old style.
Somaliland, in the far northwest, will never accede to being part of the failed state of Somalia; it has done well on its own, and federal forces would never try to subdue Somaliland’s capable military.  But the Puntland, Galmudug, Hiiraan–Shabelle, South-West, Benadir, and Jubaland regional states are gradually trying to normalize themselves, in almost impossible circumstances.  Whether they can ever succeed is an open question.  In my opinion (as I have written as long ago as 2012), the problem is that the international community unanimously backs the failed idea of a central government based in Mogadishu.  The world’s leading nations should grant diplomatic recognition to Somaliland and showcase the country, imperfect though it is, as the island of stability it is in its horrifically dangerous neighborhood (near, among other places, South Sudan and Yemen).  This might encourage Puntland to declare independence as well (it is a quite viable state), or might convince Mogadishu to craft with local leaders a very loose confederation of four or five large regions.  The alternative is today’s dysfunction, with vast areas under no clear governance and becoming a breeding ground for al-Shabaab.  It would be good to get this in place before al-Shabaab, like Boko Haram in Nigeria, switches its allegiance to Islamic State.

The flag of Hiiraan State
[You can read more about Puntland, Galmudug, and many other separatist and new-nation movements, both famous and obscure, in my new book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas just published by Litwin Books under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements and Aspirant Nations, from Abkhazia to Zanzibar.  The book, which contains 46 maps and 554 flags (or, more accurately, 554 flag images), is available for order now on Amazon.  Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even if you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook and see this interview for more information on the book.]

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Fiji Junta Rounds Up Islamophobes Bent on Separate Christian State on Viti Levu

The military strongman who runs the Republic of Fiji is continuing to crack down this month on what his government and military call a separatist insurrection on Viti Levu, the Pacific nation’s largest and most populous island.

The self-declared Christian republics are in Ra and Nadroga-Navosa provinces.
The crisis came to international attention last month, when over 50 people were arrested in Viti Levu’s Ra province, on the northeast coast, on suspicion of connection with a training camp allegedly run by a former British military officer.  Authorities said the camp was training forces to help establish two separate “Christian states” declared late last year.   The Nadroga-Navosa Sovereign Christian State, on the southwestern end of the island, in Nadroga-Navosa province, and the Ra Sovereign Christian State, in Ra, were declared in October and November 2014, reportedly with the approval and participation of some (supporters say all) local traditional chiefs.  Five people were arrested and charged with sedition at the time in connection with those declarations.  The presidents ceremonially installed for the two would-be states—Nadroga-Navosa’s Ratu Osea Turaga Gavidi and Ra’s Ratu Meli Bolobolo—have since died.

The Nadroga-Navosa Sovereign Christian State flag flying over Cuvu village last month
It is not entirely clear who runs the provisional governments now, but supporters in Sydney, Australia, some calling themselves the Fiji Democracy Movement, speak for the entities and have commissioned flags.  Their views are disseminated to the public by a Fijian, now banned from re-entering the country, named Oni Kirwin, who calls herself “attorney general” of the Ra and Nadroga Christian State (which makes it sound like one entity, instead of two) and talks brashly of bringing her case to the International Criminal Court in the Hague and to Queen Elizabeth II.  (Fiji was a United Kingdom colony until 1970, then a Commonwealth realm until a coup d’état in 1987.)

Oni Kirwin
Most of those arrested last month, plus others later, have been charged with sedition.  In a statement, Prime Minister Josaia Voreque “Frank” Bainimarama, the former naval commander who heads the country’s ruling junta, said, “There will be no so-called independent states established in Fiji.  Anyone who swears an illegal oath will face the full force of the law.  Anyone who encourages political violence will face the full force of the law.  We will not and should not tolerate the kind of instability certain people are currently trying to provoke.  Put simply, any insurrection will be crushed.”

Frank Bainimarama
Bainimarama, who was elected prime minister last year in a shady and dirty election process, had served as president (and later as acting prime minister) in an unelected capacity since he took the reins of the 2000 coup d’état that unseated the elected prime minister, Mahendra Chaudhry.  Chaudhry is from the large Indo-Fijian (i.e., South Asian) community—descendants of indentured laborers imported from India by British colonists who have become so numerous that indigenous Fijians like Bainimarama are only about 53-57% of the population.  Indo-Fijians are 38%, but used to have a larger share before the coup and a wave of emigration.  Reliable numbers are hard to come by, since demographics has become such an explosive source of political tension in this tiny nation of around 900,000 that census-taking has been nearly abandoned.  Bainimarama builds his support on Indo-Fijians as much as on indigenous Fijians.

The collective flag for the Ra and Nadroga-Navosa Sovereign Christian States
Christians (mostly Methodists) make up 58% of the Fijian population, including 6% of Indo-Fijians but over 90% of the remaining population, which includes indigenous Fijians and those with origins in China, Europe, or elsewhere in Oceania.  Indigenous Fijians have only recently regained their slim majority, and the phrase “Christian state” as it is used in the latest unrest is used by indigenous Fijians resentful of the Indo-Fijian role in politics, which is still considerable.  One member of parliament, Mosese Bulitavoare, of the Social Democratic Liberal Party (Sodelpa), was charged with sedition recently for whipping up anti-Indian bigotry.  Sodelpa has found itself in the position of denying publicly any role in the current separatist movements.

Some neighborhoods in Fiji’s capital, Suva, feel like India.
Fijian Christian activists’ concerns are less focused on Hinduism, practiced by 77% of Indo-Fijians (a third of the national population), than on Islam, even though it is practiced by only 16% of Indo-Fijians and a mere 7% of Fiji’s total population.  As the soi-disant “attorney general” Kirwin, in Australia, puts it, “I’m not frightened or scared at all.  There is a takeover in Fiji and it is not a good one.  We’re concerned by Muslims.  Their influence is very, very high.” She explicitly opposes constitutional guarantees of equal rights for all Fijians, regardless of ethnic background or faith.  Fiji’s attorney general, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, has in particular been subjected to considerable vilification for his faith by some indigenous Christians.

Attorney General Khaiyum has been the focus of much indigenist Christian vilification
Details on last month’s arrests are hard to come by, and are usually filtered through the government’s interpretation of events.  Late last month, Bainimarama blamed “high-profile figures” in Australia for abetting the uprising, which he blamed on “enemies of modern Fiji.”  This may be a reference to one of the Fijian Christian states’ loudest supporters, the Rev. Fred Nile, a New South Wales state legislator who heads the Christian Democratic Party (C.D.P.) and is a perpetual target of ridicule in Australian politics.  Each year Nile publicly prays for Sydney’s annual gay-pride parade to be rained on, and he has pushed for laws banning Muslim immigration, the wearing of Muslim religious dress, and not just same-sex weddings but also pagan and Wiccan ones.

A defaced Fred Nile billboard in Australia
Fiji is no stranger to ethnic and sectarian unrest.  In addition to several coups d’état and the tensions between indigenous and South Asian Fijians, there is recurring separatist activity on an outer Fijian island called Rotuma (1.2% of Fiji’s population), which shares more with the Polynesian culture of Samoa and Tonga than with Fiji’s Melanesian one.  And on Fiji’s Rabi Island an elders’ council of expatriates from the Republic of Kiribati’s Banaba Island, which is more Fijian than Kiribatian culturally, acts as a sort of provisional government for Banaba, where there is ongoing advocacy of either seceding as an independent state or transferring Banaba to Fiji.

Sometimes politics in Fiji gets racial, in an ugly way.
Seventy alleged “Christian state” activists await trial for sedition.  Sixteen have pleaded not guilty and are due back in court on September 22nd.  Due to the repressive political atmosphere in Fiji and constraints on the press, it is not clear how true any of the allegations are.  One defense lawyer for the defendants, Aman Ravindra-Singh, has said, “We have been kept in the dark as counsel for these persons and we have yet to see any shred of evidence with regards the allegations of guns and firearms being involved in military-style training.”  Nor can we rely on any kind of pressure for due process from neighbors like Australia and New Zealand, who regard Bainimarama’s Fiji as a crucial link in the geopolitical containment of China’s naval ambitions.

Fiji’s flag
The proposed Christian states on Viti Levu are dangerously intolerant and undemocratic.  The attitudes and prejudices underlying them have no place in a modern democratic nation.  But neither do the military-style policing and disregard for civil rights with which Bainimarama is trying to keep the uprising down.  Fiji’s junta may find that it is feeding the nation’s cycle of coups and counter-coups rather than stabilizing the country.

One of many proposed redesigns of the Fijian national flag
[Thanks to Olivier Touzeau for a correction on identification of flags in this article.]

[You can read more about many other separatist and new-nation movements, both famous and obscure, in my new book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas just published by Litwin Books under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements and Aspirant Nations, from Abkhazia to Zanzibar.  The book, which contains 46 maps and 554 flags (or, more accurately, 554 flag images), is available for order now on Amazon.  Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even if you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook and see this interview for more information on the book.]

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Why Does Abkhazia Get to Host the 2016 “World Cup” for Aspirant Nations?

[Special note to readers: This article elicited a strong reaction from ConIFA, which contributed a statement to the effect that it considers itself a “non-political” organization.  For that statement, please see the comments section at the end of this article.  This blog welcomes and encourages a full discussion of the political and ethical implications, if one feels there are any, to ConIFA’s relationship with Abkhazia, Transnistria, Magyar irredentists, and other entities which many see as playing a negative role, to say the least, in European politics.]

We are used to international geopolitics inserting itself into the world of association football (that’s “soccer” to Americans).  World powers sometimes use the game as a proxy war for their own tussles over what is and is not a state and where national borders lie.  Examples include the ban on holding FIFA games in Russian-occupied Crimea, Spain trying to block Gibraltar, which it still claims, from member-state status, and ongoing politically motivated fan violence in Balkan hotspots like Bosnia and Kosovo.  But now a smaller football league that was supposed to be aloof from the rougher political edges of FIFA (the French acronym for the International Federation of Association Football) is courting similar controversy.

This league, the Confederation of Independent Football Associations (ConIFA), a new organization devoted to aspirant or unrecognized states ineligible for FIFA membership, decided this summer that its 2016 football (soccer) world cup would be held in the Republic of Abkhazia, a de facto–independent Russian puppet state in what most of the world outside Russia regards as part of the Republic of Georgia.  Despite damage and economic instability resulting from a recent history of separatist war and ongoing diplomatic limbo, Abkhazia and its capital city, Sukhumi, can, ConIFA promises, offer “top-class infrastructure” for a sporting event.  But Abkhazia is bound to be a divisive choice, considering that Russian support for violent separatism in Ukraine since early last year—a political situation which closely parallels Abkhazia, which split away as the Cold War ended—has led to calls to boycott the Russian-hosted FIFA World Cup planned for 2018.

ConIFA is not the first league of its type.  A predecessor was Viva, which doesn’t stand for anything but is a play on the name FIFA, also set up for national teams of unrecognized states.  Viva’s first world cup, in 2006, was originally to be held in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a puppet state that every country in the world other than Turkey recognizes as part of the Republic of Cyprus.  Northern Cyprus ended up ceding hosting duties to Occitania (southern France) after a brouhaha over Northern Cypriot demands to vet participating teams—probably the result of Turkish skittishness at that time about any kind of recognition of any kind of Kurdish entity, since northern Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan Region was also a participant.  Viva has successfully kept politics out of the team-selection process in the four subsequent Viva cup finals hosted by, in turn, Sápmi (the northern Scandinavian homeland of the Sami, or Lappish, people), Padania (separatist northern Italy), Gozo (the Republic of Malta’s smaller island), and Erbil, the Iraqi Kurdish capital.

Sami (Lapp) footballers competing in Östersund
Other participating Viva teams over the years have included Monaco (not a pseudo-state, but too small for FIFA nonetheless), Provence, Zanzibar, Arameans Soryoye (the team of the Christian Syriac people), Darfur (southwestern Sudan), Raetia (the linguistically distinct Ladin, Friulian, and Romansh speakers of southeast Switzerland and northern Italy), Tamil Eelam (the Hindus of northern Sri Lanka), and Western Sahara (the Moroccan-occupied Sahrawi homeland).  Customs red tape and other logistical problems have mostly prevented Southern Cameroons, West Papua, and Tibet from participating.  But no one was deliberately excluding anyone, or being remotely provocative.  Even the Northern Cypriot team graciously conceded defeat to the Kurdish team in the 2012 Erbil games.

(Yet another organization, FIFI (Federation of International Football Independents), in 2006 held a one-off exhibition “Wild Cup” tournament in Hamburg, Germany, where Northern Cyprus triumphed over Zanzibar, Gibraltar, Greenland, Tibet, and the Republic of St. Pauli—this last being a fictive micronation (fictive even by micronational standards) consisting of Hamburg’s red-light district.)

The ConIFA European cup this June, for its part, was hosted in Hungary by Székely Land, a proposed state in western Romania’s ethnic-Magyar (Hungarian) region.  Padania (northern Italy) won that 11-match series, with the County of Nice (in southeastern France), the Isle of Man, and Felvidék (Slovakia’s “Upper Hungary” region) ranking second through fourth, in that order.  The first ConIFA world cup, in 2014 in Östersund, Sweden, hosted by Sápmi (Lappland), was won by the highly impressive Niçois team.

Magyar nationalists displaying the Székely Land flag in Transylvania
And here, with this ConIFA line-up, the observant reader who is familiar with the minor nationalisms to which this blog is devoted will have caught perhaps a clue as to why Abkhazia, of all places, was selected to host the 2016 ConIFA cup.  Start with Székely Land, an autonomist cause with nowhere near the popular momentum enjoyed by, say, Scotland, Catalonia (both of which keep a plenty high profile in FIFA football), Padania, Kurdistan, or Tibet.  In fact, the idea of giving autonomy to the Magyar-dominated parts of western Romania is mostly a pet cause of the extremist far right in Hungary and Romania (as discussed once in this blog).  Autonomy for Romania’s Szeklers (Magyars) is in particular an abiding emotional rallying point for Jobbik, the neo-fascist ultranationalist party in Hungary, which in an election last year became Hungary’s third-largest party.

Jobbik armbands on parade
Felvidék, or “Upper Hungary,” the formerly Hungarian-ruled parts of Slovakia, is an even obscurer cause.  Slovakia is a stable, increasingly western-style state, and Hungarian is an official language in areas where speakers are more than 20% of the population.  (They are 8.5% of it nationwide.)   Slovakia’s Magyars are hardly separatist, but Jobbik has not forgotten them.   The party specifically calls for the revocation of the 1920 Treaty of Trianon.  That agreement, part of the dismantling of the defeated Austro-Hungarian Empire after the First World War, whittled the newly independent Hungary down to its current size, stripping away territories that had been under the Hungarian crown within the empire: all of Slovakia, a third or so of modern Romania, the Vojvodina province of northern Serbia, Ukraine’s Transcarpathia oblast, and significant territories which are now along the edges of Austria, Slovenia, and Croatia.  Jobbik wants all these lands back.  Only small bits of them have ethnic-Hungarian majorities today, but under Habsburg rule the German-speaking Austrian and Magyar élites ruled over smaller ethnonational groups in a political structure that was almost feudal.  Hungary, when it was an Axis country during the Second World War, tried and failed to use that conflict to regain lost territories.

Light green is modern Hungary;
darker green are those areas stripped from
the Kingdom of Hungary after the First World War
The County of Nice, too, is mostly a right-wing, even neo-fascist, irredentist cause.  In the years of conflict leading up to Italian unification in the mid 19th century, this Mediterranean city and its environs were ceded by the Kingdom of Sardinia’s House of Savoy (soon to become the ruling house of unified Italy) to France in exchange for help fighting the Austrians.  This stuck in the craw of the unification hero Giuseppe Garibaldi, a Niçois native who once famously said, “If Nice is French, then I am a Tatar.”  Thus Nice shifted from a mostly Italian-speaking city to a francophone one.  A claim on Nice was revived by Benito Mussolini during the Fascist era, and it is also included by the far-right, xenophobic, anti-Brussels Lega Nord (Northern League) in northern Italy as part of its dreamed-of “Greater Padania.”  Oh, and of course Padania is prominent in ConIFA too (as it was in Viva).  A ConIFA delegation to Nice in May of this year is prominently featured on the ConIFA website.

Football fans waving the Niçois separatist flag
Abkhazia, next year’s ConIFA host, is one of two ethnically distinct parts of Georgia which split away from Georgia after the fall of Communism in the early 1990s—the other being South Ossetia, which, like Abkhazia, is also a ConIFA member “state.”  After the brief South Ossetia War in 2008, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin shored up their de facto independence and granted them diplomatic recognition, something only a handful of other tiny states have followed the Russian example in extending.  Abkhazia and South Ossetia are in fact just the longest-standing parts of an archipelago of Russian-backed puppet states in non-Russian parts of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.  Others (discussed at length elsewhere in this blog, e.g. here) are Transnistria, in Moldova; the Armenian-dominated Nagorno-Karabakh Republic in Azerbaijan (the N.K.R. is also in ConIFA); the Donetsk and Luhansk “People’s Republics” established last year in eastern Ukraine; and, less concretely, possible future separatist entities in places like Transcarpathia (see discussions in this blog here and here), Ukraine’s Odessa oblast (see reports from this blog here and here), and ethnic-Russian parts of Kazakhstan, the Baltic States, and elsewhere.  Another emotional issue for Armenian nationalists and their Turkophobic puppetmasters in the Kremlin is another ConIFA “member,” Western Armenia, a proposed N.K.R.-type entity many Armenians would like to carve out of what is now eastern Turkey.  (Turkey is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and has been a bugbear of Russian nationalists since Ottoman days.  Turkey and Azerbaijan are both allies of the U.S.)

Transnistria, it will be no surprise, is also a target of ConIFA diplomacy, in the form of an official ConIFA visit just before June’s European cup to Tiraspol, capital of this tiny, Russian-backed sliver of a pseudostate consisting of Moldova’s eastern edge abutting Ukraine.  ConIFA would like Transnistria to host a future tournament.  It also features prominently in contingent Russian plans for a takeover of more of the southern, ethnic-Russian-dominated areas of Ukraine, which mostly extend in a belt across the northern shores of the Black Sea, extending to Odessa oblast, which borders Transnistria.

Transnistrians in Bessarabian folk costume in a flag ceremony in Tiraspol
Putin’s proxy expansionism, while it exploits Soviet iconography and terms like “people’s republic,” is in fact a right-wing type of enterprise, and to this end it is not surprising that it has gained the support of far-right parties in the west that might otherwise talk a lot about “freedom”—such as (see discussion in this blog) Jobbik, Lega Nord, Flemish separatists in Belgium, libertarian-leaning separatists in Venice, the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), and high-profile right-wing conspiracy-mongering nuts in the United States such as Lyndon LaRouche and Ron Paul.  Putinism shares with these far-right movements a suspicion of the European Union (E.U.), NATO, and multilateralism in general; xenophobia focusing on a nakedly bigoted Islamophobia; and an infatuation with muscular militant nationalist leadership that in fact has more in common with 1930s Fascism than with Soviet-style Communism.

Putin is a darling of xenophobic Padanist separatists like these Lega Nord activists in Milan
To be sure, leftist aspirant states are in ConIFA too, including the Aymará indigenous nation of Bolivia; the disinherited Chagos Islanders of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, who live in exile in England; and Cascadia in the American and Canadian Pacific Northwest.  But even some of these are causes which appeal to Putin’s anti-Western imperialism.   The Aymará nation includes Bolivia’s left-wing president, Evo Morales, who sided with Putin’s invasion and annexation of Crimea.  Bolivia was one of only ten countries which sided with Russia in voting against a March 2014 United Nations resolution that upheld Ukraine’s right to territorial integrity following the Crimea annexation; the others—all of them (as discussed at the time in this blog) mostly profoundly undemocratic societies—were Armenia, North Korea, Zimbabwe, Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Syria, Sudan, and Belarus.  Even Iran, China, and Myanmar had the decency to at least abstain.  The Chagos Islanders’ cause, too (see discussion here and here), is one which Putin is keen to highlight because it is an example of a serious human-rights abuse which can be laid at the feet of NATO.  Along with the prominence of the above-discussed obscure neo-fascist irrendentist entities like Upper Hungary, Székely Land, and Nice, most of the teams prominent in ConIFA are ones that conform to the anti-Western, anti-NATO, anti-E.U. agenda of Putin’s new imperialism in its “near abroad.”

Aymará Indian demonstrators with their national flag
One possible result of a tournament in Abkhazia next year, and a possible later one in Transnistria, would be to spread the popularity and prestige of the Russian puppet-state model among separatist groups across the political spectrum and around the world—fitting the new pattern of parties like Lega Nord, France’s National Front, and Jobbik—even the otherwise-leftist Basque nationalists in Spain—lining up behind Putin’s imperialist agenda in Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine.  Playing in Abkhazia is sure to be willfully misinterpreted as a de facto recognition by these aspirant nations.  It is worth asking who is running ConIFA—or, perhaps, who has taken it over or whom it serves.  While Putin plays hardball in Ukraine, the lurch to the right in separatist soccer may be playing into the hands of his stealth “soft power” offensive against the West.

[You can read more about Abkhazia, Transnistria, and many other separatist and new-nation movements, both famous and obscure, in my new book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas just published by Litwin Books under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements and Aspirant Nations, from Abkhazia to Zanzibar.  The book, which contains 46 maps and 554 flags (or, more accurately, 554 flag images), is available for order now on Amazon.  Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even if you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook and see this interview for more information on the book.]

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