Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Near Russia’s Arctic Rim, Karelians Bristle under Putin’s Rule

Vladimir Putin, as this blog tirelessly points out, is a hypocrite when it comes to separatism.  Though the authoritarian Russian president arms and funds separatists in places like Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, and—perhaps soon—Syria, within Russia it is (as I have reported in this blog) a crime, as of last year, even to publicly advocate secession from the Russian Federation.  I have detailed how the Russian government has cracked down mercilessly on activists arguing even for enhanced autonomy in Russian regions like Circassia (in the north Caucasus and nearby steppes) and Siberia (see articles here and here), to say nothing of demands for self-determination by the Tatar minority in Crimea, which Russia reconquered from Ukraine last year.  A Crimean Tatar activist, Rafis Kashapov, was the first person tried under the new advocacy-of-separatism ban.  But the latest flare-up of resistance to Moscow rule is not along one of these familiar fault-lines but to the Sub-Arctic extreme northwest of the country, in the Republic of Karelia.

Last week, on October 26th, Vladimir Zavarkin, a municipal deputy (equivalent to city councilman) in the Karelian town of Suoyarvi (population ca. 10,000) became the second person, after Kashapov, to be put on trial for promoting separatism.  He is is being tried in Petrozavodsk, the Karelian capital, for advocating separatism.  The charges stem from an address he gave in May.  “Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin,” he said in the speech, “I propose to you: get rid of the wool over your eyes, look at what’s being done in Karelia.  Forests are being felled down to the root ... everything is being moved to St. Petersburg, Moscow, taxes aren’t being paid.  What will be left for our children?  Nothing!  So we, probably, if the Russian government won’t hear us, will stage a referendum, I think.  If Russia doesn’t need Karelia—let’s secede.  That would be the most honest!”

Vladimir Zavarkin, who is on trial for promoting the idea of a referendum on Karelian independence
Zavarkin’s attorney, Dmitry Dinze, said that the real reason behind the arrest is Zavarkin’s criticism of the Karelian governor, Alexander Khudilainen, who, like other governors of Russia’s constituent republics and provinces, is not elected but appointed directly by Putin.  But the Kremlin is also very keen to nip internal separatism in the bud wherever it appears, be it Chechnya or Tatarstan, but especially in areas rich in natural resources like Karelia.

Karelia (upper left) is one of many “republics” within the Russian Federation, but it has no autonomy.
Also last week, Anatoly Grigoryev, chairman of the unofficial Karelian Congress, used the occasion of the post-Soviet regime’s annual Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Political Repression to point out that the Putin regime downplays the Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s repression of Karelians and ethnic Finns in Russia.  In fact, Stalinist iconography is enjoying a resurgence in Putin’s Russia, with little apparent awareness of the barbarity of his genocidal crimes against minorities.

Karelian rebels in the days of the Russian Civil War
Karelia spreads northward from near the edge of the former imperial capital at St. Petersburg and thus has always been in Russia’s backyard.  Tensions between Karelia and the Kremlin sharpened in 1917, when, in the midst of the Russian Revolution and the disastrous civil war in which nearly every region of Russia tried to split away from the new Bolshevik dictatorship, Finland—up to that point part of the Russian Empire—became the first and only nation in the Civil War to succeed in its secession bid.  While Finland was establishing its independence, a Karelian nationalist insurgency controlled Karelia and in 1918 voted to secede and to merge with Finland.  This makes sense: the Finnish language is nearly mutually intelligible with Karelian—both being members of the Finno-Ugric language family that has no connection to any other European languages and also includes Estonian, Hungarian, Saami (Lappish), and the languages of numerous small nations in Russia’s north.  There is no agreement on where to draw the line between Finnish and Karelian languages and cultures; some call them two branches of a single nation.

Karelian is one of the Finno-Ugric languages.
Of these, only Finnish, Hungarian, and Estonian have speakers numbering over 1 million.
There was also a move among the Finno-Ugric-speaking Ingrian people of the area around St. Petersburg to become an independent Ingermanland (a.k.a. Inkeri or Ingria) or to join Finland as well—and you can imagine how popular with the Bolsheviks was the idea of either losing St. Petersburg or seeing it cut off as an exclave separated from the rest of Russia by hostile territory.  Self-declared Ingrian and Karelian republics held out against the Reds until the early 1920s, with Finland too busy fighting for control of Finland proper to worry about annexing areas to the east which Russia was fighting tooth and nail to retain.

In the Second World War, Finland was an Axis country, allied with Nazi Germany, which led to the “Winter War” of 1940, in which the Soviet Union tried unsuccessfully to retake Finland, and to the political demonization of any species of Finno-Ugric nationalism as somehow pro-Nazi—even though Finns aligned themselves with Adolf Hitler mostly as a way to protect themselves from Russia.  (This is very analogous to the way in which Putin’s propaganda machine today brands any anti-Moscow feeling in Ukraine as neo-Nazism.)

Some Karelian activists today fly the flag
of the short-lived Republic of East Karelia of the 1920s
Stalin upgraded the Karelian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic in 1940 to create the Karelo-Finnish Soviet Socialist Republic, which it was hoped would grow as larger and larger chunks of Finland were annexed—which did not quite happen.  In 1956, Stalin’s successor, Nikita Khrushchev, downgraded the Karelo-Finnish S.S.R. to the Karelian A.S.S.R. again—this during a period when other nationalities victimized under Stalin were being repatriated and recuperated and seeing their statuses restored.

Marching in Finland for Karelian–Finnish solidarity
As for Karelia, the bare facts are that a referendum on independence, even if it were permitted to be held, would avail Karelians nothing.  Even under Stalin, Karelians were a minority in their own republic, at 37% of the population, outnumbered by the 57% majority of ethnic Russians.  Today, Russians are 82% of the population, and Karelians are only 7.4% (and only 5.1% in Petrozavodsk, the capital), with ethnic Finns and Vepsians (another related Finno-Ugric-speaking nationality) making up 1.4% and 0.5%, respectively.  Much of this demographic drop is due to Karelians emigrating to Finland to escape Stalinism, where some assimilated, or passed, as Finns.  At least 10,000 Finnish citizens today identify as Karelian.  Karelian is not even an official language of the Republic of Karelia.

The Karelian national flag
If Karelia were to split away, it would disconnect Murmansk Oblast (province) to the north from the rest of Russia.  Murmansk’s local population includes Russia’s portion of the Saami (Lappish) indigenous territory stretching west into Norway, Finland, and Sweden—though today Saami form only 0.2% of the oblast’s population, which is 89% ethnic Russian.  Losing Murmansk, including the Kola Peninsula on the Arctic Ocean, is an even more important possession for Russia, economically speaking, not only for the harbor at Murmansk but for the larger slice of the pie of the Arctic, with its potential energy bonanza beneath the slowly melting ice.

So Zavarkin, who can be guaranteed a predetermined verdict in a Putinist kangaroo court, is not quite grasping the problem when he says, “If Russia doesn’t need Karelia—let’s secede.”  Putin does need Karelia.  It’s the Karelian people that he couldn’t give a damn about.

The flag of Russia’s Murmansk oblast
[You can read more about Karelia, Ingermanland, and other sovereignty and independence 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, October 8, 2015

Tsimshian Protest Camp on Small Canadian Island Defies Massive Natural-Gas Project

Since late August, members of an indigenous First Nations community from the Tsimshian (also spelled Ts’msyen) Nation have been occupying—“re-occupying,” as they prefer to put it—an island off the coast of northern British Columbia where an energy multinational from Malaysia wants to build a liquid natural gas (L.N.G.) exporting terminal.  The community, Lax Kw’alaams, often referred to by its colonial name, Port Simpson, is the most populous Tsimshian village in Canada (there is also one over the border in Alaska) and is home to nine of the Tsimshian Nation’s fourteen constituent tribes.  Lax Kw’alaams members overwhelmingly voted down the developments plans in a referendum in May of this year, and the community’s mayor, Garry Reecesaid late last month that the Lax Kw’alaams First Nation would file suit for aboriginal title to the island, Lelu Island, and to nearby Flora Bank.

Tsimshian territory makes up about the northern third of B.C.’s coast.  Since, with very few exceptions, almost no land in this vast province has been ceded by Indian treaty, technically all of Tsimshian territory, and nearly all of B.C., is in one sense not part of B.C. or Canada but is unceded aboriginal territory.  An “aboriginal title” claim by Lax Kw’alaams would take these territories out of their current legal limbo (which the federal and provincial governments treat as de facto Crown sovereignty) and put them squarely before the courts, where a number of recent decisions (the Gitxsan in 1997, the Tsihlq’otin in 2014) have greatly strengthened the aboriginal hand.

Artist’s rendering of the L.N.G.-terminal project proposed for Lelu Island
The struggle over L.N.G. pipelines through the territories of B.C. nations has become a flashpoint in the indigenous North American land struggle, including the recent aboriginal push against environmentally destructive energy projects which operates under the banner “Idle No More.”  (See articles from this blog about the Gitxsan land struggle here, here, and here and about that of B.C.’s Wet’suwet’en here.)

The Lelu project planners, Petronas (a Malaysian corporation known worldwide for its record-breaking Petronas Towers skyscraper complex), and its Canadian arm, Pacific NorthWest L.N.G., have said that construction of the terminal would cost nearly $1.5 billion.  This includes constructing a bridge and a harbor in addition to the processing plant.  But Lax Kw’alaams, with studies in hand, points out this will harm salmon habitat in the nearby Skeena River estuary, a serious issue for a community very dependent on the traditional seasonal round of resource-gathering, primarily salmon.  Among the other six Tsimshian communities in Canada, Metlakatla (Maxłakxaała) and Kitselas (Gits’ilaasü) bands signed off on the project (Metlakatla is home to members of several of Lax Kw’alaams’s nine tribes, but the tribes’ paramount chiefs are of Lax Kw’alaams), but Kitsumkalum (Gitsmgeelm), Kitkatla (Gitkxaała), Klemtu (the Gidestsu people at Kłmduu), and Hartley Bay (Gitga’ata), as of late September, had yet to do so.  B.C.’s premier, Christie Clark, is a supporter of the Petronas plan.

Sm’oogit Yahan, a.k.a. Donald Wesley, Jr., who has been speaking for the protestors, said in September that his group will be co-founding a brand-new organization called the Northern First Nation Alliance, along with some of the more uncompromisingly sovereigntist nations in the province, including the Gitxsan, the Wet’suwet’en, and the Council of Haida Nations.  (The Nisga’a, just to the north, are not part of the club: their chiefs surrendered their territory to the Crown in the 1990s for a cash settlement and for self-government rights that they already possessed.)  As Yahan explained, “Our Traditional ways of life and the resources which have sustained our people are not to be pawns in the Christie Clark government’s L.N.G. dreams.  Development within our Traditional territories must have our free, prior and informed consent.  The people of Lax Kw’alaams spoke very clearly in their rejection of the 1.25-billion-dollar offer from Petronas, and this camp builds upon that rejection.  This issue is not just a First Nations issue but one that will affect all British Columbians, especially those who rely upon healthy and abundant fish stocks.”

Meanwhile, Mayor Reece—whose village government office is separate from the Lelu protest group but for a while was quoted in the media as implicitly supporting it—said last month, “We want to protect crucial salmon habitat, protect our food security, and ensure that governments and industry are obligated to seek our consent.  If we obtain title, we will own Lelu Island and Flora Bank.”  He added, “Our traditional law, backed by our scientific reports, has made it clear that Flora Bank cannot be touched by [Pacific NorthWest] or any other company that proposes development.”

Gitxsan chiefs visited Lelu Island to show solidarity.
But things got complicated in late September, when Petronas workers conducting unauthorized surveying on Lelu were escorted away by members of the Lax U’u’la Warriors—an intertribal, interethnic support group linked to the Lelu protest camp.  (Lax U’u’la, also spelled Lax Üüla, or “place of the harbor seals”) is the Sm’algyax (Tsimshian language) name for the island.)

The flag of Lax Kw’alaams, flying on Lelu Island
In response, in early October, a statement issued on behalf of “the Hereditary Chiefs of the Nine Tribes of Lax Kw’alaams” granted Petronas surveyers “conditional access to Lelu Island and the Flora Banks to complete their studies, the results of which will allow us to determine our final stance.”  The statement said that Yahan and the island’s occupiers did not have “authority to speak or act, no authority to unilaterally decide to use and occupy any lands and no authority to use the identity of the Nine Tribes.  All of this contravenes Ts’msyen Law.  ...  We are actively addressing the shame certain individuals, bound by our laws, have brought by these actions.”  Regarding the expulsion of the Petronas workers, the hereditary chiefs’ statement added, “To commit violence, demean and disgrace the station of Ts’msyen Chieftainship through words and action is abhorrent to the true Chiefs of the Ts’msyen Nation and such disrespect threatens the Nine Tribes of Lax Kw’alaams,” whose “duties and responsibilities” and “names handed down since time immemorial, are thus activated, and we remind all our people that they have the right to live and work in safety under the protection of the Laws of the Ts’msyen.”

Lax Kw’alaams
In the traditional social and political structure of the Tsimshian, Gitxsan, Nisga’a, Wet’suwet’en, Haisla, Haida, Tlingit, and other nations in the area, it is the hundreds of matrilineal extended families (houses) which hold sovereignty over their separate territories.  In Lax Kw’alaams, however, houses pool some of their authority in the paramount hereditary chieftainships of the community’s nine tribes.  (For more detail on Tsimshian social structure, see my book Becoming Tsimshian: The Social Life of Names.)

Mayor Garry Reece (left), with timber executive Wayne Drury
Yahan, identified as chief of the Gitwilgyoots (one of the Nine Tribes), reacted swiftly to the joint statement from the hereditary chiefs by stating that only he had the authority to grant access to the island.  “I stand on that island because it is on our traditional territory.  I am the sole chief in standing in this tribe that has a say in what goes on.  ...  We are all individual tribes and we don’t go over other tribes’ territory.”  Mayor Reece, who uses the chiefs’ name Txagaaxs and is identified as chief of the Ginaxangiik, appeared to agree with Yahan that no one had “authority to represent or sign anything on the tribe’s behalf.”  He added that no person or group currently speaks on behalf of all nine tribes.

The Tsimshian, at least, certainly are idle no more.  Which approach to land stewardship will prevail in the Lax Kw’alaams community, and whether protectors of the land will win this battle in the war over energy projects and the environment, remains to be seen.

[You can read more about the Tsimshian, Gitxsan, Nisga’a, etc., as well as sovereignty and independence 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.]

Full disclosure: I have worked with and for various Tsimshian organizations, including the Allied Tsimshian Tribes Association, the Tsimshian Tribal Council, the Kitsumkalum Band Office, and, in particular and most extensively, the Kitsumkalum First Nation Treaty Office, as well as many individuals and families.  My opinions and perspectives are my own, not necessarily shared by anyone else, and I do not speak on behalf of any Tsimshian individual or organization.

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.]

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