Monday, February 27, 2012

Somalia the “Failed State”—So What Are Somaliland and Puntland, Chopped Liver?

On February 23rd, as I reported here a few days ago, the United Kingdom’s prime minister, David Cameron, hosted the 20th in a long series of international conferences on what to do about Somalia, the country that plunged into civil war—and stayed there—after its dictator was deposed in 1991.  The United Nations’ secretary-general Ban Ki-moon and the U.S. secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton were also in attendance, as was a global press corps.  The usual line in the press and in diplomatic circles is that the Republic of Somalia is a “failed state” and that this is why this strategic country on the Horn of Africa, poised between central Africa and the Arabian peninsula, is a haven for terrorists and pirates and a threat to global security.  So why did no one at the London Somalia Conference sing the praises of the Somaliland and the Puntland, two de facto sovereign republics in “Somalia’s” north which hold elections, carry out economic development, police their territories, and do more to keep piracy and terrorism in check than the ineffective, barely existent Transitional Federal Government in Mogadishu?  In fact, why does every nation on earth recognize the failed T.F.G. instead of the success stories in Somaliland and Puntland (which sent delegations to a Somalia conference for the first time this year, as I noted here recently)?  The answers have to do with colonialism, oil, the war on terror, religion, and the usual impediments to any separatist struggle: diplomatic inertia and petty symbolic politics.  For the details, read on.

Somalia’s president, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed,
and prime minister, Abidweli Mohamed Ali, in London

In the 1880s and ’90s both the United Kingdom and the Kingdom of Italy purchased land from different sultans along what is now the coast of Somalia, establishing a British Somaliland in the northern third of the country, on the Gulf of Aden, and a larger Italian Somaliland covering the rest of what is now the Republic of Somalia, including the east coast.  Interior areas were ruled by an independent entity called the Dervish State, which successfully kept the British at bay and crowded to the coast by allying themselves with the German and Ottoman empires during the First World War.  After those empires were dismantled at war’s end, the British quickly subdued the Dervish State with aerial attacks.  When the Fascist leader Benito Mussolini rose to power in Italy in the 1930s, he used Italian Somaliland as a base to expand his African territories, conquering Ethiopia and Eritrea from Emperor Haile Selassie.  This left French Somaliland (modern Djibouti) and British Somaliland surrounded, but still well positioned with strategic ports.  After the Italians lost the Second World War, Ethiopia’s independence was restored (with Eritrea as its possession) and Italian Somaliland became a United Nations trust territory.  With the benefit of an economically ascendant post-Fascist Italy investing in its administration and infrastructure, Somalia was fairly well positioned for the independence the U.N. eased it into in 1960.  It was combined with British Somaliland to become the sovereign Republic of Somalia.  For a while, Somalia was doing about as well as any other new African state, or a bit better.

Then, in 1969 the elected president was killed in a coup d’état led by Mohamed Siad Barre, who replaced its parliament and constitution with a Communist dictatorship as the Somali Democratic Republic.  When Selassie was deposed in a Marxist coup in 1974, the Soviet Union found Ethiopia’s new dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam a more ideological and congenial client and shifted its resources and support from Somalia to Ethiopia.  This led to Somalia’s unsuccessful war against Ethiopia in 1977 to try to annex the Ogaden, an ethnically Somali landlocked desert region which lies mostly on the Ethiopian side of the border.  The 1980s laid the Horn of Africa low with a devastating depression and famine, and the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 bled a lot of development money from the region.

Mohamed Siad Barre, hero of the people

In 1991, Barre was deposed by a largely non-ideological coalition of clan groups, backed by the post-Communist multi-ethnic Ethiopian government and by Libya’s dictator, Col. Moammar al-Qaddafi, seeking to extend his influence southeastward.  Soon after the coup, the clan leaders of what used to be British Somaliland declared independence as the Republic of Somaliland.  They have functioned as an independent state ever since, though without any international recognition whatsoever.  The rest of Somalia never had a functioning central government again.  Barre loyalists, supporters of the new government, and various clan and ethnic warlords wreaked havoc throughout the country, a situation which, combined with a new famine, led the United Nations to dispatch a peacekeeping operation called United Nations Operation in Somalia, or Unosom, simply to secure the delivery of international food aid.  The United States, under President George H. W. Bush (Sr.), also sent in a military contingent to try to stabilize the situation, meeting with a disastrous situation for the U.S. troops, which Bush’s successor, Bill Clinton, withdrew in 1993.

1992: the U.S. Marines, welcomed as liberators—or not 

In 2004, the Transitional Federal Government (T.F.G.) was formed in exile in Nairobi and established a foothold in Mogadishu, the capital.  Among its provisions was the granting of self-governing, but still, unionist states like the Puntland State of Somalia, which had been functioning as a large de facto independent state at the very tip of the Horn of Africa since 1998.  (For years, I assumed that the name Puntland derived from an Italian term for “Horn of Africa”—you know, punta, point, something like that.  Turns out it is named after the legendary Land of Pwenet, or Punt, referred to in ancient Egyptian texts but whose exact location is a mystery.)  Since 2004, the T.F.G. has never managed to extend its administration outside Mogadishu, but self-governing areas such as Puntland are nominally unionist: they don’t want independence, but they also don’t want to be all tangled up administratively with an embattled and dysfunctional “central” government.

The flags of the Republic of Somalia (left) and the Puntland State of Somalia

If anything, things in Somalia have become even more chaotic in the past five years or so.  Pirates who operate out of lawless bases on the mainland have been making the busy trade waters off the Somali coast a dangerous zone for ships of any flag.  The southern third of the country has become infested with a militant Islamist organization called al-Shabaab, which imposed shari’a law on the area it controls and has recently allied with al-Qaeda (which was driven out of its safe havens in Sudan first by Clinton’s bombing campaign and then by the hiving off of South Sudan under U.S. auspices in July 2011).  Even Somaliland’s control over its territory has now been compromised, with a pro-unionist (but not T.F.G.-allied) state called Awdal State or Awdalland consolidating its bulwark in far western Somaliland, along the Djibouti border, and a new clan coalition called the Sool, Sanaag, and Cyn State of Somalia (S.C.C.) (also called Khaatumo State) inserting itself along the Somaliland–Puntland border and taking over territory from each (including the former Maakhir State that Puntland had absorbed in 2009).

Approximate area controled by the Sool, Sanaag, and Cyn State of Somalia.

Rebels allied with separatists in Ethiopia still control parts of the Ogaden region in the interior.  Anti-Islamists in the far south, on the border with Kenya, in 2011 tried to establish a unionist state called, variously, Jubaland, Azania, and Greenland.  (This shows an unfortunate lack of research on the part of this fledgling state.  Juba is the capital of nearby South Sudan and was almost a name chosen for that country, as was Azania—a sort of all-purpose African country name which was once used for an envisioned post-apartheid South Africa—while Greenland ... um ... doesn’t somebody even Google these things?)

Map of Somalia today—or at least a few months ago.
The emergent Sool, Sanaag, and Cyn State is not shown here.

Jubaland/Azania/Greenland has had a hard time getting recognized as a self-governing state of Somalia in the way that Puntland and central Somalian clan fiefdoms like Ximan iyo Xeeb, Galmudug, and Hiiraan had been (see map).  But in late 2011 the Kenyan and Ethiopian militaries launched an invasion of southern Somalia in an attempt to uproot al-Shabaab.  For Kenya this felt especially necessary.  With the deadly al-Qaeda bombing of their U.S. embassy in 1998 still fresh in mind and escalating al-Shabaab incidents in their tourist-dependent north coast, Kenya has been suffering more from Islamist terrorist spillover than any other sub-Saharan African country.  The U.S. gave—and continues to give—its blessing and some covert assistance to the Kenyan operation, seeing it, pretty reasonably, as a front in the War on Terror and as part of a larger project—that included South Sudan’s independence and growing cooperation with Ethiopia—of encircling the Islamist areas in the Horn.  The Kenyan and Ethiopian armies’ progress has been slow—al-Shabaab, inconveniently, is popular among many locals—but they have also not lost much ground.

Kenyan tanks on their way to Somalia last year

Now, it seems a legitimate, even objectively laudable and noble, interest of foreign powers like the U.N., the U.S., the U.K., and France to clean Somalia up so it at least does not provide lawless zones that are a safe haven for pirates and al-Qaeda terrorists.  (See my recent blog post about how interethnic relations in Ethiopia fit into the U.S.’s larger Horn of Africa strategy.)  The question, then, is why have they not decided that the best way to do this is by recognizing Somaliland as sovereign, stabilizing unionist regimes in Puntland, S.S.C., Galmudug, Jubaland, etc.—maybe even Awdal—and forming a national government that way rather than by trying to expand the deeply mistrusted and irrelevant T.F.G.’s influence beyond the few blocks of Mogadishu it controls?  (Some of these suggestions are made in a trenchant Feb. 21st New York Times opinion piece by Alex de Waal, executive director of the World Peace Foundation.)

Map showing how one Canadian firm plans to carve up the region

The first and easiest answer is inertia.  The international community is always slow to recognize new regimes operating out of new capitals, and, as I have discussed before in this blog, horribly allergic to redrawing Africa’s boundaries—South Sudan being a significant new exception.  The Western powers have of course noticed the successes of Somaliland and Puntland, but why reward them with recognition?  Already, Somaliland is trying to position itself as an economic power, a plan that will benefit the U.K. more than anyone else.  The newly formed Somaliland Development Corporation has offices in London and was set up to smooth way for foreign corporations worried about investing in a war-torn region.  (Most foreign investors pulled out in the 1980s.)  Somaliland’s minister for energy and mining, Hussein Abdi Dualeh, has claimed his country has “hydrocarbon potential with a geology similar to basins containing 9 billion barrels across the Gulf of Aden,” according to Reuters, and sees Somaliland as a future major producer of oil and natural gas, as well as mining opportunities.  And Puntland—which is already cooperating with the U.S. and other nations in capturing pirates and policing the offshore waters better than any other organization can—has similar economic ambitions, and has no plans to send any profits to Mogadishu, not incidentally.  Puntland’s minister for international cooperation, Abdulkadir Abdi Hashi, said at the London conference, “We have spoken to a number of U.K. officials, some have offered to help us with the future management of oil revenues.  They will help us build our capacity to maximize future earnings from the oil industry.”  He mentioned BP in particular.  If all that is working, more or less, why mess with it?

Traditionally, I think, the West has feared that formalizing Somaliland’s status might embolden other, less well formed statelets elsewhere in Somalia to seek the same recognition—and some of them may be Islamist regimes that it would be harder to justify saying no to.  And attempting to fold Puntland into a more functional federation of self-governing states might bring those different pseudo-states to a state of war if they suddenly have to hammer out a shared government, with their different ethnic, clan, and sectarian values.  The West has simply long accepted the fact that Somaliland and Puntland are de facto stable and sovereign but need not be de jure independent, while the rest of Somalia is a basket case where the most one can do is keep al-Qaeda from gaining a foothold.  Compared to Somaliland and Puntland, the rest of Somalia has no significant resources anyway—just problems.

But now things have started to change.  The establishment of Awdalland has destabilized Somaliland, and now the president of Djibouti, Ismail Omar Gelle, a member of the Issa ethnic group, is retaliating in a water dispute with Somaliland by setting up a rival pseudo-state run by his clan coalition, called the Saylac and Lughaye State of Somalia, in the Awdal vicinity.   Military conflicts are erupting in Somaliland’s Buhoodle region, where Ogaden National Liberation Front fighters from Ethiopia are trying to establish a safe haven on the Somaliland side of the border.  The Puntland-based Golis Ranges Islamists militia has now allied itself with al-Shabaab—and, thus, with al-Qaeda—with the explicit goal of disrupting Puntland’s ascendant economy.  Instability is also growing in the areas controlled by the S.S.C. (some of it described recently in this blog).  If these crises grow, then the lucrative oil deals in Somaliland and Puntland, and their ability to keep their waters relatively pirate-free will be under threat.  The U.S., U.N., and U.K. have not yet begun to confront this reality.  But when the oil and other development firms start complaining that the area has become harder to operate in, believe me: the West will suddenly see stabilizing the north as a priority.  That will mean admitting the tack so far has been wrong.  I personally think they can manage that.

Informal militias operating in Somalia’s Buhoodle region

With al-Shabaab on the defensive in the south and stable modern democratic institutions entrenched in the north, it is time to try to expand stability inward towards Mogadishu and not—as has not worked for twenty years now—hallucinating that Mogadishu has a federal government and trying to expand it outward a few inches at a time.  Things are changing quickly in the Horn of Africa.  At this London conference, Prime Minister Cameron dodged all questions about Somaliland recognition.  The loyal B.B.C. threw the U.K. delegation questions about why al-Shabaab (!) was not included in the conference—a way of making talking to anyone other than the T.F.G. seem suddenly ridiculous.  Somaliland’s president, Ahmed Mahamoud Silanyo, had specifically announced that he wanted to make progress on recognition at his nation’s first visit to the London conference.  He returned home empty-handed this time.  But there is lots of money to be made in the region.  He may get his wish yet.  At the next Somalia conference, whenever that will be.

Edna Adan Ismail, Somaliland’s foreign minister, with her nation’s flag

[For those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with my forthcoming book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas to be published by Auslander and Fox under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements, Independence Struggles, Breakaway Republics, Rebel Provinces, Pseudostates, Puppet States, Tribal Fiefdoms, Micronations, and Do-It-Yourself Countries, from Chiapas to Chechnya and Tibet to Texas.  The book, which contains dozens of maps and over 500 flags, is now in the layout phase and should be on shelves, and available on Amazon, by early fall 2014.  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.]

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Study Lists U.S. Hot Spots for Ethnonationalist Terrorism—New York, L.A., and ... Cairo, Illinois??

A recent study on “terrorist hot spots” in the United States lists seven counties where “ethno-nationalist/separatist” terrorism has been concentrated.  Hot Spots of Terrorism and Other Crimes in the United States, 1970 to 2008a report released Jan. 31st by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) at the University of Maryland, and provided to the Department of Homeland Security, counts 267 such incidents in the 1970s, focused on the nation’s three largest cities, with 170 in ManhattanQueens, and Bronx counties (i.e. New York City); 44 in Los Angeles County; and 36 in Cook County, Illinois (which includes Chicago).  But there were also nine in Alexander County, Illinois (county seat: Cairo—that’s pronounced kay-ro), a rural patch of land in the state’s “Little Egypt” region near the Missouri and Kentucky borders, and eight in Alameda County, in the San Francisco Bay area (see table below).

Though the study does not list the exact incidents, the Alameda incidents probably relate to, or at least include, the 1974 kidnapping in Berkeley of the newspaper heiress Patty Hearst by the fringe black-revolutionary Symbionese Liberation Army.

Patty Hearst in 1974, in front of the
Symbionese Liberation Army banner

In the 1980s, there were 38 incidents in Manhattan and sixteen in L.A. County.  In the ’90s there were two in Manhattan—that’s all—and none at all in the U.S. in the 2000s.

I am as yet unable to figure out what the heck was going on in and around Cairo, Illinois, in the ’70s that got counted as ethnonationalist or separatist terrorism.  There is not much to distinguish the area.  It is in an area of southern Illinois that is culturally rather Southern and is referred to locally as Little Egypt, partly because of a profusion of Egyptian place names in that part of the Mississippi River (extending as far south as, most famously, Memphis, Tennessee)—a toponymic pattern that is the product of nineteenth-century pioneers’ notion of classical erudition.

In Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), Huck and Jim originally set out for Cairo on their raft, since Illinois was a free state, but they overshoot and end up in Arkansas, a slave state, by mistake—grimly ironic considering the town’s later reputation as a lynching capital, hardly a “safe haven” for African-Americans.  (It is not anything lynching-related that seems to be referred to in the terrorism study.  Right-wing (and left-wing) and religiously motivated and single-issue incidents are tabulated separately, and if racially motivated killings were counted as ethnonationalist terrorism in the study then the statistics would look a lot different.)

The screenwriter and humorist H. Allen Smith (author of Rhubarb), in 1947 published Lo, the Former Egyptian!, a memoir of his childhood in  McLeansburg, Illinois, in Little Egypt, and his main point seemed to be that hilariously little ever happened there.

Perhaps there was a Little Egyptian separatist movement.  If so, someone please tell me more about it.

Caucasus Presidents Attacked, Darfur Erupts, Trailer Park Mata Hari, Newt on the Moon: The Week in Separatist News, Feb. 19-25, 2012


Somaliland Brings Independence Message to London Conference.  The president of the Republic of SomalilandH. E. Ahmed Mahmoud Silanyomade his case in the United Kingdom on Feb. 23rd for international recognition of his country’s independence from the Republic of Somalia.  His attendance at the 23rd international conference on Somalia at Lancaster House near Buckingham Palace in London marks the first time delegates from Somaliland and the Horn of Africa’s other de facto independent unrecognized state, Puntland (which, unlike Somaliland, does not seek outright independence), have attended the annual conference, which tends to focus on how to bolster the failed transitional government in Mogadishu.  The U.K.’s prime minister, David Cameron, said at the opening of the talks that the focus would be strengthening the barely-functioning Transitional Federal Government in Mogadishu and in combatting piracy and terrorism, but he declined an opportunity to speak against Somaliland’s sovereignty.  Meanwhile, Godfrey Bloom, a Member of European Parliament for Yorkshire on the anti-Brussels, right-wing U.K. Independence Party ticket, called on Cameron to recognize Somaliland.  No United Nations member states formally recognize Somaliland or Puntland.  (See a spot-on New York Times opinion piece on the subject by Alex de Waal of the World Peace Foundation.)

David Cameron at the Somalia conference in London

Mali Elections a Go Despite Uprising.  The president of Mali, Amadou Toumani Toure, has said that the national elections planned for April 29th will go ahead, despite the Tuareg separatist uprising in the country’s northern Azawad region.  “We are already used to holding elections during war,” he said.  The United Nations says at least 60,000 people have been displaced in the recent fighting.  (See my recent blog post on the new Malian civil war.)

South Sudan Asks Kenya to Mediate Border Dispute.  The government of the seven-month old Republic of South Sudan has asked the leadership of Kenya to mediate a dispute with the Republic of Sudan—from which South Sudan seceded in July 2011—over the disputed district of Abyei and provinces of Blue Nile and South Kordofan, which together stretch out along more than half of their shared border.  When South Sudan voted to secede in early 2011, separate referenda were to be held later in the disputed areas, but fighting there between forces loyal to the two governments has made that impossible.  Many fear the Sudans are on the brink of all-out war.  (Read here and here recent reports by the New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof from the Nuba Mountains in South Kordofan.)

Rebels Attack in Darfur.  In the Darfur region in the western part of (north) Sudan, both rebels and the government are reporting on a new clash, where as many as twelve soldiers were killed and government heavy weapons were captured.  The attack, on the town of Alawni, was claimed by the Darfur-based Sudan Liberation Army.  In 2003-04, a Darfur uprising was brutally put down by the Sudanese government, killing as many as 300,000, resulting in the convicion of the Sudanese president, Omar al-Bashir, for crimes against humanity.

Trial of Caprivi Strip Separatists in Namibia Nears End.  In Grootfontein, Namibia, the prosecution rested today in a trial of 112 separatists that has been going on since 2003.  The accusations include 275 charges of murder, sedition, and treason.  In 1999, members of the Caprivi Liberation Army attacked civilian targets in Katima Mulilo, in the Caprivi Strip, killing eleven.  Their ringleader, Mishake Muyongo, is in exile in Denmark.  The Caprivi Strip, also called Itenge, is a shard of the Republic of Namibia which juts east between Botswana and Zambia and is home to the Lozi ethnic group that also inhabits the neighboring Zambian secessionist region of Barotseland. Germany bought the land from the United Kingdom in 1890 to form a supply route between the German colonies of Südwest-Afrika (now Namibia) and Tanganyika (now part of Tanzania).  South Africa assumed control of the strip after Germany’s defeat in the First World War and used it to run guns to white Rhodesian militants resisting Zimbabwe’s independence in the 1970s.  As a reward, South Africa, which administered Namibia, made it a Lozi “homeland” (autonomous tribal reservation), but when Namibia became independent in 1990, they revoked the autonomous status of the “traitor” region.  Meanwhile, four ethnic groups in Namibia—the Ovahimba, Ovatwa, Ovatjimba, and Ovazemba—have banded together to protest the building of a dam in the Kunene region.

The Caprivi Strip


Latvian Voters Reject Russian Language.  Latvians—and minority citizens in Latviavoted in a national referendum Feb. 18th to reject the idea of making Russian a second official language alongside Latvian.  The votes were approximately 75% against the proposal and 25% for it.  Latvia has just over 2 million people, and a third of them—about 600,000—is ethnically Russian.  This makes Russians in Latvia one of the largest linguistic minorities in the world, proportionally speaking, and the highest percentage of Russians in any Soviet successor state outside the Russian Federation itself.  Still, 750,000 votes were needed to pass the proposal, so no one expected anything other than a resounding “no” at the polls.  A spokesman for the Russian foreign ministry in Moscow said that the results showed that a quarter of Latvia’s population “do not agree with the course of building a mono-ethnic society.”   (I discussed the referendum in detail in a blog article last week.)

A defaced sign in Latvia

Serbs in Prague March against Kosovo.  In Prague, capital of the Czech Republic, the organization Friends of Serbs in Kosovo rallied and marched to protest the 1999 secession, under United States and North Atlantic Treaty Organization protection, of Kosovo from what is now the Republic of Serbia.  A Feb. 14-15 referendum in which Serbs in Kosovo’s border area rejected Kosovar authority over them (discussed by me in a recent blog post) revived the divisive issue in Serbian communities.  Jaroslav Foldyna, a Social Democratic Czech politician of Serbian descent, likened Kosovo’s secession to Nazi Germany’s annexation of Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland in 1938.  Both leading candidates to become the next Czech prime minister support Kosovo’s independence, but it is opposed by both Social Democrats and the current president, Václav Klaus.  Eighty-eight nations recognize Kosovo, but China and Russia stand in the way of its admission to the United Nations.  Meanwhile, Serbian and Kosovar representatives began meeting on Feb. 21st under European Union auspices to try to settle differences—a precondition for Serbia’s application for E.U. membership.  So far they have agreed only on how to refer to Kosovo on nameplates placed before delegates at such meetings, which is being hailed as a great leap forward in reconciliation.

Spain Arrests Two Basques.  Spanish authorities on Feb. 21st arrested two militants from the banned Basque separatist organization E.T.A., using information passed along by judicial authorities in France.  E.T.A. laid down its arms in October 2011 after a decades-long struggle to establish an independent homeland in the Basque Country of northern Spain and southeastern France.

The flag of the Basque Country

Murdoch Backs Independent Scotland.  The corrupt and embattled media tycoon Rupert Murdoch announced on Twitter on Feb. 21st that he supports Scottish Independence. “Let Scotland go and compete. Everyone would win,” he tweeted, while in London to promote the launch of his tabloid Sun on Sunday. He had earlier called Scotland’s separatist First Minister, Alex Salmond, the most brilliant politician in the United Kingdom.  (See my recent blog article on Scottish independence.)

More Dead in North Caucasus Militia Battles.  Russian forces trying to wipe out militant gangs in a days-long quasi-military operation in the separatist, predominantly-Muslim northern Caucasus mountains are reporting more deaths, including those of seventeen policemen.  The skirmishes are occurring along the mountainous border dividing the Republic of Chechnya—the formerly autonomous region now being ruled directly from Moscow after brutal suppression of an independence movement—from the Republic of Dagestan, a multi-ethnic, warlord-ruled no-man’s-land where the government of the Russian Federation is barely able to operate.


Abkhaz President Escapes Assassination Attempt.  The president of Abkhazia, Alexandr Ankvab, survived a sixth assassination attempt on Feb. 22nd when his motorcade hit a land mine and then was attacked with a grenade-launcher and a machine gun.  One or two of his bodyguards were killed (reports differ) and another injured in the ambush, in the town of Gudauta, on the Black Sea.  Ankvab’s spokesman said that police were still searching for the assassins—the republic has been sealed off—but rejected the idea that the Republic of Georgia, which claims the de facto independent republic as part of its territory, was responsible.  Meanwhile, Nugzar Tsiklauri, a legislator for Georgia’s ruling party, suspects Russia of being behind the attacks, pointing out that Ankvab bristles at Russia’s implicit policy of eventually absorbing Abkhazia into the Russian Federation.  Ankvab himself the next day blamed “mafia, criminal groups” and “political circles close” to these groups, adding, “There are forces, which want Abkhazia to have controllable President and weak-willed, dependent supreme leadership.”

Pres. Alexandr Ankvab, in front of his nation’s flag

South Ossetia Sealed Off; Hospitalized President Boycotting Election.  The Internet has been extinguished throughout South Ossetia as public anger crests over the police beating earlier this month of the pseudo-state’s de facto but disputed president, Alla Dzhioyeva.  Soldiers with AK-47s are turning away anyone other than family trying to visit the 62-year-old Dzhioyeva’s intensive-care hospital room in the capital, Tskhinvali, and relatives are guarding her hospital bed in shifts, fearing an abduction.  Dzhioyeva also says she is boycotting next month’s presidential elections as a sham.  Meanwhile, mysterious elements to the Dzhioyeva story are confounding observers: journalists began being turned away from the border before the alleged beating, and on the day of the incident Russia’s Ministry for Emergency Situations announced that snowslides had forced the closure of the tunnel that is the one link between South Ossetia and the outside world.  Late last year, Dzhioyeva won a presidential election (see my blog article on those elections), but the results were annulled by a judge.  However, she continued to serve in her post until the beating.  Forces loyal to Russia, or the military of Russia itself, are obvious suspects in all this intrigue; Dzhioyeva is not pro-Moscow and was never expected to win.  The official line from Moscow is that she was hospitalized for hypertension, but she has reiterated her version of events to several journalists over the phone.  As she described it recently, “The militants tore my body apart, threw me on the floor.  I felt their guns sticking into my body the moment before I lost consciousness.  They acted as if they were my [executioners].”  The Daily Beast, in a report on the situation, quotes an historian, Fatima Margiyeva, as saying, “By stealing the very last right our people had, the right to vote, by isolating us here like cucumbers in a bottle, Moscow is pushing South Ossetia to the verge of a civil war.”

Caucasus Diplomat Accuses West of “Blackmail” over Recognition.  A member of Abkhazia’s diplomatic corps has told the media that “the West” routinely puts pressure on countries to discourage them from granting diplomatic recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.  In particular, the ambassador, Juris Gulbis, said that countries like NauruTuvalu, and Vanuatu pay a price in economic sanctions and denial of development projects for being among the few nations recognizing the two South Caucasus republics, which were fully separated from the Republic of Georgia by Russia’s military in a brief 2008 war.  Gulbis called this Western tactic “blackmail.”  Pravda, also is reporting on the financial payoffs from Moscow that prompted the Republic of Kiribati to recognize Abkhazia.  Kiribati is a mini-state composed of 32 tiny atolls spread out over more than a million square miles of the Pacific in Micronesia.

Abkhazia Home to Record-Breaking Cave Insect.  Also in Abkhazia, Russian scientists are reporting their discovery, in a cave considered the world’s deepest (more than 7,000 feet / 2,000 meters deep), a species of eyeless springtail insect which is believed to be the deepest-dwelling land animal known to science.  The creature, Plutomurus ortobalaganensis, found in the Krubera–Voronja Cave, feeds on decomposing organic matter.  The tiny mountain republic also holds putative world records for human longevity.

Abkhazia’s newest celebrity, Plutomurus ortobalaganensis

English M.E.P. Fumes over Northern Cyprus’s Anti-Gay Laws.  A Member of European Parliament for the United Kingdom has pressed the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus to repeal its laws against homosexual acts.  The M.E.P., Marina Yannakoudakis, cited a recent case of two men, one a citizen of Nigeria, arrested in the Turkish-ruled half of Cyprus’s divided capital city, Nicosia, for sexual acts “against the order of nature.”  Yannakoudakis, an Englishwoman married to a Greek-born U.K. citizen, is a member of the European Union legislature’s diplomatic “contact group” with Northern Cyprus.  She has received personal assurances from the Northern Cypriot president, Derviş Eroğlu, that the ban would be repealed, but it has not yet happened.  The Republic of Cyprus was admitted to the E.U. in 2004, but the northern third-or-so of the island has been administered since a 1974 war by the de facto independent Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a client state of the Republic of Turkey.  Yannakoudakis has referred to Northern Cyprus as the last place in Europe where it is illegal to be gay—though of course the island is geographically part of Asia, being just offshore of Turkey, the land-mass for which the name Asia was in fact first used (but don’t get me started on that).

Hearings Open in North Cypriot Soldier’s Torture Death.  On Feb. 17th a military court in the unrecognized Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus convened a third inquiry into the death of a soldier, Uğur Kantar, who was apparently tortured to death amidst disciplinary action taken by the military.  The judge turned down a request from the Kantar family’s lawyer to shift the hearings to a civilian court.  The only officer among the defendants, Sgt. Ayhan Şentürk, was never arrested but appeared in court on opening day.

15,000 Kurds March in Strasbourg for Öcalan’s Rights.   A crowd of Kurds and their supporters estimated at 15,000 demonstrated in Strasbourg, France, home to the European Parliament, to protest the ongoing imprisonment in Turkey of the Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan, founder of the militant separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).  Fearing that Öcalan was being poisoned, the demonstrators demanded that Öcalan be given a medical examination, in conformity with international norms.  Eighteen Kurds have been on hunger strike for 32 days in Strasbourg in support of the cause.  Öcalan founded the PKK, which in 1984 launched a war to establish an independent Kurdistan in what is now southeastern Turkey.  In 1999 he was captured in Kenya, where he was being harbored by the Greek consul.  He was initially sentenced to death, but in 2002 Turkey abolished the death penalty as part of its bid to reform their abysmal third-world-calibre justice system and become a candidate for membership in the European Union.  In 2005, the European Court of Justice found that the defendant’s rights had not been observed and urged that Öcalan be retried—an idea Turkey rejects.  Öcalan now resides in the notorious prison on the island of İmralı in the Sea of Marmara, the gulf that separates the European from the Asian part of Turkey. (The prison was once home to the American writer Billy Hayes, whose brutal treatment in Turkey’s prison system was described in his book—later a film—Midnight Express.)  (I listed Kurdistan in a recent blog post as one of “Ten Separatist Movements to Watch in 2012.”)

Zhirinovsky Sees Looming World War Focused on Caucasus.  The neo-fascist hypernationalist firebrand and head of Russia’s misnamed Liberal Democratic Party, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, predicts that the escalating Western rhetoric against Iran over its nuclear program presages a coming world war, one in which the micro-geopolitics of the southern Caucasus will figure.  “The third world war over Iran may start this summer,” Zhirinovsky said.  “After Syria is rolled over, Iran will be attacked.  Azerbaijan will use [the opportunity] to seize Nagorno–Karabakh.  Armenia will oppose, Turkey will support Azerbaijan.  It is how Russia may be involved in war this summer.”  Russia has tended to side with Armenia, Syria, and Iran in the post-Communist period.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky

Shots Fired across Nagorno-Karabakh Border.  Media in Armenia are reporting that during the week of Feb. 12th to 18th, Azerbaijan’s military violated a cease-fire 250 times by firing rounds across its border with the de facto independent ethnic-Armenian enclave of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.  The Armenian report adds, “NKR forces refrained from retaliatory measures.”  Meanwhile, the United States secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton, reiterated her support for resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict through the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (even though the conflict is taking place just over the Caucasus ridge in Asia—but don’t get me started).


English Baroness Escapes Separatist Attack in Yemen “Election” Violence.  An alliance of clans and militias pressing for the reestablishment of a separate state in southern Yemen called for its followers to disrupt this week’s sham presidential “elections,” in which only one candidate was on offer.  The Higher Council of the Peaceful Movement for the Liberation of the South, as it is known, asked for “civil disobedience” to prevent “voters” from casting “ballots.”  But not all separatists kept it civil.  On Feb. 18th, secessionist gunmen injured two policemen during an attack on a “polling station” in Aden, the former South Yemeni capital.  And on “election” day, Feb. 21st, similar attacks in the south killed four and injured nineteen.  One of the Aden attacks narrowly avoided killing a British life peeress and former Member of European Parliament visiting to observe the “elections”—the Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne, a gin-distillery heiress and Liberal Democrat (who had also, ironically, survived an Irish Republican Army bombing attempt on Margaret Thatcher’s life in Brighton, England, in 1984—back when Lady Nicholson was a Conservative).  Yemen’s Higher Council opposed the Feb. 21st “vote” because it did not provide an opportunity for southerners to decide whether to stay in Yemen.  In fact, it did not allow “voters” to choose anything: there was only one presidential candidate on the “ballot” (hence all the scare quotes): Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi, vice-president to the outgoing authoritarian leader, Ali Abdullah Saleh, who eventually relented to a months-long Arab Spring street movement to unseat him.  To no one’s surprise, Hadi received 99.8% of votes cast.  The entire transfer of power was orchestrated in a United States–backed agreement to end the country’s civil war, which it probably still will not do.  The elections were also being boycotted by Shabab al-Mu’mineen, a militant group representing Yemen’s minority Zaidiyyah Shiites, who would like to impose Islamic law in the country.  (I listed South Yemen in a recent blog post as one of “Ten Separatist Movements to Watch in 2012.”)

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne, survivor of two ethnonationalist bombings

Pakistan Accuses U.S. of Stoking Baloch Rebellion.  The prime minister of PakistanYusuf Raza Gilanihas condemned a recent resolution in the United States House of Representatives in support of Baloch self-determination as an attack on Pakistan’s sovereignty.  It comes after a year of lethal U.S. drone attacks and a unilateral U.S. raid last year to kill Osama bin Laden in Pakistani territory.  The U.S. has traditionally supported any government in power in Pakistan, for reasons of stability and nuclear security, but after ongoing revelations of the role of Pakistan’s secret police in supporting terrorism, as well as other divisive issues, U.S. foreign policy is turning away from Pakistan.  Separatists in the southwestern Pakistani province of Balochistan have stepped up activities in recent months, and the Pakistani government has cracked down brutally, with hundreds of activists “disappeared.”  Some U.S. policymakers’ shifts may be related to another Baloch insurgency just over the border in Iran.  Many observers predict a coming war by the U.S. and Israel against Iran, and there has already been documented C.I.A. and Mossad support for separatists in southwestern Iran’s Arab Sunni Khuzestan region, bordering Iraq.  (I listed Balochistan in a recent blog post as one of “Ten Separatist Movements to Watch in 2012.”)

Malaysia Backs Thailand against Rebels; 4 Killed.  The prime minister of Malaysia, Datuk Seri Najib Razak, pledged to the visiting Thai prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, her cooperation with Thai effort to suppress separatism in southern Thailand, by the Malaysian border.  But on Feb. 21st, Thai forces killed three insurgents from the Runda Kumpulan Kecil (R.K.K.) militia in the separatist Pattani region, and a fourth, a member of the dormant Pattani United Liberation Organisation (PULO), was found murdered, probably killed by R.K.K. forces. The Pattani region in southern Thailand is predominantly Muslim and ethnically Malay in a mostly Buddhist nation.  Yingluck’s older brother, the former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, tried in 2005 to put down a rebellion there by imposing emergency powers on the country, a decision which eventually led to his downfall.  In the wake also of a foiled Iranian assassination plot against Israeli diplomats in Bangkok, both Thailand and Malaysia now preach “moderation” instead of “extremism,” embodied in Najib’s new Global Movement of Moderates initiative.

U.S. Backs Accountability for Sri Lankan War.  Human-rights groups welcomed the United States government’s support for a coming resolution in the United Nations Human Rights Council that will push both the government of Sri Lanka and Tamil separatists to come to a final settlement, including agreeing on how war crimes on both sides will be accounted for.  A U.S. Under-Secretary of State, Maria Otero, stated the U.S. position in a press conference in Colombo, Sri Lanka, at the end of a three-day visit to the Buddhist-majority island nation, where the government succeeded in 2009 in putting down a separatist rebellion by nationalist Tamils after a bloody fifteen-year-long civil war.  Tamils, who are mostly Hindu, hoped to establish a separate state in the north of the island, to be called Tamil Eelam.

Filipino Muslim Separatists Deny Role in Prison Break.  A representative of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a group fighting for a separate Muslim state in the southern Philippines, has denied involvement in a recent failed prison break attempt.  The prison, in Kidapawan in Cotabato province on the island of Mindanao, was attacked by fifty militants on Feb. 19th.  Prison guards repelled the attack, but not before the militants, armed with rocket-propelled grenades, killed two civilians in a karaoke bar and a third, a Red Cross driver, in the mêlée.

India Orders Crackdown on Bodoland Rebels, Claims International Maoist Conspiracy.  The Republic of India’s Minister for Home Affairs, P. Chindabaram, has directed the state government of Assam, in the country’s tribal-dominated far east, to intensify its operations against rebel factions that are still refusing to hold talks after the general cease-fire agreed to last year by separatist militias.  In particular, New Delhi is concerned about the National Democratic Front of Bodoland, a group representing the separatist faction of an ethnic group making up about 5% of Assam’s population.  In October 2011, the Indian government signed a treaty with the United Liberation Front of Asom, an umbrella group seeking independence for the state, agreeing to an end to hostility.  But not all separatist groups support the document.  Now Chindabaram’s ministry claims to have evidence of a vast conspiracy to set up a Maoist confederation of tribal peoples taking in separatist movements in India, Burma, and Bangladesh.  Meanwhile, in New Delhi, four members of the banned and mostly dormant Sikh separatist group Babbar Khalsa International were sentenced to time served on Feb. 22nd after pleading guilty to a 2008 plot to attack religious figures in Punjab.

The flag of Bodoland

Xi Seeks Turkey’s Reassurance on Uighurs.  On a state visit to Istanbul on Feb. 21st, the Chinese government’s rising star, Vice-President Xi Jinping, pleaded with the government of Turkey to refrain from supporting separatists in western China seeking to establish an independent East Turkestan.  The Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, reiterated his country’s commitment to China’s integrity and recognition of the People’s Republic of China as the sole legitimate Chinese government.  In the past decade, there has been increasing violence in China’s far west as members of the predominantly-Muslim Uighur minority seek more autonomy and, even, independence.  Although Uighurs, like other Central Asian nationalities (Azeris, Uzbeks, Kazakhs, etc.), speak a Turkic language related to Turkish, the Turkish government has never supported pan-Turkic irredentism or Uighur separatism.

Burmese Refugee Camp in Thailand Burns.  Initial reports describe a fire sweeping through a refugee camp in Thailand near the border with Burma (Myanmar) on Feb. 23rd.  The Umpiem Mai refugee camp is home to about 17,000 members of the Karen ethnic minority seeking refuge from fighting between Myanmar’s junta and Karen rebels seeking an independent homeland to be called Kawthoolei.  Arson is not suspected.  (See my recent blog article on ethnic separatism in Burma.)


Ex-Stripper “Trailer Park Mata Hari” Shook Booty to Snare White-Power Bombers.  Just before the federal terrorism trial of Dennis and Daniel Mahon, two 61-year-old White-supremacist identical twins, was handed to the jury for a verdict, their lawyers were decrying as entrapment the methods of the federal informant who snared them.  Dubbed by the media the “Trailer Park Mata Hari,” Rebecca “Becca” Williams is an ex-stripper who worked for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms for five years (for $45,000 per year, plus promise of a $100,000 conviction bonus) by moving into the Mahons’ Catossa, Oklahoma, campground, bonding with them by using racial slurs and White-separatist rhetoric, and flirting with them by, for example, sending them photos of herself from behind in a bikini bottom with a Confederate-flag design, as well as other photos showing her posing with pick-up trucks and swastikas.  The Mahons, members of the White Aryan Resistance, were tried for sending a near-fatal package bomb to the African-American diversity director for the city of Scottsdale, Arizona, in 2004.  The federal prosecutor in the case points out that Williams never actually resorted to sexual acts to extract information.  In the verdict Feb. 25th, Dennis Mahon was found guilty and Daniel not guilty.  Dennis has yet to be sentenced.

Your tax dollars at work

Parti Québécois Surges as Election Looms.  In Quebec, the separatist Parti Québécois has gained nine percentage points in popularity since last month, according to a new poll, and is now more popular than the province’s ruling Liberal Party, which polls only 29% to the P.Q.’s 30%.  Quebec’s Liberal premier, Jean Charest, is allowed another year before calling an election, but he may choose an earlier date to avoid an ongoing corruption investigation into his awarding of defense contracts.  In 1995, the P.Q. held a referendum on independence from Canada, which lost by a narrow margin.

New York’s Iroquois Tribes Profit from Tobacco Loophole.  The New York Times is reporting that the Oneida Indian Nation, along with others of the eight federally recognized American Indian tribes in upper New York State, has increased its investment in the tobacco trade, despite controversy, including manufacturing its own cigarettes using tobacco shipped from the Carolinas.  This exploits a loophole in a law, only inadequatelly enforced, which prevents tribes from selling name-brand cigarettes to non-Indians on reservation land without charging New York’s exorbitant $4.35-per-pack sin tax on the product.  The Oneida are one of six members of the centuries-old Haudenosaunee, or League of the Iroquois, who interacted with arriving Europeans in the colonial period as a sovereign confederation that even partly inspired the United States federal system of government.  They are still recognized as a sovereign nation within U.S. territory and issue their own driver’s licenses and even passports.

Flag of the Iroquois Confederacy


Remote Chilean Town Begs to Be Annexed to Argentina.  Citizens of Puerto Aysén, in the isolated, glacier-pocked mountains of southern Chile’s Patagonia region, added a new demand to their month-old campaign to attract more assistance from the federal government.  Now they say they want neighboring Argentina to annex their district.  Marchers, including students, environmentalists, and trade unions, chanted, “Argentina adopt us!” and lit bonfires.  The rhetorical ploy attracted more attention in Buenos Aires, Argentina’s capital than in Santiago, 800 miles to the north.  Argentine news websites featured references to Chileans as “dirty traitors” and remarks such as, “Why don’t you ask England to adopt you?  They are your best friends and allies!” Chile has maintained the closest ties to the United Kingdom of any South American nation amid rival Argentine and British claims to the Falkland Islands.  During the Falklands War of 1982, Chile’s dictator, Augusto Pinochet, a personal friend of Margaret Thatcher’s, sided with the U.K.

Ecuadorian Calls for Decolonization.  The United Nations’ newly seated chairman of the Select Committee on Decolonization, Diego Morejón Pazmino, who is from Ecuador, has called for the “final disappearance of the archaic concept of colonialism.”  He listed sixteen remaining “non-self-governing territories,” with a combined population of over 2 million.  The list includes ten overseas territories of the United Kingdom (Anguilla, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, the Falkland Islands, St. Helena, the Turks and Caicos Islands, Gibraltar, Pitcairn, and Tokelau), three United States ones (the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and Guam), two belonging to France (New Caledonia and Montserrat), and Western Sahara, the former Spanish Sahara, which is currently divided between a majority of the territory ruled by the Kingdom of Morocco and a landlocked sliver administered as the unrecognized Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.


Argentines May Court Scottish Nationalists on Falklands Issue.  The government of Argentina is considering seeking support for their claims on the Falkland Islands from a possible eventual independent Scotland.  Argentina has few military or diplomatic options in pressing its goal of wresting the archipelago, which it calls the Islas Malvinas, from the United Kingdom, which has administered it for virtually its entire history of permanent settlement.  But Argentina’s president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, says she is “analyzing the possibility of sending a delegation” to the government of Alex Salmond, Scotland’s separatist First Minister.  The idea seems doomed: although both Scots and Argentines have railed lately against “English colonialism,” there is no reason to think there is any more sympathy in Scotland than in England for Argentina’s position.  Argentina attacked the Falklands in 1982 and was easily defeated by the U.K. in the brief war that followed.  Meanwhile, Buenos Aires’s claims on the Falklands is being criticized by an ad hoc alliance of Argentina’s leading intellectuals.  (See my recent blog article on the Falklands dispute.)

In other Falklands-related developments, the American actor Sean Penn is still a moron and has as of press time not yet been fed to crocodiles.

Sean Penn, still a moron


Gingrich Proposes Making Moon 51st State.  The former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich, promised while campaigning in the Florida Republican primary that by the end of his second term as President there would be an American colony on the Moon.  He also promised regular flights to Mars by 2020.  Further, Gingrich reminded the crowd in Coco Beach, Florida (setting for the 1960s television situation comedy I Dream of Jeannie), that while he was a U.S. representative he sponsored a bill allowing any lunar colony with a population of 13,000 or more to apply for statehood.  (The U.S., however, is signatory to international agreements barring the claiming of national territory on other planets or moons.)  Gingrich relished accusations that he is “grandiose,” adding, “I accept the charge that I am American and Americans are instinctively grandiose because we believe in a bigger future.”  At other times, Gingrich has proposed that public schools hire children as janitors and that a giant mirror be placed in Earth orbit to light highways and catch criminals.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Orkney—the Next Dubai? Further Reflections on Scottish Independence

Recently in this blog I discussed the political machinations surrounding the fate of a group of godforsaken, windswept, rocky islands in the South Atlantic, the Falkland Islands.  Today I’ll turn my attention to a group of godforsaken, windswept, rocky islands in the North Atlantic, the northern, sub-Arctic fringe of the ex-kingdom of Scotland, which has of late been trying to find its way free of the United Kingdom.

The U.K. has agreed in principle that, as with the Falklands or Gibraltar, if the majority of Scots vote for independence, then the process of secession will be set in motion.  Recently the U.K.’s prime minister, David Cameron, visited Edinburgh to meet with Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister and the head of the nation’s separatist Scottish National Party, to plead for unity.  The vote is pencilled in for some time in 2014, but Cameron would like it held sooner, so as to give less time for Salmond to try to rally Scottish support for independence above the current one third or so.  Ironically, there is more support in England for Scottish independence than there is in Scotland, but the English won’t be voting on it.  (There is also a very marginal English independence movement.)  Salmond would also like the voting age for the poll to be lowered to sixteen, since separatism is more popular among the young.

Alex Salmond

Details to be worked out before the vote include who would get which part of the British military, whether an independent Scotland would stay in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or the European Union or both or neither (a complicated legal issue which I discussed in detail last month), and who would get all that oil in the North Sea.  Much of the U.K.’s natural-gas reserves lie off of England’s coast, but if conventions on marine boundaries are applied to a partitioned Great Britain, Scotland would get most of the oil, which is farther north in the North Sea.  This would make it, economically speaking, a very viable state indeed.

The U.K.’s marine boundaries, with an independent Scotland’s boundaries shown in dark blue

Understandably, this aspect of the independence issue has the Conservative Party and others who represent British business interests in a tizzy.  And it has prompted the right-wing Spectator magazine to muse, in a recent article, how far the principles of right to self-government enunciated by the Scottish National Party would apply if parts of Scotland itself were to vote for independence.  The article’s author, Laurance Reed, a Scottish former Conservative member of (British) Parliament (who once proposed deporting all Irish citizens out of the U.K.), asks, rhetorically, why the Orkney Islands or Shetland Islands to the north of the Scottish mainland should not seek independence from Scotland itself and take with them vast oil reserves—or even Reed’s native Hebrides islands, which are closer, off Scotland’s western coast.  Reed asks, apocalyptically, “If oil and its riches can transform the fortunes of the Scottish National Party and destabilise the United Kingdom just a few decades after its discovery, what makes us think that the people of the Hebrides will not be changed by the black stuff?  Wait until the oil price goes through the roof as the result of demand in Asia, making the exploitation of the Hatton/Rockall Basin profitable.  The Icelanders and the Faroese may soon scramble for the riches.”

The marine boundaries of a hypothetical independent Scotland,
with the marine boundaries of a far more hypothetical
independent Shetland, Orkney, and Hebrides shown in darkest blue

In fact, there is more nascent separatism in Scotland than Reed may realize.  Some of these questions have been asked in recent years from an unlikely place, the so-called Crown Dependency of Forvik, one of many more or less frivolous micronation projects which the British Crown quietly tolerates within its boundaries.  (See my recent blog post on another British micronation, Sealand.)  Unlike others, Forvik’s cause has intersected with serious regionalist politics.  The nation was founded by Stuart “Captain Calamity” Hill, an English eccentric whose attempt to circumnavigate the British Isles in a private craft ended in 2001 when he was shipwrecked on Forewick Holm, a 2.5-acre islet in the Shetland Islands.  In 2008, after purchasing the island, he renamed it with the Norn name Forvik (Norn is the Scandinavian language spoken in the Orkneys and Shetlands until about a hundred years ago) and unilaterally declared it a Crown Dependency—like the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands—and thus not fully a part of the U.K. and not at all a part of the E.U.

Although Hill swears allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II, his arguments include his claim that the Shetlands’ and Orkneys’ transference in 1469, when King Christian I of Denmark essentially “pawned” the archipelago to King James III of Scotland to raise money for his daughter’s dowry, is illegitimate (a legal tangle that Reed also raises).  Christian never paid up, which is why the islands remain Scottish, but what if the Danish Crown suddenly paid its bill?  Hill told one journalist, “It’s all jolly good fun.  Every pensioner should do something like this.”  Still, it is not all a lark: some of Hill’s invocations of ancient Norse law were lauded by some in the Shetland Islands Council—the archipelago’s semi-autonomous government—during a recent legal challenge to the Crown for seabed resource rights, invoking ancient Norse law.  Orcadians (as people of the Orkney Islands are known) and Shetlanders have always been fiercely independent, and have always had a streak of Viking in their culture that is not found in Edinburgh or Glasgow or even the Isle of Skye.

“Captain Calamity” Hill, a one-man secessionist movement that has raised deep legal issues

Jurists and statesman have already begun studying the legalities of the Acts of Union of 1706-07 which created the United Kingdom out of the kingdoms of England and Scotland.  Organizations representing culturally distinct groups within Scotland such as the Shetland and Orkney councils may see independence as the chance to claim their own, probably more limited autonomy (which tends to be the pattern, as we continue to see in the Soviet Successor States).  So far, a political party called the Orkney and Shetland Movement is demanding devolution and its own parliament, but not outright separation, and so far the S.N.P. is tolerating the O.S.M. as uneasy allies.  But, depending on how far these questions are pushed, the very basis of Scotland’s original claims over its own territory may be called into question.  Indeed, if Orcadians and Shetlandes tried to push for their own separate states—which right now they have no plan to do—then it would probably make the S.N.P. pull back.  A Scotland without much of its North Sea oil would be far less viable economically.  But if those archipelagoes became independent, then their tiny population would have a mathematical relationship to their nations’ natural-resource wealth that would make them as rich as the emirs of Dubai and Kuwait.

King Christian I of Denmark, who pawned the Orkneys and Shetlands
to Scotland to pay for his daughter’s marriage.
See, doesn’t it look like he regrets it already?

Scotland, it should be noted, also administers, within the United Kingdom, the tiny rocky islet called Rockall (also mentioned sarcastically in Reed’s article), about equidistant between Ireland and Iceland.  Both Dublin and Reykjavík claim Rockall—and, by extension, the vast resource-rich seas around it—while the Danish government insists it is part of their self-governing Faroe Islands territory (which itself has its own separatist movement, the inspiration for the Icelandic singer Björk’s 2008 hit “Declare Independence”).

In 1972, the British parliament, which claims Rockall by right of possession, asserted the rock was not just part of Scotland but was specifically part of the Scottish county of Inverness-shire (which also, by the way, includes the Inner Hebrides).  (Rockall, though uninhabited, did have its own brush with independence, in 1997, when Greenpeace occupied the island as a publicity stunt and declared it an independent “global state” called Waveland.  It lasted only a matter of days, though the Crown made a point not to interfere.)


What all of this reminds us is that the legal basis of marine and land boundaries in the North Sea and western Scandinavian region are far from settled.  Scottish independence has the capacity to reopen cans of worms like that of Rockall.  Suddenly, an independent Scotland would find itself responsible for a dormant territorial dispute with Ireland and Denmark, one which further resource exploration could reawaken.  This is to say nothing of what will happen as the Arctic Ocean continues to melt.  Already countries around the Arctic rim are positioning themselves for a race for the polar seas’ wealth of natural gas and who knows what else.  An independent Scotland would be well positioned to take part in that mad scramble as well. 

Map showing different nations’ maritimes claims in the Arctic Ocean
(see a larger map showing this complex issue here)

Could Scotland go the way of Ukraine with its Crimean and Trans-Carpathian Ruthenian separatists? or Georgia with its Abkhazian and Ossetian ones?—breaking free of an empire only to find itself fracturing within (a phenomenon of nested identities I like to call matrioshka nationalism)?  Not likely, since an independent, oil-rich Scotland would be a mighty comfortable, prosperous, progressive place to live.  But we can expect the Shetlands and Orkneys and maybe the Outer Hebrides to demand status as special autonomous regions, and, now that the legal experts have questioned our assumptions about marine territories and about the legal basis of sovereignty in the British Isles, the legal field may be wide open and the economic stakes for that might be fairly high.

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