Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Wiradjuri Activists Raise Flag, Proclaim Newest Aboriginal Republic in Australia

Australia is known as the continent and country with the highest concentration of micronations, those obscure whimsical independence projects enacted by eccentrics of which the government in Canberra is surprisingly tolerant.  Some have been covered in this blog, such as the Principality of Hutt River (among the most serious of them) to the Free State of Australia (see also follow-up article here) to the recent attempt by a resort island near Brisbane, Queensland, to declare itself the Independent Republic of Nguduroodistan.  Others include the Principality of Snake Hill, the Empire of Atlantium, the Principality of Dubeldeka, and, in the Great Barrier Reef, the Gay and Lesbian Kingdom of the Coral Sea Islands.  Some are no larger than the homes or properties of their self-styled princes and queens.

Symbol of the Australian Aboriginal
“Sovereign Union” movement
But over the past year the micronation craze has taken a more serious turn, as Australia’s Aboriginal people are using this template as a way to assert indigenous claims of sovereignty.  Partly it is a combination of the new, much more rightward-leaning government of Prime Minister Tony Abbott taking office in September with the occasion of Australia Day, the January 26th “celebration” of the 1788 British landing on the continent which Aboriginal people mourn as “Invasion Day.”

Australian Aboriginal and other indigenous activists showing solidarity
with the West Papua independence movement in neighboring Indonesia
So on January 22nd, a group of Aboriginal people in Wellington, New South Wales, raised the flag of what they are calling the Wiradjuri Central West Republic, named for the Wiradjuri ethnic group of central N.S.W.  (See photo at the top of this article, which shows the elders Dot Stewart and Nelson Smith at the flag-raising.  See a video of the flag-raising here.)

The proclaimed territory of the Murrawarri Republic is about the size of Austria.
The Wiradjuri move, as it turns out, is only the latest of four recent declarations of independence on the continent.  The others are: the Murrawarri Republic (declared on March 30, 2013, along the Queensland–N.S.W. border), the Euahlayi Peoples Republic (declared on August 3, 2013, in Dirranbandi, Queensland), and the Republic of Mbarbaram (in an inland far-northern Queensland’s Cape York Peninsula).

The Euahlayi Peoples Republic also straddles the Queensland–New South Wales border,
just east of the Murrawarri Republic.
These declarations have been made under the rubric of an organization called the Sovereign Union of First Nations and Peoples in Australia, which was founded in 1999 and later, in 2012, reformulated itself as the Sovereign Union–Interim Unity Government at the Kuradji Tent Embassy, near Wollongong, N.S.W.  “Aboriginal Tent Embassies” are a movement which began in 1972 with a protest encampment outside Parliament House in Canberra and spawned a network of Aboriginal encampments around the country as a site of Aboriginal sovereigntist activism.

What is new about these Aboriginal declarations is that they are being made in the name of individual Aboriginal nations, as opposed to previous movements to, for example, plans by the Aboriginal Provisional Government in the 1990s to declare a vast, landlocked Aboriginal State.  Of the four above-listed nations, the Republic of Mbarbaram and the Wiradjuri Central West Republic have not, to my knowledge, revealed their precise territories, though the Wiradjuri republic’s flag features the outline of the territory, which seems to be—and this is supported by the republic’s full name—a subset of the vast homeland of the Wiradjuri people, which is the largest in Australia and includes up to a third of N.S.W., including the city of Wagga Wagga.  One news report said the republic’s territory “would cover the areas around Goolma, Wellington, Parkes, Forbes and Orange.”

Map showing Wiradjuri territory (in New South Wales)
among other Aboriginal homelands in Australia.

Indeed, all of these new states, but the Wiradjuri republic especially, are claiming territories that also include large numbers, even majorities, of non-Aboriginals.  But Aboriginal activists insist this is not a problem, that the new states will be cooperative and inclusive.  It’s not clear if local whites necessarily share that optimism.

Flag of the Euahlayi Peoples Republic
The Murrawarri Republic’s declaration of independence last year took the form of a letter to Queen Elizabeth II (who holds suzerainty over Australia as a Dominion Realm).  The letter requested documents within 21 days demonstrating any kind of formal cession of Murrawarri territory.  The letter stated that if no such documentation was forthcoming, then the Republic would consider itself a continuing independent state and would apply for a seat at the United Nations General Assembly.

Flag of the Murrawarri Republic
In one sense, it is hard to see these moves as more than publicity stunts.  No one is setting up any customs booths or interfering with the exercise of Australian jurisdiction in any concrete way.  But many serious independence movements began as “publicity stunts.”  The Aboriginal activists behind these new declarations seem serious.  It is likely that more Aboriginal nations will follow suit, and that activists will take the quest for statehood to the next level.  What that next level will look is anyone’s guess.  This is a path that has not yet been blazed.

[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.]

Monday, January 27, 2014

Partition Lines in Ukraine Sharpen as Crimean Russians Call for Separate “Malorossiya”

You don’t have to be a big believer in omens to feel that this one bodes particularly ill.  Yesterday in Rome, Pope Francis released doves at the Vatican to express prayers for the future of Ukraine and the Ukrainian people.

Immediately, a seagull and a crow set upon the defenseless doves and an airborne battle ensued, with feathers flying.

The doves remain unaccounted for.

Indeed, prayers may be a little late at this point.  The protests in Ukraine over the direction of the country are beginning to take on some of the qualities of a civil war as ordinary Ukrainians rise up against the corrupt presidency of Viktor Yanukovych, who wants to bind his country closer to an increasingly isolated and authoritarian Russia instead of to the European Union and NATO.  Most of the ethnic Ukrainian majority favor a shift to the west and to democracy and an open society, while Yanukovych, who squeaked into office four years ago on the strength of votes from ethnic-Russians in the east and south of the country, is taking the opposite tack: cosying to Vladimir Putin and keeping the opposition leader and former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, behind bars on trumped-up charges.  Rapidly over the past few weeks, pro- and anti-Yanukovych riots have spread across the country, with a climbing number of fatalities at the hands of police and a sharpening geographic and ethnic divide.  Talks between the two sides have gone nowhere.  (See my recent article listing the Ukrainian divide as one of “10 Separatist Movements to Watch in 2014.”)

Ukrainians mourn an anti-government protestor killed by police.
The red and black flag is of Ukrainian National Self-Defense (UNSO),
armed wing of the Ukrainian National Party (Ukrayinska Narodna Partiya).
Initially, protests were concentrated in ethnic-Ukrainian-dominated areas, but then pro-Yanukovych counter-demonstrations in the past couple days began emerging, and in the past day or so anti-government protests have spread to places dominated by ethnic Russians, such as Odessa in the far southwest and cities in the eastern Donbas region such as Zaporizhia and Dnipropetrovsk.  The latter, though now ethnic-Russian-dominated, is Tymoshenko’s place of birth.  Tymoshenko is ethnically Ukrainian, but Yanukovych, who was born to the east, near Donetsk, is of Russian, Polish, and Belarussian ancestry.

A protest structure honoring the jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.
(Georgian flags are visible too, but what’s the one with the single, inverted-colors Bolnisi cross?)
As reported the other day in this blog, the Crimean peninsula is where many battle lines are being drawn.  One of the most heavily-ethnic-Russian parts of the country, Crimea was part of Russia rather than Ukraine when both were part of Josef Stalin’s Soviet Union.  Nikita Khrushchev transferred the peninsula to the Ukrainian S.S.R. in 1954, though when he allowed hundreds of thousands of ethnic minorities deported eastward by Stalin to return home, the predominantly-Muslim Crimean Tatars were not on the list.  When Communism fell in 1991, Crimean Russians threatened to secede and got their own autonomous republic in the peninsula, and Tatars, who had been trickling back but are still a 12% minority there, also were granted their own largely symbolic Mejlis, or Council, as the voice of their people in Crimea.  In recent days, the Mejlis has come out strongly in favor of the anti-government demonstrators, while the Crimean autonomous parliament, which is controlled by Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, hinted that Crimean Russians would not consent to remain in a country ruled by Yanukovych’s mostly ethnic-Ukrainian opponents.

The prime minister of Poland, another of Russia’s formerly captive nations which today borders the ethnic-Ukrainian-dominated parts of Ukraine, predicted darkly on January 24th that Ukraine might even split apart.  “We have no doubt,” said the prime minister, Donald Tusk, “that the administration of President Yanukovych and his behavior have led to this critical moment, when the unity of the Ukrainian state is in question.”  And, indeed, the borders of a future partitioned Ukraine may be appearing, emerging beyond mere hints and spreading beyond Crimea.

Media reported January 26th on a large angry meeting held in Sevastopol, the largest city on the Crimean peninsula, to discuss secession.  Sevastopol, which is the only part of the peninsula not in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea but administered separately within Ukraine, is also home to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, as part of a deal negotiated after the Soviet Union’s collapse.  At this weekend’s Sevastopol conclave, which brought together Russian nationalists, pro-Moscow Cossacks, youth groups, and especially the sports-club fans who have featured prominently in the pro-government protests, a “Coordinating Committee” (Севастопольский Координационный) was formed.  The idea is that, in case of an anti-Yanukovych coup d’état, Sevastopol should secede and declare an independent Federated States of Malorossiya (Федеративного Государства Малороссия) that would eventually include other pro-Yanukovych regions like Odessa Oblast or the Donbas as well.  Malorossiya (sometimes spelled, in English, Malorussia) means literally “Little Russia” and refers to the mainland areas north of the Crimean peninsula, i.e. Ukraine when thought of as part of the Russian Empire.  The eastern Donbas region around Donetsk and Dnipropetrovsk is sometimes called “New Russia,” or Novorossiya.  That name was also tossed around by ethnic Russians in 1992 during Crimea’s brief secession attempt.

You know things are bad when the police are the ones throwing Molotov cocktails.
Other pro-Yanukovych activists have drawn an explicit parallel between today’s growing geographical divide and the period of the Russian Civil War after the 1918 revolution, when for a few years what is today Ukraine was divided between an anti-Bolshevik and more progressive Ukrainian People’s Republic, with a capital at Kiev (Kyiv) (modern Ukraine’s capital), and a pro-Bolshevik Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (S.S.R.), which eventually prevailed and became the Ukrainian S.S.R. that kept all of Ukraine under Kremlin control until 1991.  The Russian nationalists are now saying that the Civil War–era Ukrainian S.S.R., when Ukraine was divided, which had its capital at Kharkov (Kharkiv), was the predecessor of today’s nascent Federated State of Malorossiya (see map at top of this article).  The intent to revive a Soviet-style Russian domination of Ukraine could not be clearer.

He has Ukrainian independence in the crosshairs.
So far this Malorossiya idea has not spread in very concrete ways beyond Crimea to the rest of Ukraine, but that appears to be only a matter of time.

Oh: and if you’re wondering if the West could ever possibly just stand by idly and just watch Russia invade and dismember Ukraine, just ask the Republic of Georgia.

Many thanks are due to Olga Buchel for alerting me to Russian- and Ukrainian-language news items that would otherwise escape my dragnet.

[For those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with a 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.  Look for it some time in 2014.  I will be keeping readers posted of further publication news.]

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Myanmar Recognizes Kosovo? Sounds Too Good to Be True—and It Is

The prime minister of the Republic of Kosovo, Hashim Thaçi (above), appears to be aiming to become the Balkan Kanye West when it comes to tweeting and Facebooking before he thinks and then having to apologize for it.  First (as reported a couple days ago in this blog), he announced on his Facebook page that the Kingdom of Tonga had granted the tiny breakaway former province of Serbia diplomatic recognition—then, after a statement from the palace, had to backpedal and admit it had just been a rumor.  His Majesty Tupou VI was not amused.

Then, on January 24th, media began reporting an announcement by Kosovo’s ministry for foreign affairs that the government of Myanmar (a.k.a. Burma) had recognized the country.  The statement from the ministry quoted the missive from Myanmar as reading, “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Union of Myanmar has the honor to inform you that the Government of Myanmar decided to recognize Kosovo as a sovereign and an independent state.”  Details included reports that Kosovo’s deputy prime minister, Behgjet Isa Pacolli, had visited Burma last month and “provided convincing argumentation as to why Kosovo should be independent.”  Seemed pretty straightforward.

Kosovo’s relationship status: It’s Complicated.
(Prime Minister Hashim Thaçi’s Facebook page.)
Within hours, though, further statements, from Pacolli himself and from Kosovo’s foreign minister, Enver Hoxhaj, said no such recognition had in fact taken place.

Kosovars should know better than to expect sympathy from these chaps.
In retrospect, it does seem damn unlikely.  A slight majority of United Nations member states recognize Kosovo’s independence from the Republic of Serbia, which was secured in 1999 under the sponsorship of the United States and western European allies after a NATO bombing campaign and then formally declared in 2008.  But for the foreseeable future its entry to the U.N. General Assembly is effectively blocked by the Security Council veto powers of the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China.  Russia is a Serbian ally, and China, like Russia, takes a principled stand against separatism of any kind, facing as it does serious separatist insurgencies in Tibet and in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.  (See a recent article from this blog about Russian laws against supporting separatism.) The Republic of the Union of Myanmar—as the ruling military junta calls the country whose pro-democracy forces call by its original name Burma—is still a strong ally of China’s, even though it is half-heartedly reforming in order to end its diplomatic isolation.  Furthermore, Myanmar faces perhaps more separatist movements than any other country on earth—its only rivals being perhaps Italy, Spain, Nigeria, or Somalia—and easily the most violent, armed separatist insurgencies.  Some of its secessionist ethnic groups, such as the Karen, Karenni, Shan, Chin, Arakanese, Mon, Rohingya, and Wa, have been waging what are some of the longest-running conflicts in the world today.  Other than Russia and China, it is hard to imagine a state less likely to extend diplomatic recognition to Kosovo.

No one quite knows how this particular rumor started.  Kosovars were giddy last month when Facebook recognized their country as separate from Serbia (for purposes, for example, of identifying “check-ins” and hometowns etc.).  Now Prime Minister Thaçi and his foreign minister need to call tech support and have someone come in and show them how to install some bullshit filters.

South Koreans embrace Kosovo.  Burma, not so much.
[For those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with a 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.  Look for it sometime in 2014.  I will be keeping readers posted of further publication news.]

Saturday, January 25, 2014

EPA Extends Jurisdiction of Wind River Indian Reservation, Swallowing 3 Wyoming Towns

The response from whites in Wyoming has been one of alarm.  Despite the headlines, an Indian reservation has not in fact taken over three nearby towns (just as Indians did not take over a town in Oklahoma a couple years ago, as reported in this blog), but the decision is still momentous.  This week, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.), in its proper recognition of state-like powers for the Wind River Indian Reservation to conduct its own air-quality monitoring, clarified the boundaries of the reservation, thus overruling 1905 land grants that had allowed the creation of three non-reservation towns within the reservation in violation of the original treaty.  So far there has been no talk of extending other aspects of Wind River jurisdiction to the towns, but that is what residents now fear.

The Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes, which govern the reservation, greeted the changes with approval.  The towns of Riverton, Kinnear, and Pavillion were built on reservation land ceded under an act of Congress in 1905, and subsequent court rulings have upheld that these lands—which totally 1.5 million acres—are no longer reservation lands.  But unashamed disregard for treaty rights is routine in American judicial history.  The E.P.A., in its ruling, has taken the (in American jurisprudence) unusual step of taking Indian treaties at face value and not treating violations of them as faits accompli.

The town of Riverton, the largest of the three communities in question, had, in the 2010 census, 10,615 people, of whom 83.5% were white and 10.4% were Native American.  Kinnear (population 599) is only 57.5% white and 36.6% Native American.  Pavillion has 231 people, 93.1% white and 0.3% Native American.  All are in Fremont County.  The Wind River Indian Reservation is the seventh-largest reservation in the U.S. and is larger than the State of Delaware.  It has a population of just over 23,000 people, plus Wyoming’s only four casinos.  It also contains the burial place of Sacagawea, one of the most famous Native Americans in U.S. history, the Shoshone guide who accompanied Meriwether Lewis and William Clark on the Corps of Discovery expedition in 1804-06.

The final resting place of Sacagawea, on the Wind River reservation
One of Wyoming’s two Republican senators, John Barrasso, said, in reaction to the E.P.A. ruling, “Once again the Obama administration thinks it can ignore the law of the land when it suits their agenda.  Changes to the reservation boundaries were legally made in the early 1900s.  These boundaries should be followed by all parties including the E.P.A. and other agencies within the administration.”  Matt Mead, the state’s Republican governor, had earlier warned the E.P.A. mulled the extension of boundaries last year, that such a move would have “implications for criminal law, civil law, water law, and taxation, and would also take away the voices of the citizens in Kinnear, Riverton, and Pavillion.”  Mead has now formally requested that the U.S. Attorney General challenge the ruling.

Wyoming’s Gov. Matt Mead (left)
All critics of the move seem oblivious to the irony that the land was stolen from Indians in the first place.

Flag of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe, one of two nations that call Wind River home
Individual Indians from Wind River and other communities have heralded the ruling, with many references to all of the other lands across the U.S. stolen in violation of treaties.  But the response from the Wind River administration has been anything but triumphalist.  The chairman of the Northern Arapaho Business Council (N.A.B.C.), which is the Northern Arapaho government in Fort Washakie, on the reservation, wrote to Riverton’s mayor last month, after the statelike status had been granted the tribes but the boundaries had not yet been adjusted, extending an offer to discuss the situation openly and candidly and its implications for whites and Indians alike.

One of the saddest aspects of the whole business is how quickly the media resort to clichés and jokes about American Indians in discussing the matter, as though there were something inherently anachronistic and hilarious about the fact that Indians still exist.  For example, widely read conservative Washington, D.C., newspaper the Washington Times, which was founded by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s right-wing Unification Church religious cult (the “Moonies”), ran an editorial critical of the E.P.A. decision, full of references to “palefaces,” bows and arrows, and John Wayne, adding, “Riverton residents didn’t even get any beads.”  I don’t think one would ever, for example, see an editorial on some random issue involving African-Americans full of references to watermelons and minstrel shows.  Actually, I take that back.  I haven’t read any of the Washington Times’ editorials on Barack Obama, and I’m not sure I want to.

The Northern Arapaho flag
[For those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with a 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.  Look for it sometime in 2014.  I will be keeping readers posted of further publication news.]

Friday, January 24, 2014

Glenn County Becomes 4th California Jurisdiction to Opt to Join “State of Jefferson”

Glenn County became the fourth county in northern California in the past year to opt for cutting ties with Sacramento and help form a new “State of Jefferson,” a movement born in 1941 to unite disaffected parts of southern Oregon and northern California into a 49th—by now it would be 51st—state.  The resolution, by Glenn County’s board of supervisors, was approved on January 21st, with a vote of 5 to 0.  (Jefferson was listed in this blog as one of “10 Separatist Movements to Watch in 2014.”)

Glenn County, one of California’s smallest and least populous counties, with just over 28,000 people, joins Siskiyou County (whose seat, Yreka, is considered the nerve center of the movement) and Tehama County, which have decided to put Jefferson statehood on the ballot before voters this year.  The far-northeastern Modoc County, like Siskiyou, declared an intent to secede but has not prepared a referendum as yet.  In Siskiyou, there is also a rival proposal on the ballot, for a vaguely-defined, autonomous “Republic of Jefferson” within Siskiyou County’s boundaries (as reported this month in this blog).

One projection for the boundaries of a future “State of Jefferson.”
Counties that have made formal moves to secession in recent months are circled in red.
The same day as the Glenn County resolution, Del Norte County rebuffed the advances of Mark Baird, the Yreka pilot who has been heading up the Jefferson Declaration Committee (pictured at the top of this article, addressing Glenn County voters earlier this month), and decided to do more analysis before deciding to hop on board with the State of Jefferson.

Yreka barber-shop still life
In Glenn County, Mike Murray, chairman of the county’s board of supervisors, told media, “This is sending notice to the state that we’re tired of being their victim.  We are a byproduct of whatever the urban areas want—the L.A. basin, San Francisco.  They have more representatives.”

Mark Baird

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

Mauritius Breaks Ties with Western Sahara, Leaving Only 44 Backing SADR; Tongan Recognition of Kosovo in Doubt

The number of countries recognizing the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (S.A.D.R.) continued to dwindle this week as the Republic of Mauritius withdrew its diplomatic recognition.  Mauritius had first extended recognition to the S.A.D.R.—also known as Western Sahara—in 1982.  The Mauritian foreign ministry said it still supports the (largely moribund) efforts of the United Nations (U.N.) to end the conflict.

Western Sahara was known as the Spanish Sahara until Spain withdrew in 1976, leaving the northern two-thirds of the territory to Morocco and the southern third to Mauritania.  Morocco instead invaded the entire country and has since subjected it to brutal occupation while the indigenous, non-Arab Sahrawi people’s Polisario Front rebel group has insisted on the independence of their S.A.D.R., which now governs only a sliver of territory east of huge defensive sand walls built by Morocco.

The Polisario Front still asserts Sahrawi sovereignty.
The move by Mauritius—coming after withdrawals of recognition last year by Panama and Haiti (reported on at the time in this blog) and Paraguay earlier this month (also reported in this blog) now leaves the Sahrawi people with only 44 states—mostly in Africa and Latin America recognizing the legitimacy of their struggle for self-determination.

States which recognize the S.A.D.R. are shown in green.
Dark grey countries have withdrawn previous recognition.
Mauritius, though a tiny country, is, as Haiti was, symbolically significant.  Mauritius, off the coast of eastern Africa in the Indian Ocean is a vocal opponent on the world stage of colonization of sub-Saharan African peoples.  Mauritius still claims the Chagos Archipelago, a.k.a. the British Indian Ocean Territory, as its own (see a recent article from this blog on the Chagossian cause), and in 1982 it unilaterally ended its relationship as a Commonwealth realm of its former colonial master, the United Kingdom, becoming a full republic.

The flag of Mauritius
Meanwhile, Hashim Thaçi, the prime minister of the partially recognized Republic of Kosovo—still technically claimed by the Republic of Serbia after declaring independence in 2008—announced on his Facebook page this week that his country had secured the diplomatic recognition of the Kingdom of Tonga, in the South Pacific.  Later, that was called into doubt and there is as yet no confirmation from the Polynesian monarchy’s foreign ministry in Nuku’alofa.  If true, Tonga would be the 106th independent state to recognize Kosovo, whose membership in the U.N. General Assembly is still effectively blocked by the veto powers of Russia and China on the U.N. Security Council.

A Sahrawi man with the flag of his struggling state.
[You can read more about the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, Kosovo, 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, January 23, 2014

Will Ukraine Crisis Become Second Crimean War? Tatars and Russian Nationalists Take Sides

RT photo

The Crimean War of the 1850s is a murky phrase for most in the West.  Something to do with Florence Nightingale and the Charge of the Light Brigade, right?  But for Russian nationalists, it is a stinging memory.  As the larger geopolitical goals of the United States and western Europe in the early 21st century seem to be focused on containing Russia, the grievance-nursing, revanchist followers of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, are having flashbacks to this pivotal mid-19th-century war, when Czarist Russia, already finding the Ottoman Empire blocking its expansion southward, also found that western European powers such as Britain and France were willing to block turn back its expansion toward Central Europe as well.  Then, as now, attention zeroed in on Ukraine, and in particular the Crimean Peninsula, as a place where Russia feels asked to take a stand.  This time, unlike the humiliations of the Treaty of Paris, the Russian nationalists hope to win.

As we all know, Ukraine has been torn by a street-politics movement over the past several weeks.  In November 2013, Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yanukovych, reneged on a promise to sign a largely symbolic “association agreement” with the European Union (E.U.).  This infuriated Ukrainians who saw Yanukovych’s betrayal as a capitulation to Putin, who has long said that Ukraine is where he draws a line in the sand; he will not allow it to be swallowed up by “the West.”  Already, since the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1991, the three Baltic State of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia have joined the E.U. and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Georgia and Moldova have been increasingly embraced by the United States and western Europe as allies, and even far-off Uzbekistan has hosted U.S. and NATO militaries during the Afghanistan War.  Putin had been trying to woo Ukraine into eschewing E.U. aspirations in favor of a nascent customs union with Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and maybe Armenia.

Yulia Tymoshenko
Opinion on this issue tends to be split between the ethnic-Ukrainian majority and the 30% or so of the country who are culturally and linguistically Russian, especially in the east and south of the country and in and around Odessa and the capital, Kiev.  It is these ethnic Russians who are the main supporters of Yanukovych, who is himself not ethnically Ukrainian but of mixed Russian, Polish, and Belarussian ancestry.  Under the Party of Regions banner, Yanukovych came out ahead with a mere third or so of the national vote in the first round of the 2010 elections and in the runoff still fell short of a majority but squeaked past the pro-Western, pro-democracy opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko with a three-point margin to become president.  Fearing her resurgence, Yanukovych then had Tymoshenko arrested on a variety of charges, including corruption and murder—charges which most of the international community, including the Council of Europe, regards as trumped up and politically motivated.  She remains in prison and may even have been tortured.

Last month, I listed Ukraine’s ethnolinguistic fault lines as one of “Ten Separatist Movements to Watch in 2014.”  Although there is nothing like a formal secession movement yet on the part of the eastern Donbas and Novorossiya (“New Russia”) regions that produced Yanukovych and most of his followers, there are other fault lines likely to emerge.  Primary among these is Crimea.

In much of Ukraine, the linguistic, cultural, ethnic, and historical boundaries between Russians and Ukrainians have been blurry.  Both nations claim as their patrimony the ancient monarchy of Kievan Rus’, with its capital at Kiev (Kyiv).  This is why Russian nationalists regard Ukraine as part of their heartland, and this is why Ukrainians chafe at Russians who regard their nation as the mere borderlands (that is what the term Ukraine literally means) of a Russian empire.  When Josef Stalin declared the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic to be nominally sovereign, it was a mere accounting trick to secure him an extra seat at the United Nations; in reality, the Ukraine was under the thumb of the party dictatorship in Moscow, like every other part of the Soviet Union.  But in 1991, its status as a republic made it automatically a truly independent state.  With it was Crimea, but after Stalin’s death in 1953, his successor Khrushchev transfer that territory from the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (R.S.F.S.R.) to Ukraine the following year.  This meant that many residents of the Crimea, who are about 58% self-identified ethnic Russians, now feel that they have landed on the wrong side of an international border when the dust settled from the end of Communism.  Only about 24% of Crimean citizens are ethnically and linguistically Ukrainian.

A further 12% are Crimean Tatars, members of a Turkic-speaking, predominantly-Muslim ethnic group.  (They are only tangentially related to the Tatars of Russia’s distant landlocked Republic of Tatarstan; in traditional usage, Russians called any Muslims, especially any Turkic-speaking ones, Tatars.)  Crimean Tatars, who ruled the peninsula and much of today’s southern Ukraine in a medieval khanate, still dominated the peninsula demographically after absorption by the Czars, until two disasters: first, the Crimean War sent many Tatars fleeing to parts of the Ottoman Empire such as Anatolia (modern Turkey).  Second, Crimea was a battleground in the Second World War, and after the war—and after the map-redrawing victors’ summit at Yalta, on the Crimean peninsula—Stalin deported thousands of Tatars to Central Asia, mostly Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, as punishment for supposed collaboration with Nazi Germany.  In the 1950s, when Stalin’s successor, Nikita Khrushchev, allowed many deported peoples from that era to return to their homelands, the looked-down-upon Tatars were left off the resettlement list.  Their slow return to Crimea since the fall of Communism has been difficult and only partial.

Modern Crimean Tatars with their flag (photo: Andriy Ignatov)
The newly independent Ukraine in 1991 made Crimea an autonomous republic within Ukraine, the only such example.  This happened only after Crimea held an unofficial referendum on independence in 1991, with 54% wanting full independence for the peninsula.  Russian-speaking Crimeans assembled their own government in 1992 and agreed to “rejoin” Ukraine only with the promise of their own autonomous republic.  A further agreement between Moscow and Kiev made sure that Russia’s—formerly the Soviet Union’s—Black Sea Fleet could stay in Sevastopol harbor at least into the 2040s.

The Black Sea Fleet, in Crimea
But in a sense Crimea is two autonomous republics: first, there is the Autonomous Republic of Crimea itself, which, because it is democratic, is politically dominated by the ethnic-Russian majority.  Second, there is the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar nation, a talking club which serves as the official voice of the Crimean Tatar people.  As Maidan Square in Kiev has become the scene of larger and ever tenser demonstrations—in recent days turning lethal see photo at the top of this article)—and as Yanukovych’s pro-Russian, anti-Western police forces are using more and more violent tactics to suppress dissent, the Mejlis has come out in favor of the pro-European demonstrators.  For Russians in Crimea, it is another story.

Very worrying has been the confrontational language used by Russian nationalists in the autonomous republic.  Crimea’s Supreme Council, its parliament, is dominated by Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, which has 80 out of 100 seats in the body.  (The second most powerful party is the Communist Party of Ukraine, with five seats.  Tymoshenko’s pro-Western, pro-democratic Fatherland (Batkivshchyna) party got less than 3% in the last elections in Crimea and and holds no parliamentary seats.)  In a resolution adopted on January 22nd in Simferopol, the Crimean capital, the Council said that the protesters in Kiev were trying to “deprive the Autonomous Republic of Crimea of its future”—planning to strip it of its autonomy and “force Crimeans to forget the Russian language.”  “We will not give Crimea to the extremists and neo-Nazis,” the statement said.  Some of the strongest language came from the extremist-right-wing Union Party (Partia Soyuz), which warned even the blustery, pro-Yanukovych Party of the Regions against complacency and compromise, saying Crimeans (i.e. ethnic Russians in Crimea) need to be “ready for anything.”

A Partia Soyuz banner
One Soyuz deputy, Svetlana Savchenko, said, “If the national extremists [i.e., the pro-Western protest movement] seizes power, we reserve the right to decide on the determination of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea.  We will have nothing to do with these guys in the same country, so let them go and join Europe.”  Vladimir Klychnykov, of the Party of Regions, spoke, demanding a fully federal system for Ukraine, devolving powers from Kiev to the regions.  Refat Chubarov, leader of the Mejlis and one of 14 Crimean Tatar deputies in the Supreme Council, representing the tiny minority party People’s Movement of Ukraine (Narodnyi Rukh Ukrayiny), which has only five seats, accused the majority of separatism and stormed out of the chamber.

Refat Chubarov, leader of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis
In a sense, we have been here before.  In 2008, nearly simultaneous with Russia’s invasion of the Republic of Georgia, meant to “liberate” the secessionist Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, there was a suspiciously groundless sudden declaration of independence by the small community of Transcarpathian Ruthenians in far-western Ukraine.  At the time, Tymoshenko was prime minister and her government decried the Ruthenians’ declaration of independence a Kremlin plot—probably correctly, since it quickly evaporated.  Putin’s moles were probably just testing the waters.

The political divide in Ukraine in 2009.  Transcarpathian Ruthenia (Zakarpattia) is shown in orange.
But it is not merely more autonomy for itself that Crimea is worried about.  It is also worried that the rest of Ukraine is too autonomous.  In a bizarre turn of events on the occasion of the 350th anniversary, on January 18th, of a territorial accord between Czarist Russia and the Cossacks of Zaporizhia, the Crimean parliament invoked Medieval law to claim that the independence Ukraine achieved in 1991 is somehow artificial and illegal.  This agreement, the 1654 Treaty of Pereyeslav, guaranteed the territorial integrity of the Zaporizhian Hetmanate (Host) of Cossacks, a quasi-state loyal to Czar Alexey I and covering roughly contemporary Ukraine—minus Crimea.  The Council’s resolution proclaimed, “Reunification with Russia protected Ukraine from the national, economic, and spiritual oppression of the Catholic Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and other seekers of Ukrainian lands.  That kind of ‘Europeanization’ would have meant enslavement and loss of the Orthodox faith and cultural identity to our people.  Unfortunately, political gamblers who are holding forth today on the civilizational choice of Ukraine forget that such a choice has already been taken, that it was made by our ancestors many centuries ago and is based on the perennial desire of the eastern Slavonic peoples, which have the same roots, close historical ties, similar cultures and spiritual values, for unification.  This choice is not revisable! We Crimeans are fully aware of the momentous significance of the Council of Pereyaslav, an event that should set an example to our contemporaries and our descendants for all time.  May the day of January 18 become a symbol of peace and inseparable friendship between the brother peoples of Ukraine and Russia!”
The Zaporizhian Hetmanate of Cossacks in 1654
Vladimir Konstantinov, speaker of the Crimean Supreme Council, added: “Attempts are being made now to make us choose our vector of integration though such a choice was taken once and for all as far back as 360 years ago at the Council of Pereyaslav.  Attempts are being made today to force an artificial civilizational choice on us.  Such a choice has already been taken!  We are part of the Russian world.  ...  We—Ukraine and the Russian Federation—are parts of the same cultural and economic space.  ...  And no matter how hard they try to pull us apart and drag us into various ‘unions’ and ‘spaces,’ we will keep being drawn toward each other and support each other in difficult moments.  If we are together we will overcome anything.”

Vladimir Konstantinov, speaker of the Crimean parliament
The long arc of history is probably in favor of those in Maidan Square demanding democracy and integration with the open societies of western Europe.  But with every gain they make, the pro-Moscow jingoists in Simferopol will dig in their heels and delivery more and more fiery, Medieval-tinged demands for a restoration of the Czarist subjugation of Ukrainian people and the splitting of their peninsula from the Ukrainian republic.  Eventually, it seems, something will have to give.  Ukraine may yet fracture, and the battle to sort out the border between West and East may once again, 150 years later, be waged in Crimea.

[For those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with a 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.  Look for it some time in 2014.  I will be keeping readers posted of further publication news.]

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