Sunday, October 26, 2014

“Lower Volga People’s Republic”—Internet Prank, or a New Autonomist Headache for the Kremlin?

Kremlin authorities are still baffled by an apparent Internet prank on October 7th which declared Astrakhan Oblast was declaring independence from the Russian Federation as the “Lower Volga People’s Republic.”

Astrakhan is thought of as the southernmost extent of ethnic-Russian settlement
and is in an historically and ethnically volatile neighborhood.
The announcement (pictured at the top of this article) appeared for about two hours on the website of the oblast’s legislature. It read, in part, “The short-sighted and criminal policies of the federal authorities have put the country on the brink of catastrophe.  The authorities have fully discredited themselves, having lost the huge amount of trust given to them.”  The declaration was purported to be co-signed by several oblast officials, including Governor Aleksandr A. Zhilkin, the Duma (parliament) chairman Aleksandr B. Klykanov, the local F.S.B. (state security, erstwhile K.G.B.) head Yuri V. Selyshev, and one Igor Ivanovich Strelkov, identified as “Commander of the People’s Militia.”  (This, coincidentally or not, is the name of a colonel and former F.S.B. agent who earlier this year became a prominent paramilitary leader in the Donetsk People’s Republic rebellion.)

The name of the Lower Volga People’s Republic republic echoes those of the two Kremlin-backed rebel governments which unilaterally seceded from Ukraine earlier this year after the Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea: the Donetsk People’s Republic and Lugansk People’s Republic.  (Three other declared republics, the Kharkov People’s Republic in Ukraine’s northeast and so-called people’s republics in Odessa and Transcarpathia oblasts in western Ukraine, were never backed by any “facts on the ground” in the form of physical secession.)  These “people’s republics” have less to do with actual state socialism or the rights of workers, as their names suggest, and more to do with recalling the symbols of a lost past when Ukraine was ruled from Moscow.  In fact, they are run by undemocratic paramilitary juntas, with strings probably pulled from the Kremlin.

Aleksandr Zhilkin, Astrakhan’s governor, was not amused.
Probably, the Lower Volga declaration evoked the Ukrainian rebel republics as a satirical observation of the fact that President Vladimir Putin advocates federalism and balkanization in Ukraine while tightening central control over regional governments at home in Russia.  But Astrakhan Oblast sits in a region with a separatist past.  Comprising the Volga River delta the oblast’s capital is Astrakhan, sometimes called the southernmost outpost of the Russian world.  To its east is the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan.  (Kazakhs make up 16% of the oblast population, and Volga Tatars another 7%; nearly all the rest are ethnic Russians.)  To its southwest is the Republic of Kalmykia, a member of the Russian Federation populated by Asiatic people following Tibetan Buddhism who after the collapse of the Soviet Union nearly seceded under the leadership of their charismatic president, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, a chess grandmaster and self-described U.F.O. contactee who boasted of psychic powers and chummed around with dictators like Moammar al-Qaddafi and Saddam Hussein.  Just past Kalmykia and the Terek steppes is the volatile Caucasus region, where nearly every one of the dozens of separate indigenous ethnic groups has some form of separatist rebellion brewing.  Across the Caspian Sea to the east are the Russian-populated Transcaspia region in Kazakhstan, where Cossacks have occasionally itched to secede from Kazakhstan and join Russia, and just beyond that the separatist Republic of Karakalpakstan within independent Uzbekistan.  Just upriver from Astrakhan is the former territory of the Volga German People’s Republic, which flourished before Soviet feelings toward its ethnic Germans soured with Adolf Hitler’s violation of his non-aggression pact with Josef Stalin.  (Both Leonid Brezhnev and Mikhail Gorbachev proposed restoring the republic until local Germanophobe Russians rose up against the idea.)

Coat-of-arms of the erstwhile Kuban People’s Republic
More to the point, perhaps, just to the southwest of Astrakhan is Krasnodar Krai, a mostly ethnic-Russian and ethnic-Ukrainian republic between Crimea and the Caucasus on the Black Sea, which includes Sochi, site of this year’s Winter Olympics.  It is here that Russian authorities last month jailed a leftist activist named Darya Polyudova for holding a rally asking for more autonomy for Krasnodar Krai.  Though she wasn’t asking for independence, she was arrested under a new law brought into force this year which makes the advocacy of separatism a crime.  This August (as reported on at the time in this blog) the Kremlin also cracked down on autonomy activists in Siberia, who, like Polyudova, were in fact asking for nothing more than the autonomy guaranteed regions in the Russian constitution—rights which Putin has systematically eroded into almost nothing.  Timed to coincide with the Siberian “day of action” that ended with police round-ups were autonomy rallies (reported on at the time in this blog) in Kaliningrad (Russia’s westernmost point, a formerly-German exclave wedged between Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic Sea), Yekaterinburg in Sverdlovsk Oblast (Boris Yeltsin’s home region, which attempted secession too after the Soviet collapse), and Krasnodar.  In Krasnodar, the August rally organizers were calling for the reestablishment of the Kuban Republic, a Menshevik (anti-Bolshevik) “people’s republic” which flourished briefly in the area during the Russian Civil War that followed the 1917 Communist revolution.

The autonomy activist Darya Polyudova is being held by the F.S.B. on separatism charges.
Police arrested Polyudova and other activists on “hooliganism” charges at that August rally, after alleged pro-Kremlin provocateurs incited a brawl.  Her family knew nothing of her whereabouts and waited in vain for her release when her one-month sentence ran out.  Then, the Public Monitoring Commission, a prisoners’ rights group in the area, located Polyudova a few days later in a Federal Security Service (F.S.B.—erstwhile K.G.B.) lock-up where she had been transferred.  Two other activists, Vyacheslav Martynov and Pyotr Lyubchenkov, have sought political asylum in Ukraine.  Polyudov’s group still advocates for “residents of Kuban whose rights are being violated, including the rights of ethnic Ukrainians.”  (Needless to say, this is not a very comfortable point in history to be an ethnic Ukrainian living in Russia proper.)

Some Cossack hosts formed brief-lived republics during the Russian Civil War
(shown here in relation to Astrakhan).
After the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, many thought it was ethnic minorities like Chechens and Tatars that might be the undoing of what was left of the Russian empire.  But with those populations mostly beaten down by war and repression, it is ordinary Russians in the provinces who are today challenging Putin to live up to the “Federation” part of “Russian Federation.”

Current flag of Astrakhan Oblast

[For those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with 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.  (That is shorter than the previous working title.)  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 though you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook and see this special announcement for more information on the book.]

Friday, October 24, 2014

Ex–Reagan Aide Wants 3 Southern States to Secede as Republic Named for the Gipper and with Not So Many Gays and Mexicans

In my most recent blog post, I discussed proposals by civic leaders in South Miami, Florida, that the Sunshine State divide in two.  But this week Douglas MacKinnon, a former White House aide, has been promoting an upcoming book which has other plans for Florida: joining South Carolina and Georgia in a new independent republic based on traditional values.  This is in response to what MacKinnon sees as a takeover by gays and lesbians and their erosion of the soul of our republic.  Not only that, but the new nation would be called Reagan, named, naturally after Ronald Reagan (shown below).

No, no, that’s the wrong picture.  This is Ron Reagan, Jr.  No, I mean Ron’s dad, the Gipper.

There, that’s better.

MacKinnon, a conservative Republican columnist who served as speechwriter to both Reagan and President George H. W. Bush (Sr.), explained his views in a radio interview this week, with a strong focus on how modern America has accepted homosexuality as part of the norm. “If you happen to make a donation in favor of traditional marriage, you can lose your job,” he said.  “If you happen to refuse to bake a cake for a gay couple because it goes against your religious beliefs, you can be driven out of business.”  So, according to MacKinnon’s forthcoming book, The Secessionist States of America: The Blueprint for Creating a Traditional Values Country . . . Now, some of the more conservative states should secede so that citizens can grow up in a country where they won’t be forced to bake cakes for gay people.

In the interview, MacKinnon explained his thought process: “We look at what states would be viable in terms of doing something like this.  In fact, what states would provide sort of the new landmass for a new republic dedicated to traditional values.  And the consensus was that the three best states in the union would be South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.”  The otherwise obvious choice of the frequently secessionist-minded Texas is not on the list, he said, because “there have been a number of incursions into Texas and other places from some of the folks in Mexico.”

MacKinnon isn’t the only person promoting a Civil War do-over.  The League of the South and the New Confederacy are two fringe groups advancing the secession of the Southern states.  The League, which is classified as a racist hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (S.P.L.C.) (see a recent article from this blog about its new paramilitary arm), differs slightly from the New Confederacy in which set of states should secede, but their idea is the same: to return to traditional values, including, it is hard not to infer, segregation.  Meanwhile, an organization called Christian Exodus has been trying since the early 2000s to convince enough conservative Christians to move to South Carolina so that it can become an even more conservative-dominated state, reserving the right to secede if necessary to implement God’s law.  A group called Third Palmetto Republic advocates South Carolinian secession for similar reasons, with rhetoric focusing squarely on President Barack Obama.

The League of the South
It is natural to think of the name Reagan when thinking of a revived Southern confederacy.  After the Texan Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson pushed through civil-rights legislation in the 1960s, his Republican successor, Richard Nixon, exploited the anger of traditionally-Democratic white Southern voters with his “Southern strategy,” appealing to “Negrophobe whites,” in his words.  (As Nixon put it at one point, in a conversation about African-Americans captured on tape in 1971 and unsealed by the National Archives in 1999, “I have the greatest affection for them, but I know they’re not going to make it for 500 years.  They aren’t.  You know it, too.  The Mexicans are a different cup of tea.  They have a heritage.  At the present time they steal, they’re dishonest, but they do have some concept of family life.  They don’t live like a bunch of dogs, which the Negroes do live like.”)

Candidate Richard Nixon, pictured here just moments before a vigorous hand-scrubbing
Reagan completed that strategy by almost single-handedly turning the entire South into a Republican-dominated region, sweeping away the century-old phenomenon of the “Dixiecrats.”  When Reagan launched his presidential campaign in 1980, he did so with a speech on “states’ rights” in Philadelphia, Mississippi, an obscure hamlet whose only significance was that it was the site of a grisly Ku Klux Klan triple murder in the Civil Rights era—crimes authorities in Mississippi (as is their “right,” the argument seems to be) refused to investigate until Johnson sent the meddling Feds in.  And in Southern whistlestops (this was long before YouTube began magnifying tiny local micromessaging soundbites to a global audience) Reagan railed against “strapping young bucks” spending food stamps on “T-bone steaks or booze and cigarettes.”  But MacKinnon insists he himself is no racist.

Reagan in Mississippi in 1980.
(I believe that is Lee Atwater, one of the openly-racist
architects of the “Southern strategy,” to his immediate left.)
Nor is the idea of naming a geographical entity after Reagan new.  The monniker has been proposed for the inland Southern California state some Republicans (as discussed in an article in this blog) want to carve out of the heartland near where Reagan’s original conservative base dwelt when he was governor of California—and also for South Dakota, a state which has long been irked by its obscure place in alphabetical order, as well as in the population-density rankings.  (Renaming itself Reagan, though, will not fix that problem as much as another proposal, to become simply Dakota.)

Another possible “State of Reagan,” including, of course, Orange County
But MacKinnon’s proposal would not be a State of Reagan but a Reagan Republic or Reagan Confederacy.  (A loose federal structure is an idea common to all neo-Confederate movements.)  Another possibility, then, would be Reagania, but that would have the disadvantage of having the word gay in it.

Look for MacKinnon’s book soon.  It can be grouped with Chuck Thompson’s left-wing book Better Off without ’Em: A Northern Manifesto for Southern Secession as fringe-of-the-fringe bookends to our divided red-and-blue America.

[For those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with 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.  (That is shorter than the previous working title.)  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 though you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook and see this special announcement for more information on the book.]

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Miamians, Fed Up with GOP Indifference to Rising Seas, Propose “State of South Florida”

The contested United States presidential election in 2000 between Al Gore and George W. Bush made Florida famous not only for ballot-box dysfunction but also for its division on a razor’s edge between Republican and Democratic halves, mirroring the country as a whole.  A point of debate between the candidates had been climate change, which Gore, along with most educated and intelligent people, saw as a real threat and which Bush’s supporters scorned—as most Republicans still do—as a scare story in service to a liberal plot to overregulate industry.  That same divide was seized upon this month by Democratic leaders in South Miami, including its mayor, as a primary reason that the southern half of the state should split away as the “State of South Florida.”

Also check out U.S. Constitution, Article IV, Section 3.
Another high-ranking supporter of partition, Vice-Mayor Walter Harris put it, “We have to be able to deal directly with this environmental concern and we can’t really get it done in Tallahassee.  I don’t care what people think; it’s not a matter of electing the right people.”  And Robert Welsh, a city commissioner, said, “The only time you get real cooperation from a government is when you threaten them with action.”  Mayor Philip Stoddard, a former professor of biology, added, “Our representatives aren’t paying attention to the scientists.  It seems a bit quixotic, but I have been advocating separation for 15 years.”  Mayor Stoddard on October 7th signed the (very non-binding) resolution on statehood, after the municipal commissio it with a 3-to-2 vote.

Miami?  Hm, maybe we’ll vacation in Denver this winter.
The proposed 51st state would include 24 counties and have a capital, according to Harris, somewhere in Orange County, near Kissimmee.  The area would include the Everglades, the Florida Keys (home to the self-declared independent Conch Republic, but that’s another story), and the larger Miami metropolitan area and reach just far enough north to take in Orlando and Tampa as well.  The 24 counties make up about 39% of Florida’s land and, with 13.5 million people, constitute two-thirds of the state population.

Key West’s self-declared Conch Republic would be part of
the State of South Florida under the new plan.
Typically, 51st-state movements—not counting those of overseas territories like Puerto Rico, Guam, and American Samoa—have a partisan dimension and in particular tend to be spearheaded by voting blocs whose minority status in an existing state effectively shut them out of not only gubernatorial elections but also indeed national politics under the non-proportional, first-past-the-post system that sends representatives to the Senate as well as to the Electoral College that elects the president.  Thus, California Republicans in that state’s rural far north (“State of Jefferson”—sometimes taking in part of Oregon as well) and far south (“South California”) would like to split away to escape domination by California’s Democratic majority.  Likewise for statehood movements in the “red” fringes of other “blue” states—examples including “Western Maryland,” “West New York,” and movements by downstate Republicans to expel Chicago from Illinois and upstate conservatives in Nevada to draw a state boundary between themselves and Las Vegas.  (Since Republicans would retain the state capital, these are more properly expulsion, rather than secession, movements.)

Less numerous are blue statehood movements in red states, the most prominent of which is a push for a “State of Baja Arizona” centered on liberal Tucson.  But none of any of these proposals has any chance of success.  After all, U.S. Congress has to approve any new admissions to the union, even those (like Maine and West Virginia, historically) which join through secession.  The U.S. political system encourages closely divided legislatures, and therefore the necessary consensus to admit a new state usually occurs only when two states, one for each moiety of the political spectrum of the day, can be admitted in tandem.  That pattern was inaugurated with the Missouri Compromise of 1820, in which the slave state of Missouri and the free state of Maine were created nearly simultaneously, and continued right up to the admission of Democratic-dominated Hawaii and Republican-dominated Alaska in 1959.  Creating a State of Jefferson would guarantee two new Republican senators on Capitol Hill, while leaving the Democratic hold on what remained of California unchanged, and Democrats would never go for that; likewise with Republican attitudes toward any talk of Baja Arizona.

Elements in this proposed Baja Arizona flag seem designed to irk Republicans:
a French tricolore, and a saguarro cactus that looks a lot like a raised middle finger.
So it is only in swing states that there is any chance of adding a 51st star to the flag.  A premier example was last year’s “State of North Colorado” movement, in which rural conservative counties in Colorado’s Front Range region pushed for secession.  It was a reaction not only to the formerly solidly Republican state’s becoming more and more Democratic as cities grow and Latino immigration increases but also to its tipping far into the social-issues vanguard by decriminalizing marijuana.  But Colorado’s demographics and political future are still ambiguous enough that no one in Washington is willing to risk dividing it; the status quo is a better bet.  (For one thing, no one’s sure how many Hispanic voters will remain Democratic after Obamamania subsides.)  Another example of a statehood movement in a swing state is a long-standing movement in Michigan’s remote, conservative Upper Peninsula to become the “State of Superior.”  (Some Superior proposals include the northern fringes of the Lower Peninsula and the northern edges of Wisconsin—another swing state—and mostly-liberal Minnesota as well.)  A recent proposal from the Pittsburgh suburbs to hive off western Pennsylvania as the “State of Westania” is less partisan in motivation: each resulting half would contain one of Pennsylvania’s large liberal cities (Philadelphia would dominate the rump eastern Pennsylvania) and thus both would likely still be swing states.

The blue counties voted to stay in Colorado in the 2013 non-binding referenda;
the orange ones opted to become the State of North Colorado.
But a South Florida proposal may just give Republican and Democratic leaders pause.  After all, every four years each party spends enormous amounts of time and money courting votes in Florida to tip that most populous of swing states, and the most closely divided one, into one column or the other.  Presidential candidates would be delighted to be able to skip the “safe” states of North Florida and South Florida and concentrate campaigns on a smaller number of mostly contiguous key swing states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Iowa, and Wisconsin.

Some Tea Partiers want to found a red state in the North Woods
of Michigan and Wisconsin.
Demographically, Florida is an odd mix: part of the Deep South historically, the southern part of the state has received large numbers of retirees from the liberal north, and especially northeast (remember those thousands of Palm Beach Jews in 2000 who apparently accidentally voted for the rabidly xenophobic third-party nut-job Pat Buchanan?), while the presence of world-class beaches and Orlando’s Disney World has made South Florida seem at times like a colonial outpost of California.  Some South Floridians don’t even talk funny.  Cuban-Americans, arriving in a flood after the Communist revolution of 1959, are most of the state’s 18% Hispanic share and an influential force in state politics; traditionally, they have been the only reliably Republican-voting Latino population in the U.S., since Republicans have always done a better job of portraying themselves as aggressive opponents of Communism (especially after John F. Kennedy bungled the Bay of Pigs invasion).  But with the Cold War over, state socialism looking set to slide gently into Chinese-style economic liberalization as Fidel Castro fades away, and a younger generation feeling more American than Cuban, Cuban-Americans, who are concentrated in and around Miami, are becoming more Democratic.

Ah, I’m getting all nostalgic for fin-de-siècle America!
Even among whites, the Democratic–Republican divide does not pattern neatly into one horizontal line across the neck of Florida.  Partisan differences, as elsewhere, largely follow an urban–rural split (the conservative city of Jacksonville being an exception), and, though South Florida has Miami, Tampa, Orlando, and other large cities, there are liberal pockets in the north and conservative pockets in the south as well (see map below).  It’s possible that even Republicans in the south could eventually be brought around to consider the scientific consensus on climate change plausible.  A couple inches of water would probably do it.  After all, even Republicans in Alaska are aware—the polar regions being a kind of canary in the mines where climate change is having the most dramatic effect—that global warming is real.

And South Florida is a very low-lying peninsula.  Huge parts of it, including nearly all the southern counties that include the Everglades and greater Miami, would be underwater if sea levels rose by, say, 5 to 10 meters (see map below).  No one’s predicting a 10-meter rise any time soon, but even a rise of a couple feet would destroy the Everglades and maybe prompt the abandonment of Miami—a city less easy to fortify with levees than, say, New Orleans or the coastal cities of the Netherlands.  It puts one in mind of the post-deluvian near-future southern Louisiana depicted in the fanciful 2012 film Beasts of the Southern Wild.  It made a good movie, but life there wasn’t pretty.

The South Florida movement, then, may just be the first secessionist movement motivated mostly by fears of climate change.  But a five-meter rise would change the political stakes beyond just the Sunshine State.  All of coastal Louisiana would vanish, prompting a more wholesale version of what happened after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when somewhat purplish but still mostly “red” (Republican) Louisiana ended up a more solid bright red after thousands of Democratic-leaning coastal populations like African-Americans, Cajuns, and urban middle-class whites fled the state for good.

As the map below shows, rising sea levels could also have effects that include disrupting democratic and economic reforms in Cuba—possibly prompting a new exodus to (what’s left of) Florida—and chaos in the Yucatan Peninsula, a region of Mexico dominated by Mayan Indians, a group which spearheaded the Zapatista anti-globalization uprising in Chiapas and elsewhere in 1994.  Oh, and one more thing: could Orlando or Atlanta or someplace please find room for the entire population of the Bahamas?

Rising sea levels in the southern Caribbean would bring disruptions to Venezuela’s oil industry and turn politics upside-down there, including anti-socialist (and to an extent C.I.A.-stoked) rebellions in the westernmost and most oil-rich state, Zulia.  French Guiana’s coastline would be swallowed up, raising the question of whether France will want to give up that lucrative colony, currently the largest remaining overseas territory of a European country other than Greenland (which, incidentally, by this time would be independent and richer than Kuwait due to suddenly accessible energy resources in the ice-free Arctic Ocean).

Turning to northern Europe (see below), among the cultures which might vanish if sea levels rose is the nation of Frisia, concentrated mostly in the Netherlands but also including parts of Denmark and Germany.  The Dutch could protect part of their territory from the sea, but not all of it.  (This could bring normally dormant interethnic tensions into relief—and we don’t even need to mention Belgium, where most of the land swallowed up would be low-lying Flanders.)  And London, if it survives, will have to be a below-sea-level city like New Orleans, constantly worried about floods and the strength of its levees.  Avoiding that stress by decamping to Brighton for the weekend will seem a less attractive option after the Gulf Stream diverts away, so maybe it’s time for a holiday in Florida—oh, no, wait, never mind.

Southern Europe would be in better shape.  If the European Union, Israel, Turkey, and the Arab League pooled their resources, they could easily install locks at the Strait of Gibraltar and keep the Mediterranean Sea at any level they want, thus saving cities like Istanbul, Venice, Barcelona, and Alexandria from inundation.  Suddenly, southern Europe would be the rich part of the E.U., with flood-ravaged countries like Germany and Denmark going cap-in-hand to the high-and-dry booming economies of Greece and Italy.)

The Pillars of Hercules: nec plus ultra except lots and lots of water.
Indonesia, always kept on a boil by ethnic strife, would be tested to its limit.  Though it has oil, it will have to perform a bit of triage to decide which regions to help the most.  Riau and other wealthy ethnic-Malayan/Indonesian areas on Sumatra along the Strait of Malacca, near Singapore, will likely get lots of economic aid and structural assistance, but expect the tribal peoples of Papua, West Papua, and Kalimantan (Borneo) to get the shitty end of the stick as usual and maybe rise up in protest.  Oh, and that South Moluccas government-in-exile in the Netherlands? It won’t be a government-in-exile anymore, but only because nearly all the residents of those now submerged islands will have to relocate to Amsterdam permanently.)

Perhaps worst off will be Bangladesh.  With more than half the U.S.’s population packed into a region of fragile deltas and sandbars the size of Wisconsin, and millions living on the brink of survival anyway, this poorest of the poor among major nations could become a demographic Cheronobyl in the middle of Asia.  Already, the bloody war of independence from Pakistan in 1971 and hopeless miring in poverty and coastal erosion since then have created an exodus of Bengali Muslims into neighboring countries.  In nearby parts of India, Hindu and Christian ethnic militias have long been itching to expel Bengalis from their territories, and in Burma (Myanmar) Buddhist-led pogroms against the Rohingya people—800,000 stateless Muslims marginalized by the state as “Bangladeshi squatters”—has derailed the ruling junta’s attempt to liberalize and present itself to the world as a responsible global citizen.  Imagine what it would do to Burma and India if, instead of tens or hundreds of thousands of displaced Bangladeshis, they would be asked to absorb, oh, say, 70 million of them.  Especially since Burma would be losing much of its coastline too.

Though their population is dwarfed by the countries listed above, it is possibly the minuscule nations consisting mainly of low-lying islands that have the most to fear from rising sea levels.  The Bahamas in the Caribbean (see above); Kiribati, Nauru, and Tuvalu in the South Pacific; and the Seychelles and Maldives in the Indian Ocean are among those nations which could disappear altogether if the seas rose more than a little bit.  The highest Maldivean point of land is seven feet above sea level, and for several terrifying minutes during the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004 the entire Republic of the Maldives was underwater.  If a situation like that became permanent, not only would there have to be material provisions made for the survival of such populations, but a whole rethinking of the idea of nation might have to take place.  Hundreds of local cultures could become like the sovereign but landless Military Order of the Knights of Malta, or like the Roma (Gypsy) people, or, in a closer analogy, like the Chagossians—the native people of Diego Garcia in the British Indian Ocean Territory who were deported by the British and Americans in the late 1960s and early ’70s to make way for NATO bases and who now live mostly in the village of Crawley, in County Sussex, England, dreaming of home and trying to keep their culture and dignity together.  (See a recent article from this blog on the Chagossians.)

The Chagossian nation has a flag but no place to plant it.
Could Kiribatians and Seychellois one day be—pardon the expression—in the same boat?
The people of Miami don’t want to end up like that.  But the state’s Republican governor and industry-bought-out power-brokers (of both parties, incidentally) will not help them prepare for coming changes.  As Mayor Stoddard told a reporter, “It’s very apparent that the attitude of the northern part of the state is that they would just love to saw the state in half and just let us float off into the Caribbean.”  I guess North Florida should be careful what it wishes for: if South Florida secedes, it will take most of Florida’s economy with it.

“It’s a small world after all” ... you know, especially the land part of it
[For those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with 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.  (That is shorter than the previous working title.)  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 special announcement for more information on the book.]

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Malawians Debate Hiving Off North of Already-Tiny Country to Form “Nyika Republic”

The number of African countries which do not have an active separatist movement has shrunk by one more, as the Republic of Malawi, a remarkably slender sliver of land wedged between Mozambique and Zimbabwe in southern Africa, is having its unity challenged by a separatist movement in its Northern Region.

In May of this year, the Progressive Democratic Party (P.D.P.) was voted in to replace the People’s Party (P.P.), whose charismatic president, Joyce Banda, a champion of women’s rights, was more popular internationally than at home.  (Only Africa’s second female president ever, she was also a champion of gay rights.)  The new president, Peter Mutharika, a Yale-educated lawyer and diplomat and brother of a former president, has angered P.P. supporters by stuffing 80% of his cabinet with fellow residents of Malawi’s Southern Region.  Banda had been vice-president under Mutharika’s brother, Bingu wa Mutharika, until she succeeded him upon his death in 2012.  Though also a southerner, Banda’s constituency was a big tent and she worked hard not to show preference for one region over another.  Her succession to the post was assailed since she had become a critic of the first President Mutharika’s policies.

Joyce Banda
The governer of Malawi’s Northern Province, the Rev. Christopher Nzomera Ngwira, has now proposed breaking the northern region off as a separate “Nyika Republic.”  Ngwira (shown on the left in the photo at the top of this article) is from the P.P., which Banda had founded.  The Malawi Congress Party, which is now the main opposition party, is calling instead for a federal system in which each of the three administrative regions will have considerably enhanced powers—a position to which the current President Mutharika’s party has in recent weeks had to pay serious attention.

Map showing hotbeds of separatist sentiment in Malawi’s north
The president of the Peoples Transportation Party (PETRA) and Lucius Banda (no relation to Joyce), a traditional African musician and former political prisoner who now leads the United Democratic Front’s parliamentary delegation, have both called for a referendum to decide the matter.

Federalism is a controversial topic in Malawi.  Under British rule, Malawi, then known as Nyasaland, was part of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, a vast macro-colony sprawling across southern Africa’s interior whose touted “federalism” was a cruel joke that belied the injustices of apartheid.  Thus, Malawi’s first president and hero of the independence movement, Hastings Kamuzu Banda (once again, no relation), a U.S.-educated physician, in 1964 organized the fledgling Republic of Malawi as a strong unitary state.  Thus the country’s three administrative regions are blandly named the Northern, Southern, and Central regions.  Banda was a member of the Chewa ethnic group which forms 90% of the population of Central Region; Chewas are the largest ethnic group in Malawi, about a third of its total population.  (Fun fact: when Banda was at the University of Chicago in the 1920s and ’30s, he studied history but also got to know prominent anthropologists like Edward Sapir and collaborated with the legendary folklorist Stith Thompson on recording Chewa traditions.  When I studied anthropology at the University of Chicago in the 1990s, a huge number of ethnological works on Africa in the university library bore book-plates announcing their donation by “President for Life” Hastings Banda.  Therefore I owe him something of an intellectual debt, though the wealth that paid for those books was pillaged from the Malawian people under his party dictatorship.  Dr. Banda’s regime was cosy with apartheid-era South Africa and murdered perhaps as many as 18,000 political opponents.)

Hastings Kamuzu Banda and the Prince of Wales during a state visit in 1972
Malawian politics have been tumultuous since Hastings Banda’s removal in 1994 ushered in a belated crash course in multi-party democracy on the part of the Malawian people.  There seems to be an emerging, and also long-overdue, consensus that politics should be less centralized.  Whether this can be done before Northern Region secessionists became frustrated enough to push for separation more aggressively remains to be seen.  We will keep readers posted.

The Malawian flag introduced by the first President Mutharika in 2010.
It replaced an earlier version showing only the top half of the sun;
some had pointed out that that one could be interpreted as a setting sun just as well as a rising one.

[For those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with 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.  (That is shorter than the previous working title.)  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 special announcement for more information on the book.]

Two heads-of-state-for-life inspect Malawian troops in 1972.

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