Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Boko Haram’s Nascent State in Nigeria Takes Shape, with Vast Parts of Borno, Adamawa under Islamist Control

As reported in August in this blog, Boko Haram, the extremist Islamist terrorist group in Nigeria which has been waging a lethal war against Christian (and other) civilians for years, took a page from the Islamic State (I.S.) and al-Qaeda playbook and declared a separate Islamic “caliphate” in northern Nigeria.  But now the contours of that nascent state are coming into sharper focus.  Last week, Boko Haram renamed Mubi, a city of over 100,000 people in Adamawa State, near the border with Cameroon, which the group had recently taken control of.  It is now, they say, “Madinatul Islam,” which means “City of Islam,” and presumably it is the capital of this kernel of a new Islamic nation.

The city of Mubi after Boko Haram paid it a visit about a year ago.  Now it controls it completely.
Boko Haram, according to news reports, controls four of Adamawa’s twelve local government areas (L.G.A.s)—as subdivisions of Nigerian states are called.  These L.G.A.s are all adjacent and bunched in the northern tip of Adamawa.  They are Madagali, Michika, Mubi North, and Mubi South—including, of course, the city of Mubi.  Boko Haram roadblocks and checkpoints have been set up along the borders of the quasi-statelet, and the Nigerian government and military have no presence there.  The group has announced its aim to take over all of Adamawa, a state of nearly 4 million people roughly the size of Maryland or Taiwan.

In this map, Borno State local government areas
controlled by Boko Haram are circled in red.
Already, Boko Haram was reported to control an astounding one-third of the twenty-four L.G.A.s in Borno State.  Borno is the much larger and more populous state to the north of Adamawa where Nigeria, Chad, Niger, and Cameroon meet at Lake Chad.  It is here, in late August, that Boko Haram declared the city of Gwoza, which it had captured, to be the kernel of the new caliphate.  It also at that time already controlled Gulak, in the current northern-Adamawa statelet, and a string of towns spilling across southern Borno into Yobe State as well.  Borno, with over 5 million people, is about the size of Ireland.  In addition to Gwoza, then, Boko Haram now also controls the Borno L.G.A.s of Gamboru-Ngala, Kala-Balge, Marte, Dikwa, Bama, and Askira-Uba, as well as part of Konduga (see map above).  Observers expect the group to make a grab soon for Maiduguri, the Borno capital, which has over 1 million people and which is already nearly surrounded by Boko Haram territories.

One map showing Boko Haram–controlled areas in northern Nigeria, from John Campbell’s excellent blog.
Other clear and informative maps of de facto Boko Haram territories
can be found at the useful Political Geography Now blog.
One wonders if that is the point at which Nigeria will bring the full force of its military to combat the Boko Haram threat, or the point at which the international community will regard what is happening in northern Nigeria as a crisis as serious as that in Iraq and Syria with Islamic State.

Every northern Nigerian’s nightmare is to wake up in the morning and see something like this roll into town.

[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.]

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Corruption Scandal Set to Put Separatists in Charge of Greenland; Inuit Debate Independence and E.U. Relations as Energy-Rich Arctic Ocean Warms

An unexpected chain of events over the past several weeks has put independence for the Danish possession of Greenland back on the table and may determine the future of energy politics in the Arctic, and in the European Union (E.U.)

Aleqa Hammond, the accommodationist prime minister of Greenland, who is cold (pardon the expression) to the idea of independence, saw her political career implode in the last days of September after a financial scandal uncovered over 100,000 Danish krone spent on her and her family’s travel expenses and hotel mini-bar tabs.  Hammond’s socialist pro-independence party Siumut (Inuktitut for “Forward”) had up to that point been sitting at the top of the heap.  It garnered 43% of votes in the 2013 parliamentary elections and formed a coalition with the far-left separatist Inuit Party and with the premier unionist party, Attasut (“Solidarity,” also translatable as “Union”), each of those having pulled in just over 6%.

Aleqa Hammond
All eyes are now on the elections scheduled for November 28th.  But in the wake of the Hammond scandal, Siumut’s popularity has dropped.  The lastest polls of Greenland’s tiny electorate (about 40,000 people, mostly Inuit (Eskiimo), scattered over an area the size of half the E.U.) show a healthy but still lower 36.5% support, with the far more boldly pro-independence Inuit Ataqatigiit party surging at 44.4%.  That close to a majority, it would need to make deals with anti-independence parties to form a government.  Meanwhile, Attasut, which is a Liberal party in the big-L, European sense, is registering only 6.8% in the polls, down from more than 8% in 2013.  So Hammond has now pushed Siumut, a socialist party which has sat precariously on the fence on the independence question, out of the running, and a firmly pro-independence coalition is set to take office.

Together for the time being: the flags of Greenland and Denmark
Hammond is Greenland’s first female prime minister, and her likely successor, Sara Olsvig, would be the second.  (As a point of interest to anthropologists, she would become the second world leader to take office this year who has a background in anthropology, with degrees from the Universities of Greenland and Copenhagen.  The other is Ashraf Ghani, a Columbia University alumnus who is now president of Afghanistan.  What with Barack Obama’s mother having been an anthropologist as well, is this now a trend?)

Sara Olsvig—Greenland’s next prime minister?
Not only is Greenlandic independence now likely to be back on the table, but the corruption scandal also represents a close call for separatists alarmed by Hammond’s plans to bring Greenland into the E.U.  Greenland is not in the trade bloc, though its parent country, the Kingdom of Denmark, is.

A remaining questions is whether the current crisis will seem like a deep enough financial or corruption scandal that foreign investment will be affected.  This is what many in the E.U. would like Greenlandic voters to think.  This matters because the promise of foreign investment is one of the key planks in Inuit Ataqatigiit’s pro-independence platform.  So how financial markets on the European continent react and how E.U. leaders react may determine how confident Greenlanders feel when they go to the polls on the 28th, and what kind of a mandate the new government will feel it has to push for separation.

There is quite a bit at stake.  As northern latitudes warm and the Arctic Ocean becomes more and more of an open sea, the oil and, especially, natural-gas resources under the water will increasingly be the focus of a mad geopolitical scramble over the next century.  Without energy, Greenland—currently dependent on fishing (hardly reliable), Danish aid (slightly humiliating), and tourism (really?)—would be a much less viable state.  Russia controls by far the greatest part of the Arctic (see map above), owning nearly half of its circular coastline.  Canada, the world’s second-largest country, has the next biggest piece, while the United States (by virtue of Alaska), Norway, and Denmark (by virtue of Greenland) have smaller pie slices of roughly equal size.

E.U. member-states are shown in blue.  Blue and blue-circled territories overseas
are in the E.U.  Overseas territories of E.U. member-states which lie outside the E.U. are in green.
The E.U. would like to be a major player in the development of the Arctic, naturally, but, inconveniently, Norway is not in the Union (Norwegians have always had too much North Sea oil to feel that they needed to be) and Greenlanders, as they eye independence, go back and forth as to whether they want to join.  Greenland is one of a small number of dependent territories of E.U. member states which are not in the E.U.  Others (see map above) include the Isle of Man and Jersey and Guernsey, which are technically independent but in free association with the United Kingdom; Denmark’s Faroe Islands (which also have an independence movement); France’s Pacific possessions New Caledonia, French Polynesia, and Wallis and Futuna; the Netherlands’ Caribbean possessions such as Aruba and Curaçao; and most of the U.K.’s island territories abroad.  Other overseas possessions are in the E.U., however, such as the U.K.’s Gibraltar and Falkland Islands, Spain’s Canary Islands and its African-mainland enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, and French possessions like Réunion and the large and valuable French Guiana, where the European space program is based.  Greenland has always debated whether it should stay in the former group or join the latter one—and, indeed, whether an independent Greenland would benefit from E.U. membership on its own.

Russia has planted a flag under the sea at the North Pole ...
Would it be granted it?  Surely.  That it is in fact in North America will be no problem, since Brussels already kindly overlooks the fact that one of its member states, Cyprus, is (sshhh) in Asia.  And the huge expenses involved in running Greenland’s infrastructure would be more than made up for by the energy potential, which would strengthen western Europe’s hand mightily in what everyone agrees is a looming and burgeoning geopolitical struggle with Russia for energy resources.  With Greenland and a warming Arctic, the E.U. hopes it would not be dependent on an increasingly anti-Western Russia to keep its houses and businesses warm through the winter.

... but under international law, the reality is slightly more complicated.
But there is an irony here.  As many European colonial powers shed their overseas territories in the 1960s and ’70s, many of them were careful not to pull up stakes until they had put governments and agreements in place to guarantee parent-countries’ corporations’ access to the former colonies’ resources.  The pro-British governments installed in Iraq and Libya as the British withdrew are examples of this, and their inequities and abuses led directly to the rise of the dictatorships of Saddam Hussein and Moammar al-Qaddafi, respectively.  Likewise, the Dutch tolerated a pro–Shell Oil dictatorship in newly independent Indonesia, while Spain’s attempt to leave the former Spanish Sahara’s oil open to Spanish corporate exploitation, which set the stage for the ongoing dispute over that territory between the semi-recognized Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (S.A.D.R.) and the new colonial master there, Morocco.  (Portugal, by contrast, tended to take its ball and go straight home, leaving colonies like Angola, Mozambique, and East Timor ravaged by decades of civil war.)  So E.U. shakers and movers in Paris, London, Madrid, and Amsterdam would very much like to see Denmark extract some concessions of this sort from Greenland as part of negotiations for independence, so that Greenland’s future energy supply can be moved into, and moved around in, the E.U. free-trade area without tariff or political disruption.  And here’s the irony: Denmark, a far more progressive, egalitarian-minded state which has never depended on colonies for its considerable prosperity, is much more likely to be a benevolent version of Portugal and let a newly independent Greenland do whatever it likes with its resources, including handing them over to non-E.U. contractors—like, say, the Chinese, who are all over Greenland right now like mud on a pig, waiting for the gold rush to start.

Greenlanders say: we may want your investment, but don’t plant your flag just yet.
Greenland must decide whether it is ready to bank on an energy still in its infancy as a guarantor of viability as an independent state.  If it does go it alone, Greenland will not need either Denmark or the E.U.  Russians, Chinese, and Americans will also be lining up to set up business there.  Economists and analysts on the Continent are already warning Greenland not to be too rash and hoping that the recent political troubles will make voters fret about investment.  No fretting is necessary.  Greenland’s voters should plug their ears, look at the facts, and make up their own minds.

Eventually, Greenlanders will sort it all out.

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

Monday, November 3, 2014

Strange Bedfellows: “Republic of Venice” Libertarians Side with Putin in Ukraine, as Europe’s Regional Parties Tilt Eastward

Strange things are happening in Europe, as the West’s political landscape shifts in the wake of the war in Ukraine.  In the latest head-scratcher, a prominent academic historian and separatist libertarian activist in northern Italy is praising the Kremlin-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine, saying the “people’s republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk are legitimate states whose election results this week ought to be respected.

Paolo Bernardini, a Genoa-born professor of history at the University of Insubrica in Como, is known in academic circles for prolific work on the history of Jewry in Europe.  In politics, he is better known as co-founder of Veneto Independence (Indipendenza Veneta), a group seeking to separate the autonomous Veneto region—including its capital, Venice—from the Italian Republic and restore the historic Most Serene Republic of Venice, as outlined in Bernardini’s 2011 book Minima Libertaria.  For centuries, the republic was the premier naval power in the Mediterranean.  Many Venetian regionalists assert its absorption into the unified Kingdom of Italy in the mid nineteenth century was illegitimate.

Speaking a few days ago to Russia’s state-controlled news agency R.I.A. Novosti, Bernardini said, “The real and effective independence of the D.P.R. [Donetsk People’s Republic] and the L.P.R. [Luhansk People’s Republic] may create a new balance of power in the former [sic] Ukraine, and peaceful relations among the various parts of the region, including the D.P.R., L.P.R., Crimea, and what will be left of Ukraine.  A number of small states in fiscal competition one with the other would re-launch a region full of economic potential.”  Of course, this view ignores the fact that President Vladimir Putin’s not-very-covert military invasion of Ukraine has destabilized the entire world order and ushered in a new Cold War, with everyone wondering how far he will go in swallowing up his neighbor, which was ruled from Moscow for centuries until it gained independence with the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1991.  The D.P.R. and L.P.R. were declared independent states this spring by shady right-wing paramilitary rebel armies financed, supplied, and even staffed by the Russian military, with the overt desire for eventual annexation to the Russian Federation, along the lines of Crimea, which Russia had brutally invaded and annexed weeks earlier.  Western European countries and the United States have offered only token resistance to Putin’s expansion.  Ukraine is not in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), so NATO member states are not obligated to defend it.

This week’s voting in Donetsk.
The peace signs do not seem to be intended ironically.
Another Veneto Independence leader, Alessio Morosin, told R.I.A. Novosti that the European Union (E.U.) “would be foolish to impose new sanctions against Russia for the sole reason that it [Russia] officially recognizes the November 2 elections,” as E.U. leaders have promised.   “There are no precedents in international practice,” Morosin added: “the threat of using sanctions against a state to change its political course, foreign and domestic policy is unacceptable.”  Morosin was silent on the question of  whether Russia is by the same token allowed to use military force to change Ukraine’s political course.  At the time of the Soviet collapse, Ukraine surrendered to Moscow the nuclear arsenal on its territory in exchange for recognition of its borders, including Crimea and the southeast, an agreement Putin now declares invalid because Ukraine’s government is now different—a highly eccentric reading of international law (which, if applied to Russia, would require the return of Sakhalin to Japan and Tuva to China).

Venetist demonstrators fly the Catalan flag as well to show
their—at times far too indiscriminate—support for separatists abroad.
The relationship between northern Italian separatism and Putin’s neo-Soviet imperialism is not new.  A strong theme in the European Parliament elections earlier this year, in which far-right separatist and xenophobic parties in western and central Europe made an unexpectedly strong showing (see recent article from this blog), was some parties’ infatuation with Putin’s style of muscular, aggressive, unapologetic nationalism.  Putin’s annexation of Crimea won praise from groups as disparate as Belgium’s Flemish-nationalist Vlaams Belang party, France’s Nazi-sympathizing National Front (Front nationale), and, yes, Italy’s xenophobic, anti-E.U. Northern League (Lega Nord) (see a recent discussion of them in this blog).  A reporter described a recent Lega Nord rally in Milan (pictured below) as oriented less toward an independent Padania (i.e. northern Italy) and more toward backing Putin, condemning the international sanctions against Russia, and praising Putin’s denigration of “invading” Muslims, a large theme of Lega Nord’s anti-immigrant rhetoric.  This shows what a dim memory the ideological divides of the Cold War have become.  Who would imagine that western Europe’s goose-stepping fascist fringe would be standing up for “people’s republics” in the Ukrainian rust belt?  But in true fascist style, it’s not about political economy: it’s about nationalism and aggression, two things the far right respects no matter what flavor they comes in.

A separatist rally in northern Italy morphs into a saint’s procession for
beloved fellow Muslim-basher Vladimir Putin.
For the most part, non–Lega Nord separatist parties in northern Italy had once occupied another part of the political spectrum (as discussed in an article in this blog; see also this article).  Those movements based in Venice, including the ideologies of “Venetism” and “Serenissimism” (the latter referring to Republic of Venice revanchists), defined themselves in opposition to the Lega Nord founder Umberto Bossi’s intolerance and jingoism, adding their own streak of American (or, in truth, Austrian) style classical-liberal libertarianism.  To make analogies with politics in the U.S., Lega Nord was Pat Buchanan while the Venetists were Ron Paul.  But Venetists are now shifting to the right, despite the fact that Lega Nord is still trying to relegitimize itself in the wake of the Euro crisis, which ejected the party from its role as Silvio Berlusconi’s junior coalition partner and ushered in a corruption scandal, and despite the fact that informal referenda in Veneto earlier this year showed that Venetist separatism could appeal to a majority of Venetians without the appeals to xenophobia and bigotry typical of Lega Nord.

Lega Nord, Republic of Venice, and Russian flags mingle at a League rally in Milan
(along with flags of the former Duchy of Milan, also used by the “eco-nationalist” Insubria movement).
Of course, the Kremlin and its state propaganda organs have been having a field day with the support they are receiving from western European third-, fourth-, and fifth-party politics.  The independence movements in Scotland and Catalonia have been touted by Russia as Exhibit A in its case for the West’s hypocrisy concerning “separatism.”  If Scots should be allowed to choose whether or not to secede, then why not Crimea’s ethnic-Russian majority? (or so the argument goes).  And the far-right xenophobic political party in Hungary, Jobbik, has openly backed the idea that ethnic Hungarians just over the border in Ukraine’s Transcarpathia (Zakarpattia) oblast should be offered “protection” from the “oppression” of the new Ukrainian government, just as the Kremlin is supposedly “protecting” ethnic Russians in the east and Crimea (as discussed in this blog; see also an article here).

Hungary’s Jobbik political party has all the trappings.
Even more bizarrely, in September the separatist parliament of Spain’s autonomous Basque Country region announced that it was recognizing the sovereignty of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (N.K.R.), the unrecognized puppet state which newly independent Armenia slashed out of Azerbaijan’s soft western flank when Communism collapsed, after a pitiless campaign of ethnic cleansing of Azeris and Kurds.  Armenia, a close Russian ally, had essentially been doing the same thing for decades in Azerbaijan that Russia started doing this year in Ukraine—and few outside Russia and its puppet states (and, to their shame, many in the U.S. Armenian-American community) backs the N.K.R.  But now the Basques, despite their legacy of leftism and resistance against Francisco Franco’s fascism, are jumping on Putin’s imperialist bandwagon as well.  Strange bedfellows indeed.

The Basque parliament now recognizes the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.
Why is all this happening now?  Well, it’s easy to blame Putin’s propaganda machine, but some blame must be shared by the western European political establishment.  Though the U.K. showed itself to be an enlightened democratic nation by allowing the people of Scotland to choose independence, it still pushed strenuously—and, in the end, successfully—to convince Scots to stay in the U.K.  Spain, on the other hand, has drawn a line in the sand forbidding Catalonia, the Basques, or any other nation within its kingdom from holding similar referenda.  Nor do Germany, with respect to Bavaria; Belgium, with respect to Flanders; or Italy, with respect to Padania or Veneto, take anything like a British approach to regionalist movements.  In fact, the E.U. and NATO establishments are quite panicked at the idea that regions within European countries might be allowed to—horrors!—choose who governs them.  Well, who does allow such a thing?  In some very blinkered views, Russia does, with its support for eastern and southern regions’ secession from Ukraine.  Never mind that elections in Donetsk, Luhansk, and Crimea are messy and crooked, without international observers; never mind that the movements were spearheaded by provocateurs from Russia and are in fact a mere step on the road to absorption into the heavily centralized Russian Federation, which grants regions far less autonomy than Ukraine does.  And never mind that in Russia even openly voicing support for any kind of autonomy or separatism is illegal, as activists in Siberia and in the Steppes just east of Ukraine have been finding out in the form of prison terms (as discussed recently in this blog).  And never mind the city of Grozny, capital of Russia’s Chechen Republic, which Putin leveled, murdering tens of thousands of civilians, in a war to prevent the Chechen majority’s desire for independence.  Indeed, never mind any of that—and western European far-right separatists are not being reminded of it, either, as they go online and read glowing reports of their own movements in Russia’s slick and deceptive English-language media.

Grozny in 1995.  This is how Putin reacts to separatists when they’re not Russians.
Because western European governments have for the most part turned their backs on the legitimate aspirations of their own ethnic minorities, those groups are now seeking validation and succor, and perhaps even funding, elsewhere—the Kremlin of Vladimir Putin, the most anti-separatist tyrant of all.  For the E.U. and the leaders of Spain, the U.K., and Italy, this should be a wake-up call.  Western European governments who want to show the world that they are more democratic than Putin’s Russia (which they are), it’s time to put your money where your mouth is on the question of ethnic autonomy.  Spain, I’m looking at you.

[You can read more about Venice, Padania, 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.]

Subscribe Now: Feed Icon