Monday, August 25, 2008

Russia, Georgia, and the Stateless

The war on Georgia has turned out to be way more interesting than just "Gah Russia Evil", and even more complex than "Western geopolitical entanglement causes problems". It is, like almost every issue ever, brought about by numerous disparate conditions. Is some of this renewed Russian militarism? Under Putin, certainly. Does the influence of NATO and the West partially explain the precarious position Georgia has placed itself in? Certainly, but lets not forget that the Georgian government had to at least be complicit and was almost certainly deliberate in these plans. But those are factors that exacerbate the situation - they cannot act without a catalyst. In this war, as in so many others, the catalyst is native, and is a desire for self-determination.

Wars for self-determination are among the most complex in existence. In antiquity, the Greek city states fought together to remove an invading foreign force (Persia). As soon as that ended, the Greek city states that had done the most fighting for the independence of others began to form their own empires, becoming the new overlords. More recently, the United States was founded by provinces seeking self-determination enlisting the aid of a foreign ally. Frances motives were not so much about democracy and freedom but about spiting the British, and it is fair to say that Russia is not a big fan of self-determination, but has a major investment in being regional hegemon, and in keeping the West confined to the West.

The province seeking autonomy in this case is Abkahzia. The News Hour had a fascinating segment on the province/nation recently, and I highly recommend it. The people interviewed are well aware that they need Russia to make the split into an independent nation. They've had every other avenue into the international community cut off, and so working with the powerful neighbor to the north is worth it. At this point in time, it looks like the move will pay off, and that they will keep a sovereignty. Russia may even gain an ally. But that situation is only part of what I want to talk about here.

The other part, the big elephant in the room when Russia is supporting self-determination, is Chechnya. Chechnya has wanted to be indepenent and fought for that independence for a surprisingly long time (centuries, or really ever since it wasn't independent). The Olympics have broguht to light another stateless nation, that of "Chinese Taipei", or as they are actually called, Taiwan. China is of course also well-known and well-protested for its domination and control of Tibet. Ever-present in the media and the public consciousness is the fluctuating autonomy of Palestine under Israel. And Iraq has for many brought to light the existence of Kurdistan, which is a state that has parts in Iran, Turkey, and Iraq, and has yet to achieve real independent nationhood.

Adding to this mix, the ever-reliable wikipedia has a list of stateless nations. I didn't count them all, but it looks like it's well over a hundred. There's even an organization of "Unrepresented Nations and Peoples". Unusual for me, I have no real point with this. I just think it is fascinating to know that this world order, this division into color-coded maps and broken sectioned-off territories is so hugely inadequate. It seems nationhood is so enticing that almost any nation has a smaller group inside wanting out, willing to dissolve the collective in favor of the specific.

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