Monday, April 28, 2014

Muslim Rebels in Central African Republic Demand Separate State but Turn Down Chance to Switch to Catchier Name

The Central African Republic (C.A.R.) may be about to become a bit more decentralized.  Since 2012, members of the Christian and tribal majority in the center and south and the northern Muslim minority have engaged in a bloody civil war.  The mostly-Muslim rebel coalition Séléka took power in the capital, Bangui, in a March 2013 coup d’état but was forced out of office in January of this year.  Now, Séléka leaders are saying that they think a separate state is the only way to avoid escalating ethnic cleansing or even genocide.  Some, indeed, are already using the term genocide to refer to reprisals by Christians against Muslim civilians—including highly-publicized but not fully verified accounts of Christian-on-Muslim cannibalism.  As one Muslim leader put it recently, “The partition itself has already been done. Now there only remains the declaration of independence.”

Naturally, the African Union, the United Nations, and other international organizations scrambling to contain the C.A.R. violence are against the idea: only one fully new border has been drawn since African decolonization beginning in the 1960s decided to leave unmodified the patchwork of European-drawn lines that paid no attention to where cultural, linguistic, and religious groups actually lived.  The one exception is the Republic of South Sudan, which the United States and U.N. ushered through a referendum process and secession in 2011, separating the mostly-Christian and spiritually traditional nation from its Muslim former rulers in the rump Republic of Sudan.  But South Sudan has since then descended into a fratricidal civil war that has also tipped close to something worthy of the term genocide.  The former Sudan and C.A.R. are only two out of a string of African states straddling the volatile boundary between Africa’s Muslim (often Arab) north and a sub-Saharan area that is less Arabized and more often Christian, including Mali, Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Chad, and Cameroon, all of which to different extents have seen horrific sectarian violence along that divide.  Mali came closest to disintegrating with the creation of the brief-lived radical-Islamist northern Republic of Azawad, finally shut down last year by France’s military.

The viral-video sensation “Mad Dog” (standing), the reputed “Muslim-eater”
of the recent sectarian conflict in the Central African Republic
Séléka rebels and sympathizers in and around Bambari, near the sectarian fault-line, are reportedly circulating a flag design via cellphone (I am so far unable to find an image or description; can anyone help?) and have proposed a name, which is (wait for it ...) the Republic of Northern Central Africa (in French, possibly, République du nord de l’Afrique centrale).

The C.A.R.'s Muslims are concentrated primarily in the far north.
All other issues aside, the C.A.R.’s northern Muslims seem to be following the same unimaginative path as the South Sudanese, who rejected more colorful proposed names such as Azania, Equatoria, Jubaland, Juwama, Kush, and Nilotic Republic and settled for just inserting the word South into the middle of the parent country’s name.  They also barely even chose a new flag, but just shuffled the stripes a bit, made the green (for Islam) triangle blue, and added a star.

Spot the difference!  The flags of Sudan (top) and South Sudan (bottom)
The C.A.R. (in French, R.C.A., i.e. République centrafricaine, or, informally, Centrafrique) has long been the butt of geography students’ jokes, along the lines of: they really couldn’t come up with a better name than that?—just the name of the continent and then a vague coordinate?  (Of course, when you think about it, United States of America is not much better.)  There is a history to this, however.  Before autonomy in 1958 and independence in 1960, France called this landlocked colony Ubangi-Shari (or, in French, Oubangui-Chari), after its two main rivers; Bangui is still the capital’s name.  Ubangi-Shari was part of French Equatorial Africa (F.E.A.), a swathe of connected colonies also including what are now Chad, Gabon, and the Republic of the Congo.  But the first president after independence, Barthélemy Boganda, had dreams of expanding the F.E.A. states to create an independent superstate taking in the former Belgian colonies of Rwanda, Burundi, and the (now) Democratic Republic of Congo; the former Portuguese colony of Angola; the former Spanish colony of Equatorial Guinea; and the former French colony of Cameroon.  At times, Boganda wanted to call such a regional superpower United States of Latin Africa, as a counterweight to the large bloc of Anglophone former United Kingdom colonies covering most of southern Africa (South Africa and the various Rhodesias).  The idea never caught on, but Boganda held onto the name République centrafriquaine, cooked up by French bureaucrats in 1958, with the idea of eventual expansion.

Emperor Bokassa I on his way to have the Belgian ambassador for dinner
For a few years in the late 1970s, the country was ruled by a French-backed psychopathic dictator who called himself Emperor Bokassa I.  Though he was rather colorful and imaginative (reader, he ate people), he still settled for calling his country simply the Central African Empire—though it did not expand or even terribly much bother its neighbors.

A reporter this week quoted one Muslim Séléka-supporter, Oumar Tidiane, as saying, of the C.A.R.’s Christian southerners, “They don’t want any Muslims.  Rather than calling their country the Central African Republic, they can call it”—ahem, get this—“the Central African Catholic Republic.”  Good God, when they send the next aid shipment, can they please airdrop a team of marketing experts?  It’s time for a lesson on branding.

As for the chances of the success of the Republic of Northern Central Africa, they are slim.  In addition to the problem of international opposition is the question of demographics.  One consultant in the region, David Smith, suggested to the Guardian newspaper that the impetus for partition was coming mostly from foreign fighters from predominantly-Muslim states like Chad and (north) Sudan, rather than from Centrafriquain people themselvess.  Besides, he pointed out, the already small Muslim share of the C.A.R. before the current conflict, between 10% and 15%, has shrunk dramatically, due to ethnic cleansing, emigration of refugees, and outright massacres: tens of thousands have been killed and a million displaced, this in a country with fewer than 5 million people total to begin with.  As in places like Bosnia, Tibet, and Palestine, the dominant, more aggressive group has changed the demographic facts on the ground, making earlier goals less and less feasible by the day.  If for that reason alone, a separate R.N.C.A.—or whatever—is a pipe dream.  But if this movement goes down in flames, they should least pick a punchier name.  And when I finally see that flag, I don’t want another tricolor, okay?

In French colonial days, Oubangui-Chari (now the C.A.R.)
was Kentucky-shaped.
[You can read more about 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.]

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Signs of Kurdish Spring: Syrian Border Trench, Barzani Statements, U.S. Push to Delist P.K.K. All Point to Eventual Independence

The “Kurdish Spring” in Turkey two years ago never gathered the same momentum toward change at the top as its namesake, the “Arab Spring” launched the previous year (still playing out bloodily in Egypt, Yemen, and partially-Kurdish Syria).  But shifting dynamics in Syria, along with other developments, point to a gradually settling consensus that Iraq’s northern Kurdistan Region is quietly humming along the road toward full independence.

The president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (K.R.G.) in northern Iraq, Massoud Barzani (pictured above), used his strongest language yet on April 8th regarding Kurdish independence.  Referring to the secret World War I–era Franco-British pact which undermined Woodrow Wilson’s later promise of an independent Kurdistan by allowing the new Turkish Republic to consume their homeland, Barzani told a Kurdish television audience, “The mistakes of the Sykes–Picot Agreement should be corrected.  The agreement itself has failed and the region should go back to its original nature, since some of the nations have been linked to each other by force.  No one can stop us from announcing the state of Kurdistan, but we want this to happen through dialogue and mutual understanding rather than war and bloodshed.”

Most surprising, perhaps, has been not only a recently introduced bill in the United States Senate to remove southeastern Turkey’s now more-or-less pacified Kurdistan Workers’ Party (P.K.K.) rebel group from the “terrorism” black list, but also an indication that President Barack Obama supports the move as well.  The Senate bill is backed by none other than Obama’s hawkish gadfly and former election opponent Senator John McCain, of Arizona, who also now says, “It is time we stop treating the K.D.P. and P.U.K. as terrorists” (referring to Iraq’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, headed by Iraq’s largely-ceremonial and now exiled president, Jalal Talabani, and Iraq’s Kurdistan Democratic Party), adding that their designation as “Tier III” terrorist groups “betrays our Kurdish friends and allies who have served as a stabilizing force in the region and displayed consistent loyalty to the United States throughout the years.”  It was largely a U.S.-imposed “northern no-fly zone” over northern Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War which allowed Iraqi Kurdistan to build sovereign institutions outside of Saddam Hussein’s reach, with Erbil as its capital.  The designation of Kurdish autonomists as “terrorists,” in both the U.S. and western Europe, is a vestige of the Cold War days when Turkey’s role as a front-line state within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) against the Soviet Union made it a far more reliable asset to Western security than it is now.  And, if you want to strict about the definition of “terrorism,” the P.K.K., before its recent cease-fire with Ankara, attacked military targets almost exclusively, not civilian ones.

P.K.K. flags on display at a demonstration in Berlin
But Barzani, in his statements, also referred to the plight of Kurds outside Iraq. “In Turkey and Iran,” he said, “the rights of the Kurds have not yet been officially recognized while Kurds have been attached to these countries forcefully.”  He trod a little more lightly on the question of Kurds in Syria, whom he called more divided, making that situation more complicated.

In fact, actions speak even louder than words—actions like ditch-digging, I mean.  The K.R.G. has been busily digging a massive trench between the Iraqi region it governs and the neighboring portion of northern Syria now called Rojava, or “West Kurdistan,” where retreating Syrian government forces in 2012 allowed the establishment of a fully autonomous de facto state.  Rojava has become a shaky state, with discontinuous territory, but a state nonetheless, with a commitment to multiculturalism: Sunni Arabs, Assyrian Christians, and even diaspora Chechens share power with the majority Kurds in its three self-governing “cantons.”  But one group is shut out of the governing of Rojava, and that is the Kurdish factions strongy allied with Barzani’s K.R.G.: the territory is run by a group closely allied with Turkey’s P.K.K., which alarms both Turkey and the K.R.G. government that is enjoying the pleasant surprise of an oil-lubricated thaw in Turkish–K.R.G. relations.

Building Kurdish unity—not.
Rojava is also fighting for its life to limit territorial gains by a new al-Qaeda-derived Sunni Arab terror group, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS, a.k.a. ISIL), which has made great strides in controlling much of the Euphrates valley, all the way from the Syrian–Turkish border region downriver across the Iraqi border to Fallujah, on the outskirts of Baghdad itself.  The K.R.G.’s greatest fear is opening a pathway through its territory for ISIS militants to move freely back and forth and consolidate those gains—especially now that ISIS has been parlaying its stranglehold on Fallujah into foraying northward into K.R.G.-administered lands just outside the official Kurdistan Region, in mixed Arab–Turkmen–Kurdish areas in dispute between Baghdad and Erbil.  The Iraqi central government, too, is is locked in battle with ISIS to preserve the very unity of the non-Kurdish parts of the Iraqi state; backchannel discussions between Baghdad and Erbil have perhaps made it quite explicit that Iraqi Kurdistan cannot get more self-rule of any kind unless it nails shut the doorway to explosive Rojava.  So, for better or worse, the reunification of “West” (Syrian) and “South” (Iraqi) Kurdistan may have to wait until Iraqi Kurdistan disentangles itself from Arab Iraq.

Syrian Kurdistan (Rojava) is in yellow, Iraqi Kurdistan in orange.
Even in Iran, the most effectively totalitarian of the four states with significant Kurdish populations, the two main Kurdish political factions moved toward reconciliation this week.  The Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (K.D.P.I.) and its splinter group the Kurdistan Democratic Party (K.D.P.) made moves to repair a split that occurred in 2007.

In Iran, Mustafa Hijri (left) of the K.D.P.
and Khalid Azizi of the K.D.P.I. make nice.
Why is all this happening now?  Perhaps it is because the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad has realized that it must make its Kurdish problem go away before it can successfully solve its (Sunni) ISIS problem.  Not incidentally, taking the mostly Sunni Kurdish people out of Iraq will leave the remaining population with an overwhelming Shiite majority, instead of the current very slight one.  It is also possible that signals from the K.R.G.’s main allies, including the U.S. and, to an extent, Israel are encouraging the establishment of a new solidly Western-allied state in the Middle East to counter Russia’s new expansionism, especially as President Vladimir Putin contemplates a more and more seamless Russian-aligned front along the northern edge of the region that includes the (soon?) whole north Black Sea coast, the North Caucasus, Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and Iran.

ISIS—not the good guys, and worth digging a trench to keep out
But Kurds have never been ones to look a gift horse in the mouth.  They have waited for centuries for the Western promises of “self-determination” at the close of the First World War to come to fruition.  They can almost taste it.

Waving the Kurdish flag in Erbil
[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.]

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Donetsk Rebels’ “Novorossiya” Fits Russian Vision of Reshaped Europe in 2035

Ultranationalist demands by ethnic Russians and their supporters in eastern Ukraine have now shifted from talk of Crimea or the Donetsk People’s Republic and are now focussing on creating a larger entity to be carved out of southern and eastern Ukraine to be called Novorossiya, or “New Russia,” using Czarist Russia’s name for the region.  The most high-profile proponent of the idea is Pavel Gubarev, the imprisoned “people’s governor” of Donetsk, whose covertly-Kremlin-backed government-building takeover in that southeastern oblast (provincial) capital last month sparked the uprising and military confrontation in the region.  From prison in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, last week, Gubarev said that “we”—i.e. the Donetsk People’s Republic, which he considers already independent—“want to join the new federative State of Novorossiya, which will build its own relations with the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan in the future.”  The leadership of the neighboring “Lugansk People’s Republicplans to join the Donetsk republic in holding the May 11th vote.  He added that plans were underway—as other Russian-backed rebels have said also—to hold an independence referendum on May 11th in Ukraine’s rebel-held regions.  (Gubarev’s wife, Yekaterina Gubareva, the self-proclaimed Donetsk republic’s “foreign minister,” has since then announced that her husband is on hunger strike to protest the Ukrainian military’s offensive on the northern Donetsk Oblast city Slovyansk.)

Yekaterina Gubareva, foreign minister and first lady of the “Donetsk People’s Republic”
But there is nothing “new” about Russian nationalist dreams of a “New Russia” carved out of Ukraine. Nationalism- and separatism-watchers in Europe were abuzz in late 2012 and early 2013 over a high-level report by Russian security and policy experts on what Europe’s borders would probably look like in 2035.  The accompanying maps offer an unsettling insight into Russian ultranationalists’ hopes and fears—but also, as is now becoming clear, their plans.  The Russians apparently based the projection on Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.) and other United States and Russian intelligence sources as well as the writings of American geopolitical experts like Zbigniew Brzezinski (President Jimmy Carter’s Polish-born national-security advisor) and Samuel Huntington (the xenophobic neo-conservative political scientist who wrote Clash of Civilizations).

A pro-independence demonstrator in Catalonia.
Madrid says “don’t hold your breath,” but Moscow thinks she’s got it in the bag.
In 2035 in western Europe, the report envisions, quite feasibly (see map below), independent republics in Scotland, Catalonia, the Basque Country, northern Italy, and even Corsica, Sardinia, and Sicily.  Less feasibly, a reunified Ireland will become closer to Scotland than the rump United Kingdom is.  Southeastern France’s Provence region is to have become an Arab republic—something that presumably Marine Le Pen will not take lying down.  But in the Russian view this is how the French government will solve the inevitable “multicultural collapse”—by picking a region and sticking all the unassimilable Muslims there.

It takes no expert to suggest that Belgium might divide—it is practically two states already—though it is a stretch to think, as Russia’s expert prophets do, that Flanders will join the Netherlands in a “Holland Union” while Wallonia becomes a tiny land-locked state and Alsace–Lorraine confederates with Germany as something called simply “Lorraine.”  The experts here underestimate not only Alsatian pride but Germany’s appetite for expansion—after all, they already control Europe financially, so why change the map?  Equally comical is the suggestion that Germany will retake Silesia, Pomerania, and East Prussia from Poland—and, incidentally, from Russia’s Kaliningrad Oblast exclave.  Don’t these Russian “experts” realize that no Germans live there anymore?

The Russian map of 2035 in the Balkans (see map above) likewise reeks of Russia’s preoccupation with U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) hidden agendas in the Wars of Yugoslav Succession—especially the Kosovo War, in which Russia resolutely sided—and still does—with Serb nationalists who saw it as a Trojan horse for some sort of Islamization of Europe.  The 2035 map’s whittled-down Serbia feeds the shared Serb and Russian ultranationalist feeling that the West has been cruelling paring down these once-mighty Slavic nations: Albania has swallowed up western Macedonia, Kosovo, and a juicy slice of southern Serbia proper (in reality, Kosovar and Albanian nationalists do indeed openly plan for a united “Greater Albania” within the European Union); Hungary now extends into western Romania’s Transylvania region as well as Serbia’s Vojvodina province; and the disappearance of Bosnia and Herzegovina as an independent state has, quite unrealistically, only meant its near-complete absorption into Croatia, including presumably subject Serbs in the former Bosnian subdivision of Republika Srpska.  (Poor maligned Serbia doesn’t even manage to pull Montenegro back into its orbit.)  Turkey and its bloodthirsty Saracens have also, apparently, by 2035 retaken the Rumelian and Pomak areas in the southeast of proud Slavic Bulgaria.

It is once we get to the former Soviet Union itself (see map below) that things really get wonky.  First of all, the Russian experts see an independent Carpathian Ruthenia emerging from Ukraine’s Zakarpattia (Transcarpathia) oblast.  This is the region—formerly the eastern tail of Czechoslovakia, where Slavic-speaking Ruthenians (Rusyns) are far outnumbered by ethnic Ukrainians—where alleged Kremlin provocateurs staged a declaration of independence in 2008 which came to nothing.  Today, pro-Russian nationalists in Ukraine are envisioning a “Transcarpathian People’s Republic,” though the oblast is so far, in 2014, quiet.  Romania, in 2035, will supposedly have swallowed up nearly all of Moldova, except for the tiny sliver of Bessarabia—i.e., the current Russian puppet state of Pridnestrovia (a.k.a. Transnistria, a.k.a. Transdniestria)—which the Russian geopolitical visionaries see absorbed into the Russian Federation along with Crimea (that part, in 2014, is a done deal) and the south and eastern region of Novorossiya and Donbas (those are, today (April 26, 2014), works in progress).

But not even all that’s left of Ukraine gets to be Ukraine, according to the Russian experts.  They see, by 2035, in what is today far-western Ukraine, an independent Galicia (Halychyna, in Ukrainian—no relation to the Galicia in northwestern Spain), with its capital at Lviv.  This Galician state even takes in part of southeastern Poland, while Romania has also taken Bukovina, also in Ukraine’s west (i.e., Chernivtsi oblast, where the population today is about 20% Moldavian (Romanian).  It seems odd for Russian nationalists to claim on the one hand that Ukrainian national identity is only some post–Cold War figment invented by the West but then assume that a “Galician” national identity (which in the real world barely exists at all) is strong enough to snatch away NATO (Polish) territory with such ease.

Galicia (Halychyna) was its own kingdom briefly during the First World War,
but today’s Galicians mostly want to be in a united Ukraine.
Belarus as an independent state has vanished in the 2035 map, becoming just a big Russian oblast, which actually does seem fairly likely.  Belarus is barely even independent today.  Belarussians never had as strong a national identity as Ukrainians and would never have asked for independence on their own if they hadn’t been handed it on a platter in 1991.  Much less plausibly, eastern Latvia, including its ethnic-Russian-dominated second city, Dagauvpils, has become a Russian oblast called Dvinskaya (Dvinsk is the city’s name in Russian), while Estonia’s northeast, including the Russian-speaking city of Narva, is not even an oblast; it is a raion (district) within Russia called Narvskiya.  Apparently, Russians doubt how seriously NATO takes its mutual-defense pact with the Baltic states.  In reality, a Russian invasion would put President Vladimir Putin on an immediate war footing with three nuclear powers (the U.S., France, and the U.K.), so he will probably leave the Baltics alone, at least territorially (economic blockades and punishments are another matter).

These Belarussians, shown at an independence-day rally last month in Minsk,
stand with Ukraine in its conflict with Russia.  But, in Belarus, they are a minority.
In the Caucasus, there is a mixture of hope and fear as well.  Dagestan, Chechnya, and Ingushetia have become split away as the Caucasus Emirate, which is the name that an ongoing Islamist insurgency does indeed want to plaster over the whole north Caucasus.  The Russian puppet state of Abkhazia has been absorbed into Russia, but its sister republic within internationally recognized Georgian borders, South Ossetia, is returned to Georgia as a consolation prize.  The reverse, to my mind, has more logic to it: in reality, Ossetes seem to feel far more Russian than Abkhaz do, and the dispossession and expulsion of ethnic Georgians in Abkhazia has been more extreme.  Plus, just think: annexing South Ossetia puts Josef Stalin’s home town of Gori, in Georgia proper, close enough to recapture as well!  How could they pass that up?

The Caucasus Emirate terrorist group’s map is slightly different.
It is no surprise that Azerbaijan’s Nagorno-Karabakh and Lachin regions are shown (again, see map no. 3 above) as part of Armenia in the Russians’ map of 2035; those areas are already the unrecognized Armenian puppet state of Artsakh (a.k.a. Nagorno-Karabakh Republic).  Russia has indeed been increasingly building ties with Armenia and making Armenia’s expansionist agenda an ancillary cause to its own Slavic blood-and-soil nationalism.  But a big conundrum for Russian nationalists today is how to fully incorporate Armenia into the Russian geopolitical backyard.  Today, Armenia is slated to join Putin’s envisioned Belarussian–Kazakh–Russian “Eurasian Union” trade bloc—the same one that Ukraine was almost bullied into joining last year, which is how the whole Ukraine crisis erupted in the first place.  But Armenia–Artsakh is currently nearly entirely surrounded by Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, all of them Western-aligned states (Turkey is even in NATO).  The only Russian-allied state bordering Armenia is Iran, but that is a circuitous supply route for a geostrategic partner; plus, Iranians and Armenians regard each other far, far more warily than their shared alliance with Russia would otherwise suggest.  So the solution, in this 2035 map, is a “transport corridor” that bisects Georgia, running from the Russian–Georgian border ’round about Ossetia to northern Armenia.  The coloration on the map implies that Georgia will remain united but become territorially discontinuous, divided into “Western Georgia” and “Kakhetia.”

Russia would like to draw the Artsakh Republic into its sphere of influence.
But why stop there?  Next: Legoland!
One modification missed in the 2035 map is the question of the Armenian minority in the southern Georgian region of Javakhk.  Already, since earlier this year, the Russian consulate has been distributing Russian passports to ethnic Armenians there, which is the kind of thing that was a precursor to the Russian takeovers in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Crimea.  An Armenian-annexed Javakhk would shorten the necessary “transport corridor.”  On the downside for the Kremlin would be the complication that Javakhk is only the eastern part of Georgia’s Samtkhe–Javakheti province; the western part is Meskhetia, a.k.a. Moschia, whose indigenous Meskhetian Turks were deported eastward by Stalin during the same campaign of ethnic cleansing in the 1930s that shipped Chechens, Crimean Tatars, and others to Siberia and Central Asia as well.  Like the Crimean Tatars, Meskhetian Turks were not allowed to return during the repatriations of Nikita Khrushchev’s de-Stalinization policies, though, like Crimean Tatars, they trickled back in the post-Soviet era.  Any realization of Javakhki irredentist aspirations could reawaken Meskhetian grievances.  Then again, Putin seems to have made an art of “rehabilitating” the Crimean Tatars as an official national minority while still cracking down on their political leadership, so perhaps the Armenian government could learn to perform that dance with its own Turkic minority.  Armenians are quick learners, and their government seems eager to make them solid citizens, as a junior nationality, in Putin’s neo-Czarist Russian empire.  When it comes to shitting all over Muslims, Armenian nationalists have shown an eagerness to learn from the best.

“Greater Armenia” in the Armenian—and maybe also Russian—imagination
Now, it is important to take predictions a quarter-century out with a grain of salt, even when they come from intelligence sources.  After all, the C.I.A. had agents and bureaus in every Arab capital in 2011, and nobody saw the Arab Spring coming.  The way to read these Russian maps is not as a true vision of the future but as a map to the Russian ultranationalist mentality with its hopes, fears, and—as I mentioned above—perhaps its plans.  Be warned: this is not the future, but it is a peek into the madness swirling inside the brains of the Kremlin’s strategists.

The Donetsk People’s Republic’s Yekaterina Gubareva whips out her foreign-policy agenda.
[You can read more about these 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.]

Members of the Ukrainian feminist political collective Femen demonstrating against Russia outside the Ukrainian peace talks in Geneva, Switzerland, on April 17th.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Scotland’s Shetland, Orkney Isles, Though Unionist, Scorn U.K. “Annexation” Idea

The Northern Isles of Scotland—the territories of Shetland and Orkney—have in this year of the Scottish independence referendum shown themselves to be mostly strident unionists.  They want to stay in the United Kingdom.  This they share in common with many Highlanders, since Scottish separatism is mainly a phenomenon of the more densely populated lowlands, where Glasgow and Edinburgh are.  But, even though the two archipelagoes are expected to be strongholds of the “no” vote in the September 18th vote, Orcadians and Shetlanders are apparently even less keen on another idea: “annexation” by the U.K. in case of a Scottish secession.

This suggestion was raised by Hugh Halcro-Johnson, a unionist (i.e., he is against Scottish independence) who headed the Orkney Islands Council until 2003.  He feels that if Scotland splits away, Shetland and Orkney should petition, separately or together, to rejoin the U.K., in a kind of “retrocession” movement (like West Virginia during the Civil War in the United States, or like Anglophone portions of Canada’s sometimes secessionist Quebec province).  As Halcro-Johnson told a reporter earlier this month, “Should Scotland vote ‘yes’ then everything changes.  I think that scenario would provide an opportunity for the islands to seek special status—particularly in relation to defense in view of the islands’ strategic importance.”  Unionists have typically invoked fears that a Scottish secession would compromise British security.  Halcro-Johnson is also, of course, mindful of the irony that an independent Scotland’s territorial waters would include most of the U.K.’s current lucrative North Sea oil reserves—with most of it being in the territorial waters of jurisdictions that want to stay in the U.K.

Hugh Halcro-Johnston—retrocessionist
But local leaders in the Northern Isles have solidly rejected the idea.  As Gary Robinson of the Shetland Islands Council put it, “We seek to benefit from the exploitation of the resources surrounding our islands by way of community benefit and more control over what happens around us.  I haven’t detected any overwhelming desire for outright independence for the islands or crown dependency status.”  Crown dependency is the status held today by the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey, which are under U.K. suzerainty and military protection but fully self-governing; they are not really parts of the U.K. but independent states in free association with it.  Crown dependencies set up in Shetland and Orkney would raise the question: why not just go the extra mile and be independent?  Full-on independentism is barely existent in the islands, however; the islanders prefer to be part of something.

Where the North Sea’s energy resources are—
and whose they are
Not surprisingly, Scottish separatists pooh-pooh the annexation idea too.  Robert Leslie, the “Scotland Yes” campaign’s chairman for Orkney, said Halcro-Johnston’s proposal was “not surprising coming from a movement that is determined to defend the privileges currently enjoyed by the political and business elite in the U.K.”

Scandinavian-style flags on (currently) British islands
(top: Orkney, bottom: Shetland)
So what do Shetlanders and Orcadians want?  Well, the referendum result is largely out of their hands; the islanders, numbering fewer than 40,000, are less than 1% of Scotland’s population.  But they are for the most part determined to parlay either a “yes” or a “no” vote in September into a conversation that leads to reforms that will give them greater autonomy—including control over, and remuneration from, their energy resources.  (See my article on this subject from this blog, “Orkney—the Next Dubai? Further Reflections on Scottish Independence.”)  These are a steely lot: their ancestors were Vikings, not Celts, and their culture is in many ways more Scandinavian than Anglo-Saxon.  Geographically, the islands are closer to Oslo, Norway, than to London—and closer to Bergen, Norway, than even to Edinburgh or Glasgow.

Funny, you don’t look Celtic: a Shetlander in the annual “fire festival”
It should also be mentioned that is not only those in the British Isles who are watching the Scottish referendum campaign closely.  The above quotations come mostly from a report filed from Orkney by a reporter for R.I.A. Novosti, Russia’s state news agency, which of late has been a geyser blasting forth shrill and often wildly inventive propaganda about the conflict in Ukraine.  This coverage routinely shines a spotlight on western Europe’s separatist troubles, in places like Catalonia, northern Italy, and of course Scotland, mostly as a way to show that NATO supports separatism only when it is convenient.  Fair enough, and it is true of most world leaders, of course, not least President Vladimir Putin, who bombed Chechnya into the stone age to keep it part of Russia but now pays lip service to Crimeans’ and eastern Ukrainians’ sacred right to binding secession referenda.

A pro-independence rally in Edinburgh
There is an exception, though.  Around the world, it is hard to find a country that, as much as the United Kingdom, supports separatism even when it is not convenient.  Once the largest empire in the world, swallowing up massive civilizations in India, Africa, and elsewhere, the U.K. is, with astounding maturity, committed to holding on to no territory against the majority will of its citizens, whether it is Hong Kong, the Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Northern Ireland, or Scotland.  The world—and the neighborhood of Russia in particular—would be a better place if everyone settled their borders as the English and Scottish are finally able to do, with words, arguments, and an orderly vote.

[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.]

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Russian Ultranationalists in Odessa Go for Whole Enchilada, Declare “Republic of Novorossiya”

It is in eastern Ukraine where the Russian ultranationalist separatists—organized and staffed, beyond doubt, by Kremlin-commanded forces—have grabbed the most headlines: seizing government buildings in more than a score of cities, resulting in lethal standoffs with the Ukrainian military.

But it is in western Ukraine that the pro-Russia secessionists have become most ambitious.  Last week in this blog I discussed the declaration on April 16th of a “People’s Republic of Odessa” in Ukraine’s southwest, bordering Transnistria and Moldova, though at the time it seemed to be mostly an online phenomenon, not yet a street-politics movement, though it was calling for one.  Now Russian media are reporting a rally in Odessa’s Kulikovo Field where crowds are declaring an “Odessa Republic of Novorossiya.”  “New Russia,” or Novorossiya, is the name given in Czarist times to much of what is now Ukraine, but especially the flatlands just north of Crimea, including Odessa and spilling into the areas in today’s southeastern Ukraine that have been declared the independent “People’s Republics” of Lugansk (Luhansk), Kharkov (Kharkiv), and, most dramatically, Donetsk.

Valery Kaurov in 2008, during an anti-NATO uprising around Odessa
One Valery Kaurov has been named the “people’s president” of the Odessa Republic of Novorossiya.  He is currently the head of the Union of Orthodox Citizens of Ukraine.  (Nearly all of Ukraine’s Russian-speaking minority are Eastern Orthodox Christians, while most of the country’s Catholics live in the Ukrainian-speaking west.)  Kaurov addressed the rally via Skype, since, apparently, he had fled the city fearing arrest.  More information on the rally, including its size and who organized it, has so far been difficult to find.

Pro-Russian activists in Odessa recently
The new republic also apparently recognizes the “independence” of the Donetsk, Lugansk, and Kharkov republics as well as a new entity called the Carpathian Ruthenian People’s Republic.  Carpathian Ruthenia, now called Ukraine’s Transcarpathia (Zakarpattia) oblast, which formed the eastern part of Czechoslovakia between the world wars, is home to a minority of Rusyns (Ruthenians) and was the site of an aborted declaration of independence in 2008 that was presumed by Ukrainian authorities to be the work of Russian provocateurs.

One version of the Odessa “national” flag as it appeared online recently
But why Odessa in particular (a question posed not so long ago in this blog)?  Founded by Catherine the Great in 1794 on land just conquered from the Ottoman Empire, Odessa has long been considered a Russian, rather than Ukrainian, city.  And, as Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, told the world at his recent press event, “Kharkiv, Lugansk, Donetsk, Odessa were not part of Ukraine in Czarist times, they were transferred in 1920.  Why?  God knows.  Then for various reasons these areas were gone, and the people stayed there—we need to encourage them to find a solution.  We must do everything to help these people to protect their rights and independently determine their own destiny.”  (He has also taken lately to using the term Novorossiya.)  Putin also allegedly mentioned Odessa as a possible site of Russian military intervention as long ago as his early-February phone call with the United States president, Barack Obama.

What’s old is new again: borders in Ukraine in 1918,
during the chaos of the Bolshevik–Menshevik civil war
Moreover, as the Economist recently summed up Putin’s possible next geostrategic moves: “ One possibility is opening up a land corridor to Crimea through Donetsk and Mariupol.  Another is a corridor extending from Crimea to Transdniestria, a pro-Russian breakaway territory in Moldova which is home to a Russian army, by way of Odessa.  A third, extreme, option might be splitting the country along the Dnieper.”  It is of course option no. 2, plowing a corridor to Transnistria (a.k.a. Transdniestria, a.k.a. Pridnestrovia), that would make Odessa key.  Transnistria, which is ethnically about a third Russian, a third Ukrainian, and a third Moldovan (i.e. Romanian), is a sliver of land occupied by Russian troops which declared independence from Moldova in 1991.  Unlike Abkhazia and South Ossetia, within Georgia’s internationally recognized boundaries, it has not become a formal puppet state diplomatically recognized by Moscow.  Unlike Crimea, it has not been annexed.  But it craves either option.  Transnistria’s foreign minister has now repeatedly asked for some version of a Crimea-style path to annexation, starting with formal recognition.  But the Kremlin has been coy on the issue so far, though it has raised alarms about the Ukrainian military’s sealing of the border between Transnistria and Odessa Oblast in order to prevent the further westward flow of Russian matériel or even personnel.

Nina Shtanski, Transnistria’s minister for foreign affairs, has set fashion trends
worldwide on the question of where to position buttons on a power suit.
And, of course, calling everything in between Novorossiya would have the argument of efficiency—eliminating, in terms of symbolism and in terms of groping for and waiting for provocations, the painfully slow process of “retaking” Ukraine oblast by oblast, as was begun in Crimea.  Putin wants the whole enchilada.  And the whole enchilada is called Novorossiya.  Watch this space.

Another view: this image, circulating on the Internet, is said to be of a map produced by the Communist Party of Ukraine.  It shows modern Ukraine divided into (clockwise from upper left: Ukraine, the Dneprovsko-Slobozhanskaia Republic (including Kharkiv and half of Kyiv), the Donbas Republic (Donetsk, Zaporizhia, and Luhansk), the Republic of Crimea, and the Republic of Novorossiya (including Odessa and Kherson oblasts).

Two alternate flags of an independent “Novorossiya”
declared very briefly, and without effect, in 1992

[You can read more about these and other separatist 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.]

Thanks to Olga Buchel for directing me to some of the information used in this article.

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