Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Ukrainian “Right Sector” Fascists Light Transcarpathian Fuse

Right Sector ultranationalists in Lviv this week
Back in early 2014, during the Winter Olympics in Sochi, I predicted on this blog that Crimea would be the next part of the post-Soviet “near abroad” to explode in violence between pro-Russian and anti-Russian forces.  And indeed it was that republic within independent Ukraine that the Russian Federation invaded and annexed mere weeks later.  This blog has followed the ensuing Russian war on Ukraine closely, and almost exactly a year ago (in an article in this blog titled “Will Transcarpathia Be the Next Donetsk—or Crimea?”), I opined that Ukraine’s Transcarpathia was a likely place for President Vladimir Putin’s next infringement of Ukrainian sovereignty.  Well, this week the Transcarpathian domino has started to fall, but not quite in the direction I had predicted.

First, some history.  The oblast (province) of Transcarpathia is a former part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire which between the world wars was attached by the League of Nations as the eastern “tail” of the new composite republic of Czecho-Slovakia.  Its inhabitants included, and continue to include, Ukrainians, Magyars (Hungarians), Russians, and a long-standing local minority called the Ruthenian, or Rusyn, people—Slavs whose communities are also found in nearby Poland and Slovakia today, where they tend to be known as Lemkos.  When Adolf Hitler moved into Czechoslovakia in 1938 and 1939, Ruthenia and Slovakia, separately, declared independence, but Transcarpathia was annexed by the Axis government in Hungary.  After the Second World War, Transcarpathia, also called Carpathian Ruthenia or Carpatho-Ukraine, was grafted onto the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic under Josef Stalin.  In the centrally-governed Soviet empire, boundaries between constituent S.S.R.s had little meaning, but after the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, Ukraine became one of the places where, as Putin was later to put it, people went to bed as Soviet citizens and woke up as a Russian minority in a foreign country.  (Imperialist karma’s a bitch, ain’t it?)  Autonomy-minded residents, including some ethnic Hungarians (12% of the oblast), Russians (3%), and Ruthenians (by then less than 1%) declared an independent Republic of Subcarpathian Rus’ in 1993, but it fizzled.

The flag of Transcarpathia
In 2008, as Putin was flexing his muscles in the neighboring Republic of Georgia—formalizing, through war, two of its constituent regions, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, as Russian puppet states—trouble was brewing in Ukraine as well.  Again, Transcarpathians rose up, this time declaring an independent Republic of Carpathian Ruthenia.  This the government in Kyiv would not indulge, claiming that it was all being staged by Moscow—which, given the events in Georgia, remains a reasonable interpretation.

In 2012, the new ethnically Russian–Polish–Belarussian pro-Kremlin president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, helped enshrine Russian, Ruthenian, Hungarian, and other minority languages as official.  But after Yanukovych fled and was impeached in the popular “Euro-Maidan” uprising in 2014, the largely progressive, democratically-minded new government included strong elements of the Ukrainian-nationalist far right, including the fringe neo-fascist group Right Sector (Pravyi Sektor), who, because of their importance in the Euro-Maidan movement, were given a small political role, including some ministries.  (I discussed Right Sector and kindred groups in an article last year; see also this article.)  These right-wing elements pushed through an erasure of minority language rights—a policy which was quickly reversed, under international pressure, but remains for many non-Ukrainian-speakers a symbol of the new regime’s disdain for them and a pretext for ethnic-Russian separatism in places like Crimea and the Donbas.  The cause of Transcarpathian autonomy has an ally (as discussed earlier in this blog) in Jobbik, the pro-Kremlin right-wing extremist nationalist group which is now Hungary’s third-largest political party.  As in Kharkiv (see article from this blog) and Odessa (see article from this blog) oblasts, a pro-Kremlin “people’s republic” has been declared in Transcarpathia, but without any actual rebel control of territory as there is in the self-declared pro-Kremlin Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic in southeastern Ukraine.

Right Sector yobbos with “Wolfsangel” armbands
Observers have long wondered now which “near abroad” territories Putin would, either directly or, as he prefers, through “false flag” battalions and agents provocateurs, try to invade next: Odessa? Transnistria? Transcaspia? Transcarpathia?  But in Transcarpathia the spark that lit the fuse this week has come from the aforementioned ultranationalist Ukrainian group Right Sector, which has thousands of active, armed members throughout Ukraine and as many as 10,000 fighting Russian troops in the Donbas.  On July 11th, according to Ukrainian prosecutors, two dozen armed militants wearing Right Sector insignia exchanged gunfire with police at a café in the Transcarpathian city of Mukachevo, destroying police and civilian cars with grenade launchers and killing two officers.  Five Right Sector fighters were wounded, but most fled to a nearby rural area where police engaged them in a siege—still ongoing three days later as this is being written, with ten Right Sector militants holding out against state police (though reliable up-to-date reports are difficult to find).

Will Transcarpathia join the archipelago of Russian puppet regimes?
Russian news reports the same day described Right Sector attacks on a gymnasium and a police station, also in Mukachevo.  Two were killed at the gym, owned by a local legislator, Mikhail Lanyo, allied with the Yanukovych regime.

Ukrainian fascists with red-and-black flags were a minority but a high-profile presence
during the Euro-Maidan movement of 2013-14.
Some descriptions of events say the incident in the café was a meeting between rival gangs—one run by Lanyo, who controls border crossings with the European Union (E.U.) states of Romania, Hungary, and Slovakia, and rivals in league with Right Sector and a local politician named Viktor Baloha, who is reported to run Transcarpathia as his own mafia-style fief.  The summit meeting, planned to divide territories in gangland-politics fashion, got out of hand, drawing in the police.

Viktor Baloha
As this article goes to press, two Right Sector participants in the events have been taken to Kyiv for questioning, a six-year-old boy taken hostage by Right Sector has been released, and Right Sector volunteer troops, who seem extremely well organized, have established roadblocks on the main Kyiv–Zhytomyr road.  Right Sector spokespeople also say they are working with the Ukrainian secret police, the S.B.U. (Sluzhba Bezpeky Ukrayiny, or Security Service of Ukraine), to restore order—which, if true, anyone should find a bit worrying.

A Right Sector roadblock in Transcarpathia this week
The same state-owned and state-controlled Russian media outlets that the Kremlin uses as a tightly scripted propaganda machine disseminating lies about the conflict in the southeast are describing what sounds like a near-takeover of Ukraine by Right Sector forces.  Ukraine’s president, the former chocolate tycoon Petro Poroshenko, on the other hand, says the events are only about smuggling and not about geopolitics.  Meanwhile, however, hundreds of Right Sector protestors in Kyiv are demanding the resignation of the minister of the interior, Arsen Avakov.  In Ukraine’s second city, Lviv (the Ruthenian capital in the days of the Habsburgs), according to Russian media, Right Sector demonstrators lowered E.U. flags at the main administrative building and replaced them with their own ultranationalist red-and-black flags.  And Right Sector demonstrations are being reported in cities as far apart as Kharkiv in the east and Ternopil in the west.

Right Sector on parade
In a reshuffle reminiscent of the decision earlier this year to install the former Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili, as governor of the ethnopolitically tense Odessa oblast, Poroshenko’s administration today named Hennady Moskal, the chairman of Luhansk oblast’s State Military and Civil Administration, to be Transcarpathia’s new governor.  In both cases, Poroshenko seems interested in shoring up Ukraine’s geopolitically vulnerable regions by putting them in the charge of politicians that have direct experience with surrendering to Russia.  Moskal supports Poroshenko’s position on the conflict, saying that Transcarpathia is a “green channel” through which billions of dollars’ worth of commodities, including timber but mostly Belarussian cigarettes, are smuggled into the E.U. via light planes, drones, and tunnel systems, as well as co-opted border controls.

The Euro-Maidan movement was—sometimes unfortunately so—a big tent.
One possible cause of the rise of Right Sector at this particular juncture is popular Ukrainian dissatisfaction with Poroshenko’s handling of the ongoing undeclared war with Russia.  The government has all but written off Crimea as lost and seems willing to accept Putin’s demand that Ukraine turn the 24 out of 27 oblasts it still controls from a unitary state (as the constitution designates it) into a loose confederation—which is rightly seen as a euphemism for allowing ethnic-Russian-dominated areas to be hived off as Russian puppet states.  Even the E.U. is urging Poroshenko to throw in the towel and allow “federalism.”  (Interestingly, Putin has no appetite for autonomy or federalism within the Russian Federation itself, which he rules from the center with an iron fist.)

Putin preparing to ride westward across the Steppes
As in Crimea, Donetsk, and Luhansk—and as in Odessa, where a deadly arson fire last year that killed pro-Russian demonstrators stoked anti-Kyiv feeling—one must be especially on guard when local events seem to provide a perfect pretext for Russian intervention.  As one Ukrainian political analyst, Petro Kralyuk, puts it, Russia’s Federal Security Service (F.S.B., successor to the K.G.B.) “has successfully picked up the baton.  For Russia, Transcarpathia and its surroundings remain an important region.  Taking into account the blurred identity and ethnic diversity of the local population, the field of activities for these agents is quite fertile.”  Kralyuk calls this week’s apparent rise of Right Sector violence “a wonderful gift” for Moscow.  If events follow the earlier scripts, Putin will now say that neo-Nazis (Right Sector) are taking over Ukraine and that it is time to help the poor ethnic Russians, Hungarians, and Ruthenians in Transcarpathia “liberate” themselves from Kyiv’s tyrrany, just like Crimea, Donetsk, and Luhansk.  With Russian help, of course.  Out of the goodness of Putin’s heart.  You read it here first.

[You can read more about Transcarpathia, Donetsk, Luhansk, Crimea, Transnistria, 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.]

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Micronations Sign “Alcatraz Accords” Environmental Treaty at Central Italy Summit

(photo by the author)
Though “Springtime of Nations” is in many ways a news blog, rarely do I present first-person reportage on these pages.  Earlier this month, however, I was an invited speaker at the 3rd PoliNation conference, at the Free Republic of Alcatraz, in the Umbrian mountains of Italy, and was able to witness the signing of a first-of-its-kind environmental treaty by heads of state and other representatives of some of the world’s most high-profile micronations.

Daily life in the Free Republic of Alcatraz, with some of its 111 inhabitants
(photo by the author)
Titled the Alcatraz Environmental Treaty of 2015, the document, signed on July 5th, charges that “the large states of the world have been ineffective and their efforts have been lacking in intention and execution concerning efforts to improve the environment, preserve existing natural resources, and reduce carbon emissions to slow the change of the climate.”  Signatories agree to set a global example through responsible ecological stewardship in their own (usually tiny) territories, especially bee populations; to urge the preservation of Antarctica as a nature preserve set aside for scientific research only, even after the expiration of the Antarctic Treaty in 2020; to create “highly localized sub-currencies that will promote the local production and consumption of goods and produce”; to support efforts “to clean the human-generated debris from the oceans and reduce the ‘garbage patches’”; and to financial restructuring to reduce poverty and inequality.

Queen Carolyn and other dignitaries work on a draft of the final environmental treaty
(photo by the author)
In addition, the treaty demands, “for every square foot of land or glacier lost to melting ice sheets and rising ocean levels, compensation from the large landed nations of one square meter of dry/non-threatened land so that we may relocate the climate refugees that will be created as a result of the rising waters.”  (See my recent article which addresses the issue of the survival of low-elevation nations in a warmer planet with higher sea levels.)  You can read the full text of the treaty here.

For the Principality of Aigues-Mortes, one of the world’s lowest-elevation nations,
rising sea levels are no small matter.
Signatories of the treaty are Queen Carolyn of Ladonia; Grand Duke Niels of Flandrensis; President Iacopo Fo of Alcatraz; the Republic of Benny André Lund; Prince Jean-Pierre IV of Aigues-Mortes; Emperor Olivier of Angyalistan; Sogoln Yg Ysca, president of the Institut Fomoire; and a delegation from the otherwise acephalous (leaderless) Bunte Republik Neustadt.  Other nations have since expressed an interest in adding their names to the treaty.

At Alcatraz
(photo by the author)
The Royal Republic of Ladonia is a 1-square-kilometer art installation of sorts on the coast of Sweden, founded by Lars Vilks, a Latvian–Swedish avant-garde artist now living an underground, Salman Rushdie–style existence due to being targeted by jihadists for his cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.  (The apparent oxymoron in Ladonia’s full name is reconciled through their unique form of government, remony (republic + monarchy).

Ladonia is an unusual place
The Grand Duchy of Flandrensis, founded by Niels Vermeersch of Belgium, claims five islands off the coast of Antarctica, arguing that the Antarctic Treaty bars territorial claims by states but not individuals such as soi-disant heads of state.

The Republicof (sic; one word) Benny André Lund is a native of Norway, born in 1977, who has styled himself as a sovereign nation of one.  He has changed his name legally to this phrase, including the first name Republicof.

The Republic of Benny André Lund and his flag
(photo by the author)
The Principality of Aigues-Mortes is a small town on the coast of France’s Provence region, centered on a Medieval castle, which promotes tourism as well as causes such as sustainability, including through the use of its local currency, the tune, serving a function much like that outlined in the Alcatraz treaty.  One invited speaker, the Belgian journalist Julien Oeuillet, called Aigues-Mortes the world’s most successful micronation.

Vive la microfrancophonie!
(photo by the author)
The Empire of Angyalistan, founded in 1999 and active in environmental causes, is a nation whose territory is the horizon: it is always around us and can never be reached.

Emperor Olivier explains Angyalistan
(photo by the author)
The Formori Institute (Institut Fomoire), mostly found in the French-speaking world, is a landless international nation (structured much like a fraternal order) which claims for itself the heritage of the Formori (a.k.a. Fomorians or Fomoire), a legendary race of chthonic demi-gods who were defeated, according to Irish mythology, by the Tuatha Dé Danann, the pantheon of pre-Christian Celtic deities.  (The present writer had the honor of being inducted into the Formori’s House of the Yew.  Contact me privately if you are curious about my name in the (re)constructed Formoric tongue; I am still a novice in Formori protocols and confidentiality.)

A Formori induction ceremony, at the PoliNation conference
(photo by the author)
The Colorful Republic of Newtown (Bunte Republik Neustadt), in the former East Germany, is a leaderless micronation, much in the style of Copenhagen’s Christiania community, which is the focus of an annual music and cultural festival drawing more than 100,000 people to Dresden’s Neustadt neighborhood, which is where all the funky artist types were living when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989.  It sets itself against the forces of conformity, homogenization, gentrification, and the fragmentation of community in the new Germany.  (I was also made a citizen of the B.R.N., I am proud to say.)

The foreign minister of the Bunte Republik Neustadt with, to his left, the B.R.N. flag,
featuring a gleefully-pirated trademarked image in place of the old D.D.R.’s Masonic device
(photo by the author)
As for the host community of the conference, the Free Republic of Alcatraz (Libera Repubblica di Alcatraz) is an area of private land near Perugia in the stunningly beautiful hills of Italy’s central, landlocked region of Umbria.  It was founded by Jacopo Fo, son of Dario Fo, the Italian winner of the 1997 Nobel Prize for Literature, and a writer and sex guru in his own right.  The Free University of Alcatraz (Libera Università di Alcatraz) has a full calendar of dance workshops, art exhibitions, conferences, music festivals, and other events and also advocates sustainability and strong local community by example.

A map showing the territories of the Free Republic of Alcatraz, in the central Italian highlands.
(Darn!  I missed the gnome village.)
Other dignitaries at the conference include King Bruno of Noseland, a patch of land surrounded by northern Switzerland’s Canton of Argovia (Aargau), which has its own currency.  Its king is also producer of a documentary about micronations.  One of the conference’s organizers, Emperor George II of Atlantium (a territory surrounded by New South Wales, Australia), was unable to attend, due to illness—to my disappointment, since he has been a supporter of my book Let’s Split! and is helpful to my work in other ways.

Bruno, king of Noseland
(photo by the author)
Other highlights of the conference included a talk by the Austrian anthropologist Irina Ulrika Andel on the micronation phenomenon; a presentation on the Principality of Outer Baldonia by the Canadian historian Lachlan MacKinnon; presentations by nearly all of the micronations listed above (the playing of the Noselandic national anthem, “sung” through the nose, was a highlight); and an official statement by Queen Carolyn to announce that, contrary to what some sources on the World Wide Web still state, Ladonia is no longer in a state of war with Sweden or any other nation.  (In further state business, Her Majesty sealed a mutual-recognition accord with the Empire of Austenasia at a hastily arranged meeting at Heathrow airport en route back to her home in the United States.)

Jacopo Fo, circulating at the conference
(photo by the author)
As Oeuillet, the Belgian journalist (and author of a new book on impostor noblemen), put it at the conference, today’s micronations are conducting private activity using the language and symbols of public institutions, and the best of them are doing things that the recognized public institutions should be doing but aren’t.  When it comes to climate change, maybe these “silly” and “self-styled” monarchs and heads of state can nonetheless help prod the real powers that be to move in the right direction.

A group photo of the participants in the PoliNation conference, swiped from the ArciPerugia website.
I am at the lower right.
In fact, during my stay in Alcatraz, the news came in over the radio that voters in Greece had thumbed their nose at the European Union (E.U.) in general and at Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, in particular by rejecting the austerity measures proposed to help keep Greece in the euro zone.  In jubilant celebration, Alcatraz’s queen, Eleonora Albanese, passed out grappa for everyone.  Not, of course, because a “Grexit” would necessarily be the best thing or because anyone knows which course might be best for the people of Greece and the rest of southern Europe—but most of all, I gather, because, in geopolitics, Going Big isn’t working, and something has to give.

Eleonora Albanese, Queen of Alcatraz
(photo by the author)
[You can read more about Atlantium, Ladonia, 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.]

Let’s Split! was on display at the PoliNation conference, but you can buy your copy here.
(photo by the author)

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