The new great game

Our next anniversary guest post is written by the the great Jonathan Edelstein.

It’s starting to look like the season of referenda in the near abroad.

On September 17, less than a week from today, voters in the unrecognized republic of Transnistria, located between Moldova and Ukraine, will be asked to vote on whether to “renounce [their] independent status and subsequently become part of the Republic of Moldova” or “support a policy of independence… and subsequent free association with the Russian Federation.” The option of “free association” with Russia, which is widely considered a prelude to outright annexation, is reportedly backed by a large number of Russian-financed business and political organizations, some with long-standing presence in Transnistrian politics and others apparently formed for the occasion. In the meantime, South Ossetia, which had earlier explored the possibility of petitioning Russia’s constitutional court for annexation, has just announced its own referendum for November 12, and although Abkhazia currently denies similar plans, there are rumors that a plebiscite may be in the works there as well.

The referenda, which are rather transparently supported by Moscow, represent something of a change in policy for the Russian Federation. It’s certainly nothing new for post-Soviet Russia to attempt to maintain its influence over the countries comprising the former Soviet Union, and it has at times used Russian citizenship to cement the “soft” annexation of neighboring territories; for instance, at least 90 percent of Abkhazians and South Ossetians now hold Russian passports. Nevertheless, up to now, it has soft-pedaled the issue of de jure territorial expansion. The forthcoming vote on whether Transnistria should become a second Kaliningrad suggests that policymakers in Moscow are at least starting to think seriously about taking formal responsibility for the territories that have broken away from other former Soviet republics.

At first glance, it’s hard to see why Russia would push such a policy at the present time. All three of the breakaway republics have substantial minorities who oppose union with Russia; Transnistria is almost evenly divided between ethnic Russians, Ukrainians and Romanians, and despite post-Soviet ethnic cleansing, South Ossetia and Abkhazia retain Georgian minority enclaves. The recent wave of terrorist bombings in the Transnistrian capital of Tiraspol may well be linked to the referendum, and Russian annexation of the Georgian breakaway republics would only intensify border conflicts such as the Kodori Gorge. Nor would successful plebiscites lend a veneer of legitimacy to a Russian annexation; indeed, given the current international attitude toward non-consensual secessions from recognized states, this would only make Russia’s legal position worse by transforming it into an occupying power.

In other words, the referenda seem like a recipe for stirring up ethnic conflict within the breakaway republics, making Moldova and Georgia even more alarmed over Russian political ambitions than they already are, and creating new diplomatic and legal problems for Moscow. Which leads naturally to three questions: why now, what does Russia stand to gain in compensation for these risks, and how much should the rest of the world (and particularly Europe) care?

Why now?

The short answer, at least from Moscow’s standpoint, is that it may be now or never. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia’s method of choice for projecting influence over the “near abroad” has been to prop up friendly governments in the CIS nations where they exist and to install them where they don’t. This strategy remains, to a great extent, effective in central Asia, where democratization is still at an early stage and where local leaders have few realistic alternative strategic partners. In the Caucasus and eastern Europe, however, this system has broken down during the past three years.

To be sure, Russia isn’t entirely without clients in these regions. Moscow can still exercise influence over Belarus, where Lukashenko needs Putin’s patronage to stay in office, and in Armenia, which has a clientage relationship with Russia similar to Israel’s with the United States. Since the Rose Revolution in Georgia, however, Tblisi’s politics have shifted away from Moscow and toward Brussels, and similar evolution has taken place in Ukraine and Moldova. Even Azerbaijan is increasingly developing a mass opposition politics and has made tentative suggestions about eventual European Union membership.

The bottom line is that Putin can’t be certain that his remaining Caucasian and European clients will remain in his camp forever. The three unrecognized republics, which are almost entirely dependent on Russia for diplomatic and financial support, represent Moscow’s best method of maintaining influence in these regions. And even there, pro-Russian political alignment may not last forever. In the 2004 Abkhazian presidential election, for instance, Moscow’s candidate initially lost, leading to a controversy which was resolved after heavy-handed Russian intervention. The 2005 parliamentary election in Transnistria likewise resulted in victory for the Renewal party, which ran on an anti-corruption ticket and beat out President Igor Smirnov’s Republican faction. Smirnov himself may, for the first time in his career, face a serious challenge in elections scheduled for December. None of these countries can be called a full-fledged democracy, but domestic politics isn’t as domesticated as it has been in the past.

Granted, neither of these political events have had any immediate effect in foreign policy terms. The Renewal party has been co-opted to a considerable extent, and as evidenced by its support of the referendum, its leaders haven’t dissented to a significant degree on alignment with Russia. Pro-Russian politics are still the consensus in Abkhazia and South Ossetia as well, particularly the latter. Nevertheless, as Moldova and Georgia develop more attractive European-oriented economies, the growing importance of corruption and development issues might spur the formation of political opposition and put the EU in competition with Russia for local influence. The political climate even in Transnistria or the Georgian breakaway provinces might not favor annexation to Russia five or ten years from now, so Moscow may be striking while the iron is hot.

What’s at stake?

The question remains of what Moscow hopes to gain if the referenda are successful. The United States, the European Union and Ukraine have already announced that they won’t recognize the referenda and that they won’t regard the results as having any impact on the breakaway republics’ legal status. In the immediate term, Russia stands little chance of gaining international support for annexation, and given that Transnistria has neither a seacoast nor a land border with Russia, the movement of Russian military forces or logistical support into the region could lead to trouble with Moldova and Ukraine.

The referenda can provide Moscow with leverage to pressure Moldova and Georgia, however, and even if their results are suspended, they could be used to create options in the medium to long term. Transnistria, Abkhazia and South Ossetia are all the subjects of international mediation processes – mediation which has been stalled for various reasons, but which has as its goal a consensual resolution of the breakaway republics’ status. Up to now, the options have been independence, reabsorption into unitary Georgian or Moldovan states or some form of local autonomy, with the unrecognized states insisting on the first, Georgia and Moldova on the second and the international community not really pushing the last. If a fourth option of annexation by Russia is brought into the equation, however, and if Moscow can point to the results of a plebiscite as credible evidence of support for that option, then autonomy under Russian patronage could become the middle ground.

There is, after all, precedent in the Balkans. The 1995 constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina, for instance, which was brokered at Dayton, created an autonomous “Republika Srpska” with 49 percent of the country’s land area and the authority to “establish special parallel relationships with neighboring states.” This Serb canton has maintained broad de facto autonomy, including its own paramilitary police, and has tended to align its politics with the Serbian state. It may be that Russia’s long-term ambition in the South Caucasus and Transnistria is similar – not to annex the breakaway territories per se, but to use the prospect of annexation to manipulate the international mediation processes and secure a legally recognized arrangement under which Moscow can maintain influence through autonomous provincial governments.

Why should the EU care?

The impact of Russian neo-imperial ambitions and clashing nationalisms on stability in the Caucasus and the countries bordering the Dniester is reason enough to care. For those who are looking for a more concrete reason (and have a fascination with worst-case scenarios), the European Union could inherit the Transnistria conflict sooner than it might think. In less than four months, barring unforeseen complications in Brussels, Romania will become an EU member state. At that point, the slumbering issue of Moldovan reunification with Romania would take on a new dimension, given that reunion would be a means for Moldova to jump the queue and receive the benefits of EU membership a decade or two ahead of schedule. This isn’t something that seems likely to happen soon – nationalist politics in Moldova would pull both ways, Russia’s capital in Chisinau isn’t entirely spent, the costs would potentially be prohibitive from the Romanian side and sorting out financial obligations would be a major headache – but the chances of it happening eventually are greater than zero. If so, then the Transnistria issue, and its potential for direct conflict with Russia, would suddenly be inside the EU’s borders.

Even barring such an extreme scenario, developments in the Transnistria and South Caucasus conflicts could potentially complicate relations with EU candidate states. The Transnistria referendum, for instance, has already created yet another rift in Ukraine’s ethnically-charged politics. The Ukrainian government has refused to send observers to monitor the referendum, but Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions will be sending an independent delegation. If the referendum results in a decision favoring “free association” with Russia and if the issue of Dniester transit rights comes before the Verkhovna Rada, then Transnistria policy could become both politically and (given Transnistria’s 30-percent Ukrainian minority) ethnically divisive. If it becomes divisive enough, then it could impact Ukraine’s still-unfinished democratization.

The Caucasian republics are farther from Europe, but the crises there – and particularly the EU’s role or lack thereof in resolving those crises – could nevertheless have an eventual impact. Unlike Moldova, where European integration is a fairly natural progression, the Caucasus has several other potential partners, and it isn’t inevitable that the Caucasian states will become European-aligned. And at least one of the factors that will play a part in whether countries like Georgia ultimately opt for a European orientation is how reliable the EU’s soft power is in protecting them against Russia. If South Ossetia, or ultimately Abkhazia, petitions to join the Russian Federation, then Tblisi will need to see some concrete opposition from Brussels, and the latter may face a choice between losing Georgia or supporting solutions that it doesn’t really favor.

The overriding possibility is that, if Europe and the remainder of the international community let the referenda happen without making any proposals themselves to break the deadlock, they risk losing the diplomatic initiative to Russia and having their future regional options constrained. I’m not nearly familiar enough with the politics and needs of the region to suggest what kind of proposal should be made or what tactics should be used to persuade the parties to compliance. Continuing to keep the crises on a back burner, though, which after all amounts to de facto support of the status quo, may not be a viable option for much longer.

42 thoughts on “The new great game

  1. I am afraid there is a question you haven’t touched. Are these areas worth confronting Russia? Good relations with Russia are important, good relations with Georgia less so.

    Secondly, the western position on unilateral secession is less crystal clear than you state. We didn’t ask Serbia whether Montenegro might secede, to give only the latest example.

    Thirdly, you write about stability. Is autonomy a stable situation? We’ve seen a nasty case of autonomy statutes being revoked leading to major trouble.

  2. Montenegro always had a constitutional right to dissolve the union. Completely different situation. Kosovar secession, otoh, would expose the west to charges of hypocrisy.

  3. I am absolutely stunned that such an article could be written without any reference to the current Kosovo status talks.

    The main reason why these issues are coming to prominence right now is because Russia sees an opportunity to use Kosovo independence as means by which to push its case in these territories. The misguided view promoted by some that Kosovo is sui generis is nonsense. As David just noted, granting Kosovo independence and denying the same right to these states would open the West to charges of hypocrisy. Moscow simply will not accept one favourable precedent for Western satellite states and have to then accept another unfavourable one for its own.

    Now we are seeing the real consequences of promoting Kosovo independence and failing to seize an opportunity to create a new form of super-autonomy in divided states that would work to limit secessionist tendencies; not just in the Caucasus and Transdniestra, but also in the Balkans (Bosnia Serbs are making ominous noises now as well), Iraq and in any number of other places.

  4. I don’t agree that Kosovos Independence would put West in difficult situation.. As far as I know in Kosovo albanians are majority and in Abkhazia before the war, georgians were if not majority, then equally represented. 250 thousands of refugges should return to abkhazia and then they can hold plebiscits, referendums or whatever..
    South Ossetias problem is even more ridiculous: georgian and ossetian villages are like chess-board, they are so mixed and this territory is so tiny that only neo-imperialist Russians could have such a stupid plan.
    Russia can simulate and make parallels (like today Putin in FT:http://www.ft.com/cms/s/76e205b2-40e5-11db-827f-0000779e2340.html)
    between Kosovo and other post-soviet seeparatist quasi-states, untill West really studies this subject…

  5. Levan – the corrolary of your view is that as long as the Abkhazians could define a piece of contiguous territory on which they (historically?) constitute a majority then the validity of their claims would in your opinion change.

    Whilst your analysis of the Southern Ossetian position is accurate, it is less clear at which point a territory becomes so fragmented so as to deny any territorial claims.

    As a thought exercise, what would be your reaction be to Russian support for a ‘Republic of Lazistan’ – taking a chunk out of Turkey and a smaller chunk out of Georgia ?

  6. Article 60 of the former Constitution of Serbia and Montenegro allows member states to secede after a three-year waiting period. Montenegro’s secession was by consent – given in advance and subject to conditions, but consent.

    Jim is right – I’m now slapping my forehead for not mentioning Kosovo (although there was some mention of the possible Kosovo precedent in this linked thread). It is possible to make a plausible claim that Kosovo is sui generis, given that it (1) is a relatively recent addition to the Serbian state, (2) was separately administered during the Yugoslav period, and (3) had de facto equality with Serbia during much of that period. On the other hand, there are plenty of territories in the FSU that can make at least two of these claims and some that can make all three, and Russia would have an interest in interpreting the Kosovar example as broadly as possible. I’m not sure it could even be distinguished so easily on ethnic grounds, given that most of these post-conflict settlements end up ratifying mutual ethnic cleansing.

    Of course, Kosovo is a two-edged sword – if the final status talks don’t result in independence, then Russia will be the one open to charges of hypocrisy for supporting independence in Transnistria but not Kosovo. Not to mention that any Kosovar precedent could potentially be applied to secessionist regions within the Russian Federation itself.

    In any event, though, I’d guess that Russia is less interested in the independence precedent than in super-autonomy along the lines of the Republika Srpska or the proposed Turkish canton of Annan Plan Cyprus, in which its sponsored provinces would have limited foreign relations authority and a veto over federal legislation that affects them. That way, Moscow would get the best of both worlds – it would avoid the stigma of dismembering Georgia and Moldova, get credit for helping to broker the peace, effectively retain all three regions as its fiefdoms, and gain a permanent proxy voice in Georgian and Moldovan national affairs.

    I tend to believe that some form of super-autonomy would be the best solution in the long term, but that Russian-sponsored super-autonomy wouldn’t be. It might be a good thing if the EU offered a few incentives to Moldova and Georgia (whose refusal to discuss meaningful autonomy is IMO a substantial part of the problem) and work out an arrangement in which the breakaway regions wouldn’t depend on Russia for political patronage.

  7. Chris, I just wanted to be more close to real politics. Abkhazians came to this territory from North Caucasus, but to take this conflict in to historical dimension (especially in Caucasus, where all are very “proud” of their history), won’t contribute solving this problem, I think. The only peaceful way to move frozen conflict from its standpoint is to start IDPs returning process. Abkhazian de-facto leaders are against this directly or indirectly and this once again underlines their destructive role in peaceful resolution of conflict and makes unclear what they really want..
    My reaction to any Russian post-imperialistic ambitions are negative. If we want to exercise on turkeys problems their are more evident ones their..

  8. Sorry Levan – Perhaps I should have made my point better.

    You are right that the situation in Kosovo are different from that in Abkhazia/Ossetia, however it is less clear to me that one could come up with an objective set of guidelines which would seperate one sort of situation from another.

    The questions I pose are hypothetical and meant to illustrate that point. I personally feel that the best future of most of the countries in the Caususas is going to be multi-ethnic.

  9. You are right that the situation in Kosovo are different from that in Abkhazia/Ossetia

    Any two situations are always different. But you’ll not find the one overriding, obvious difference. Every population came somewhence else, somewhen.

    I personally feel that the best future of most of the countries in the Caususas is going to be multi-ethnic.

    Without large scale ethnic cleansing this is unavoidable. But it hardly is an argument for one specific territory to be part of one country or the other.

  10. The article says that “Transnistria is almost evenly divided between ethnic Russians, Ukrainians and Romanians,” but the interesting thing here is that most of the ethnic Romanians (or Moldovans, to be precise) who live there are actually united with the Slavs (Russians/Ukrainians) in wanting independence. As a UN report noted, for the most part they don’t have any wish to be united with Moldova proper.
    Some interesting background on this at http://www.tiraspoltimes.com/node/179:
    Ethnic Moldovans in Pridnestrovie prefer independence over unification with Moldova

  11. “It is possible to make a plausible claim that Kosovo is sui generis”

    Which brings us, of course, to the tough little nuts of Catalonia, Euskadi, Corsica and Flanders.

    “I tend to believe that some form of super-autonomy would be the best solution in the long term”

    I agree. This may be the end result in Euskadi, and this could then serve as a model. At the same time it would offer the same type of solution for the long suffering Gibraltar problem, as well as offering a formula for resolving the Turkish ‘entity’ in Cyprus. Seems to have lots of potential this idea.

  12. Jonathan, I think you have hit the mark! I also don’t think Russia really wants to promote secession in these places. I think that it would much prefer them to have a high degree of autonomy. In this manner it has a way of exerting some control, albeit in an indirect manner through the autonomous entities on the other states. However, Moscow is using these events to make a clear statement of policy regarding its own power in world affairs. If Kosovo is allowed to go its own way because that is what Washington wants then it reserves the right to make a similar demand on territories over which it has influence.

    Of course, there is a very easy way out of this mess: go for partition. Serbia agress to give up Kosovo in return for keeping the northernmost 15% around Mitrovica. Many observers believe that Belgrade would take this, albeit with some pressure. Although not ideal, it at least keeps the principle of state consent for secession intact. As for the idea that this would amount to the unwelcome ethnic partition of Kosovo, the simple response is to ask why people who cite this reason seem to have no problem with the ethnic partition of Serbia simply because the Albanians don’t want to live with the Serbs? As for the idea of keeping a few Serbs scattered across Kosovo in order to try to get around the hypocrisy of creating a purely Albanian state in Kosovo, we all know that this is a farce. The Serbs in Kosovo have no hope of freedom or security under Albanian rule. After six years of international rule, all that has happened is that pattern of oppression has been reversed. They will leave in no time.

    All-in-all, we come down to the same point that Kosovo independence against Serbia’s will is about to set a dangerous new precedent. Your excellent commentary on the Caucasus and Transdniestra just serves to highlight the point.

  13. …or persuade the Albanians in Kosovo to go for super-autonomy, as Belgrade has suggested. The trouble is that it is too late in the day for that. This should have been the international position from the start: Kosovo would be under international rule until Milosevic was replaced by a democratic government in Belgrade. Then it would be re-incorporated under ‘super-autonomy’ (which I also believe has a lot of potential in international affairs). Instead, we are left with the current mess!

  14. This comment would have been more apt two years ago, but at some point along the European programme, after a common market, common currency, common macroeconomic policy, common defense policy, one will have to ask the question, What powers will the members states have left to reserve themselves in granting autonomy to some region? If the traditional functions of non-local government are exercised by the EU on behalf of its members states, is there any functional difference between autonomy and sovereignty?

    Now already there are plenty of snippets and scraps of turf that cannot work as nation-states, but might work as constituencies of a federal Europe. Unfortunately for them, there is no federal Europe. Nonetheless, those whose idea of the endpoint of the Europeanisation process involves a federal Europe might do well to think about what they think that endpoint looks like, where the separation of powers lies. However politically impossible to get today’s members states to sign up to, it might make an interesting offer to those regions for whom traditional categories of statehood do not appear viable.

  15. “However politically impossible to get today’s members states to sign up to, it might make an interesting offer to those regions for whom traditional categories of statehood do not appear viable.”

    100% agree Cyrus. That was my point (made on Afoe) about the ‘coalition of the willing’ being a way out of the gridlock on the constitution front.

    The ‘coalition’ would be formed by:

    i) Those (like many on this site) who feel themselves to be primarily European, rather than belonging to any particular nation. This group can co-opt the rest of the pro-constitution crowd

    ii) The members of the ‘nations without a state’ who find themselves inside the EU boundaries. This group could be quite extensive, if the substantial autonomy idea was better developed and put across.

    iii) Those ‘new Europeans’ currently on their way here in boats from Mauritania to the Canary Islands. By these I mean all those recent EU immigrants and their descendants who have so much difficulty situating themselves within the old ethnic idea of the nation state as it exists in Europe.

    So what I am saying is that the idea of having a ‘European citizenship’ – just like US citizenship effectively – may well be the long term answer to all this agro. It might well serve the same role as forgetting all the old ‘England forever’ stuff in the UK and creating British identity did.

  16. Jonathan, great post. Good to have you aboard.

    Longer comment tomorrow, but one point now: “all politics is local”. There are internal issues pushing Russia in this direction, too.

    Doug M.

  17. Bill M:

    the interesting thing here is that most of the ethnic Romanians (or Moldovans, to be precise) who live there are actually united with the Slavs (Russians/Ukrainians) in wanting independence

    That’s plausible, but (1) I’d be very wary of accepting articles in the PMR official media as proof of anything, and (2) at least some of them may be voting no with bombs. We’ll see how they vote on Sunday.

    Edward:

    Which brings us, of course, to the tough little nuts of Catalonia, Euskadi, Corsica and Flanders.

    Some might argue that the first and last of these have super-autonomy already, which raises the question of exactly what super-autonomy is and how to distinguish it from garden-variety autonomy. Pretty much all the mentions of “super-autonomy” I’ve seen use it as a term of art without attempting a generic definition.

    Super-autonomy is, I suppose, a constitutional status with more and/or better-entrenched incidents of sovereignty than are possessed by a typical autonomous province. One possible definition of a super-autonomous region may be a territory that has one or more of the following: (1) the right to regulate local citizenship, domicile and/or property ownership; (2) authority to conduct foreign relations; (3) the power to nullify certain federal laws within its territory; (4) a veto over some or all federal legislation; (5) enhanced local police power including but not limited to border controls; or (6) the right to secede. Of course, by this definition, some regions are more super-autonomous than others, and Swiss cantons are super-autonomous or even super-duper-autonomous.

    This may be the end result in Euskadi, and this could then serve as a model.

    I’m actually not sure why Moldova is so resistant to this for Transnistria, given that it granted exactly such status to Gagauzia. In both Moldova’s and Georgia’s case, though, substantive progress may have to wait for a change of government.

  18. Any two situations are always different. But you’ll not find the one overriding, obvious difference. Every population came somewhence else, somewhen.

    Yes, which is why “it is less clear to me that one could come up with an objective set of guidelines which would seperate one sort of situation from another”

  19. “Some might argue that the first and last of these have super-autonomy already,”

    Well here in Catalonia there are many who would challenge that. What Ibarretxe (who is PNV note *not* Batasuna) is arguing for is effectively some form of dual sovereignty, where Euskadi remains inside Spain, but in a purely notional sense. Given that all of this would be under an EU umbrella pragmatically I don’t see the problem. Obviously Euskadi wants the right to conduct its own migration and foreign policy (no EU state now controls citizenship in the last resort since members of other states now have all the principal rights associated with this apart from voting in national elections) and so, in the longer run, does Catalonia.

    “I’m actually not sure why Moldova is so resistant to this for Transnistria”

    I think the point is – and I suspect this will become eventually very evident in the Sebian case with Kosovo – this process is *not* asymmetrical. I mean by this that it doesn’t simply involve giving one group of people a special set of rights, but rather a complete reconfiguration of the body politic and everyone else’s sense of identity.

    As I say, I think the Serbian case would be interesting. It may not be very likely, but via a thought experiment, we could imagine that Kosovo and Serbia are re-united in a new entity with Kosovo having the very special idea of autonomy we are discussing. Then two questions immediately present themselves:

    i) What would that new entity be? (It couldn’t simply be a revamped Serbia)
    ii) What would be Serbia’s identity, since it would no longer be a ‘sovereign state’ in the sense it is now. This, I suspect, would be a big issue for the Serbs.

    My experience here in Spain makes this plain to me. The Catalans and the Basques assert that they are not Spanish (I’m not taking a substantive posture here, simply reporting what people say they *feel*, and what people *feel* is so important in identitarian issues; that Catalans feel themselves to be a nation is now part of the preamble to the new statute). Now imagine we move forward to a ‘state within a state’ form of autonomy in Spain at some point. The issue which presents itself isn’t so much in the two new ‘mini states’ but in the rest of Spain. I mean on the most simple level, should the entity keep the same name, or should it adopt a new one: Iberian Federation for example? Because the issue is that the Catalans and the Basques will then know who they are, but it is the Spanish who feel that somehow something has changed and that it is they who have the identity crisis. Or you can keep the name Spain, but then who are the people who are neither Basque or Catalan?

    This is why the idea of British, and British citizenship has been so important in the UK.

    So I suspect that this is the kind of issue which is knocking around in Moldova and elsewhere. You can give the other group total autonomy, but then who the hell are you?

    Similar issues, of course, arise in the context of immigration, where many are most vociferous that their new fellow citizens need to ‘integrate’ without recognising that it is not just migrants who need to adapt to the new evolving entity which emerges.

    “a veto over some or all federal legislation”

    This I think is the most difficult part, as we are now seeing in the context of the EU constitution debate. Of course, in the new super-dooper autonomy context, it is hard to see what ‘nation state federal legislation’ means in an EU context: some sort of clearing house to facilitate a common voice on areas of mutual interest I guess.

  20. Now imagine we move forward to a ‘state within a state’ form of autonomy in Spain at some point. The issue which presents itself isn’t so much in the two new ‘mini states’ but in the rest of Spain.

    If you semidisassemble Spain along ethnic lines there is a rest called “Castillia” or something similar. The nations of Spain are confined to the Iberian peninsula and small adjacent areas. Catalonia wants to be Catalonia, not part of something else.

    If you apply that to Moldova it would vanish. You’d get Slavs and Romanians who would be part of Ukraine (if you look at it rationally) and Romania. If you give up the idea of Moldavian citizenship there’s no reason for Moldavia to exist at all. The only problem might ironically be Romania unwilling to pay for integrating the lost tribe.

    In the other cases you should notice that these peoples live in areas where politics is still a matter of life & death. Governments breaking promises or the next government declaring void what the predecessors did is not unknown, nor sending in the army to uphold the law and sovereignty.

    The idea of superautonomy requires great amounts of trust and peacefullness. It’s nice to say what should be, but solutions need to be robust. And we cannot send EU troops into every civil war to stop it and impose superautonomy.

  21. “If you semidisassemble Spain along ethnic lines”

    I think the whole point here Oliver is that we are moving in Europe away from the old ethnic model of the state. This is a long hard road.

    Eastern Europe is, of course, considerably behind the ‘modernisation’ curve, as is indicated not only in this context but also, as we can see in the fertility case, in the gender equality and sexual orientation areas too.

    The population decline which is taking place in Eastern Europe is simply serving to make this transition much more difficult.

  22. I think the whole point here Oliver is that we are moving in Europe away from the old ethnic model of the state. This is a long hard road.

    It is a road you’ll have to walk leaving the majority of citizens behind. As the very example of Spain shows the nation is strong, even gaining strength.
    It seems to me that the movement of supranationality peaked in the late 80ies and the pendulum is swinging back.

  23. As an aside, ‘Britishness’ seems to be on the wane at the moment, and not just in Scotland. Militant unionism and the union flag have been tainted on the mainland by the far right, leading to a resurgence in England of the English flag as a more ‘acceptable’ national symbol. Devolution has made the West Lothian question a reality, leading to people calling for ‘English votes for English affairs’. We’re also seemingly on the brink of having a Scottish prime minister from a Scottish constituency, which could bring the matter to a head. The trouble is, there’s no sensible way to have a devolved England as some people demand, because with more than 80% of the population and even more of the wealth, England and its parliament/leader would dominate the Union, alienating the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish further. Regional devolution of England would be practical, but is unpopular as it goes against English nationalism, and bizarrely, a popular EU conspiracy theory says that the EU wants to break up England into regions in order to destroy England’s power to resist Brussels via Westminster. I’d give the UK a few years yet before holding it up as an example of a successful post-national state.

    However, one ray of hope is that when immigrants and children of immigrants assimilate, it is generally to a British identity rather than an English etc one. I wonder if the same will be true in Catalonia, with its recent surge of immigration? Probably too soon to say.

  24. “However, one ray of hope is that when immigrants and children of immigrants assimilate, it is generally to a British identity rather than an English etc one.”

    Yep, I think this was the main point I wanted to get across. In the end I don’t see any big issue with English people manifesting their ‘englishness’ like Chinese Americans might highlight the fact that they are Chinese, but the English are far from being the only people who now live in England (I hearthere are now half a million more Poles and Hungarians there) and I doubt that a majority of the people who live in England now strongly feel themselves to be English. Of course, as you say, those that do tend to make a lot of political noise.

    “I wonder if the same will be true in Catalonia, with its recent surge of immigration?”

    Clearly no place is perfect, and I would be the last to romanticise these things, there are xenophobes here just like anywhere else, but I am not pessimistic.

    The problem is more complex in the Basque country. The basic thing is that Catalan is a culture not an ethnos, it is simply anyone who lives and works in Catalonia and who speaks Catalan. At this level there is no discrimination as such. The thing is, recent immigrants in general have no special antipathy to the language. But only the future will show.

    On another topic:

    “a veto over some or all federal legislation”

    well, we have some interesting news in today about Russia and the European Airbus project. They want a veto.

    Russia is seeking a blocking stake in European aerospace giant EADS or representation on the firm’s board in order to have a say in management, a newspaper has reported.

    Talks are ongoing on either buying up a blocking stake or being included among principal shareholders “so that we can take part in management”, a senior government official was quoted by Vedomosti business daily as saying Wednesday. A Putin aide said on Tuesday that Russia was aiming for a key role in EADS.

    “If the question is raised in that context and if we see an accompanying economic interest, then we will insist on a stake through which we would at least have a blocking minority,” Kremlin aide Sergei Prikhodko told reporters. EADS officials said Vneshtorgbank’s stake purchase would not change a “shareholder pact” agreed between key company shareholders to make strategic decisions in the group.

    The core shareholders are the French state, which has 15 percent, the French group Lagardere with 15 percent, German-US auto giant DaimlerChrysler with 22.32 percent, and Spain, which holds 5.5 percent through the SEPI holding.

  25. - Any two situations are always different. But you’ll not find the one overriding, obvious difference. Every population came somewhence else, somewhen.

    - I personally feel that the best future of most of the countries in the Caususas is going to be multi-ethnic.

    The problem is in Russia… georgians are often blamed to put all the problems on Russia, but it’s in 80% really so.

    For Russia this post-soviet ethnic conflicts were like the weapon to punish States that were striving for independence and looking towards west during 90′s.
    Abkhazia was always beloved resort place for Communist tyrants beginning from Stalin ending up with post-soviet nomenclature. Russias politics are still driven with imperialistic ambitions, they don’t care about Abkhaz people at all, they are just using them for putting pressure on Georgia and for some other domestic or international speculations. Russian oligarchs and businessmen are buying-up real estate belonging to IDP’s. Russia thinks that abkhazia would become their territory like Sochi, which was cut from Georgia in 1829.
    Georgians would never give up Abkhazia. And abkhazia can never be fully Independent. I have interesting videoconference between abkhazian and georgian with english subtitles on my Blog: http://taktaka.blogspot.com/2006/09/together-apart.html
    Georgian government is ready to give Abkhazia very wide Autonomy. I believe that without russias intervention abkhaz and georgian people could find way out of this morass.

    Caucasus without multi ethnic regions is impossible to imagine, but to leave that to Russia (after Chechnia’s ethnic cleansing), seems to me just opposite, for reaching this goal.

  26. Transnistria? If there’s no Muslim aspects to the story, we’re not interested.

    Signed,
    The U.S. government and 99% of the American population

  27. “I wonder if the same will be true in Catalonia, with its recent surge of immigration? Probably too soon to say.”

    If the Castilian immigrants became Catalans than it is really likely that the new immigrants become Catalans to.

  28. no EU state now controls citizenship in the last resort since members of other states now have all the principal rights associated with this apart from voting in national elections

    This is true as far as it goes, but in some ways, it’s like saying “men have all the principal rights associated with pregnancy apart from childbirth.” The concept of citizenship in a democratic state is founded on a normative right to participate in making national policies and determining the distribution of public resources. EU citizens may do this directly in their countries of nationality by running for public office and voting in national elections and referenda. Non-citizens can do so only indirectly.

    The right to live and work in a state, and even the local franchise, can be expanded to non-citizens without eliminating the state as a self-defining polity. British and Irish citizens have had these rights in each other’s countries for more than half a century. The national franchise is what really defines the politics and priorities of a state.

    So I suspect that this is the kind of issue which is knocking around in Moldova and elsewhere. You can give the other group total autonomy, but then who the hell are you?

    Hmmm. Moldova: 3.4 million people, 75 percent ethnic Romanian/Moldovan and becoming more so (2004 census). Transnistria: about 600,000 people, with 30 percent being Moldovan and most of the ethnic Moldovans concentrated in certain towns and regions. It wouldn’t be that hard to create a super-autonomous Transistria-excluding-Bendery that is mostly non-Moldovan and only about three times as populous as Gagauzia. Moldova would still, to all intents and purposes, be a federal state consisting of “Moldova proper” and two autonomous regions rather than a binational entity.

    Likewise, would Serbia with a super-autonomous Kosovo (and an autonomous Vojvodina) be any less sovereign than it was as a constituent state of “Serbia and Montenegro?”

    I take your point, though, that mathematical asymmetry can often be less important than the perception of asymmetry. The United Kingdom is, after all, highly asymmetric if you only look at the population of its constituent units. There are other issues that arise in asymmetric federations – internal migration in the UK, long-term demographic trends in Serbia/Kosovo – that can confuse national identities at the center while hardening those at the peripheries. In that case, the result is either the development of a “British” type overlay or increasing centrifugal pressure.

    I tend to think these issues could be overcome in Moldova. The demographic trends favor the ethnic Moldovans, and most of the migration in an EU-affiliated Moldovan federation would be to Bucharest or western Europe rather than Chisinau. Moldovans would still be able to feel that they lived in a Moldovan state, or at minimum to develop an overlay that’s mostly Moldovan. I’m less sanguine about similar arrangements working out in Georgia or Serbia.

    I think the whole point here Oliver is that we are moving in Europe away from the old ethnic model of the state.

    Europe is moving away from the ethnic state, certainly, but isn’t there also a countervailing trend toward regional ethnic self-determination? Many or even most of the autonomous region-states that currently exist, as well as those being proposed as part of devolution or conflict-resolution packages, have an ethnic or ethno-cultural base. Granted, some are more cultural and some are more ethnic, but I think the difference is one of degree rather than kind; most ethnic groups have de facto means of entry for outsiders, and cultures still set barriers to assimilation.

    This is why, to answer a question you posed earlier in the thread, I suspect that a federal Europe will look something like Belgium: i.e., a two-dimensional framework consisting of territorial and non-territorial entities. The territories, some of which will correspond to present-day nation-states and others of which won’t, will have primary authority over inherently territorial matters such as infrastructure, land use and economic development. The non-territorial units, which will be based on language and/or culture (along with a “secular” stream for us rootless cosmos), will have primary authority over education, cultural expression and similar things. The EU, as supranational entity, will handle defense and foreign policy (except within the constituent units’ areas of competence), provide a uniform commercial law and guarantee free movement and human rights.

    The trouble is that I’m not sure Belgium is really a model for a successful multinational state.

  29. Oliver:

    In the other cases you should notice that these peoples live in areas where politics is still a matter of life & death [...] The idea of superautonomy requires great amounts of trust and peacefullness.

    You know, the more familiar I become with the Balkans and the Caucasus, the more I realize that there’s nothing unique or even particularly unusual about Israelis and Palestinians. And in the interest of avoiding a flamewar, I’ll leave it at that, except to agree that there are some cases in which super-autonomy or other federalist arrangements won’t work. There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all cure for nationalist conflicts; each solution has to be tailored to the circumstances.

    Levan:

    Georgian government is ready to give Abkhazia very wide Autonomy.

    Is this true? My impression was that Saakashvili has taken a relatively hard line and that he isn’t prepared to give Abkhazia much more than he gave Adjaria, but I’m willing to be proven wrong.

    Charly:

    I wonder if the same will be true in Catalonia, with its recent surge of immigration?

    Immigrants who are not themselves part of a concentrated population tend to assimilate to the locally dominant cultural stream – for instance, immigrants to Israel who are neither Jewish nor Arab tend to adopt secular Jewish culture. For that reason, I’d tend to think that immigrants to Catalonia will become Catalans.

  30. I quoted Colin Reid

    There was a massive immigration of Spaniard to Barcelona in the 50′s where you had whole neighborhoods completely occupied by Spaniards and even they assimilated even though they were highly concentrated.

    Also the immigration outside of marriage of non Jews is a very recent phenomen in Israel. To claim that they will adopt secular Jewish culture is to soon to tell. I personally think that the Jewishness of the Israeli state will prevent them from adopting that culture.

  31. Jonathan,

    Just to say thanks for a very nice and interesting post and comments. In your last response you raise so many interesting and relevant points that I hardly know where to start. So basically – apart from one or two loose comments I won’t. What I will do is express the hope that you’ll agree with David to come back from time to time and pick out one or other detail from the chest of drawers that we seem to have opened here and so we can try to go into them in some detail, taking this post as a starting point.

    Basically this whole discussion has moved quite a long way on from where you started (in one sense), and in another it has gone to the heart of the issues. Basically my own personal view is that it is hard to separate most of the ethnically related issues which are evolving in Eastern Europe from mother Russia, and since I don’t think you can address the question of ‘whither Russia’ without talking about demography, and since I’m tired of banging that particular drum, I thought I’d try and explore the identitarian issues.

    At the end of the day I think identitarian issues lie at the heart most of the big topics which we talk about here on this blog. What happens is that these identitarian issues come out in the guise of debates about which social model to adopt, or something like that. I mean if you glance through the comments on the Referm is a Dirty Word post, you’ll see that what we are really talking about there is identity and how people have trouble handling identity transitions. This normally comes out under the rubric of an increased feeling of insecurity. Basically this is what the Constitution ‘debate’ has been all about, rather than a serious reflection on what type of constitution the EU really needs.

    “but isn’t there also a countervailing trend toward regional ethnic self-determination?”

    Yes, but this isn’t normally EU secessionist, it’s often just about throwing of the old yoke (as in ‘off with the Norman yoke’). The regionalists normally aspire to talking tu a tu with the central power, without another interlocutor as intermediary.

    “Immigrants who are not themselves part of a concentrated population tend to assimilate to the locally dominant cultural stream”

    Yes, so this is why in times of increasing migratory flows people want to assert themselves, since they want the migrant to see their’s as the reference culture, to assert the culture of the periphery, against that of the centre, if you like.

    Going back to Eastern Europe to finish, it is important to realise that there are both centrifugal and centripetal processes at work, and that these forces are at the present time stonger than ever before. What this means is that some people can ‘couple’ very rapidly indeed, while others can be thrown out just as rapidly in the cockpit ejector seat.

    If we look at economic development in what used to be the third world we can now see that a large part of this is ‘coupling’ very rapidly, in a way which wasn’t foreseeable in the 1990s. One symptom of this is the fact that the debate about reforming the IMF is really a non-debate, since no-one is really that interested any more. This is a huge change from the days when the IMF was really seen as the ‘bad guy’, and the IMF itself hasn’t really changed that much in the meantime.

    OTOH the UN has actually singled out 18 countries who are going backwards while all this is happening. These countries are either in Southern Africa (where AIDS is a big part of the picture) or, surprise, surprise, in some parts of the old USSR. And this, I think, is the background against which we need to think about all this nascent nationalism that we are seeing there. In many ways this is a nationalism of despair, and that, as history has shown us often enough, is a very dangerous thing.

  32. - Is this true? My impression was that Saakashvili has taken a relatively hard line and that he isn’t prepared to give Abkhazia much more than he gave Adjaria, but I’m willing to be proven wrong.

    Jonathan your concerns are not groundless and I can imagine Abkhazs and Ossetians fears about that subject.. I think it was a big mistake from georgian government dealing with Adjaria’s autonomy status, but otoh after fled of russian supported Abashidze, in Adjaria their was not real demand for Adjarias special status.
    Saakashvili is not alone and he has some radical memebrs of government who maybe would like to see Abkhazia in the same situation as Adjaria, but Saakashvili has expressed georgias aspirations for europe and western values wholly and I think he understands what that means…

  33. “whole neighborhoods completely occupied by Spaniards and even they assimilated even though they were highly concentrated.”

    I wouldn’t exactly put it in this way Charly, but you are essentially right. In fact they didn’t occupy neighbourhoods, they came and built ‘barracas’ in open fields, with no running water or electricity, and then the neighbourhoods and cities were built around them. Both Badalona and Hospitalet are among the top ten cities in Spain, yet these were small villages when the ‘great migration’ started.

    Now the grandchildren of these migrants have been to university and are fuelling the housing boom by buying flats in another set of ‘new neighbourhoods’, but guess what, these neighbourhoods are not being occupied on any kind of Catalan/Spanish axis, they are completely integrated. We are all ‘Catalans’ now.

    So yes, Catalonia has a huge tradition of accepting and assimilating migrants (I mean, and this is a big topic, it would have started on this path with the large-scale incorporation of the converso Jews, it is absoluetly impossible, for eg, for Catalonia ever to succumb to anti-semitism quite simply because, if there is an ethnic core, it is a semitic one, you would know better than me on this Jonathan, but on some versions the etymological origins of Barcelona are fromsome variant of ‘community across the sea’ in Hebrew) and the process normally works well, which is why I am pretty optimistic for the future. Basically Barcelona was one of the European capitals of modernism, and it now aspires to be one of the cultural capitals of ‘post-modernism’. It has no longing whatsoever to be a stupid particularist backwater.

  34. Europe is moving away from the ethnic state, certainly, but isn’t there also a countervailing trend toward regional ethnic self-determination?

    What? If I may point out that the last 20 years saw:

    -dissolution of the USSR along ethnic lines
    -dissolution of Czechoslovakia along ethnic lines
    -dissolution of Yugoslavia along ethnic lines

    in addition it saw:

    - far reaching autonomy in Belgium
    - devolution in the UK
    - always increasing regional autonomy in Spain
    - a separatist party in the Italian government

    You will notice that the movements didn’t go all the way in western Europe, yet. If you do that, then you should consider that western Europe is filthy rich and in all regards slower and weaker to react to social changes (UK partially exempt) in general.

    What we have seen is basically a radical decline of the multiethnic state, not the nation state.
    Furthermore, by world standards, western Europe is an abnormity, whose solutions cannot be exported.

  35. dissolution of the USSR along ethnic lines

    I wouldn’t say that. The borders of the former Soviet republics follow ethnic lines about as much as African borders do, and for very similar reasons – arbitrary frontier adjustments, internal migrations and deportations, the presence of indigenous minorities and sponsored colonial settlement by ethnic Russians. Pretty much every country that was once part of the Soviet Union is an ethnic melange, which is the cause of much of the recent unrest.

    I’ll grant you Yugoslavia and, to a certain extent, the Czech Republic. The current trend in western Europe, however, and to an increasing extent in the east, is toward ethno-cultural self-determination within multi-ethnic states. Of course, this is made possible to a large degree by supranational rule of law structures such as the Framework Convention on National Minorities and the European Court of Human Rights, and may not be viable in the absence of these or similar structures.

  36. Also the immigration outside of marriage of non Jews is a very recent phenomen in Israel. To claim that they will adopt secular Jewish culture is to soon to tell.

    Non-Jewish immigration outside marriage isn’t all that new; it began taking place on a substantial scale during the wave of migration from the FSU, and is now being augmented by the naturalization of guest workers’ children. The latter group, at least, has reportedly been assimilating rapidly.

  37. What I will do is express the hope that you’ll agree with David to come back from time to time and pick out one or other detail from the chest of drawers that we seem to have opened here and so we can try to go into them in some detail, taking this post as a starting point.

    I’d be glad to if David is agreeable, although my last direct European ancestor left the continent during the 19th century.

  38. The USSR blew up in 1991, That is 15 years or in other words very recent. Way to soon to see assimilation. Also most the people from the FSU claimed to be jewish. Only now do you get immigrants from Romania etc. who do not claim to be Jewish.

  39. Pretty much every country that was once part of the Soviet Union is an ethnic melange, which is the cause of much of the recent unrest.

    But the new states have at least majorities of the titular nations (sometimes only barely). The process is of course not yet completed.

    The current trend in western Europe, however, and to an increasing extent in the east, is toward ethno-cultural self-determination within multi-ethnic states.

    You are mistaking an incomplete process for a different process. I can give you examples for processes that went further in the east than in the west, as yet.

    - rise of nationalist parties
    east: taking over government in Poland, Slovakia, Yugoslavia
    west: Le Pen, Vlams Blok, Denmark, NPD in Germany, FPÖ in Austria

    - rise of leftist antiglobalisation (the newest trend)
    east: Smer (government)
    west: WASG, Constitution referendum in France

    - neoliberalism
    east: radical social cuts, flat taxes in several states
    west: some cuts in unemployment benefits, retirement age, some tax cuts

    - cities flowering, countryside declining
    east: universal
    west: northern east Germany, mountainous areas of Switzerland, Austria and southern Germany, Spain

    As you can see, western Europe is simply behind the curve. I can see no evidence for it being different in the case of the decline of multiethnic states

  40. The referendum on Sept 17th 2006 has been passed with 97.% of Transdniestrians voting for independence and for no reunion with Moldova.
    That is the issue of paramount importance here. It is people’s democractic right NOT to be part of a neighbouring country where a different language and cuture exists and where the Dniestr river divides the Transdniestria and Moldova with a natural boundary.
    Who exactly is going to invade Transnistria to dislodge their elected parliment….?
    Are we to create the next Northern Ireland ?
    As long as 97% of Transnistrians are bitterly opposed to being forced to join Moldova and have already shown they will wage war to defend their country all such talks are futile
    Good information sites are pridnestovie.net and tiraspoltimes.com.
    For now de-facto independence exists and Transdniestria retains the support of its people.