miercuri, 26 martie 2014
Discussing about the Kosovo precedent has become one of the key arguments used by the Russian officials and by the Russian and pro-Russian media to justify the annexation of Crimea, although this precedent does not explain why the Russian forces moved to seize the entire Ukrainian war fleet, instead of leaving the boats to relocate to, let’s say, Odessa.
The opponents to this idea are denying any similarity to the case of Kosovo on the grounds Kosovo was a humanitarian case, due to the was crimes committed by the Serbian Army in 1999 and the previous years. However, in 2008 when the United States recognised the independence of Kosovo instead of continuing to pursue a compromise solution which would have kept Kosovo within the Serbian borders, similar to the Dayton Agreements which preserved the unity of Bosnia against the horrors of the previous civil war, no war crime was ongoing. However, Kremlin’s propagandists are dismissing this argument in the case of Crimea based on the threat which the far right members of the Ukrainian new regime would pose to the Rusophonic minority. For them, Kosovo and Crimea are similar cases, although no actual crime took place against Rusophones (we cannot count as a crime the law abrogating the status of the regional languages in Ukraine, which was not countersigned by the President ad interim and therefore was not put in place).
However, if we are to look in history for a precedent to the annexation of Crimea, that precedent is not Kosovo, but Texas. During the 1820s and the 1830s Texas was colonised with American settlers, who rebelled against the rightful owner of Texas, who was Mexico, claimed their independence as the Republic of Texas and later were anexated by the United States. In Crimea the local majority ethnicity, the Tatars, who populated the region for the last seven centuries (and more, if we count the Turcophonic tribes such as the Pecenegs and the Cumans, from which the Tatars descend), was displaced by Stalin in 1945, when the Tatars were deported in mass to Uzbekistan, Siberia and other remote areas of the Soviet Union. They were not allowed to come back until 1989, and their place was taken by ethnic Russians, who now rebelled against Ukraine and asked for their annexation by the Russian Federation.
The argument that Crimea belonged to Russia and was transferred to Ukraine only in 1954 could be taken seriously if the history would have started in 1945, when the Tatars were displaced, or in 1783, when the Khanate of Crimea was conquered for the first time by Russia. There were no Russian speakers present there before, unlike Ukrainians, Romanians, Greeks, the very last ethnic Goths and other minority nationalities who were living in the Tatar Crimea.
Historically speaking, Kosovo is a very different case. Serbian historiography bases the Serbian claims on the empire of the Tsar Stephan Dusan, who ruled in the 14th Century, and on the battle of Kosovopolje, where the Serbs were heavily defeated by the Ottoman Turks. However, the Serbian Empire of Stephan Dusan was not reflecting the ethnic realities of all the territories he ruled. For example, Stephan Dusan’s capital city was Skopje, today the capital of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, who is located in an area populated by ethnic Bulgarians, not by ethnic Serbs. However, unlike the Serbs who can trace their earliest existence as a Slavic people to the 7th Century, when the Eastern Roman Empire lost most of his Balkan provinces and the Slavs crossed the Danube, the Albanians are an indigenous population who has at least four millennia of history within the Balkan Peninsula.
In conclusion, if in Crimea the Russians can invoke the present day demographic situation, but not any historical rights, in Kosovo the Albanians have on their side both history and demography.
Nonetheless, this does not mean the independence of Kosovo is a good thing for the European equilibrium. Fact is a breach in the peace system established at Helsinki in 1975 was created. According to the Final Act of Helsinki, no European border could be changed by force, but only through negotiation. This is why the claims for independence of the Bosnian Serbs were rejected and the Dayton Agreements forced the Bosnian communities to continue within a federal State. Recognising Kosovo’s independence without the acceptance of Belgrade went directly against Helsinki.
By doing so, the Western Powers gave Russia the opportunity to annexate Crimea without any negotiation with Ukraine and to make further similar moves against Ukraine, but also countries such as Georgia, Moldova, Latvia etc. This should have been predictible in 2008, the year when Russia attacked Georgia and took under her control Abhazia and South Osetia.
Also, the Western Powers should have learned from the teachings of World War Two, who was preceded and prepared by a similar weakening of the Versailles Peace System, established after World War One, and by weak responses against the aggressive moves performed by the countries interested in territorial revisionism, such as Japan, Italy, Hungary, even Poland, but especially Hitler’s Germany, who was in a situation very similar to Putin’s Russia (defeated in the preceding world confrontation, geographically reduced as a result, and tyranically ruled by a frustrated veteran of the previous war). As it seems, no lesson was acknowledged.
Just like in the 1930s, currently the United States and the other Western Powers are more concerned to protect their economic corporate interests, which could be harmed by taking more severe sanctions against the aggressor, and seem to manifest the same delusion that by admitting to the Revisionist Power some territorial satisfaction, the world peace will be saved. However, the many millions who died during the World War Two and the Cold War proved how „inspired” were France and the United Kingdom to accept the annexation by Germany of Austria and Sudetenland in 1938.
Coming back to my country, Romania’s position to refute both Kosovo’s independence and Crimea’s annexation is proven to be correct. Just like in the 1930s, when Romania defended the Versailles System, we are now trying to preserve the Helsinki System, even if unlike the 1930s, theoretically our country would be interested in a revision of her borders with Ukraine. Nevertheless, peace is more important then undoing what Hitler and Stalin did in 1939-1940, and the Western Allies acknowledged in 1944-1947.
Unfortunately, as it happened in the 1930s, the efforts of small and middle sized countries such as Romania, Poland or the Baltic Countries will mean nothing if there is no determination among the Great Powers to preserve Helsinki. I am not religious, but as things are going now, I can only say „May God help us all!”
sâmbătă, 1 martie 2014
Seeing the recent news from Crimea, Kharkhyv, Donetsk and Odessa, I had to remember what I was thinking back in 1999-2000, at Vladimir Putin’s rise to power. From the very beginning I was finding striking similarities with Adolf Hitler: (i) both were decorated frontline veterans of a world war who threw their countries in disarray and changed the world- World War I in Hitler’s case, the Cold War for the Foreign Intelligence KGB Colonel Vladimir Putin-; (ii) both held a grudge for what they thought was the treason of their majestic countries by weak politicians and both were in total denial of the actual historical reasons of their countries’ imperial failures; (iii) both were finding inspiration in the imperial past and had the vision of a Third Empire, instead of looking at the huge potential for Germany, respectively Russia to become global economic players and cultural leaders without attempting to maintain a highly expensive military supremacy and colonial aspirations.
Later deeds of Vladimir Putin confirmed my hunch. He invested again in the military might of Russia, restored much of the centralised administration of the former Soviet Union, careless of the lack of efficiency which caused the demise of the Soviet Union in the first place, took control of the economy, suppressed the young and imperfect Russian democracy, brutally repressed all his political enemies, going as far as to throw them in prison or have them murdered in horrible ways (remember the case of Maxim Litvinenko?). All these have parallels in the 1930s Germany. And in all these actions, against what Putin and his propaganda ever claimed, we witnessed a lack of care for the life of the individuals composing his own people. When the submarine Kursk went down, keeping the secrecy over the military technologies was the real priority, and when hostages were taken in the school in Daghestan or in the Nord-Ost Theatre in Moscow, there was no concern for the life of the hostages, but only for the physical annihilation of the terrorists. We even find a Nazi like Homophobia encouraged and consecrated by Law in Putin’s Russia and Racism against Caucasians well tolerated. When I say Caucasians I am not referring to White people, but to people actually originating from the Caucasus.
Also, just like Hitler before him, Putin initiated an even more aggressive approach in Russia’s foreign policy, in which the economic blackmail of former Soviet countries is just the soft tactics. Just like Hitler when he occupied the Rhine Valley in 1936, Putin’s Second War of Chechnya was the preliminary exercise. After all, legally Chechnya was still a part of the Russian Federation and the people in power there, aggressive Jihadies themselves, were not very likeable by the rest of the World. Although, the United States have a big responsibility here, because in 1994 they conspired with President Yeltsin’s regime to assassinate the founder of Chechnya’s Independence, the General Djokhar Dudaev, who was a follower of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, and therefore the promoter of a secular Chechnyan State. As a result, the General’s place was emptied for a Jihady takeover. However, fact is the systematic war crimes committed in Chechnya by the Russian forces went with little protest from the so called Free World.
As a result, the next strike was in Georgia in 2008. This time a sovereign, independent nation, member of the United Nations, was attacked and part of her territory took under Russian control. Well, we can argue if these territories ethnically and historically belonged to Georgia, considering that unlike Hitler’s heritage which was totally wiped out after World War II, Stalin’s heritage continues to live in the intentionally scrambled frontiers within the former Soviet Union, intended to spawn all sorts of conflicts and create Moscow the grounds to interfere and enforce her continuous domination. But this is not something which should be dealt of by war, but by negotiations between the various relevant parties. If we can continue in Central and South Eastern Europe with the borders drawn by Joseph Stalin and his henchmen without fighting each other, so should Russia do too in relation with her neighbours.
Today is the turn of Ukraine to become Russia’s victim. Historically speaking, it is not for the first time. The trigger was the Euromaidan Revolution, aimed to finally gain Ukraine’s not formal, but actual independence and to close the ties of this major European country with the European Union. This happened in a moment when Putin was struggling to launch his Third Reich under the form of the Eurasian Costumes Union he co-founded with two Dictators supported by Russia, the one from Kazakhstan and the one from Belarus, Lukashenko, the last old school Dictator of Europe.
Measures were taken to prepare this aggression against Ukraine. First of all, left wing media all over Europe published articles describing the Ukrainian Revolution as a Fascist/Neo-Nazi uprising, threatening the consistent Russian minority in Ukraine. Well, it is true that the far right Party of Freedom (Svoboda), which was part of the revolution, has this extreme orientation, but the Party of Freedom is just the third force of the Ukrainian former Opposition. It is also true that there is a certain degree of Nationalism manifesting in the other political parties which lead the revolution and that the recent abrogation of the Law consecrating the status of the regional languages was a very bad idea, serving very well the plans of Kremlin (and a measure which I also disapprove, out of principle but also because it affects the rights of the half a million Romanians living in Ukraine).
However, it is also a known fact that it is the Russian policy even from the Soviet era to label as Fascist everything which was not approved by Moscow. All Anti-Communist military dictatorships were described as Fascist, all internal dissidents were labelled as Fascists, even the Italian Red Brigades, obvious Communists, were assigned as Fascists in the Soviet Union and the Socialist countries when they went too far with the Bologna train station bombing and the murder of Aldo Moro. Similarly now, all people in the former Soviet countries who aim the true independence from Russia’s influence are assigned as Fascists. Even people who are affirming their true national identity against the Soviet era mystification, as in the case of Moldova, are labelled as Fascists in Russian and Pro-Russian propaganda. Due to the numerous books and movies dedicated to the World War II and the Holocaust, Fascism is the perfect scare crow and it is less important that Fascism is in fact an ideology which comes with certain principles and if those principles are lacking, then one cannot actually speak about Fascism.
All this effort in Ukraine’s case was undertaken to justify a so-called legitimate uprising of the Russian minority in the areas where it forms a majority, Crimea and the Eastern regions of the country, but also elsewhere in Southern Ukraine, which will be followed by a direct Russian military intervention, which already started in Crimea. The events seem to duplicate what happened in Moldova between 1989 and 1992, when the National Awakening Movement was countered by ethnic minority uprisings in the East and South of the republic, conducted by KGB agents and factory executives subordinated directly to Moscow. Very revealing, Igor Smirnov, the founder of the separatist regime in the Eastern City of Tiraspol, was not a local, but a Russian citizen, born in Siberia and placed in Moldova as a factory executive in 1988, when the first signs of the National Awakening were visible. Later, in 1992, when the war broke out on the river Dnister, Russian so-called volunteers and Kozaks were deployed to fight the Moldovans. When the Moldovan volunteers were about to conquer Tiraspol and end the secession, the Russian 14th Army interfered directly in a so-called peace keeping action, which resulted in the freezing of the conflict ever since and the interruption of the reunification process which was undergoing between Moldova and Romania.
I am pretty sure the Russian aggression will not limit, if possible, to the areas of Ukraine where the Russian ethnicity is prevalent. The fact today a violent pro-Russian demonstration took place in Odessa is very revealing. Close to the Moldovan and Romanian borders, Odessa, a major port at the Black Sea, is not in an area with a Russian speaking majority. But Odessa is the key to keep the contact with the separatists in the Eastern part of Moldova, known as Trasnistria, and with the little Gagauz minority in Southern Moldova, who plays there a part similar to that of the Southern Osetians in Georgia. Generally, the idea is to keep the direction of the Russian expansion toward the Balkans, a direction postulated three centuries ago by Peter the Great which Russia never ever abandoned.
However, taking the control over Odessa also means Ukraine will have no access to the Black Sea and the Danube, and if this happens, I don’t see how the war will be avoidable. Of course, Russia’s plan is not a full scale war with Ukraine, who is a tougher cookie than Georgia at least from the point of view of the demographical, territorial and material resources. Plan A is to increase the blackmail over the country, which currently is limited to economic hazard, and keep Ukraine entirely in the Russian sphere of influence, while Plan B is to keep at least the Eastern and Southern parts of Ukraine under control and the contact with the Western imperialist interests of Russia.
Moldova is also a target of Putin’s offensive in Ukraine, as the republic made lately significant steps toward the association and the free trade agreement with the European Union, and since the 2009 Twitter Revolution there, but especially since 2012, both in Moldova and Romania there is a resurgence of the civic movement toward the reunification of the two States who were part of the same country before World War II and have the same majority ethnicity, language, culture, religion and a common history (today Moldova is in fact only the Eastern part of the historical Moldova or Moldavia, a Romanian Principality who formed the modern State of Romania by uniting with the Romanian Principality of Wallachia in 1859).
Nonetheless, one may argue that the Russian uprising in Ukraine is a genuine one and has roots in the fear of Ukrainian Nationalism and eventual persecutions triggered by this Ukrainian Nationalism. However, reducing the issue only to such a rational is just being naïve. It is a fact well known to whomever knows the former Soviet space that Russian media corporations are maintaining a strong presence in all these former Soviet republics, that minority separatists and pro-Russian political parties are well funded by the Putin regime, that many of their leaders are in fact FSB agents, that many of these groups, either with Far Left or pro-Russian Nationalistic views, are very violent, in numerous cases even having a paramilitary organisation. Again, and coming back to the beginning of this essay, we are dealing in countries such as Ukraine or Moldova with something strikingly similar to Hitler’s 5th Column in other European countries prior and during World War II.
Unfortunately, like so many times in history, people don’t learn from the teachings of history. No aggressor will be victorious for ever and no empire lasts to the end of times. And the Third Empire is always the shortest lived, as it was the case of Germany too. Now, I am not saying that Vladimir Putin, no matter how resembling he is to Adolf Hitler, will launch a World War III. Nevertheless, the Russian Empire collapsed two times out if his own internal issues, such as corruption, lack of freedom, lack of bureaucratic efficiency, the huge gap between the powerful few and the poor many, the first time in 1917, after four centuries of imperial rule, and the second time in 1991, after some eight decades of a second imperial rise. Those recurrent issues are plaguing Putin’s Third Empire already in an age when everything is happening faster and large protests took place not so long ago.
And there is one historical lesson which was not pointed enough no matter how many books were printed and documentaries and motion pictures were filmed about War World II. Back then German minorities were instigated and used by Hitler in the very same way Putin is instigating and using the ethnic Russians and other more or less Russian speaking minorities elsewhere. At the end of World War II, these German minorities, regardless if the actual individuals prior manifested any Nazi sympathy or not, were subjected to harsh retaliations, including numerous clear cut war crimes or crimes against humanity, and whole populations were expelled from the places they lived for centuries. The Benes Decrees expelled the entire German Sudet population out of Czechoslovakia. All the Germans were also expelled out of Poland, including the former German territories granted to Poland at the Potsdam Conference. The Russians themselves expelled the Germans from what is now the Kaliningrad Exclave. In Vojvodina and Western Banat, the Yugoslav Communist Dictator Iosip Broz Tito sent all the Swab Germans settled here after 1718, when the region was conquered by Austria from the Ottoman Empire, into several sinister concentration camps and later expelled them toward Germany and Austria. From the ethnic German civilians deported in labour camps in Russia as slave labour force in January 1945, only Romania and Hungary accepted their return, and still in these countries the ethnic Germans were the first to be stripped of their properties by the new Communist dominated governments.No matter how indiscriminate and criminal these retaliations and ethnic cleansings were, there still lurks in their favour the argument that by doing so, countries such as Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia made sure the German minorities will never ever become a menace again and they will never ever be used against them in the manner Adolf Hitler did. Now, I don’t want to be understood as suggesting a similar ethnic cleansing against Russian minorities and other pro-Russian minorities, but simply as making a warning. I am far from approving what happened to the Germans and I even have personal reasons to have issues with the events of the late 1940s: my own grandfather, at the time a 17 years old pupil with no political background, was taken as slave into Soviet labour camps for 5 years, barely surviving and contracting a health condition which caused his premature death at the age of 63. Also, my distant relatives were subjected to the expelling of the ethnic Germans from Western Banat and Sudetenland. But, beyond my indignation, I also can understand the succession of events which lead to these traumatic outcomes and I know history has the nasty habit to repeat itself. So, ethnic Russians and other pro-Russian ethnic minorities should think carefully if it is such a good idea to contribute to Vladimir Putin’s cynical games, or should they pursue a different future in what could be someday a truly better world.