The recent plebiscite in Crimea, seeking separation from Ukraine, is yet another vindication of Jerry Muller’s seminal article that appeared in March/ April 2008 issue of the prestigious Foreign Affairs journal. Muller cogently argued that the nationalist self- determination movements are creeping in a steady locomotion.
Muller observed that far from being a divisive force, as was widely feared, nationalism has served as a source of stability and progress in Europe. He argued that the wishful thinking of status quo apologists that mutual advantages afforded by trade and commerce would supplant any demands for separate nationhood, did not come true. Peoples’ pursuit of self-interest has not replaced their aspirations for self-determination. The fate of Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union, and Yugoslavia only testified to the enduring power of ethnic- nationalism.
While some had feared that ethnic nationalism could lead to rather than avoid international conflicts, the European stability and cohesiveness during the last several decades have proven otherwise, thanks to the success of ethnic nationalism. The much despised Balkanization did not lead to conflicts. On the contrary, it resulted in political stability and prosperity where nation- states lived together in harmony—albeit separately!
For some to dismiss Crimean plebiscite merely as Russia’s opportunistic, land grab revisionism will be tantamount to obfuscating the ground realities in Crimea. Russia’s meddlesomeness in Crimea is no more illegitimate than that of India’s in Bangladesh’s war of liberation in 1971. Bengalis wanted to secede from Pakistan. India provided the much needed help.
Castigating the US and European response to the crisis in Crimea, a former Republican senator from Texas, Ron Paul, has posed an inevitable question: if the vote held under US occupation in Iraq should be considered as genuine, why are we to consider as illegitimate the vote in Crimea held under Russian occupation? What makes one occupation better than the other? What makes the case for these ludicrous double standards?
There pervades a groundswell of pro-Russian self-determination sentiment among the Crimea’s majority ethnic Russians; this, unfortunately, to the detriment of other ethnic minorities of the region. A recent poll conducted by a non-partisan German Consumer Research group, known as GfK, revealed an upwards of 70% respondents favoring independence from Ukraine.
Whether the ill-conceived international sanctions manage to pressurize the Russian strategists in Kremlin’s palatial mansions, remains to be seen. What we already know is that these sanctions will certainly not dissuade the jubilant ethnic Russians on the streets of Simferopol.
While there are troubling questions on the legitimacy of the March 2014 plebiscite in Crimea– tainted as it was by the events surrounding it — the results are, nevertheless, clearest indication yet that the ethnic nationalism is on the rise.
Recent times have amply demonstrated that as the societies modernize, and the means of communication gain greater penetration among the subaltern societies, ethnic nationalism will continue to incrementally erode borders and result in fragmentation of artificially created federations, forcibly keeping their subjects against their will. Whether solely through their own efforts at political mobilization or with support from an irredentist neighbor, the ethnic nationalities will continue to press for their sovereign rights to nationhood.
The inconvenient truth is that whether a particular self-determination movement seeks total secession from a large federation or a loose autonomous link with it, the underlying causes remains the same—ethnic political self-determination. We have seen the cacophony of violent demonstration for fulfillment of demands for ethnicity-motivated provincial self-rule in the Telangana state, soon becoming the 29th state of the Indian Federation. We have also seen the demands coming to fruition for the formation of nation-states in south Sudan, East Timor, Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia, and Kosovo.
Unquestionably, the list of freedom seeking contenders is growing as we speak. If any more evidence was needed, Scotland and Catalonia are all set to vote in referenda by the end of this year. The results are widely anticipated to result in independence for the Scotts from Britain, as well as for the Catalonians from Spain.
Closer to home, the demand for political self-determination has been a dominant political theme in Kashmir since early 1930s, predating the partition of the subcontinent in 1947. The much maligned two-nation theory only further legitimized its ethnic-religious overtones. Admittedly, this religious expression of an otherwise secular self-determination agenda has served as convenient fodder for some with a different ideological agenda.
However, New Delhi and some of the major world powers, know full well that the real issue in Kashmir is not the Pakistan- sponsored ‘jihadi terrorism’ but a genuine ethnic self- determination movement, ironically entrenched over the years by the very same military option with which the Indian State has employed to suppress it. As has been seen in the past, there is no end in sight for clamor for self-determination in Kashmir, no matter who walks in the corridors of power in New Delhi or in Islamabad.
To be sure, the armed struggle of 1990s against the Indian rule has been increasingly changing into a more non-violent resistance movement. There has been one glaring constant; the basic demand for right to self-determination has refused to die. The resulting unresolved conflict continues to pose imminent threats of militarized entanglement between India and Pakistan. Much to our dislike, the region has remained a seething cauldron for violent extremism threatening regional and world peace.
This continued stalemate sets South Asia’s teeming millions at avoidably disadvantageous positions through wars, and through missed opportunity costs due to mutual antagonism. The region’s social, political and economic integration will continue to remain a Holy Grail until the conflict in Kashmir is resolved to the satisfaction of all the three parties to the conflict.
The propensity of the human spirit for self-determination will keep the caravan of nationalism on its course. Its passage may be temporally delayed but it can not be eternally denied. In Kashmir, as in Crimea, the will of the masses must be respected.
(The author is a citizen writer)