Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Kosovo to Gaza and Beyond II

Picking up from Monday, what “entitles” a group of people to declare themselves independent and demand – and get – recognition as a distinct ethnic entity and a “homeland” of their own?

Earlier this month, 2 million ethnic Albanians living in the province of Kosovo – representing some 90 percent of the entire Kosovo population, declared their independence from Serbia-Montenegro which is majority ethnic Slav. The declaration is unlikely to be reversed, even though other ethnic-majority Slav countries are unlikely to diplomatically recognize the new country.

Or consider Armenia, one of the oldest civilizations in the world. Worldwide, there are approximately 8 million ethnic Armenians, but most of these live outside the small modern territory in the Caucasus called Armenia. Only an estimated 20 percent of the total Armenian population still resides in that small part of their ancient homeland.

If a distinctive cultural, linguistic, religious, artistic, and racial group of 2 million in one place or 8 million world-wide can have their own homeland, a fair question is why cannot 15 million? That’s the general consensus about the number of ethnic Kurds living in Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Syria.

And there is the seemingly intractable confrontation in Palestine.

More later


Blogger Helena Cobban said...

I think it's a mistake to consider that every state has to have a single, identifiable ethnic/national character. Indeed, many of the most successful democracies in the world are intentionally multi-ethnic-- think of India, Canada, South Africa, or Mozambique. The administration of a state requires some culturally determined choices to be made: regarding the official language (or languages); regarding the workweek (which day or days does the weekend fall?), and national holidays, etc. Those choices need not relate to any one of the constitutive ethnicities-- for example, the use of English as one of the official languages in India, or of Portuguese in Mozambique. But in practice those choices do usually privilege one or more of the constitutive ethnic groups over others.

The central goal, surely, should be that every group within the state should have an equal chance to have a full cultural life. In South Africa, there are 12 official languages. In Lebanon, the Armenian community has its own entire range of social and educational institutions, up to and including a university. In New Zealand, there are extensive provisions for Maori schooling and broadcasting (and, equally importantly, some provision for restoration of land and natural-resource rights stolen long ago by the pakeha... )

But surely, trying to resolve these issues, through negotiation, within the existing state boundaries is far preferable to having the idea that it's "okay" or even desirable for every state to be monocultural? If monoculturalism of states is an accepted norm, then this opens Pandora's boxes within Pandora's boxes of claims for ever smaller amounts of "total" national liberation. It would wreak particular havoc within Africa, where the boundaries almost never follow boundaries of ethnicity or culture (or "tribes", as Europeans disparagingly refer to the groups involved.) Finally, it fosters a climate of divisiveness, suspicion, and xenophobia instead of multi-cultural exchange.

Personally, I think "splitting off" Kosovo from Serbia is a huge mistake. It has been accomplished only through the force of western arms; and it may well prove to be a curse for the peoples of that region and the world for many decades to come.

How much better was tyhe path followed as Spain emerged from dictatorship. All of Spain was admitted to the EU; and within that broader context the 'national', cultural, and other claims of the Catalans suddenly seemed so much easier for Spain to accommodate. (Basque claims have been less tractable.) But Serbia was offered no such soft landing, only punishment, punishment, and dismemberment. If the Kosovars could live the same kind of life that the Catalans have today, I imagine they would be extremely happy!

8:54 PM  
Blogger Dan Smith said...

I agree that the worst of all possible worlds would be “countries” established along ethnic/identifiable “national characteristics.”

I subscribe to what might be called the ‘mutt” (a.k.a. Heinz 57 varieties) analogy as the basic theory of successful nationhood. Pedigree dogs that are bred to accentuate certain characteristics can also unintentionally trigger genetic maladies that increase illness, reduce intelligence, shorten life, or create emotionally unstable animals. Cross-breeding reduces these risks by broadening the genetic mix which in turn improves the chances that a defective gene will remain regressive.

Of course, living in the United States, where there is cross-migration as well as some self-identified “closed” societal groupings, influences my perspective toward the mutt solution. But nothing that has been said actually goes to evolving realistic criteria pointing to the circumstances that favor or disfavor the creation of new countries: that says that “X” group deserves its own homeland while “Y” and “Z” do not.

Or to make it really concrete, why “no” for Kosovo but “yes” for East Timor or for Bangladesh?

12:02 PM  

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