Thursday, August 14, 2008

When will Ossetia and Acadia join the United Nations?

I've been wanting to write this post for days, but I had to take care of several items, including a technical issue, before I could write it. And no, I can't tell you how I solved my technical issue, for obvious reasons.

Having said that, I'm moving on from my SF MoMA press release parody and getting to more important matters, such as Ossetia.

Two of the first things that I read about the Russia-Georgia conflict were posts from Doug's Darkworld. This first post tried to take an objective view of the situation:

I wanted to get some background information out there so people can at least have some idea of what is going on, the mainstream press generally being very poor and nonobjective at providing background....

Georgia was formerly part of the Soviet Union, and declared independence in 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed. Two small sections of Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossestia, also declared independence at the same time, but are not generally recognized is such by the world community. Georgia is a near dictatorship run by a President Mikheil Saakashvili since he was elected in 2004. Mr Saakashvili has done everything he can to join NATO, even going so far as to send two thousand troops to Iraq. NATO has been cool to his efforts, probably because Georgia is wracked with violence and far from a peaceful democracy, and to at least some extent because they wish to avoid a direct confrontation with Russia.

Georgia violently resisted the Abkhazian and South Ossetian drive for independence, but with Russian support they both have achieved de facto independence. A lot of hard feelings were created and a lot of ethnic cleansing took place, mostly Georgians being expelled from Abkhazia and South Ossestia. As far as I can tell, and definitely in the case of South Ossetia, the people in these areas do genuinely want to be independent from Georgia, basically they are more ethnically related to groups living in Russia to their north. I mean, North Ossetia is part of Russia, so South Ossetians would rather be part of Russia than Georgia. The Georgians of course regard this Russian support for the rebels as meddling, which technically it most definitely is....

It’s a classic case of self determination vs national sovereignty. If one thinks that governments have the right to maintain their territorial integrity even should some of their citizens wish to declare independence, then Georgia has the right to retain control of its breakaway provinces, even with force if need be. If one thinks that people should be able to determine their own sovereignty, then one has to be sympathetic to the Abkhazian and South Ossetian declarations of independence, since it does seem clear that the overwhelming majority of ethnic Abkhazians and South Ossestians would prefer independence. Two referendums on the topic passed with 95% plus support in South Osesstia. There has been no referendum in Abkhazia on independence as far as I can tell, but the overwhelming majority of Abkhazians voted to stay in the Soviet Union in another referendum.

More here.

The American Heritage Dictionary looks at Ossetia as a region, noting that it was annexed by Russia between 1801 and 1806. Subsequently, the ethnic region was divided so that today it resides within two separate nations - Russia itself (where North Ossetia-Alania is located), and Georgia (where South Ossetia can be found).

Wikipedia notes that the Ossetian language itself is an Eastern Iranian tongue. Therefore, linguistically, the Ossetians are neither Russian nor Georgian.

But let's ask the Ossetians:

The Ossetians are one of the most ancient nations populating the territory of the C.I.S. They live in South and North Ossetia, Kabardin-Balkaria, the Stavropol Territory, a number of the regions of Georgia, there are Ossetians also in Turkey.

The Ossetians' descent is connected with the Scythians (the 6-7-th centuries B.C.), the Sarmatians (the 4-1-st centuries B.C.) and the Alans (from the 1-st century A.D.). The genetic continuityof the Scythians and Alans' language has also preserved. As a result of the Iranian tribes' having settled down in the Central Caucasus's pre-mountain areas, the indiginous population adopted their language and many cultural peculiarities. The powerful union of the Alan tribes, formed here and laid the foundation for the Ossetian people's formation, and was destroyed in the 13-th century as a result of the Mongol-Tatar invasion.

After this invasion the process of the Ossetian people's formation resumes. The Ossetians settle the southern slopes of the Caucasian mountain range. In the Western European and Oriental sources the ancestors of the Ossetians were called "the Alans", in the Georgian ones - "the Osses"("Ovses") and in the Russian - "the Yassy".

The quote above was taken from an unofficial site for the Republic of South Ossetia, declared in 1991. One has to wonder, however, if perhaps the liberation of the South Ossetians from Georgia may be followed by the liberation of the North Ossetians from Russia, a proud day in which Ossetia tells both Georgia and Russia to stick it. (In Ossetian.) Afterwards, Ossetia could apply for membership in the United Nations, which would then give it the privilege to (according to Dave Barry) listen to Grateful Dead music on headphones.

This would, of course, be an ugly situation, because it would mess everyone up. The President of the United States (Bush, McCain, Obama, Barr, whoever) wouldn't be able to control Ossetia, Russia wouldn't be able to control Ossetia, and the European Union wouldn't be able to control Ossetia. Yet Ossetia could appeal to a neo-Wilsonian principle of self-determination and do what they want to do. (For more on this topic, see this article by Professor Zinaida Sikevich.)

My North American readers are now saying to themselves, "Boy, I'm glad that we don't have problems like they do over in the uncivilized parts of the world."

Not so fast. Without even getting into the whole Aztlán debate, there is a region of America that is screaming for liberation from its masters. Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you Acadia.

The name Acadia originally applied to the colonies of New France, to an area that included southeastern Quebec, eastern Maine, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.

And to complicate things further, Acadian culture has spread far beyond its origins.

Note that the name "Acadian" was transformed into "Cajun" in Louisiana.

One of the main features of Acadia is Mount Desert Island.

The Abnaki knew Mount Desert Island as Pemetic, "The sloping land." They built bark-covered conical shelters, and traveled in exquisitely designed birch bark canoes. Historical notes record that the Abnaki wintered in interior forests and spent their summers near the coast. Archaeological evidence suggests the opposite pattern; in order to avoid harsh inland winters and to take advantage of salmon runs upstream, native americans wintered on the coast and summered inland....

[I]t was a Frenchman, Samuel Champlain, who made the first important contribution to the historical record of Mount Desert Island. He led the expedition that landed on Mt. Desert on September 5, 1604 and wrote in his journal, "The mountain summits are all bare and rocky...I name it Isles des Monts Desert." Champlain's visit to Acadia 16 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock destined this land to become known as New France before it became New England.

There were skirmishes between the French and English for the next century and a half, during which Mount Desert Island was primarily uninhabited.

In 1759, after a century and a half of conflict, British troops triumphed at Quebec, ending French dominion in Acadia. With native americans scattered and the fleur-de-lis banished, lands along the Maine coast opened for English settlement Governor Francis Bernard of Massachusetts obtained a royal land grant on Mt. Desert Island. In 1760, Bernard attempted to secure his claim by offering free land to settlers. Abraham Somes and James Richardson accepted the offer and settled their families at what is now Somesville.

The onset of the Revolutionary War ended Bernard's plans for Mount Desert Island. In its aftermath, Bernard lost his claim, and the newly created United States of America granted the western half of Mount Desert Island to John Bernard, son of the governor, and the eastern half of the island to Marie Therese de Gregoire, granddaughter of Cadillac.

But the most famous island in Acadia is probably Campobello Island, which is described at this website:

Le Parc international Roosevelt de Campobello a été créé le 22 janvier 1964 en vertu d'une entente internationale signée par le président Lyndon B. Johnson des États-Unis et le premier ministre Lester B. Pearson du Canada. L'entente ainsi conclue faisait de ce parc un monument commémoratif unique témoignant des relations étroites entre les peuples du Canada et les États-Unis d'Amérique. Les deux gouvernements reconnaissaient le rôle majeur qu'avait joué Franklin D. Roosevelt dans leur histoire ainsi que la grande importance qu'avait eue pour le président Roosevelt sa résidence d'été à Campobello.

Perhaps people will look to Roosevelt and Pearson as the future founding fathers of a new, bilingual Republic of Acadia, which will itself demand international recognition and United Nations membership.

Does this sound silly? Perhaps, but then again, isn't it just as silly to declare that Georgia's territorial borders should stand for all time, despite the wishes of the people living within them?

Oh, and remember how I read two posts from Doug's Darkworld? Well, here are excerpts from the second:

Many Russians for their part regard this situation as very analogous to the situation in Kosovo, where NATO launched massive air strikes on Russia’s ally Serbia to force them to accede to Kosovar demands of independence from Serbia. If it’s OK for NATO to attack a Russian ally to force them to grant independence to a rebellious province, why shouldn’t Russia be justified in doing the same in Georgia? And frankly, they’re right. This was one of the many things I found appalling about the NATO attack on Serbia, major powers chopping up smaller countries to suit their needs is a medieval concept, no matter what the flowery humanitarian language used to justify it. Kosovo set a terrible precedent, and the only thing surprising is that it took so long for someone else to use it to justify the same.

Now in my readings some have claimed that of course this isn’t the same thing, but their arguments seem to consist of “Russia is the bad guy trying to conquer territories, NATO are the good guys trying to free people, so of course it isn’t the same.” This argument doesn’t hold water, heck, it doesn’t hold air, and is an excellent example of how even intelligent educated people internalize their government’s propaganda and project it on the world. Russia and Serbia = bad, NATO and Georgia = good. Snort. The truth is vastly more complicated, and the hard truth is that neither NATO nor Russian politicians give a rat’s ass about anyone’s desire for self determination unless it suits their needs.

More here.

So, are you ready to enthusiastically declare that the Russians are evil? Or, conversely, that the Russians are liberating heroes?

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