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Monday, September 28, 2015

On the Right to Self Determination

In 2014 a Scottish independence vote lost 55%-45%. It probably seemed a little odd to most people that such a thing could happen in a stable, first world nation. However, yesterday the pro-independence parties of Catalonia won the majority of seats in their legislature. They have stated that they will move toward independence from Spain. However, the rhetoric holds no force, since the Spanish Supreme Court ruled that it would be illegal for Catalonia to secede from Spain. Yet, there it will be - nearly 8 million Catalonians have formally, if not legally, declared that they don't want to be part of Spain.
This is not ourt of the ordinary, actually. Abkhazia and South Ossetia don't want to be part of Georgia. Transnistria doesn't want to be part of Moldova. The Donbass doesn't want to be part of Ukraine. Chechnya doesn't want to be part of Russia.  The Kybelians don't want to be part of Algeria. The Sahrawians don't want to be part of Morroco. The Tamil do not want to be part of Sri Lanka. The Kurds don't want to be part of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to separatist movements. We don't know much about them because the press won't give them oxygen. The Catalonia vote may change that.
Thirteen British North American colonies, in their declaration stated 'The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.' Anyone who is familiar with the history will likely conclude that this was hyperbole in the support of what they wanted to do. However, in retrospect, the secession generally has been granted legitimacy.
It seems that a right to secession won't be viewed as legitimate without some justification. In other words, a people can't just decide one day, 'Hey, you guys are nice and all, but we really have decided that we want to be us, not a part of you.' I'm not sure why, but that seems to be universally frowned upon.  
We readily confess, however, that at some point subjugation of a region reaches a level of severity where secession is morally justified. However, there has been no formally stated set of criteria that delineates when that point is reached and we have ample evidence that the severity of usurpations is in the eyes of a, usually, not unbiased observer.
The secession of the Balkan states from a Serbian dominated Yugoslavia was generally assessed to be legitimate by the EUNA, but not by Russia. The secessation of Crimea was assessed as legitimate by Russa, but not by EUNA. In a just world, the criteria for legitimate secession would be clear, allowing for objective adjudication.  
I, for one, would be inclined to institute a relatively low hurdle. I have stated that, in my opinion, the first principle of Information Age political philosophy will be that no person should be required to live under a body of laws, programs and policies that they consider to be fundamentally unjust. That is not to say that political disagreement constitutes justification for secession. However, morality informs us as to what constitutes just laws and if we can't agree on basic moral questions, we can't very well craft a nation ruled by law that seems just to all. It assertion seems quite reasonable if, to many, impractical. If shown to be practical, I do not think there is will great resistance, at least in principle.
From a practical standpoint, I think that any region that can demonstrate that their will is consistently thwarted by the will of the national majority is in a strong position to say that their right to self-determination has been sufficiently abridged. I realize that this would probably allow much of the South to secede from the U.S. even today. However, I would argue that it is well justified.  
The South, in a majority, doesn't want abortion on demand, gay marriage, the current level of adjudicated separation of church and state, etc. The, in the main, believe in less Federal control of local affairs. In other words, they are, generally, not living under a body of laws, programs and policies that they consider to be morally correct. While they would not vote in favor of any of these, the majority of Americans do not live in the South and in its entirety, these laws have support. However, the notion that the people of New York and California, by virtue of their very large populations may impose their will upon the people of Alabama and Mississippi is sharp, to say the least. I am having this problem right now with the Ukraine. The Donbass was OK, if not thrilled, with being part of Ukraine until a government came to power that stated without equivocation that it intended to pursue EU membership. The ruling party has a history of disenfranchising the Russian language, the majority language of the Donbass. These are what is causing this violence in the Donbass, not Russia. The Donbass, by a rather wide margin, does not want to be in the EU, given the hostility that the EU has demonstrated in word and deed toward Russia. Kiev is attempting, through force, to enforce a continued sovereignty over the Donbass to do so.
The International community of nations has 'international law' that prohibits self-determination for the Donbass. Most countries have national laws that forbid secession (the USSR was an exception). So, it is claimed by the people of Brussels, Washington, or Kiev that Donbass secession (and Catalonian secession if it comes) is illegal. Isn't this properly an issue between and among the people of the Donbass? We can, improperly I think, get it all lost in issues of Russia-EUNA relations which may mean little or nothing to the people of Eastern Ukraine who are just looking for some right of self determination.
However, now the Catalonians will present the problem again without the International political intrigues. In other words, EUNA vs Russia is not going to cloud the issue. And the Catalonians will hardly be the last. This statement of Catalonian national identity will likely embolden the Kurds, for example, to their desire for an independent Kurdistan. Sooner or later, the community of nations with transcend the 'our friends can secede, but our enemy's friends cannot' approach and develop consistent, objective and fair criteria. Mostly, I hope that EUNA, Russia and China will develop a attitude of neutrality and allow local peoples to resolve local issues.  
When we draw a clear line between International law and the rights of a regional population, the world will become a kinder, gentler place.

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