Thursday, August 14, 2008

Who draws the map?

A nation is an organism, a collection of human and other resources with some common link. Like any organism, it gives and it takes.

In nature, some organisms are small and survive by staying out of the way of their bigger neighbors. So it is with nations, though the big ones still often manage to eat or step on, or evict the little ones from their territory. Other times, as with a colony of ants, or a hermit crab who pairs up with a stinging anemone, small creatures may band together to protect themselves from larger beasts, but retain something of their individuality.

When humans form a nation, they may follow these patterns: small nations creating an alliance against larger nations – or they may, over time grow from their core into an empire, which may grow to vast size. Nature’s pattern for that is seen in the giant whale, the extinct dinosaurs and other beasts which began small, then evolved into massive size.

Russia began as a small Viking settlement. Today, it stretches from the edge of Europe to the eastern limits of Asia. Its 20th century rival, the United States, began as a few scattered English settlements in North America and today, encompasses Pacific Islands, Arctic tundra and rich “heartland” prairie.

Russia consumed/absorbed other nations to become what it is today, as did the United States.

In the 20th century, Russia's influence grew even larger, as it held the reins of the now-defunct Soviet Union. Some of that Union joined willingly; others were brought in by brute force. With the fall of communism, Russia's control shrank back to her old borders, her core nation -- but in a process still being worked out. Witness Chechnya.

Today, a huge international question is be the new superpower, China, whose proud and prospering Han Chinese core is augmented not altogether happily by control over Tibet, western Muslims and former European colonies such as Macao and Hong Kong.

I know enough of my own nation’s history to realize that not all of it was brought together peacefully, though we have freedoms here not yet allowed to the Chinese and currently being lost in Russia.

The danger of any empire is that unhappy elements may in time grow strong enough to break it apart.

That happened to every ancient empire, to Napoleon’s creation, to the Hapsburgs, to the Soviet Union.

It is not likely that Ohio or New Jersey will leave the United States in the next century. But other parts of my country might, if they feel their interests are not being served. There are movements for secession in Hawaii, for example, and there are still many in the South who might do so again, if they got the chance. Texas, the Lone Star State, was wrested by American expatriates from Mexico, enjoyed brief independence, joined the Union eagerly, then seceded just a few years later when the Civil War broke out.

This is on my mind because I have followed the news out of Georgia (Eurasian Georgia, not the US State.) There are multiple ironies at work there. Georgia was once a Soviet Republic. It actually produced Josef Stalin, the Soviet leader whose brutal fist in the Kremlin bloodied and conquered Eastern Europe. Today, Georgia is a small, weak, but nominally independent nation, with at least two regions within its own borders who seek independence from it.

The West supported Kosovo’s independence and thus finds itself in a quandary. It cannot now preach against independence for Ossetia in Georgia – can it? But Russia, championing such independence after fiercely opposing Kosovar secession from Serbia, has no moral authority. What of Chechnya, Mr. Putin? And if South Ossetia joins North Ossetia, which is part of your Russia, what will you say if North Ossetia then asks to separate from Russia for full Ossetian independence?

In this modern era when we pay lip service to human rights as well as to the often conflicting goals of national sovereignty and ethnic representation, we find ourselves in a great tangle.

Virtually every conflict remaining in our world revolves around this Gordian knot: from Basque bombs in Spain to strife in Palestine to the growing rage of the Uigher people in western China. Which uprising to support, which to ignore? Which empire to fault, which to praise? Should Kurdistan be independent? Taiwan? Scotland? Tibet? Gibraltar? The many “Indian reservations” in the United States?

Can the quandary be solved peacefully or will it be hammered out by force and blood, country by country, across the landscape of the 21st century?


Janice Thomson said...

It would be nice if these things could be solved peaceably but such is not the way when greedy and power-seeking humans are involved. Is there any nation among us who can claim to not have blood somewhere in our history?

Chase March said...

I must confess that i really don't understand this particular conflict at all. But conflict upon conflict seem to be running rampant in this world. What to do, what to do?

Eastcoastdweller said...

Janice: Maybe Iceland.

Chase: Georgia once belonged to the Soviet Union, which was headed by Russia. Georgia has now embraced the West, as has Ukraine, Latvia, and most of the other former Soviet states that surround Russia.

Georgia's president foolishly attempted a blietzkrieg to wrest back by force a region of his country that wants to be independent or to join Russia.

Russia, still smarting from the recent "defeat" of its ally, Serbia, jumped at the chance to humiliate Georgia and send a message to other Western-leaning republics: the Bear, not the Eagle, rules this neighborhood.

The West, having supported Kosovar independence, has no moral higher ground from which to rule out Ossetian national aspirations -- but Georgia is a democracy that can't be thrown to the wolves.

So we support a status quo of Georgia remaining territorially intact on paper and the Russians staying as "peacekeepers" in the regions of Georgia that don't want to be part of Georgia.

Russia is playing a dangerous game, too, that could in time backfire upon itself.

Everyone has mis-stepped and the innocent suffer.