woensdag 19 maart 2014

no analogies.

Some talk about the annexation of Sudetenland by the Third Reich these days. In his speech yesterday however, Putin made the analogy of the reunification of the Bundesrepublik and the Demokratische Republik. I guess both analogies are as valid as they are not, and both are heavily laden. As a historian man should know that history can help you understand the present, but that it doesn't predict the future. Moreover, it doesn't repeat itself. Therefore, some extra historic examples to relax the discussion. 

In 1846 Texas joined the United States. It wasn't a great success; after seventeen years Texas wanted to be independent again. Too late. Know what you choose for.

After gaining independence from Spain as part of the United Provinces of Rio de la Plata (present day Argentina) in 1811, Uruguay became an independent state only four years later. In 1816 the territory was invaded by Portuguese troops though, and became part of the Portuguese empire in 1817 and five years later independent Brazil. After civil war and intervention of Argentina and Great Britain Uruguay became independent again in 1828. This warring great powers might be a 'perfect' analogy for the present Eastern Europe.

Egypt and Syria are the core Arab states, and in also the sixties they shared some revolutionary spirit. They united as the United Arab Republic in 1958. But Egypt's President Nasser still gave the Syrians the idea they were ruled by Egyptians, not by fellow Arabs, and the project failed in 1961. Just a warning for the Russian authorities.

From 1958 to 1962 Ghana and Guinea formed the Union of African States. Pet project of Ghanaian President Nkrumah, he hoped that it would be the start of an united Africa. French Sudan and Senegal united as Mali after independence in 1960. Not long thereafter the union dissolved and the French Sudan part joined the Union of African States as Mali. In 1963 the Union dissolved without anybody paying attention. Personal ties and ideology are not enough to keep a state together.

In 1963 Singapore became part of the Federation of Malaysia, which existed since 1945 as an union of British North Borneo (Sabah), Sarawak and Malaysia. It was no success, and in 1965 the city-state was expelled. I'm sure they regret this monkey-balls in Kuala Lumpur. I'm sure Khrushchev regretted giving Crimea away in 1954 as well. 

In 1964 Tanganyika and Zanzibar merged after a popular revolution overthrew the Arab dynasty ruling Zanzibar. Some Zanzibaris found this a mixed blessing, but President Nyerere of Tanganyika happily accepted the unification bid. Sounds familiar?

Somalia could be a school example of failed unification. British and Italian Somaliland were united after decolonization. The Somali Republic was declared in 1969. French Somaliland never joined and became Djibouti in 1977. Since the civil war started in 1991 Somaliland, Puntland and Galmudug are virtually independent. Therefore, ethnic and linguistic bonds aren't enough, and shared history shouldn't go back in time too far.

The unification of the Yemen Arab Republic and the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen in 1990 was something of a success if you consider that they weren't really part of the same country since long. It took some civil war, but the country is still together, 24 years later. I see analogies. For example that there was an 'idea' that they were and should be together, and it took some military force to convince everybody afterwards. 

Saddam Hussein was convinced that Kuwait was actually a province of Iraq. Seems legit, with some shared history, shared language and shared ethnicity. But Saddam forgot the referendum, plus it was probably the only time in history when the world powers were united: the Soviet Union was part of the coalition of the willing. Unfortunately, the world powers today aren't as united.

In the Spring of 2008 my lecturer Rick Fawn wrote an article called 'The Kosovo and Montenegro effect'. It shows how referenda can or cannot make independence bids legit, how the international community treats different states different in different contexts, and, therefore, how there is no jurisprudence or precedents in international law. He wrote: 'state creation is seen by Western powers as a means of managing and preventing conflict, but the effects could be deeply destabilizing for both the Post-Communist region and for Russian-Western relations'. Point taken.

Montenegro became independent from the Serbian rump of Yugoslavia in 2006, after a referendum agreed by both sides and monitored by all UN Security Council permanent members, including Russia and China. Russian media urged the Transnistrian de facto state in Moldova to follow in Montenegro's footsteps. The leader of the de facto state of Abkhazia in Georgia declared that there was no need for a referendum, as he considered the one from 1999 still legit.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, after being a virtual UN protectorate for nine years. Serbia still doesn't agree, but many countries recognized the Kosovar independence since then. This might be a result of the brutal war Serbia waged against the statelet. Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan, Abkhazia and South Ossetia (both in Georgia) stated that they suffered in the same way. Moreover, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transnistria learned that great power intervention is allowed.

All parties drew different conclusions from the 'precedents' in Montenegro and Kosovo.

Some Sovietologists predicted a Bosnian style civil war in Crimea after the independence of Ukraine, because of the complicated history and ethnic composition. Nothing happened, and after more than twenty years nobody expected something to happen any more, moreover. 

However, Russia learned in 1999 that outside intervention can be justified, and in 2006 how: by a referendum. Man can argue that both lead to the Russian involvement in the August War in Georgia in 2008. Abkhazia and South Ossetia declared themselves independent afterwards, and Russia recognized this. South Ossetia even wants to join the Russian Federation, but they aren't allowed, as for now.  

Only if we look at the present situation in Ukraine and the Crimea, we might find a clue how the 21st century state system should or shouldn't react. Let's not forget that we aren't in 1938, and we aren't in 1990. The Soviet Union isn't there any more, the Cold War is over, and Putin is just himself, not some reincarnation.

vrijdag 14 maart 2014

the game of diplomats.

Chess, as we all know, is the game of kings. But what then, is the game of diplomats? 

The Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs decided that this would be football and organized a 'Diplomatic Cup' last weekend. And why not? It's by far the most popular sport in the world, and as war 'is the continuation of politics by other means', there's at least less pieces dying on a football field than on a chess board.

Of course I played on behalf of the Dutch embassy. Sixteen teams of nine embassies, three ministries and the EU Monitoring Mission (three teams) played four or five games to find out the inevitable: the Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs won! They beat the EU Monitoring Mission Gori Field Office - or, as presented in the local media: Georgia beat the EU! 

It was great to see all those nations coming together - guess you don't see Kazakhstan, Iran or the Vatican that often on the World Cup. Or the US, for that matter. Some teams were combined, with the Swiss, Germans and Austrians playing together, and the Ukrainians and Kazakhstanis joining forces. As always the Iranians were very modest and very dedicated. Unfortunately they didn't make it to the second round, where I gave them a good chance as outsiders. Great respect for the ambassadors playing moreover! The ambassadors of Sweden, Poland, the Vatican and Italy were present - with the representative of the Holy See joining the Poles. 

It was a great show, with flags, national hymns, and an official opening by the Minister of Foreign Affairs Maia Panjakidze, who was Ambassador to the Netherlands before. It was a shame that we didn't perform too good, but here it looks almost as if I know what I'm doing: 

At least we won the Fair Play Cup, as proper Dutchmen should. We're famous for both football and sticking to the rules, obviously. Here's our captain receiving the medal of the Ambassador of the Holy See, Monsignor Marek Solczyński (yes, that's the one playing with the Poles). 

The closing ceremony was almost as spectacular as Sochi's, with a circus act, glitter, confetti, and even more ministerial speeches. Thank you, team mates! Of course everybody got injured, so Gerard (not on the picture) as well. I had a great weekend! 

zondag 9 maart 2014

hayastan dans la francophonie.

Is Armenia the Southernmost Caucasian country, or the most Eastern Anatolian state? I expected Armenia to be a miniature Georgia, but being situated in the Lesser Caucasus and having a lot less water, it looked more like Kurdistan. Armenia isn't an isolated, land-locked version of Sakartvelos, with Russian instead of American friends. But even the Armenians themselves don't really know what it is then. 

To start with, the Armenians call their own country not Armenia, but Hayastan. The Kingdom of Armenia was the first state to adopt Christianity in 301 (the Georgian kingdom of Imeria was second in 337), and because of early Bible translations the Armenians can brag on one of the oldest alphabets. While the Armenian nation is defined by the Armenian Catholic Church, the borders of the Armenian homeland are a little less settled though. 

During its heyday in Medieval times, the Kingdom of Armenia covered  large parts of Eastern Anatolia and current Kurdistan. Later, the Armenian kingdom of Cilicia was situated in the Southern coastal region of Anatolia. In 1813-28, Eastern Armenia was annexed by the Russian Empire, however. After the October Revolution, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Eastern Armenia formed an independent Transcaucasian Federation for some months in 1918, before internal war lead to the First Republic of Armenia being established. In 1920 the Treaty of Sèvres granted the Western Armenian lands to Eastern Armenia, and there was even a Cilician Republic proclaimed on the Mediterranean shore (as a French protectorate). However, in 1920 the Turkish nationalist forces marching from the West and the Soviet troops advancing from the North divided Armenia again, and until after 1991 Eastern Armenia was part of the USSR.

Nevertheless, Armenia has good relations with most of the countries of the world, including, and probably even its most important, with Iran. There's a lot of Armenians in Northern Iran, and I never heard of any religious friction. However, Armenia's relations with its neighbours to the West and East aren't that good. Since their war over Nagorno Karabakh, the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan is closed, and in solidarity with its ethnic Azeri kin, Turkey closed its borders with Armenia as well. In Soviet times the Turkish-Armenian border was a very much closed NATO-Warsaw Pact border, by the way.

The Armenian diaspora is immense. There's five million Armenians outside the Second Republic, and only three million in. As a comparison, in Israel there's about six million Jews, and about seven million live elsewhere. Iran has the fifth largest Armenian diaspora community. The biggest is living in the Russian Federation. There's half a million Armenians in the US, and on the third place is occupied by the French-Armenian diaspora of 250.000. France has the largest Armenian diaspora community of the European Union. I figured that Armenia is even part of la Francophonie! This might also be because of the French supervision over the First Armenian Republic in the twenties, when Azerbaijan was under British mandate, and Georgia was under German protection. 

Having such a large diaspora obviously leads to some schizophrenia and cosmopolitanism. It starts at the border. I didn't expect the epithet in English, but I Russian is widely used in Armenia.

The construction of the so-called Cascade in the centre of Yerevan was started in 1971, but postponed in 2009, when the Armenian-American sponsor Gerard Cafesjian died. The architect is Jim Torosyan.

On its summit of the stairway you find the monument commemorating fifty years of Soviet Armenia. Its the connection with the Cascade was never completed.

This is Alexander Tamanyan, the architect of modern Yerevan. His statue is on the other end of the Cascade.

Halfway you find le Maison Charles Aznavour, probably Armenia's most famous diasporan.


There's a plaquette commemorating the visit of French President Nicholas Sarkozy in 2011. French Presidents have a well-established tradition of visiting Armenia.


O, and by the way - the Armenians are convinced 'merci' is an Armenian expression. Since the Armenian equivalent is 'shnorhakalutyun', I might agree.