There will be a referendum about the independence of Crimea from Ukraine tomorrow. The turnout will be above 80 percent and around 95 percent will endorse the annexation by Russia.
On March 16th, we are choosing: [this] or [that].
As the billboard shows, the people will be choosing between a membership in the burning land composed of fences and represented by fascist national colors of Ukraine (black and red: the Right Sector uses the same colors on their flag) with a swastika on one hand, and a future in a shiny Russia represented by the Slavic tricolor flag on the other hand. The sniper-controlled parliament in Kiev has helped the independence of Crimea by declaring the Crimean parliament non-existent according to the Ukrainian laws, so the Crimean parliament may finally start to operate outside Ukraine. It won't be a smooth sailing. For example, Ukraine may quickly cut water pipelines and other things.
I expect the referendum to approve the independence. The desires in Crimea seem clear to me. Ukraine was a cradle of the Russian civilization but it later diverged or mutated. But Crimea has always been an intrinsically Russian territory and Khruschev's 1954 decision to reclassify Crimea as a part of Ukraine was a prank of a sort, a method for an Ukrainian-Russian-mixed Soviet leader to show everyone that he can do anything.
A questionable replacement of the government in Kiev, if I avoid the word "coup", is even more questionable in Crimea, to put it mildly. Well, more precisely, people think that it is illegitimate and they must think about ways to guarantee that their government buildings aren't hijacked by the same unelected people as the government buildings in Kiev. I completely understand it. I don't like "revolutions" in general but a revolution must first win if it wants to retroactively justify its illegal means and it is very clear that the "Maidan" revolution hasn't won on the whole territory of Ukraine (territory as of 2013). It may have won in Kiev but I surely consider the situation in Donetsk, Luhansk, Kharkiv, and other cities to be wide open. It's silly to imagine that Mr Yatsenyuk is a full-fledged prime minister of the "whole" Ukraine. He would like to be one but the previous rule of law says something else and the only thing that may "justify" this status of his government is the brute force but the brute force isn't so clearly dominating in the whole Ukraine.
The referendum in Crimea only is obviously illegal according to the Ukrainian constitution. But it doesn't matter. The Ukrainian constitution has been turned into a piece of worthless toilet paper some month ago or so and completely different forces than constitutions are deciding what is going to happen now.
Some countries wanted the United Nations to declare the referendum illegal "internationally", too. However, this attempt failed because Russia has vetoed it. It has the right to do so much like America – thankfully – has the right to veto similar plans. China abstained. China's feelings are extremely mixed because it largely sympathizes with Russia; on the other hand, it is scared of any kind of secession (think about the possible separation of Tibet) which is why it doesn't want to openly support secessionist efforts internationally, either.
Complete off-topic: when you allow your frog to play games on your smartphone, be careful that it doesn't ever become boring! ;-)
At any rate, the very idea to fight for these things in the U.N. – although they are doomed from the beginning – seems sort of stupid to me. Those efforts underlie how redundant and impotent the international organization is. And I must add the word "thankfully" because if the U.N. were more powerful (e.g. if the vetoes didn't exist), the civilized world could be crippled rather soon.
As I have already said, the whole Ukraine – originally known as the Kievan Rus' and later as Little Russia (note the de facto Russian names throughout the history) – was the cradle of the Russian civilization. In this sense, Ukraine played the same role for Russia as Kosovo has played for Serbia. Kosovo was the "cradle of the Serbian statehood", too. Here we are talking about Crimea which is arguably much more "Russian" than "Ukrainian" so it is Russian even in the narrow sense, not just in the generalized sense.
Both Crimea and Kosovo would be fighting for independence at some moment. Both regions have slightly less than 2 million citizens. Kosovo has 11,000 squared kilometers; Crimea has 26,000 squared kilometers. Kosovo was "special" but so must be Crimea, as Russian foreign minister Lavrov says. There has never been a rational objective justification why Kosovo should be "special" or an exception – which means, as the Russian foreign minister rightfully argues, that Crimea may be called special, too.
Well, there have been many territories that wanted (or still want) to secede. There are some similarities and there are lots of differences. The Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia, Kosovo from Serbia, Slovakia from Czechoslovakia (I focus on these Czechoslovak examples because my knowledge about them is vastly greater), Ukraine from USSR, Crimea from Ukraine, Eritrea from Ethiopia, South Sudan from Sudan, Scotland from the U.K. (to be decided in Fall 2014), Quebec from Canada (largely silent now), and so on, and so on.
All these cases share some general features and they differ in many others. In all cases, there exists a relatively uniform region of the "parent" country that is ethnically or religiously different from the bulk of the country. It is usually clear that if you allow the region to vote about the secession, the result will be "Yes". But if you only allow the votes to include everyone in the "parent" country, the result is "No". It means that if the fate of the region is up to referendums, it matters a great deal which part of the surface of the globe is allowed to participate in the referendum.
At the end, if some people really don't like to be a part of the "parent" country, you shouldn't stop them. Another question is whether these people who became a majority in the seceding region really own or deserve to own the whole territory. And I surely don't think that the answer is automatically "Yes".
The Sudetenland – the borderland of the Czech lands near the borders with Germany, mostly composed of mountains called "Sudets" in German (of course, this very term was banned in the Czech language during the post-war period) – gradually became an area where the ethnic Germans had a majority. They contributed a lot to the industrial and intellectual sophistication of the area which is why they had been invited as settlers by a Czech king in the first place. But under Hitler, the co-existence became highly problematic because in average, those people became more fanatical Nazis than the average Germans.
They were screaming "we want to go to Germany [the Third Reich]". Their desire was only fully satisfied in 1945 when they were expelled. In 1938, the Sudetenland was annexed by the Third Reich but these people didn't go anywhere ;-) so their desires were not fulfilled by the omnipresent Führer yet. ;-) But more seriously, I think that the people have the democratic right to decide how the society should be organized according to the ideas preferred by a majority. On the other hand, I don't think that they have the right to "own" the territory and cut it in pieces according to their wishes and against the wishes of the people on the other side of the would-be borders.
In particular, the Sudetenland has always been an unquestionable part of the Czech kingdom, Czechoslovakia, and later the Czech Republic. The ethnic Germans were welcome and fully treated as first-class citizens (and in most cases in the previous centuries, "more strongly" first-class citizens than most of the ethnic Czechs; this fact was mostly correlated with the German-speaking leadership of our monarchy), but the ethnic Germans as a group were simply not given any sovereignty over parts of the territory of the Czech lands. In an extreme situation when they decide that their life in Czechoslovakia without their Führer was impossible, they just didn't have the right to take the territory with them. It wasn't a part of the contract under which the German settlers were invited by the Czech kings. Democracy is a nice thing but I think that the "ownership of a territory" is a pretty independent thing and co-existing groups of people should be clear about the "rules of the game".
Kosovo was the cradle of the Serbian statehood. Gradually, Kosovo would see an increasing Albanian population. It would still be a Serbian territory but the majority makes a difference. Between 1941 and 1943, Benito Mussolini helped the Albanians (his pro-fascist pals) to control all the territories where they represented a majority. Greater Albania was born (for a while). Mussolini lost the war but his plan to reorganize the Balkans was ultimately realized almost "peacefully" after the war. The Albanians just became a majority. And in 1991, in the wake of the other Yugoslav wars and tensions, they had a referendum whether they wanted to steal the territory from the Serbs, and the result was Yes. A coalition of clueless and nasty international forces – often energized by a black-and-white anti-Serbian propaganda – endorsed this territorial theft and Kosovo became a failed state controlled by the Albanian ethnic group.
Retroactively, it seems clear to me that Serbia should have never allowed this growth of the Albanian minority. In Czechia, less than 0.1% of the population are Muslims so the issues of the Muslim minority are a non-problem so far but people are already wary and according to various polls, as much as 98% opposes the rights of the Muslims to establish their schools and other things. Based on the experience, this caution is probably wise. If one doesn't allow a certain problem to grow, one doesn't have to face tough choices how to solve the "already huge problem". I know that it would be unacceptable for me to allow Czechia to become a Muslim-controlled land in my lifetime so I think it's safer to prevent them from building Muslim schools than to throw chemical bombs on them later.
Miloševič was a bastard, and there may have been others in Serbia, and the Serbs may have been "a bit too Eastern" for my tastes, but I am still angry when I realize that this injustice against the whole Serbian nation has taken place. To make things even more insane, the EU-wide Socialist Party has nominated Kosovo's prime minister Hashim Thaci along with 2 other folks for the Nobel Peace Prize. I can't believe that. It is just so distasteful. Thaci should have been executed for the crimes against humanity many years ago – he has been a boss of drug trafficking and organ trafficking Mafias, too. But instead, the left-wing megajerks propose him for a Nobel Peace Prize. I don't like internal policies and values of the Czech socialists but at least, I was happy to see that Daddy Richard Falbr, a member of the European Parliament and an ex-boss of the labor unions (therefore "daddy"), has protested against this insanity, too.
The controversies in Kosovo have been bloody. Crimea is nothing like that. Not a single person has been killed in Crimea (so far). There's simply a near-consensus about the political affairs (and the ethnic Russian folks are trying to allow the Tatars, a recently strengthened Muslim minority, to participate in the new arrangement, too). Crimea isn't a territory that has been stolen from one ethnic group by another ethnic group (at least so far). It is problem-free in this sense. It was just reclassified as a part of Ukraine by a Khrushchev's 1954 prank that didn't matter in the Soviet era but it does matter now. So things should really not be controversial at all. But they are controversial, anyway.
The very U.N. vote was clearly a demonstration of power meant to scare Russia – I mean the whole large country. But the fate of Crimea isn't as relevant for Russia as it is relevant for the citizens of the Crimean peninsula themselves. And I think it's really an uncontroversial question for them. Do they have the rights to choose their future, the same right that was generously allowed to the folks in Kiev? Why do some people try to suggest that this is "all about Russia"? The referendum in Crimea is about Crimea.
Crimea is the sharpest example of a territory within Ukraine (in its 2013 borders) that simply doesn't want to live under the government similar to the interim government appointed by the violent coup in Kiev. Every sane person in Ukraine – and elsewhere – should be able to understand that there probably won't be any productive, peaceful, meaningful co-existence of the "Maidan" people and the bulk of the people of Crimea in one country. At least Crimea should be seceded from the "Maidan" country.
In principle, you would think that people get this simple point – so events should proceed analogously to the Velvet Divorce of Czechoslovakia in the late 1992. It's clear how to separate the original country (Ukraine including Crimea); it is clear that the two parts strongly differ; it is clear that their co-existence won't be productive. But even in this case when all these things are even more self-evident than they were in the case of Czechoslovakia, there are forces that simply don't want the divorce to be a velvet one.
The very hassle – within Ukraine and at the international level – that Crimea has to face to be allowed to talk about the independence at all is a striking piece of evidence that a "velvet divorce" is something that you simply can't expect from the people of Ukraine at all. The reason is that there are too many people who just don't want any velvet.
In Czechoslovakia, the citizens have also had "highly non-uniform opinions" on whether the country should be split. Most Czechs would oppose the Slovak independence for quite some time. Václav Havel was fanatical about this point and didn't want to allow the divorce at all (he resigned in Summer 1992 to protest the split; it was also a way for him to smoothly become the first Czech president half a year later). This opinion was almost universal in Czech politics. Propaganda TV programs would say that a split would mean a war or something terrible. But most of the Slovaks were thinking differently. There were staunch proponents of the Slovak independence – like the Slovak National Party – and there were many people and politicians "in the middle" who would prefer to build ever higher, more annoying hurdles and invent ever more bizarre ideas about new types of confederations etc. The advocates of federation existed in Slovakia of 1992 but they were rare.
The Czechs were pragmatists. Most of us, including people like Klaus, would prefer the federal state. When we would hear about the Slovak dreams of independence and special new chairs in the U.N. (within a unified country), we would probably talk about the Slovak inferiority complex (something that has largely evaporated from the discourse because if it exists at all, it just doesn't play a strong role). It was very clear to many of us – to Václav Klaus but not just him – that some extraordinarily convoluted models of confederation wouldn't work well. There was really no reason to invent new, intermediate forms of statehood. So at some moment, the Czech political elite began to ask a simple Yes/No question: one country or two countries? And two countries simply looked more acceptable than one country, so Václav Klaus et al. were working hard to realize this scenario in an optimal, most peaceful way. It wasn't just peaceful; it was really free of any visible hassles whatsoever, and this comment applies to the separation of the currencies in February 1993, too. The Slovaks co-operated as well and even though their intellectual contribution to the "logistic" may have been substantially smaller, they just began to behave in the same way according to the new rules.
The most important condition for this "velvet" was that both sides actually wanted the solution to be velvet-like. It may proceed exactly in the same way in the case of a divorce between a husband and a wife (sorry, I won't dedicate a special full sentence to two husbands or two wives); under certain circumstances, the spouses may remain friends. The Czechs didn't share the Slovak political reasoning at all and they (we) were quite surprised by it after those 70 years of life in the same country – most of us thought that it was irrational, emotional, complex-driven, and so on – but this difference in the thinking was exactly understood by the Czechs as a reason why we should allow them to gain the independence. The co-existence only makes sense if both sides are on the same frequency. One side that prefers some kind of a secession is arguably enough for the secession to be a good idea. The side that doesn't want the whole state (or marriage) to split should simply change his or her or its or their mind. To insist that the other side doesn't have the right to secede is ultimately a form of bullying, intimidation, or "imperialism".
The Czech-Slovak relationships have actually improved. You will have a hard time to find a pair of nations in the world that are friendlier than our two nations. Slovakia was often predicted to sink because it had been receiving lots of subsidies during the times of Czechoslovakia and those subsidies would evaporate after the split. But Slovakia did well. The relative depreciation of the Slovak crown relatively to the Czech crown (they started at parity) never exceeded 30 percent which is still "minor" (it was about 20% in average). And if you are a pro-EU fanatic, you may say that Slovakia is in some respects ahead of Czechia because it has introduced the euro, for example. (This was really their mistake of a sort but I don't want to discuss this topic here.)
The Ukraine-Crimea divorce had all the potential to be a velvet divorce because these two parts of the "current" Ukraine are sharply separated, easily divisible, and very different. But even in this very clear case that resembles the Czecho-Slovak split, the "Maidan" people just don't have the Czech generosity to allow Crimea to go. They think of Crimea as "their" territory that they are allowed if not obliged to "defend". The idea that the "local people" have a greater attachment to the particular territory is incomprehensible to them. Instead, they should be thinking of Crimea as about a land of partners with whom they should establish the most meaningful relationships after a divorce.
I am actually horrified that the "Maidan" regime will be an associate EU member. This is just another black hole that will suck hundreds of billions of euros, partners who can't be relied upon, and all these things are likely to get worse than they would have during the previous governments in Ukraine.
If the Crimea-Ukraine divorce is so difficult and nearly brings both sides to the state of war, you can't expect any "velvet divorce" within the rest of Ukraine where the situation is much messier, the borders are much harder to be drawn, and the assets and liabilities are much more difficult to be separated. I would be able to sketch fantastic plans of a velvet split of Ukraine into Ukraine and Zakraine ("za-" means "trans-", so that would pick a Czech reference frame to name the new country LOL), but the problem is that the people who matter – the powerful people in Ukraine today – just don't have the will to organize a velvet divorce.
As long as the Kiev government will be thinking in this absolutist – and yes, I would say "fascist" – way that we have observed in the behavior of "Yats", UDAR, and their ultra-nationalist pals in Svoboda and the Right Sector, there will be a very little hope that Ukraine will be peacefully reorganized in any way that could even remotely resemble the Velvet Divorce of Czechoslovakia. The "Maidan" people are just not capable of such things. They lack the generosity. They lack the understanding that they simply cannot command millions of other people against their will. They are subpar human beings. And they are supported in their unconstructive behavior by some foreign interests, too.
In such potentially explosive situations, responsible people should try to increase the role of neutral folks, folks that bring more love than hatred, who offer more pragmatism than negative emotions and violence. But the current "Maidan" rulers of Ukraine don't want such things at all and sadly enough, the people who claim to be their "allies" in the West don't have these moral virtues, either. In such a situation, I view the Kremlin as the most rational player among those who may matter. It may be sad because the Kremlin is far from perfect but it's the case.