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Saturday, 28 October 2017

The Sovereign Club, Crimea and Catalonia

The Spanish king and his government are adamant that there should be no truck with a purported 'sovereign' administration that has just been announced to exist in the region/province of Catalonia. The United Nations has asserted that a 'solution' should be found within the Spanish Constitution. Washington has declared that Catalonia is simply part of Spain, and that fact will not change in the perception of the United States [which fought a very nasty civil war to preserve their Union]. Britain, France and Germany have made similar assertions: there will be no recognition of a rebel 'government' by any European Union member state.

President Putin deeply deplores the fact that the Gorbachev administration in the last stage of the Soviet Union acted in accordance with the 'Stalin Constitution' which had enshrined the myth that the state was a federation of independent [largely ethnically-based] sovereign republics. This was very particularly Stalin's constitutional speciality. He had been sent to Vienna in the early years of the twentieth century to find out how the Habsburg regime was coping with the question of Nationality in Austria-Hungary. Slovaks and Czechs were asserting that they were distinct national groups, with a right to statehood of their own. Minorities of the population spoke Romanian, Polish, Ukrainian and various forms of German in distinctive territories split between the Kingdom of Hungary and the Austrian Empire  [and the latter contained a massive range of entities from the Kingdom of Bohemia to small counties that were notionally sovereign]. The heir to the throne [Franz Ferdinand, who was to be killed in 1914 thus triggering the war that ended the monarchy] was said to want to change the 'dual monarchy' of Austria-Hungary into a 'trial' [or triple] monarchy with autonomy for the Slavs, in deference to his Czech wife.

Stalin produced a convoluted account of his thoughts on nationality, and after the revolution he was appointed Commissar for Nationalities. As the Soviet Union consolidated its absolute power over all the former Russian Empire, except Finland, it did not matter that a constitutional charade was enacted whereby the political entity was asserted to be a federation of notionally independent states. However, come the end of the Second World War, in their anxiety to keep Stalin on-side with the new United Nations, Britain, France and the USA agreed that three of the Soviet republics should each be independent members: Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. After Stalin's death, Khrushchev - a Ukrainian - almost casually transferred the Crimea from Russia to Ukraine: it did not seem to matter, at the time. The facts that the Crimea had been hard fought for under Peter the Great and Catherine II, and was seen as strategically important, did not cause any controversy while the USSR was operated as a single hegemonic state.

However, suddenly in 1990, the USSR collapsed; while the Communist party stooges who held office as the presidents and premiers of the various [formally fully sovereign] Socialist Republics simply colluded to ignore Gorbachev and his collapsing central authority and go their own ways. The largest component of the Union, Russia, had the charismatic Boris Yeltsin on hand to crush a half-cock attempt by party old hands to reverse all the democratic changes that Gorbachev had instituted: and as head of the Russian Republic's government Yeltsin established his hold over the biggest and most complex Soviet Socialist Republic; thus of Moscow. A notional federation was established of the former Soviet Republics, while the asserted sovereign authority in each of them began doling out the national assets to their families and friends. The Russian Republic itself became the Russian Federation including all the Autonomous Republics and Regions that Russia has inherited from Stalin's manipulations of notional boundaries. Yeltsin and his associates employed American Economists to assist them with a hugely corrupt and corrupting 'privatisation', which transferred much of industry to the hands of the so-called 'oligarchs' and caused massive deprivation to the mass of the population.

Putin's rise to power came after the damage derived from Stalin's constitutional machinations and Yeltsin's alcoholic incompetence had been done. In territorial terms, he has tried to rectify what he sees as two major failures: the transfer of the Crimea to Ukraine and the welfare of millions of Russians whose families were settled in the southern and eastern Ukraine, particularly in the reigns of Peter I, Catherine II and Stalin's post-1945 implant of Russian speakers into territory known as 'New Russia' that he had assigned to Ukraine. Stalin planted similar minorities of Russians in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania; which has ensured that those countries have become very keen members of NATO in order to preserve their territorial integrity. Putin's attempts to make minor revisions of Stalin's and Khrushchev's cavalier actions, at the expense of Ukraine, have placed him under sanction by the western powers, who have set their faces against all tinkering with the pattern of states that was admitted to the United Nations in 1945 and subsequently. I have drawn attention previously to the idiocy of keeping the colonial frontiers in Africa: but they are also part of the stasis that goes with the present, deeply flawed concept of sovereignty.

East Germany was allowed to vanish into West Germany, and an independent Scotland arising from due democratic process would have gained international acceptance: provided it had been set on the international stage by the United Kingdom government acting as its sponsor.

On the other hand, if the Chechens declared themselves independent of the Russian Federation, President Putin could call on the UN to help him to suppress such pretension; at least, with verbal assurances such as have been given to Spain in respect of Catalonia.

The Catalans are having an exciting game; but they need to learn from history, quickly; before hotheads start getting hurt.

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