miercuri, 26 martie 2014
Crimea versus Kosovo
Discussing about the Kosovo precedent has become one of the key arguments used by the Russian officials and by the Russian and pro-Russian media to justify the annexation of Crimea, although this precedent does not explain why the Russian forces moved to seize the entire Ukrainian war fleet, instead of leaving the boats to relocate to, let’s say, Odessa.
The opponents to this idea are denying any similarity to the case of Kosovo on the grounds Kosovo was a humanitarian case, due to the was crimes committed by the Serbian Army in 1999 and the previous years. However, in 2008 when the United States recognised the independence of Kosovo instead of continuing to pursue a compromise solution which would have kept Kosovo within the Serbian borders, similar to the Dayton Agreements which preserved the unity of Bosnia against the horrors of the previous civil war, no war crime was ongoing. However, Kremlin’s propagandists are dismissing this argument in the case of Crimea based on the threat which the far right members of the Ukrainian new regime would pose to the Rusophonic minority. For them, Kosovo and Crimea are similar cases, although no actual crime took place against Rusophones (we cannot count as a crime the law abrogating the status of the regional languages in Ukraine, which was not countersigned by the President ad interim and therefore was not put in place).
However, if we are to look in history for a precedent to the annexation of Crimea, that precedent is not Kosovo, but Texas. During the 1820s and the 1830s Texas was colonised with American settlers, who rebelled against the rightful owner of Texas, who was Mexico, claimed their independence as the Republic of Texas and later were anexated by the United States. In Crimea the local majority ethnicity, the Tatars, who populated the region for the last seven centuries (and more, if we count the Turcophonic tribes such as the Pecenegs and the Cumans, from which the Tatars descend), was displaced by Stalin in 1945, when the Tatars were deported in mass to Uzbekistan, Siberia and other remote areas of the Soviet Union. They were not allowed to come back until 1989, and their place was taken by ethnic Russians, who now rebelled against Ukraine and asked for their annexation by the Russian Federation.
The argument that Crimea belonged to Russia and was transferred to Ukraine only in 1954 could be taken seriously if the history would have started in 1945, when the Tatars were displaced, or in 1783, when the Khanate of Crimea was conquered for the first time by Russia. There were no Russian speakers present there before, unlike Ukrainians, Romanians, Greeks, the very last ethnic Goths and other minority nationalities who were living in the Tatar Crimea.
Historically speaking, Kosovo is a very different case. Serbian historiography bases the Serbian claims on the empire of the Tsar Stephan Dusan, who ruled in the 14th Century, and on the battle of Kosovopolje, where the Serbs were heavily defeated by the Ottoman Turks. However, the Serbian Empire of Stephan Dusan was not reflecting the ethnic realities of all the territories he ruled. For example, Stephan Dusan’s capital city was Skopje, today the capital of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, who is located in an area populated by ethnic Bulgarians, not by ethnic Serbs. However, unlike the Serbs who can trace their earliest existence as a Slavic people to the 7th Century, when the Eastern Roman Empire lost most of his Balkan provinces and the Slavs crossed the Danube, the Albanians are an indigenous population who has at least four millennia of history within the Balkan Peninsula.
In conclusion, if in Crimea the Russians can invoke the present day demographic situation, but not any historical rights, in Kosovo the Albanians have on their side both history and demography.
Nonetheless, this does not mean the independence of Kosovo is a good thing for the European equilibrium. Fact is a breach in the peace system established at Helsinki in 1975 was created. According to the Final Act of Helsinki, no European border could be changed by force, but only through negotiation. This is why the claims for independence of the Bosnian Serbs were rejected and the Dayton Agreements forced the Bosnian communities to continue within a federal State. Recognising Kosovo’s independence without the acceptance of Belgrade went directly against Helsinki.
By doing so, the Western Powers gave Russia the opportunity to annexate Crimea without any negotiation with Ukraine and to make further similar moves against Ukraine, but also countries such as Georgia, Moldova, Latvia etc. This should have been predictible in 2008, the year when Russia attacked Georgia and took under her control Abhazia and South Osetia.
Also, the Western Powers should have learned from the teachings of World War Two, who was preceded and prepared by a similar weakening of the Versailles Peace System, established after World War One, and by weak responses against the aggressive moves performed by the countries interested in territorial revisionism, such as Japan, Italy, Hungary, even Poland, but especially Hitler’s Germany, who was in a situation very similar to Putin’s Russia (defeated in the preceding world confrontation, geographically reduced as a result, and tyranically ruled by a frustrated veteran of the previous war). As it seems, no lesson was acknowledged.
Just like in the 1930s, currently the United States and the other Western Powers are more concerned to protect their economic corporate interests, which could be harmed by taking more severe sanctions against the aggressor, and seem to manifest the same delusion that by admitting to the Revisionist Power some territorial satisfaction, the world peace will be saved. However, the many millions who died during the World War Two and the Cold War proved how „inspired” were France and the United Kingdom to accept the annexation by Germany of Austria and Sudetenland in 1938.
Coming back to my country, Romania’s position to refute both Kosovo’s independence and Crimea’s annexation is proven to be correct. Just like in the 1930s, when Romania defended the Versailles System, we are now trying to preserve the Helsinki System, even if unlike the 1930s, theoretically our country would be interested in a revision of her borders with Ukraine. Nevertheless, peace is more important then undoing what Hitler and Stalin did in 1939-1940, and the Western Allies acknowledged in 1944-1947.
Unfortunately, as it happened in the 1930s, the efforts of small and middle sized countries such as Romania, Poland or the Baltic Countries will mean nothing if there is no determination among the Great Powers to preserve Helsinki. I am not religious, but as things are going now, I can only say „May God help us all!”