Vienna, February 24 – Valery Tishkov, an influential Moscow specialist on ethnicity and politics, says in an interview posted online yesterday that every government must seek to defend its country’s territorial integrity because, in the wake of what he calls “the destruction” of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, the international community is not bound to do so.
Tishkov’s comments come not only in the wake of Moscow’s recognition of the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia but also at a time when ever more Russian commentators are discussing the further partition of Georgia and the possible division of Ukraine or the absorption of some or all of that country by the Russian Federation.
And while Tishkov has many enemies because of his own longstanding commitment to civic rather than ethnic nationalism and because of his oft-expressed belief that the division of states only creates new problems, his argument is worth noting as it undoubtedly both reflects and will have an impact on discussions in the Russian policy community.
Tishkov told “Russky zhurnal” journalist Lyubov Ulyanova that “the unity of states in the sense of assertion of territorial integrity and the solid loyalty of the population are guaranteed above all by the states themselves” rather than by support from outside forces however often it is declared (www.russ.ru/pole/Gosudarstvo-nikto-ne-obyazyvaet-byt-edinym).
According to the director of the Moscow Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, “no external imperatives for the preservation of the [territorial] integrity of states exist, especially after the destruction of the Helsinki Final Act which called for the inviolability of the existing borders in Europe.”
Despite that accord, Tishkov continues, “at the time the USSR came apart, no one opposed it – instead and even more almost every player on the international arena did everything to promote that outcome, and the USSR did not have any external argument in defense of its own integrity.”
At the same time, of course, he says, “external interference in the splitting up, disintegration or seize of state formations or parts of their territories is not recognized by international law, if again there do not exist certain internal agreements on the division and external divisions on interference at the highest level” such as decisions by the United Nations.
All this permits only “one conclusion: all states, even those who have a crisis of governance – the collapse of their economies, total emigration, internal wars and chaos in civic life, the absence of central administration [and so on] must themselves guarantee their sovereignty on their own if they do not have allies who are obligated by treaty to help.”
Moreover, Tishkov says, “if another state is not interested by treaty conditions or other reflections such as the security of its own border areas, historical-cultural ties of the population, economic interests, etc., in the preservation of this or that state formation, it is correct for that state to do nothing for guaranteeing” the territorial integrity of the other.
Those “realist” reflections, he says, do not mean that states should welcome the division or collapse of states because such events often “generate more problems than the improvement in [those states] of the system of administration and other positive transformations.” Indeed, “division almost always leads to new minorities and new ‘divided peoples.’”
Had the international community acted on the basis of the Helsinki Final Act in the early 1990s, Tishkov argues, “it would have been completely legitimate” for it to seek to maintain the unity of the USSR under Mikhail Gorbachev – and to do far more than make statements like US President George H.W. Bush did in his Kyiv speech.
But having failed to do that and having in fact done just the opposite in the cases of both the USSR and Yugoslavia, the international community has taught Russia and other countries some “harsh lessons” about the need to promote their own immediate interests rather than follow any general principle.
“Russia, having put down an effort at armed secession in Chechnya and constitutionally excluded the right of departure from the Federation,” Tishkov says, nonetheless “recognized the results of session without permission (self-proclaimed independence) in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.”
As far as Ukraine is concerned, the Moscow scholar and political figure says, it is “in fact a two-community (Ukrainian-Russian) state with several influential minorities, very much like Canada.” And “the integrity of the state can be ensured only by official bilingualism” and by the proclamation that “the nation in Ukraine includes not only ethnic Ukrainians.”
“If Ukrainian ethnic nationalism remains at the foundation of statehood,” Tishkov says, “then this country can split apart without any external interference or become a federative formation on the basis of the Canadian formula of ‘multi-culturalism on a bilingual basis.’” That saved Canada, and it could in principle save Ukraine.
Asked by his interviewer whether the international community is “obligated” to support the territorial integrity of Ukraine, Tishkov responded bluntly: “’the international community’ owes nothing to Ukraine, except those of its members which have treaties with it in which such obligations are written.”
“The preservation of integrity is above all an internal affair of Ukraine itself -- that is, of its population which must have all the possibilities for expressing its views and for a legitimate administration.” If the people living there agree on how to live together, then they will; if they don’t, then it is possible Ukraine will come apart – without regard to what outsiders prefer.