Staunton, February 22 – Unrecognized states reflect the continuing tension between the principles of self-determination and of the territorial integrity of existing states, but their appearance is “more like ‘the flu’ than like ‘cancer’” and will not lead to “global consequences,” according to one of Moscow’s leading experts on ethnic relations.
In a discussion with Yevgeny Shestakov published yesterday in yesterday’s “Rossiiskaya gazeta,” Aleksey Malashenko of the Moscow Carnegie Center, points out that “all unrecognized states are quite small with a population of each generally not exceeding a half million and sometimes only a few thousand” (www.rg.ru/2011/02/21/malashenko-site.html).
And while their appearance is often very much a matter of contention, they do not and will not have the widespread impact on the international system that some have suggested, he argues, suggesting that the rise of such states in recent times is more like a passing illness than a fatal disease.
Consequently, Malashenko says, dealing with them requires “flexibility” and a willingness to live with a “de facto” situation, all the more so when “everyone clearly understand that there can be no going back.” Abkhazia, for example, “will never return to being part of Georgia, and Nagorno-Karabakh will not become part of Azerbaijan.”
The conflict between the principles of the right of nations to self-determination and the right of the territorial integrity of states, both recognized by the United Nations, is “eternal,” Malashenko suggests. But he points out that “the world is step by step beginning to relate to this quite calmly.”
“Look at the example of Cyprus, which is divided into two parts, recognized and unrecognized. Then there is Karabakh, there is the very specific problem of Abkhazia and South Osetia. There are also the Kurds, by the way, an enormous people which does not have its own state,” not to speak of Africa, Malashenko says.
Given this complexity, there is “no single model” for overcoming this conflict. Doing that, he suggests, is “simply impossible.”
Malashenko’s observations about unrecognized states come within a broader discussion of the problems countries face in dealing with populations consisting of more than one nationality, problems that can under certain continues threaten the continued existence of a unified country.
Disintegration of states is “almost always connected with ethnic problems,” Malashenko continues, with “the sharpness of inter-ethnic relations and the desire of the minority to separate.” Clearly, he suggests, for them, “to live in a mono-national state is much more peaceful somehow, more favorable than in complex multi-national countries.”
“In general,” the Moscow scholar argues, errors in the nationality policy of the state are to blame for this, but there are also cases, he suggests, “when the cultures [involved] are too different and when it is very difficult to combine them.” That is clearly the case of Northern and Southern Sudan.
Asked about the decision of some European countries to move away from the policy of multi-culturalism, Malashenko says that this step by itself will not lead to the disintegration of these states because the people involved are immigrants and the state has the right to insist that they adapt themselves at least to the point of knowing the national language.
Sometimes, the centralization of the state can help, Malashenko says, but sometimes that will have just the opposite effect, especially if, “as was the case in the Soviet Union where there existed an absolutely wild and idiotic centralization,” this policy “goes beyond the limits of what is wise.” No one correct model exists.
Like many Russians, Malashenko argues that the policies of pre-1914 Russian Prime Minister Pyotr Stolypin represent a useful point of departure. Tragically, he notes, he was followed by war and revolution, and the Soviet Union which emerged “could not survive. To reform it was impossible.”
Shestakov points out that at present several Russian experts are arguing that “to exclude even the potential disintegration of the state is possible by doing away with any national-territores,” by creating “a state of regions not connected with specific nationalities or ethnic groups.”
Malashenko replies that “it is possible this would be a suitable variant, but it is purely theoretical.” It does “look good on paper,” and one can come up with maps of all kinds. “But now consider the reaction of the national regions. Of course, under normal inter-ethnic relations this is not the most important but tensions all the same will arise.”