Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Opinion: Hottentot morality - Uri Avnery

Uri Avnery is an Israeli peace activist who has advocated the setting up of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. He served three terms in the Israeli parliament (Knesset), and is the founder of Gush Shalom (Peace Bloc).

Today, the Great Game between the current two great empires — the USA and Russia — is going on all over the place from the Ukraine to Pakistan. It proves that geography is more important than ideology: Communism has come and gone, but the struggle goes on as if nothing has happened.

“If he steals my cow, that is bad. If I steal his cow, that is good” — this moral rule was attributed by European racists to the Hottentots, an ancient tribe in Southern Africa.

It’s hard not to be reminded of this when the United States and the European countries cry out against Russia’s recognition of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the two provinces which seceded from the Republic of Sakartvelo, known in the West as Georgia.

Not so long ago, the Western countries recognised the Republic of Kosovo, which seceded from Serbia. The West argued that the population of Kosovo is not Serbian, its culture and language is not Serbian, and that therefore it has a right to independence from Serbia. Especially after Serbia had conducted a grievous campaign of oppression against them. I supported this view with all my heart. Unlike many of my friends, I even supported the military operation that helped the Kosovars to free themselves.

But what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, as the saying goes. What’s true for Kosovo is no less true for Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The population in these provinces is not Georgian, they have their own languages and ancient civilisations. They were annexed to Georgia almost by whim, and they have no desire to be part of it.

So what is the difference between the two cases? A huge one, indeed: the independence of Kosovo is supported by the Americans and opposed by the Russians. Therefore it’s good. The independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia is supported by the Russians and opposed by the Americans. Therefore it’s bad. As the Romans said: Quod licet Iovi, non licet bovi — what’s allowed to Jupiter is not allowed to an ox.

I do not accept this moral code. I support the independence of all these regions.

In my view, there is one simple principle, and it applies to everybody: every province that wants to secede from any country has a right to do so. In this respect there is, for me, no difference between Kosovars, Abkhazians, Basques, Scots and Palestinians. One rule for all.

There was a time when this principle could not be implemented. A state of a few hundred thousand people was not viable economically, and could not defend itself militarily.

That was the era of the “nation state”, when a strong people imposed itself, its culture and its language, on weaker peoples, in order to create a state big enough to safeguard security, order and a proper standard of living. France imposed itself on Bretons and Corsicans, Spain on Catalans and Basques, England on Welsh, Scots and Irish, and so forth.

That reality has been superseded. Most of the functions of the “nation state” have moved to super-national structures: large federations like the USA, large partnerships like the EU. In those there is room for small countries like Luxemburg beside larger ones like Germany. If Belgium falls apart and a Flemish state comes into being beside a Walloon state, both will be received into the EU, and nobody will be hurt. Yugoslavia has disintegrated, and each of its parts will eventually belong to the European Union.

That has happened to the former Soviet Union, too. Georgia freed itself from Russia. By the same right and the same logic, Abkhazia can free itself from Georgia. Read more...

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