07 March 2014
Cry me a river in Egypt: the perils of self-determination
You'd have to be completely blinded by Russophobia not to detect some note of hypocrisy in the west's denunciations of plans by the Crimean autonomous region to secede from Ukraine, and most likely to be annexed by the Russian Federation. From the purely Russophobic perspective this scheme is merely another form of aggression by Russia against Ukraine. But why is it less legitimate for russophone Crimeans to reject domination by Ukrainians than for Ukrainians to reject the domination by Russia they saw implicit in the continued rule of President Yanukovich? Why do people rush to question the democratic legitimacy of any secessionist move in Crimea, having never questioned the democratic legitimacy of the Maidan in Kiev? "Russophobia" is the simple answer to these questions: the assumption that association with Russia is a blow to civil and individual liberty, if not also to sexual freedom or more intimate concerns. At the risk of digressing, now would be a good time for Russians and their sympathizers worldwide to speak out against Russophobia as a form of bigotry and the stereotyping of Russians in popular media. But to end the digression, won't the tables turn again if the indigenous Tatar population of Crimea, still recovering from the forced deportations by Stalin during World War II, decides they'd rather be with Ukraine, or on their own, then part of a Russian entity they still identify with Soviet and earlier oppression? Would the russophone Crimeans be hypocrites if they suppressed Tatar aspirations? Many would say so, but where does it all stop? Ukraine may not be part of the Balkans technically, but the place seems classically balkanized, reduced to groups united by little more than cartography, none of whom can stand "domination" by another. Perhaps it can never be different for a relatively small country, albeit big enough to be perilously diverse, caught between great powers. Politics in such a place may never mature past suspicions of foreign loyalties; if so, Ukraine may never have been viable as a nation in the modern world. That's a shame, I suppose, but I wish we could reach a point where nationalism is no longer viable or modern. We seem further away from that ideal than we've been in a long time. For many people around the world, the only alternative to nationalism is an alienating statism, whether the totalitarian specter of communism or the regulatory embrace of the European Union that many find smothering. It's impossible to transcend nationalism if you can't help seeing anything that transcends nationalism as domination by The Other, e.g. when some countries reject American leadership in the name of "freedom" and human rights, and others earlier rejected Russian/Soviet leadership in the name of the working class. It makes you wonder objectively whether anything short of a "totalitarian" remedy can cure humans of seeing each other as Other -- and at that, past "totalitarians" too often have resorted to inventing Others as scapegoats for their own shortcomings. Can we, must we cure humanity, by whatever means, of this habit? Whether it matters depends on whether you see that transcendence as necessary to our survival and the planet's. From that perspective, all the troubles of all the people in Ukraine seem pretty small and hardly worth the crisis we're having.