The bile of the new champions of colonialism was flowing freely last week after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that Kosovo’s declaration of independence did not violate international law. The New York Times‘s Dan Bilefsky referred opaquely to ‘legal experts’ and ‘analysts’ who warned that the ruling could be ‘seized upon by secessionist movements as a pretext to declare independence in territories as diverse as Northern Cyprus, Somaliland, Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Transnistria and the Basque region.’ The ‘legal experts’ and ‘analysts’ in question remain conveniently unnamed, though they are clearly not very ‘expert’, since if they were, they would presumably have known that most of those territories have already declared independence. The Guardian‘s Simon Tisdall claimed that the ICJ’s ruling would be welcomed by ‘separatists, secessionists and splittists from Taiwan, Xinjiang and Somaliland to Sri Lanka, Georgia and the West Country’, leading one to wonder what the difference is between a ‘separatist’, a ‘secessionist’ and a ‘splittist’.
Let’s get this straight. No democratic state has anything to fear from ‘separatism’, and anyone who does fear ‘separatism’ is no democrat. I am English and British, and I do not particularly want the United Kingdom to break up. But I am not exactly shaking in fear at the prospect of the ICJ’s ruling encouraging the Scots, Welsh or Northern Irish to break away. And if any of these peoples were to secede, I’d wish them well, because I am a democrat, not a national chauvinist. The Cassandras bewailing the ICJ’s ruling are simply expressing a traditional colonialist mindset, which sees it as the natural order of things for powerful, predatory nations to keep enslaved smaller, weaker ones, and an enormous affront if the latter should be unwilling to bow down and kiss the jackboots of their unwanted masters. Can’t those uppity natives learn their place ?!
The Western democratic order, and indeed the international order as a whole, is founded upon national separatism. The world’s most powerful state and democracy, the United States of America, was of course born from a separatist (or possibly a secessionist or splittist) revolt and unilateral declaration of independence from the British empire. The American separatist revolt was sparked by resistance to British-imposed taxes without representation, which seem a less serious grievance than the sort of mass murder and ethnic cleansing to which the Kosovo Albanians were subjected by Serbia. Most European states at one time or another seceded from a larger entity: roughly in chronological order, these have been Switzerland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Portugal, Greece, Belgium, Luxemburg, Serbia, Montenegro, Romania, Norway, Bulgaria, Albania, Poland, Finland, Czechoslovakia, Ireland, Iceland, Cyprus, Malta, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Belarus, Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Montenegro (for the second time). No doubt Northern Cyprus, Somaliland, Transnistria etc. drew some inspiration from this long separatist success story.
Serbia itself has a proud separatist tradition, going back at least as far as the First Serbian Uprising of 1804, when the separatist leader Karadjordje Petrovic attempted to bring about the country’s unilateral secession from the Ottoman Empire. Some might argue that the eventual international acceptance of Serbia’s independence in 1878 was not unilateral, since it was brought about by the Treaty of Berlin to which the Ottoman Empire was a signatory. But this is disingenuous, since the Ottomans only accepted Serbia’s independence after they had – not for the first time – been brutally crushed in war by Russia. Undoubtedly, were Serbia to be subjected to the sort of external violent coercion to which the Ottoman Empire was repeatedly subjected by the European powers during the nineteenth century, it would rapidly accept Kosovo’s independence. Let us not pretend that bilateral or multilateral declarations of independence hold the moral high ground vis-a-vis unilateral ones – they simply reflect a difference balance in power politics.
As an independent state from 1878, Serbia left the ranks of the unfree nations and joined the predators, brutally conquering present-day Kosovo and Macedonia in the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913, thereby flagrantly violating the right of the Albanian and Macedonian peoples to determine their own future in the manner that the people of Serbia already had. In 1918, Serbia became hegemon of the mini-empire of Yugoslavia. So ‘separatist’ became a dirty word for Serbian nationalists who, in their craving to rule over foreign lands and peoples, conveniently forgot how their own national state had come into being. Nevertheless, it was Serbia under the leadership of Slobodan Milosevic whose policy of seceding from Yugoslavia from 1990 resulted in the break-up of that multinational state: Serbia’s new constitution of September 1990 declared the ‘sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of the Republic of Serbia’ – nearly a year before Croatia and Slovenia declared independence from Yugoslavia. This would have been less problematic if Milosevic’s Serbia had not sought to take large slices of neighbouring republics with it as it set about asserting its own, Serbian national sovereignty from the former multinational Yugoslav federation.
So, plenty of precedents from which separatists, secessionists, splittists and the like could have drawn inspiration, long before the ICJ’s ruling on Kosovo. Why, then, the international disquiet at the verdict ? The simple answer is that the disquiet is felt by brutal or undemocratic states that oppress their own subject peoples, and wish to continue to do so without fear that their disgraceful behaviour might eventually result in territorial loss. Thus, among the states that oppose Kosovo’s independence are China, Iran, Sudan, Morocco, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and India, all of them brutally oppressing subject peoples or territories and/or attempting to hold on to ill-gotten conquests – Xinjiang, Tibet, the Ahwazi Arabs, Darfur, Western Sahara, the Tamils, West Papua, Kashmir, etc. At a more moderate level, Spain opposes Kosovo’s independence because it fears a precedent that Catalonia or the Basque Country could follow. Spain is a democracy, but a flawed one; its unwillingness to recognise the right to self-determination of the Catalans and Basques echoes the policy pursued by the dictator Francisco Franco, who brutally suppressed Catalan and Basque autonomy and culture following his victory in the Spanish Civil War. Likewise, Romania and Slovakia are crude and immature new democracies with ruling elites that mistreat their Hungarian minorities and identify with Serbia on an anti-minority basis.
Of course, states such as these will not be happy that an oppressed territory like Kosovo has succeeded in breaking away from its colonial master. But this is an additional reason for democrats to celebrate the ICJ’s decision: it should serve as a warning to states that oppress subject peoples or territories, that the international community’s tolerance of their bad behaviour and support for their territorial integrity may have its limits. Thus, a tyrannical state cannot necessarily brutally oppress a subject people, then bleat sanctimoniously about ‘international law’ and ‘territorial integrity’ when its oppression spawns a separatist movement that wins international acceptance: it may find that international law will not uphold its territorial integrity. Serbia’s loss of Kosovo should serve as an example to all such states.
Of course, there are states, such as Georgia and Cyprus, whose fear of territorial loss is legitimate. But in this case, the problem they are facing is not separatism so much as foreign aggression and territorial conquest. The ‘secession’ of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia was really the so-far-successful attempt by Georgia’s colonial master – Russia – to punish Georgia for its move toward independence, and exert continued control over it, by breaking off bits of its territory. Georgia was the state that was seeking national independence – from the Soviet Union and Russian domination – while the Abkhazian and South Ossetian separatists were the ones wanting to remain subject to the colonial master. In Abkhazia, it was the ethnic Georgians who formed a large plurality of the population, being two and a half times more numerous than the ethnic Abkhaz - any genuinely democratic plebiscite carried out before the massive Russian-backed ethnic cleansing of the 1990s would most likely have resulted in Abkhazia voting to remain in Georgia. South Ossetia might have a better demographic case for independence, thought not as strong as the larger and more populous republic of North Ossetia in Russia, whose independence, should it ever be declared, Moscow is unlikely to recognise. In the case of Northern Cyprus, the foreign aggression was more blatant still: there was no ‘Northern Cyprus’ until Turkey invaded the island of Cyprus in 1974, conquered over a third of it, expelled the Greek population and created an artificial ethnic-Turkish majority there. It is above all because of the reality of Russian and Turkish aggression against, and ethnic cleansing of, smaller and weaker peoples, that Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Northern Cyprus should not be treated as equivalent to Kosovo.
Milorad Dodik, the prime minister of Bosnia’s Serb Republic (Republika Srpska – RS), has suggested that the ICJ’s ruling on Kosovo opens the door to the potential secession of the RS. The RS is not a real country, but an entity created by genocide and massive ethnic cleansing; anyone who equates it with Kosovo is at best an ignoramus and at worst a moral idiot. Nevertheless, we sincerely hope that the RS’s leadership be inspired by the Kosovo precedent and attempt to secede – such an attempt would inevitably end in failure, and provide an opportunity for the Bosnians and the Western alliance to abolish the RS or at least massively reduce its autonomy vis-a-vis the the central Bosnian state, thereby rescuing Bosnia-Hercegovina from its current crisis and improving the prospects for long-term Balkan stability.
Finally, if the ICJ’s ruling on Kosovo really does inspire other unfree peoples to fight harder for their freedom, so much the better. As the US struggle for independence inspired fighters for national independence throughout the world during the nineteenth century, so may Kosovo’s example do so in the twenty first. May the tyrants and ethnic cleansers tremble, may the empires fall and may there be many more Kosovos to come.
This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.
A rather incoherent and highly abusive personal attack against me has been posted by Graham Lloyd (‘Graham’) on Harry’s Place. Lloyd claims – without providing any evidence and solely on the basis of conjecture – that my issues with him and with Harry’s Place amount to a personal vendetta. This is not true. I hope anyone reading the post below will understand the real issues involved.
A great struggle is brewing all over Europe and beyond. On the one side stands the liberal order and its defenders, representing the values of secularism, internationalism, cosmopolitanism, pluralism and respect for human rights. On the other stands the forces of reaction, which itself is composed of two rival but essentially similar wings. Extremist Muslims (an unrepresentative minority among the Muslim communities of the democratic West) and certain fellow travellers on the extreme Left represent one wing of the anti-liberal reaction, and assault the liberal order under the banner of anti-Semitism (or ‘anti-Zionism’), anti-Westernism, anti-Americanism and anti-capitalism.
But it is the other wing that is the Western liberal order’s more dangerous enemy – if only because non-Muslims vastly outnumber Muslims, so there is a much larger constituency for this current of reaction to draw from. This current represents the white nativist reaction against the liberal order: anti-cosmopolitan, anti-EU, often anti-secular, but above all extremely nationalist, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant. It is on the basis of hostility to Islam and to immigration that the new far-right is mounting its assault on liberal values and the Western liberal world.
The new far-right is populist; it employs the language of the gutter and upholds the morality of the mob. Anti-Islamic and anti-immigrant prejudice are merely the means by which it seeks to attack the liberal order, but the real target is the liberal order itself. Borrowing from the lexicon of the radical left, it speaks in the name of the ‘people’ and the ‘working class’ – or more revealingly, of the ‘white working class’, whose values it claims to be defending from a decadent liberal elite. It presents anti-racism, religious tolerance and political correctness as elitist values, against which it asserts its own form of moral relativism: it champions racism and Islamophobia among the native white majority – sometimes termed euphemistically the ‘white working class’ – as expressions of a healthy aversion to liberal elites that allegedly are soft on Muslims and allegedly favour immigrants over natives. It repackages the far-right parties’ vulgar, racist voters as noble rebels against multiculturalism.
Into this equation we now bring the Eustonite or ‘Decent’ Left. This political current of leftists and liberals arose in opposition to the left-liberal mainstream’s betrayal of liberal values – a betrayal manifested variously in apologias for Islamist terrorism, sympathy for dictators and ethnic-cleansers and flirtation with anti-Semitism. There is a superficial confluence between the Decent Left and the new far right, in that both arose as critiques of the Western liberal mainstream. But these two critiques are opposites, for whereas the Decent Left criticises the liberal mainstream because it doesn’t uphold liberal values properly, the new far right attacks the liberal mainstream because it does uphold liberal values. The Decent Left wants a better, tougher liberalism; the new far right opposes liberalism altogether.
Nevertheless, the blog Harry’s Place provides a forum that brings the two currents of opposition to the left-liberal mainstream together. Harry’s Place bloggers are Eustonite or ‘Decent’ left-wingers, and focus in particular on exposing and opposing radical Islam and human rights abuses in the Islamic world (and elsewhere), and their Western left-wing apologists. However, the comments boxes of this blog attract members of both groups opposing the liberal mainstream: the Decent Left and the new far right. And although the two groups are in principle antithetical, there is a very real danger that this will be forgotten and that a synthesis will be formed, in which case Harry’s Place will have acted as incubator for a monster.
Apart from their common hostility to the liberal mainstream and to Islamists (or to Muslims in general, as the case may be), the Decent Left and the new far right have one other uniting factor: some members of both currents sometimes speak in the language of class, or champion the ‘working class’. But unlike for the traditional left, in this case the language of class is used not to uphold social justice, but on the contrary, to justify ignorance, vulgarity, racism and xenophobia among the white majority, now repackaged as the ‘white working class’. In a new manifestation of moral relativism, any objection to white racism or Islamophobia can be portrayed as elitist anti-working-class snobbery. Just as some will condemn as ‘Islamophobic’ any criticism of Muslim anti-Semitism or misogyny, so others will condemn as ‘elitist’ any criticism of white-working-class racism.
Harry’s Place is a blog in which comments have been posted and left undeleted by the moderators, calling for ships carrying illegal immigrants to Britain to be torpedoed, or equating ordinary Muslims with Nazis, or calling for all Palestinians to be expelled from the West Bank. Leaving such comments undeleted may be justified on the grounds of freedom of speech, but I have come reluctantly to believe that one or two of the HP bloggers are somewhat unwilling to fall out with the far-right commenters who frequent the blog – and by ‘far right’ I don’t mean the actual BNP, but the Muslim-hating, immigrant-hating bigots who are one step away from it.
I used to write guest posts for Harry’s Place, and I frequently tried to tackle the anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant bigots who frequent its comments boxes, but I found myself repeatedly undermined by some of the regular HP groupies, and by one or two of the bloggers themselves. In the debate on a splendid guest post by Andrew Murphy concerning Greek neo-Nazis and their hostility to Muslims and immigrants, the greater number of comments were expressing sympathy for the neo-Nazis on an anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant basis. I struck out at the Nazi sympathisers, and in doing so earned my very own far-right stalker, in the form of a certain ‘Mettaculture’. This individual believes that immigrants add nothing to British culture; that they are in fact destroying British culture and working-class communities; and that bigotry is a proud part of our national heritage. In an earlier attack on me, he said that as someone called ‘Attila’, I should go back to Mongolia. He also objected to my use of the term ‘Islamophobia’ and to my talk of moderate Muslims. Apparently affronted by my vocal support for immigration and my assault on the anti-immigrant bigots on the thread about Greek neo-Nazis, he then proceeded to attack me whenever I appeared at Harry’s Place, posting increasingly vicious and vulgar strings of personal abuse about me – attacking my skin colour, class background, name, etc. – descending at times to threats of violence, libel action and contacting my employers.
The reason for this particular thug’s obsession with attacking me was, I believe, that I was trying to steer Harry’s Place away from the influence of the nativist-populist, ethno-chauvinist, anti-elitist champions of the ‘white working class’ - such as himself - and to break the embryonic alliance between elements of the Decent Left and the anti-immigration far right (Mettaculture himself is a product of this synthesis – a self-declared ‘socialist’ and ‘communitarian’ who doesn’t like immigration or Muslims).
However, the problem for me was not so much that I had attracted this particular stalker – I’ve had others, and it’s something you have to put up with if you tackle controversial subjects on the internet. The real problem was that certain HP bloggers, above all Graham Lloyd (‘Graham’), but also Andrew Ward (‘Wardytron’) would step in against me each and every time I tried to defend myself against him. Though Graham would never challenge any of Mettaculture’s threats and abuse, he would invariably present my efforts at self-defence as constituting an offence equivalent to the threats and abuse themselves – though I had never once initiated any of the exchanges with Mettaculture; never been the first to use strong language; never threatened him.
The final straw for me was when Harry’s Place deleted my response to one of Graham’s snide remarks, but left Graham’s remark standing. It was completely clear to me then that any further cooperation with Harry’s Place was impossible, as I was simply being prevented from commenting freely, or from defending myself.
Wardytron is someone who believes people who vote BNP are not racist, but merely expressing a righteous and justified opposition to political correctness, and that the solution to the BNP problem is to reduce immigration. Graham, meanwhile, is someone who regularly uses ‘middle class’ as a term of abuse to bully into submission anyone who disagrees with him (while claiming himself to be ‘working class’); he uses terms like ‘rancid little middle class dickheads’. He also has a particularly nasty line in personal abuse, and has called Richard ‘Lenin’ Seymour ‘fat’ and Daniel Davies of Aaronovitch Watch ‘ginger’. When Laurie Penny was called a ‘silly cow’ on an HP thread, and complained at this use of sexist language, another HP poster claimed that using terms like ‘silly cow’ was simply the way some working-class people spoke, and that Penny’s objection to the term was an expression of her middle-class inability to understand the English working-class. Graham agrees; he described her as a ‘silly little girl’ and a ‘rather stupid spoilt little girl’ (and as plenty more besides – see update), and has more recently claimed that ‘I don’t care about someone being called a silly cow – that was rather the argument – that it wasn’t any big insult in a working-class area but cultural imperialists wanted it to be one everywhere.’ So, another moral-relativist defence of the use of sexist language, on the grounds that it’s ‘working class’, and that to say otherwise is an expression of ‘cultural imperialism’ ! Some may find Graham’s new incarnation as an anti-imperialist rather amusing.
I recently called Graham to account for his frequent resort to personal abuse; he responds by claiming my ‘prime motivation is to defend the rights of the already privileged in society’. We can expect more of this kind of non sequitur in the future, from him and others like him. Any attempt to speak out in defence of immigrants and Muslims; to condemn racism and sexism among the white majority; or to uphold civilised values generally against the ethics of the lynch mob and the language of the gutter, will invariably be painted as an expression of elitism. We had better prepare ourselves.
Update: I have managed to locate the texts of the two HP comments threads about Penny (‘Penny Shares’ and ‘Penny Dreadful’), and it appears that Graham is right on one point: he did not call Penny a ‘silly cow’. These are some of the things he did say about her:
‘Oh well looks like a silly little girl demanded the right not to be called a silly little girl, stamped her feet a bit and ended up looking more like a silly little girl than ever.’
‘I’d be less disposed to sneer not at someone’s class but rather at the idiots that turned up in vast numbers to defend this rather stupid spoilt little girl when they realised how ridiculous her article was…’
‘Speaking personally, I would never call Judy or Amie a “silly cow” (however silly they may get) because they have both earned my respect. I feel no such problem with calling someone that I have never seen before such a name.’
[In response to the following comment: ‘As is Marcus, the sole basis of whose argument seems to be “it’s alright to call people silly cows round my way, so quit complaining”. It’s the pub misogynist line. We’re close to “only having a laugh love” and then on to “stuck up bitch”.’]
‘This is all a bit silly but even to get the analogy to hold water you would have to concede that “the pub misogynist” would only be behaving that way because a silly little middle class girl flounced into the bar and called him a racist.’
‘This Penny is also an absolute out and out racist.’
‘Couldn’t she have asked daddy to buy her a newspaper to edit ?’
‘Spoilt little girl seems to me to be a simple description which does exactly what it says on the tin.’
‘I will criticise this spoilt little girl in any way I want.’
So, yes, Graham, I stand corrected: I concede your point that you did not call Penny a ‘silly cow’, and apologise for suggesting that you did and for any hurt and distress that my unwarranted accusation may have caused you (though I can’t help noticing that you didn’t exactly volunteer to make clear what you did say about her; if you had done so, the misunderstanding might have been cleared up a bit sooner).
HP has rather hastily closed the comments on Graham’s post, so I cannot say any of this there.
The text of my original post has been updated accordingly.
- Basque Country
- Central Europe
- East Timor
- European Union
- Faroe Islands
- Former Soviet Union
- Former Yugoslavia
- Marko Attila Hoare
- Middle East
- Political correctness
- Red-Brown Alliance
- South Ossetia
- The Left