Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

Greenland moves toward independence – who’s afraid of ‘separatism’ ?

greenland-flagYesterday, Kalaallit Nunaat – Greenland – moved a step closer toward independence from Denmark. The Arctic country has become a subject in its own right under international law; its language, Kalaallisut, has become the sole official language; and it is taking over control of its own police and judiciary, as well as greater control over its natural resources. This move was based on a referendum that took place in November, in which 75% of Greenlandic voters opted in favour.

The festivities in the Greenlandic capital of Nuuk marking yesterday’s event were attended by Denmark’s Queen Margrethe and its prime minister, Lars Loekke Rasmussen. For the Greenlanders are fortunate in having, in Denmark, one of the world’s most enlightened imperial overlords. This is the same Denmark that has proven a staunch member of the allied coalition in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the object of Islamist hatred over the Danish cartoon controversy. We may compared Denmark’s enlightened readiness to permit the peaceful secession of one of its territories and its sterling record as a member of the Western alliance, with the sorry record of Spain, Slovakia and Romania. These countries’ exaggerated fears of ‘separatism’ have led them, despite being members of NATO, to break ranks with most of the rest of the alliance to oppose Kosova’s independence from Serbia, and to align themselves instead with hostile Russia. Denmark, the more enlightened country on the issue of national self-determination, is the better member of the Western alliance.

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Denmark’s ready acceptance of Greenland’s right to secede is in keeping with a proud Nordic tradition of enlightened resolution of national questions. Norway seceded peacefully from Sweden in 1905, as did Iceland from Denmark in 1944. Territorial disputes between Sweden and Finland over the Aland Islands in the 1920s and between Denmark and Norway over eastern Greenland in the 1930s were peacefully resolved by international arbitration. Finland granted autonomy to the Aland Islands in 1920; Denmark to Greenland in 1979, allowing the latter to secede from the EU in 1985. 

The contrast between the enlightened Nordic acceptance of the right of nations to self-determination on the one hand, and the nationalist resistance to ‘separatism’ on the part of Spain, Slovakia and Romania on the other, is not unrelated to the fact that, whereas Denmark has a long history of liberal constitutional government, Spain was still a dictatorship less than thirty-five years ago; Slovakia and Romania twenty years ago. Spain’s continued refusal to recognise the right of the Basque Country and Catalonia to self-determination is a continuation, in softer form, of the repression of these countries by the fascist dictatorship of Francisco Franco. For their part, Slovakia and Romania have been among the most unreconstructed of the former Eastern bloc countries to join NATO and the EU.

Further still from the Danish ideal of tolerance of secession are repressive states with ruling ideologies hostile to liberal democratic Western values, such as Russia, Iran and China. These states rely on massive violence or forced assimilation to crush subject peoples. They are able to do this precisely because they reject Western values. Equally, as they are unconstrained by concern for human rights, they are ready to support other states that brutally suppress subject peoples. Thus, on 27 May of this year, Russia and China were among those members of the United Nations Human Rights Council that voted for a resolution in praise of Sri Lanka’s brutal campaign against the Tamil Tigers, who are fighting for a separate Tamil state, while Britain, France, Germany and other democratic states voted against. Other states that voted for the resolution included Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Egypt, Nigeria, the degree of whose concern for human rights is suggested by their alignment on this question.

The reality is that, by and large, the more enlightened and democratic a state is, the more ready it will be to accept the secession of a constituent territory or subject people. Conversely, the more repressive and undemocratic a state is, the less willing it will be to countenance such a move, and the more ready it will be to support the brutal suppression of such a move by another such state. It is very possible that Scotland will eventually secede from the United Kingdom; conceivable that Wales will do so, or that Puerto Rico will secede from the US. But while we Britons and Americans may or may not hope against such acts of secession, few of us are enraged by the prospect.

This being so, it is not in the interests of the Western alliance rigidly to uphold the principle that subject peoples should not be allowed to secede unilaterally from existing independent states. Western respect for human rights means that Western states will never be able to support acts of repression by other states against subject peoples as unequivocally as our undemocratic enemies, while even moderate Western expressions of concern at human rights abuses committed during such acts of repression will earn us the ire of the states in question. Western support for Russia against Chechen rebels during the 1990s did not earn us any Russian gratitude, but Western criticism of Russian human-rights abuses in Chechnya certainly earned us Russian ire. Meanwhile, Russia’s crushing of Chechnya strengthened its grip on the Caucasus region, making possible the assault on our Georgian ally last summer. Simply put, Western support for Russia against Chechnya was a blunder; the democratic world should have recognised Chechnya’s independence in 1991, alongside the Soviet republics that declared independence at the same time. Equally, in the event that democratic Taiwan should declare independence from Communist China, while we may regret the clash with the latter that this will inevitably occasion, support for Taiwan would be the only honourable policy. In supporting Kosova’s secession from Serbia, Western statesmen have erred in pretending that this instance of secession is unique. Erred both because it is factually untrue that Kosovo is a unique case, and because pretending that it is will only tie our hands in the future, when dealing with states ruled by hostile, repressive regimes carrying out acts of mass violence against subject peoples.

Genuine democracies have nothing to fear from ‘separatism’; dictatorships and other repressive states do. It is time to accept the principle that, in certain circumstances, subject peoples should be permitted to secede unilaterally from a parent state. Such circumstances might include those where the subject people in question has suffered particularly extreme persecution, or conversely where it has proved itself worthy through practising good, democratic governance. Should they ever choose to exercise this right, the people of Darfur would qualify under the first condition; the Taiwanese under the second. Other conditions or combinations thereof might also warrant qualification. Kosova, for example, qualified not only because of the extreme persecution its people had suffered under Serbian rule, but also because of the constitutional status the territory had enjoyed in the former Yugoslavia. The question of whether a subject people has earned the right to secede should ultimately be decided in the court of public opinion in the democratic world.

But this does not mean that every secessionist movement or act should be supported indiscriminately – far from it. For the right of nations to self-determination is open to abuse. There are cases where an expansionist, predatory state conquers part of a neighbour’s territory, using the pretext of support for a national minority; the predatory state then ethnically cleanses the unwanted population from the conquered territory, creates an artificial demographic majority in favour of ‘independence’, then declares that this artificial majority has the right to ‘self-determination’. This is what Serbia did in Bosnia, Turkey in Cyprus and Russia in Abkhazia. There are cases where the population of a territory is split relatively evenly between supporters and opponents of secession, or where the secessionists are in the minority.

Clearly, in such cases, support for the right to secede should not be the default position. Rather, each demand for secession has to be judged individually, on its own merits – like a case in court. The example most often cited by opponents of national self-determination is that of the southern US states’ attempted secession in the 1860s; as this secession was motivated by the desire to preserve the barbaric institution of slavery, it is not an example that can be used to deny the right to secede to secessionist peoples with more legitimate motives.

The very real possibility that the democratic world might intervene to support a secessionist movement on its territory would act as an incentive for repressive states, both to improve their treatment of their subject peoples and to lessen their hostility to the democratic world. The possibility of losing Darfur would be likely to act as a greater deterrent to Khartoum’s genocidal policies there than the toothless indictments of the International Criminal Court. Conversely, where it is a case of a repressive state allied to the West, pressure to reform would take a different form. Because Turkey is a member of NATO and an EU candidate country, there is no possibility that the Western alliance will intervene militarily to end Turkey’s rule over its Kurdish-inhabited regions; Turkey’s territorial integrity is therefore secure. But the ‘price’ that Turkey pays for this is that it is required to improve its treatment of its Kurds and its human-rights’ record generally – something that, over the past decade, it has actually done. So long as Turkey continues to democratise, Kurdish support for secession is likely to wane, or at least to be increasingly channelled away from support for violent insurgency to support for peaceful, constitutional nationalist parties.

As surely as night follows day, more peoples that today are unfree will join the ranks of the Eritreans, Croatians, Kosovars and others which have already seceded in recent decades after fighting bitter wars of independence. There is no point regretting this, or attempting to halt the process. The Western alliance should be on the right side of history.

This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.

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Monday, 22 June 2009 Posted by | Denmark, Greenland | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

We must defend our Britain and our immigrants from the fascist menace

CableStreetToday is a day of national shame for Britain: the fascist ‘British National Party’ (BNP) has won two seats in the European parliament, and 6.6% of the national vote. Led by the Holocaust-denying Nazi sympathiser Nick Griffin, who won one of the two seats, the BNP is an all-white party that calls for an immediate halt to all immigration to the UK and the repatriation of existing legal immigrants through ‘a system of voluntary resettlement’. It claims to be defending the British nation and the culture and interests of the ‘indigenous population’.

Of couse, the BNP vision of Britain is inrecognisable to any civilised British person. It is a vision of troglodytes and swamp-dwellers who still live fifty years or more in the past and are incapable of coming to terms with the reality of the twenty-first century multiethnic Britain that most of us are at home in and comfortable with. I grew up in London, and went to school in an inner-city comprehensive, where the children spoke 51 different first languages. In my first year at school, as far as I can remember, roughly three-quarters of the children were from partially or wholly non-white or immigrant families. And the proportion only increased. For the most part, the difference between a native and an immigrant in London is blurred or non-existent, and for most of us Londoners, almost everyone we know and love is at least party immigrant in their origins. A foreigner arrives here and, within a year or less, becomes a Londoner. It is the great, constantly changing ethnic mix of London, with new ethnic groups and individuals arriving continuously from all over the world, that makes this such an exciting, dynamic city to live in. An all-white Britain would be an alien world for Londoners, or for the inhabitants of any town or city in the country.

So when the fascists or their fellow-travellers say that immigration is ‘destroying traditional British culture’, they are lying. As a Londoner born and bred, I think I would know if my traditional culture were being destroyed by immigrants. And guess what ? It isn’t. The British culture that I grew up with is a culture that is inseparable from multiethicity, constantly rejuvenated by new waves of immigrants. What a joy it is, to discover the Nigerian community in Peckham, or the South Asian community in Alperton; to hear regularly Russian and Polish in the streets; to eat Somali and Eritrean food ! The Notting Hill Carnival takes place every summer in Notting Hill, the traditional centre of West Indian life in London, where I grew up, and has been running for fifty years. Inspired by the annual carnival in Trinidad and launched in response to the Notting Hill race riots of 1958 – themselves incited by an earlier generation of fascists – it is an integral part of London’s cultural life. Without immigration, we would not have it. Ending immigration – were it possible – would prevent the emergence of other such cultural phenomena in the future.

This is not to agree with those ‘politically correct’ types who, in their cultural relativism, embrace a form of self-hating anti-white racism that is not much better than the racism of the BNP. There is not a ‘white culture’, ‘black culture’, ‘Asian culture’. etc.; there is our single, great British culture, in all its glorious, constantly evolving diversity. The cultural synthesis between ‘indigenous’ Britons and immigrants works both ways. It is not just a question of indigenous Britons benefiting culturally from immigration, but also of immigrants benefiting from contact with our great British culture.  Every time a woman from Pakistan or Turkey, for example, takes advantage of British freedom to escape from an unwanted arranged marriage or oppressive and sexist parents and pursue her life as a free individual; every time Tamil, Tibetan or Chechen dissidents demonstrate here against regimes that persecutes their people back home, that is a triumph for Britain and something of which we should be proud. Immigrants are fuel for Britain’s economic and cultural growth; and Britain is a place of personal and political liberation for immigrants from less free societies.

The fascists would like to destroy our London and our Britain, and to substitute for them a London and a Britain based on uniformity; a uniformity based on the most retrograde and primitive elements of our ‘indigenous’ society. Such a Britain would be impossible to create, of couse, and the very attempt would necessarily involve pogroms and bloodshed on a scale never witnessed here before. To destroy London’s Arab Bayswater, Portuguese Golborne Road, Bengali Brick Lane, Soho Chinatown and so on, would be to destroy the whole city; an experiment in totalitarian violence of the kind practised by the Nazis and Communists. Nor would it stop there. Keeping ‘British culture’ uncontaminated by foreign influences would presumably mean keeping the British people hermetically sealed from the rest of the world: no pizzas or curries for us; no American music or films; no French or Italian clothes; no Japanese electronic goods. British culture cannot be separated from global culture, and only the most medieval of barbarians would try to do so.

There are appeasers who say that the mainstream parties should steal the fascists’ thunder by adopting the fascists’ own policies on immigration. If Labour or the Conservatives became more like the BNP, there would be no need for racists to vote BNP ! This is in fact a very good reason why the mainstream parties should never allow the fascists to dictate our immigration polices: it would involved the fascisisation of British mainstream politics. If racists want to vote for a fascist party, they should be allowed to do so. However disgusting it is to think of it, they too are part of our nation. The worst part of our nation should be able to vote for the party that represents their loathsome, primitive worldview. This party may grow or shrink, but it will always remain a minority party. Meanwhile, Labour and the Conservatives will remain uncontaminated by the fascist disease.

But that does not mean that anti-fascists should remain idle, and allow the BNP to grow to the point where it does serious damage to our multiethnic society. The Labour government deserves praise for having pursued a liberal immigration regime, and allowing unprecedented numbers of immigrants to arrive here and contribute to Britain’s economy and society; it deserves praise for putting our economic and cultural interests above any temptation to appeal to the racist vote. But it also deserves criticism for not being more forthright in countering the scaremongering propaganda propounded by the Daily Mail and other tabloid newspapers, which boost their sales by playing upon the fears of ordinary British people. Just as the popular press in recent years manufactured a hysteria about paedophiles, to the point where entirely innocent people were assaulted by thugs or even falsely imprisoned in the belief that they were child-abusers, so it has helped to generate hysteria about mass immigration.

British mainstream politicians and all anti-fascists need to counter the xenophobic lies. They need to stress the contribution that hard-working immigrants make to the British economy, and the economic damage that attempts to restrict immigration would cause. They need to stress the dangers that forcing immigrants underground involves; the slavery and sexual exploitation of vulnerable young people from abroad; the loss in tax revenues from the creation of an illegal economy; the attendant rise in organised crime. For a modern capitalist economy needs to be able to import labour that cannot be provided by domestic sources; there may be native unemployed, but these very often are unwilling to do the jobs that immigrants do. We must challenge the lie that ‘immigration causes racism’: the London region, which receives a massively disproportionate share of the nation’s immigration, gave only 4.94% of its votes to the BNP; considerably fewer than the national total of 6.6%, and fewer than most other regions of the country.

So stand up for the new, exciting, diverse, forward-looking Britain against the Britain of decay, decline, uniformity, bigotry and fear. The fascists’ version of  ‘British culture’ is dying. Good. Ours just keeps getting better.

Monday, 8 June 2009 Posted by | BNP, London | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments