The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

The Crimean Referendum of Independence

Has passed with 97% in favor of joining Russia. Those not in favor boycotted the referendum, in part due to intimidation, in part due to the fact that the question was do you favor joining Russia, or return to the 1992 constitution, in which Crimea is a part of the Ukraine, but substantially independent.  There was no option to stay with the current situation.

While looking into the legal precedents, I investigated Kosovo: in 1991 they voted 99% in favor of independence.  Only Albania recognized the legality of the referendum.  Later, of course, Kosovo did wind up declaring its independence again.  Serbia went to the International Court of Justice for an opinion on whether it was legal for Kosovo to separate.  The decision was in favor, and is fascinating.

It basically amounts to this: though the declaration of independence was made by people who were in the Assembly of Kosovo, because they did not follow proper legislative procedure, did not use the words “Assembly of Kosovo” in the proclamation, and were not properly published, the proclamation was not illegal, because proclamations of independence are not generally illegal.

They also said that the ruling was a one off, and did not set precedent (sound familiar?)

The error, then, of the Crimeans may have been to have a legislative body, as a legislative body, take the decision and actually have a referendum.  If they had done it, not as a legislative body, but as just folks who happen to be in the legislative assembly, without a referendum, then it would have been legal.

All of the above, of course, is pernicious nonsense.  Of course many countries do not want regions to leave them, and make it illegal.  But it is impossible not to conclude that those who say Crimea joining Russia is illegal are anything but flaming hypocrites if they also said that Kosovo leaving Serbia was legal.  The International Court for Justice’s ruling is nothing but special pleading.

The larger issue is this: do people have the right to self-determination, and under what circumstances?  I live in Canada, where Quebec has tried to separate in my lifetime.  Those who were willing to let it leave asked another question: if Quebec can leave Canada, can parts of Quebec then hold a referendum and leave Quebec?  As badly as Canada treats its native people, in many ways Quebec treats them worse: much of northern Quebec might prefer to stay in Canada.  Of course, northern Quebec produces the hydro power which keeps southern Quebec financially viable (it is sent straight to New York.)

This is a line which is hard to draw: if you support self-determination, where does it stop?  What group is large enough to be allowed to leave?  If you don’t, if you think that whatever countries exist today should exist always and no one should leave then you have no such problem, but that can be a recipe for catastrophe, as Africa’s history, with all its artificial countries and their bloodshed, have shown.

Perhaps the more fundamental question is this: in a world with problem that nations can’t solve, why don’t we get rid of them entirely?  (There are reasons, and good ones, but do they outweigh the good reasons to end the existence of nations?)

More on that later, perhaps.

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The Tyranny of Money


You will never, again, have a good economy for ordinary people so long as this continues


  1. Jeff Wegerson

    Money. Whose money will you use? Your own? Pegged to another? Join a monetary union? That’s another question. Scotland is threatening leaving England. Yet they suggest they will keep the pound. How much independence is that?

    And further question is are you leaving or are you kicking your poor (and possibly more numerous) relations out onto the street? Like if Alberta were to secede from Canada and take all the oil toys with them.

    I suppose that if you have a quality democracy that pushes decisions down as far and wide as the technology permits, then yes it doesn’t matter what the higher level authorities are called. Yet it certainly becomes a problem when the top sucks power away and up the chain.

  2. profan

    Ukraine itself declared its own sovereignty in 1990 while it was still part of the Soviet Union (and then again in 1991), in contravention of the USSR laws.

  3. David Kowalski

    A lot more damage can be done by keeping regions within nations they wish to leave. A lot of this is due to religious differences. That applied to both Kossovo and also to Biafra. Religious toleration is a far more apt phrase than religious freedom as some people can’t seem to tolerate other people freely practicing their own religions or, in some cases. the lack of a religion.

  4. S Brennan

    Got to take issue with this Ian:

    “Those not in favor boycotted the referendum, in part due to intimidation, in part due to the fact that the question was do you favor joining Russia…”

    Strip away the fig leaf and…

    “Those not in favor boycotted the referendum” because had they voted, they would have been seen to be tiny, tiny minority…an electoral ass whooping…

    Which have shown the US for what it is, a provocateur, continuing to fight a war that has been over for 25 years…the equivalent of the US bombing Tokyo in 1975 for events that took place on 7 December 1941.

    If the DC douchebags and their like minded political sycophants want WAR so badly as to create violent conflict where there was none, why do we never see them signing enlistment papers at a nearby recruiters office? No, they like their violence vicariously, deathly afraid to be too near the risky business.

    And by the way, who in effing hell would want to join the EU? Once you do, they’ll use the IMF and other weapons of mass destruction to annihilate your respective country?

    Well, we have seen such creatures before, particularly in “Galicia” – Ukraine:

  5. amspirnational

    Ed Morrissey

    “No Western nation is going to recognize the legitimacy of a plebescite held under occupation by foreign troops, no matter how many ethnic Russians live on the Crimean peninsula.”

    As they did the Iraqi and Afghan elections under occupation of US troops, no matter that
    miniscule numbers of Americans lived in either.

  6. grayslady

    I’m not certain it’s possible to have a consistent position on the ability of states or territories to secede. In the U.S., Article IV, Section 3 of the Constitution provides procedures for re-formation of territories; but what happens when your country was formed by decision-makers from other nations, such as in Africa or the Middle East? The boundaries in those areas of the world were largely drawn up by colonial powers for their respective economic interests, not because the residents of those territories agreed to the boundaries or even to the formation of a state. I don’t believe the issue is as straightforward as you imply.

  7. tgs

    Some have argued that given the unconstitutional seizure of power in Kiev, the Ukrainian constitution is void until there is a representative elected government. Thus, there is no constitutional violation with the referendum.

    Whether that is sound or not, I am not qualified to say. However, hearing William Hague on the teevee saying that the referendum was a ‘mockery of democracy’ – given the nature of the regime in Kiev is simply unbelievable. The leaders of the self-appointed ‘international community’ and their loyal press have hit new lows during this crisis for outright lying and distortion.

  8. JustPlainDave

    I’m not an expert on this, but having quickly glanced at the reasoning in the advisory opinion it seems important to note that the focus on who the proclaimers were and the procedures they followed in making the proclamation seems to be related to establishing whether they were working inside or outside the confines of the framework established by UN Resolution 1244 (which sought to govern the transition process). The finding seems to be that declarations of independence are legal, full stop and that the Kosovars were working outside the UN framework. In the Crimean situation, the issue of a framework is irrelevant, because none exists (unless I’ve really missed something). This would seem to leave only the legality of such declarations under general international law, which the ICJ found in favour of.

    Advisory opinion is here:

  9. S Brennan

    Worth a read:

    On January 20, 1991, Crimeans voted to restore their ties with Russia by almost the same percentage (93.2%) we saw in Sunday’s election—where, according to the BBC, 93% of Crimean voters once again voted Russian…On Sunday, the Crimeans voted to join Russia in huge numbers—80% turnout, 95% for joining Russia according to reports. That result tracked with the BBC exit polls


  10. Formerly T-Bear

    Re: Crimea

    Least it is forgotten, sanctions, particularly those exercised by EU/USA are an act of belligerency.

    Be truly careful as to how the recipient responds or can respond.

    Do not be surprised to you find yourself at war which can take many forms for which each must be defensible; any weakness will be exploited by a capable enemy.

    Prepare to take loss; loss is the sting of war.

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