Give nationalism a chance
How are South Ossetia and Abkhazia’s situations any different from that of Kosovo?
Let's try to be consistent about this. If Kosovo has the right to be independent, so surely have Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Their claims are precisely analogous. Kosovo lay within Serbia's internationally recognised borders, just as Abkhazia and South Ossetia lie within Georgia's.
But Kosovan nationalists argued that they had enjoyed a measure of autonomy within Yugoslavia, and that the dissolution of the federation entitled them to settle their own status. Similarly, Abkhazia was an Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, and South Ossetia an Autonomous Oblast, within the USSR; both took the same line as the Kosovans.
In all three cases, separatists asserted that, whatever their legal right, the repressive measures deployed against them gave them an unarguable moral right.
Russia denies the claim of the Kosovans while pressing those of the Abkhazians and South Ossetians. Most Western governments are guilty of precisely the same hypocrisy in reverse.
At the same time, the Kremlin, which may now formally recognise the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, is violently repressing the exactly congruent claim of nearby Chechnya. And no one wants to extend to the Serbian minority in Kosovo the same right of self-determination that was exercised by Kosovo as a whole.
We've been told so often that nationalism is the ultimate evil that we are missing what caused all these conflicts – not nationalism, but its precise opposite, namely the denial of the right to self-determination. If you don't like the word nationalism, try democracy; it amounts to the same thing, namely the right to decide who makes your laws.
Refusing that claim has been the cause of some of the worst wars humanity has known. Better by far to let people live as friendly neighbours than to force them together as squabbling tenants. Nationalism, in short, may be our best hope for peace. ·
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