Blogs > Cliopatria > Withering Nations

Aug 27, 2004 4:33 pm


Withering Nations



Several conflicts over separatism have heated up in the last few months. The integration of Georgia after the overthrow of Shevardnadze has slowed down, and much of the problem concerns the support given by Moscow to Russians in Georgia (as well as elsewhere in the former Soviet republics). Bolivia is being torn apart by two groups with strong ethnic identities that are aimed at each other. In India, the far west and far east have continued to experience violence as various movements try to diminish the influence of New Dehli in their affairs, although people have questioned whether or not it would be better to negotiate with the national government.

Chechnya is the most prominent secessionist movement in Russia, but separatism is rife in several former Soviet republics. Georgia is the most obvious case. There are two"break-away regions": South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The political movements in both regions are pro-Russian, preferring to join the federation rather than remain part of Georgia. Exacerbating the problem is the fact that new president Saakashvili came to power (displacing Shevardnadze) with the support of groups who favored less centralized government. He has since integrated many movements into a nationalist agenda, but these regions persist in their resistance.

Russia has been meddling in the relations between Georgia's national government and the regions. Moscow wants to protect its economic interests in oil from the Caspian Sea (especially from American companies). They have supported the separatists in Georgia, allowing them to persist on corruption. An article in the economists claims that these movements are largely smuggling rings--they lack legitimacy:
... Russian-backed statelets at the heart of these disputes have something in common: they have no legal existence, and can easily serve as a free-for all for illegal activity of every kind.

In general, Moscow has used enclaves of Russians abroad to influence the politics of the former Soviet Republics--their own pawns that advocate for Russian foreign policy from within domestic policy.

Bolivia is being riven apart by two different forces. One is an Indianist movement, Aymara, composed of natives who live in the highlands. The movement grew out of failed peasants' movements from the 1960s and 70s, grafting to their philosophy pride in indigenous identity as a means of enforcing political cohesion. They would recreate the"Andean system" that existed under the Inca Empire, creating a state out of regions from Bolivia and other nations and living according to Andean political culture (as they have memorialized it). Their ascent in Bolivia has made Indianists influential with the national government.

The other force is the more prosperous lowlands in the east in the city of Santa Cruz. Talk of secession reflects the frustration that people feel concerning the direction of Bolivia as Aymara politicians gain influence. They fear that if indigenous parties take over the government, that they will heavily interfere with the economy and industry of Santa Cruz. Decentralization--perhaps autonomy--is seen as a solution that would isolate the"Cruceños" from Aymara. This side also tends to express its frustration in racist terms: people go to great lengths to point out that they are not Indians. Furthermore, a minority would have the constitution recognize that they are a distinct minority group--the Cambas--with rights on par with indigenous peoples.


The edges of India have always been a problem. Indeed, the new prime minister comes from a region (Gujarat) that has been marked by inter-ethnic violence. Kashmir has been a continual problem, but now that Pakistan and India have started to negotiate over the status of Kashmir, the internal separatist movements have begun to fight amongst each other. Several months ago, a man was killed while at prays: he was the cousin of a separatist politician who believed that the movement should try to inject itself into talks between India and Pakistan. Now, those who oppose negotiation have formed their own political party, shutting out moderate voices.

In the east. fragmentation has been a continual process ever since the dissolution of Assam into numerous tribe-based states. (In Siddhartha Deb's Point of Return the fragmentation of Assam is an important narrative device in showing the disappointment of a generation of Indian nationalists. I highly recommend the novel.) Despite recent violence, there is evidence that eastern Indians have tired of fighting.

For the most part, these separatist movements are driven by some form of ethnic nationalism, making a negotiated solution with the national governments difficult. Some would not be satisfied with any arrangement that kept their regions under governments ruled by other ethnic/national groups. Bolivia might be the most interesting case because it involves warring ethnic groups who could take large parts of the nation with them. On the other hand, the two Bolivian movements situate themselves differently, the Aymara groups seeing themselves as part of a larger movement in South America, the Cruceños as a defensive reaction to the former.
[Added on edit:] Fellow Cliopatriot Manan Ahmed notes the case of Baluchistan (Pakistan) in the comments:
Most of the region never fully integrated into the State and with the continuous military offensive of the past 4 months, is really starting to show troubling signs of native unrest against the military and Pakistani government. The mode, again, is ethnic and lingual solidarity of the people and a counter-nationalist narrative.
(Also on Pakistan, it is interesting to note how the geo-political composition slowi down the hunt for al Qaeda and bin Laden. Many areas are not completely held by the Musharraf, and Islamabad cannot exert force into these areas without disturbing the fragile balance between central government and provinces.)

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Jonathan Dresner - 8/27/2004

This is precisely why China's leadership is increasingly nervous about territorial ethnicity, and has responded by doing goofy things like revising their history websites to eliminate references to a Manchurian-Korean kingdom which was a direct ancestor of Korean regimes.


Manan Ahmed - 8/27/2004

Nathanael - Sorry, I should have included some sources in my comment. On the question of Baluchi nationalism, is a website called Baloch Voice, esp. see this. This op-ed shows growing concern about the lack of government action towards calming Baluchi nerves. The historical sub-text in the newly-formed Baluchistan Liberation Army (which the GoP insists does not even exist) is that part of its leadership/idealogy comes from the failed 1976 civil war that was crushed by Bhutto. These tribal leaders remember all too well the crimes of Pakistan Army and AirForce and the present-day incursions into their territory has not helped.


Nathanael D. Robinson - 8/27/2004

Thank you. I will have to look up Baluchitan (any good sources on the internet?). I have also added your comment to the post.


Manan Ahmed - 8/27/2004

An addition to the list would be the western province of Baluchistan in Pakistan (site of the current version of Where's Osama?). Most of the region never fully integrated into the State and with the continuous military offensive of the past 4 months, is really starting to show troubling signs of native unrest against the military and Pakistani government. The mode, again, is ethnic and lingual solidarity of the people and a counter-nationalist narrative.