|Georgia: Hottentot morality |
Uri Avnery I email@example.com
IF he steals my cow, that is bad. If I steal his cow, that is good” — this moral rule was attributed by European racists to the Hottentots, an ancient tribe in southern Africa.
It’s hard not to be reminded of this when the United States and the European countries cry out against Russia’s recognition of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the two provinces which seceded from the Republic of Sakartvelo, known in the West as Georgia.
Not so long ago, the Western countries recognized the Republic of Kosovo, which seceded from Serbia. The West argued that the population of Kosovo is not Serbian, its culture and language is not Serbian, and that therefore it has a right to independence from Serbia. Especially after Serbia had conducted a grievous campaign of oppression against them. I supported this view with all my heart. Unlike many of my friends, I even supported the military operation that helped the Kosovars to free themselves.
But what’s true for Kosovo is no less true for Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The population in these provinces is not Georgian, they have their own languages and ancient civilizations. They were annexed to Georgia almost by whim, and they have no desire to be part of it.
SO what is the difference between the two cases? A huge one, indeed: The independence of Kosovo is supported by the Americans and opposed by the Russians. Therefore it’s good. The independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia is supported by the Russians and opposed by the Americans. Therefore it’s bad. As the Romans said, what’s allowed to Jupiter is not allowed to an ox.
I do not accept this moral code. I support the independence of all these regions.
In my view, there is one simple principle, and it applies to everybody: Every province that wants to secede from any country has a right to do so. In this respect there is, for me, no difference between Kosovars, Abkhazians, Basques, Scots and Palestinians. One rule for all. There was a time when this principle could not be implemented. That was the era of the “nation state”, when a strong people imposed itself, its culture and its language, on weaker peoples, in order to create a state big enough to safeguard security, order and a proper standard of living. France imposed itself on Bretons and Corsicans, Spain on Catalans and Basques, England on Welsh, Scots and Irish, and so forth.
That reality has been superseded. Most of the functions of the “nation state” have moved to supernational structures: Large federations like the USA, large partnerships like the EU. In those there is room for small countries like Luxemburg beside larger ones like Germany. If Belgium falls apart and a Flemish state comes into being beside a Walloon state, both will be received into the EU, and nobody will be hurt. Yugoslavia has disintegrated, and each of its parts will eventually belong to the European Union.
That has happened to the former Soviet Union, too. Georgia freed itself from Russia. By the same right and the same logic, Abkhazia can free itself from Georgia.
But then, how can a country avoid disintegration? Very simple: It must convince the smaller peoples which live under its wings that it is worthwhile for them to remain there.
It is rather funny to hear Vladimir Putin, whose hands are dripping with the blood of Chechen freedom fighters, extolling the right of South Ossetia to secession. It’s no less funny to hear Micheil Saakashvili likening the freedom fight of the two separatist regions to the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia.
Nobody can know what was passing through the mind of Saakashvili. He is an inexperienced person, educated in the United States, a politician who came to power on the strength of his promise to bring the separatist regions back to the homeland. The world is full of such demagogues, who build a career on hatred, supernationalism and racism.
But even a demagogue does not have to be an idiot. Did he believe that President George W. Bush, who is bankrupt in all fields, would rush to his aid? The elite units of the Georgian Army have been trained by Israeli officers, including the one who was blamed for losing Lebanon War II. If the Israeli officers infected their Georgian colleagues with their own arrogance, convincing them that they could beat the mighty Russian Army, they committed a grievous sin against them.
When Henry Kissinger was still a wise historian, before he became a foolish statesman, he expounded an important principle: In order to maintain stability in the world, a system has to be formed that includes all the parties. If one party is left outside, stability is in danger. The present American policy, with its attempt to push Russia out, is a danger to the whole world. (And I have not even mentioned the rising power of China.)
A small country which gets involved in the struggle between the big bullies risks being squashed. That has happened in the past to Poland, and it seems that it has not learned from that experience. One should advise Georgia, and also the Ukraine, not to emulate the Poles but rather the Finns, who since world War II have pursued a wise policy: They guard their independence but endeavor to take the interest of their mighty neighbor into account.
We Israelis can, perhaps, also learn something from all of this: That it is not safe to be a vassal of one great empire and provoke the rival empire. Russia is returning to our region, and every move we make to further American expansion will surely be countered by a Russian move in favor of Syria and Iran.
So let’s not adopt the “Hottentot morality”. It is not wise, and certainly not moral.