|The Early Days of a Better Nation|
Sunday, August 10, 2008
Just how many ironies of history are concentrated in the above BBC picture of Georgian reservists in Gori, near a statue of Gori's most famous son, the author of Marxism and the National Question?
Useful analysis and links to more analyis and news are provided by veteran reporter Chris Floyd here and here. Another useful summary here. The same blogger has more. (Via.) Yet more, with background.
If this dispute escalates, well ... it's been nice knowing you, and in case you're wondering what hit me, it was probably the naval dockyard at Rosyth.
Back to the bloke on the plinth.
His above-mentioned pamphlet argues for 'the right of nations to self-determination' and against 'cultural-national autonomy'. In practice its author (a former Georgian nationalist poet who became a Bolshevik) implemented a policy that looked for the most part awfully like 'cultural-national autonomy' under the guise of 'self-determination': all the nations and nationalities and ethnicities of the Russian Empire were given the trappings of actual or embryonic statehood (including, for the Union Republics, the formal right to secession), but in practice what they (mostly) had was the right to local use of their own language, customs, colourful costumes, etc, while actual political control remained firmly in Moscow. The government of a republic could at any time exercise its right to secede from the USSR, but the CPSU and the KGB made sure that no government at all likely to do so would ever be elected.
When the CPSU and KGB lost their grip, all the large and small components of the Soviet Union had a national or ethnic state apparatus already in place (this matters, because otherwise the various nationalists would have had to construct new states from scratch) and most of them quickly self-determined themselves out of the union. But quite a few of them had, like Georgia, smaller ethnic proto-states inside them and/or straddling their borders. For interested outside powers near and far, the question of just which unit counted for 'self-determination' and which for 'territorial integrity' became purely and simply a question of whose ox is gored. This whole dynamic played itself out in Yugoslavia too.
Future multi-national republics might do well to avoid the mistake made by the author of Marxism and the National Question. Languages, customs, costumes, dances and cookery, yes. But for the rest, the component nations and nationalities of multinational states should be left not so much as a line on a map.