By Kumar David –
Every time I address a topic like this it is necessary to define what The Right to Self-Determination means. It is boring but I have to do it, repeatedly, because of ignorance. The simplest barebones statement of the principle is as follows: If a cohesive group of people X, inhabiting a territory Y that can credibly become a separate state Z, wants to secede from nation W and constitute themselves as nation Z, so be it; they have the moral and political right to secede and set up sate Z. There is an equally fundamental second part to the principle: I (KD), who accepts this principle, nevertheless has the absolute right to campaign among people X, for or against secession depending on my assessment of what is better. However, if finally they insist, one way or the other, so be it.
Now to Sri Lanka; if X were Ceylon Tamils, territory Y Northern Province and Batticaloa District, the name Z was Thamil Eelam or anything else, and W was Lanka, what do I have to say? I say ‘yes’, you X have the right to secede or not to secede, but I also say, taking into account all contingent social, economic and international factors at this time, in my opinion, you X folks would be bloody fools if you chose to secede. Don’t do it!
Phew, with this abc is out of the way for the benefit of the politically less educated, I can get down to my topic for the day.
Why did Russia annexe Crimea?
I am certain that the most important reason for Crimean union with Russia was not the assertion of self-determination rights by the Crimean people, though this was a factor. The most important reason was Russian concerns about the security of the Russian nation. Putin’s sharp and sudden reaction was a response to a justified prima-facie fear that Russia’s security was at risk. The overthrow of kleptocratic but democratically elected president Viktor Yanukovych by popular protests that were hijacked at the last stage by a putsch executed by an “ultra right-wing fascistic paramilitary” (according to many commentators) and the possibility of NATO expansion left Putin no choice.
Nazi snipers firing into crowds, anti-Semitic violence, participation of the ultra-right fascist Svoboda Party in the new post-putsch government, all this creates a fearsome scenario. I cannot, nor can anybody else vouch for the allegation that Western agents were present; Western media neither confirm nor deny it. Hence I take it that grassroots fascists as well as German and/or American clandestine units were involved in the overthrow of Yanukovych. NATO has been pushing ever closer to Russia’s near-abroad for two decades. Ukrainian membership of NATO or stationing of missiles on Russia’s border would have been an intolerable provocation. The West has been pushing Russia to the wall. Putin, call him an assertive thug if you will, at last had the strength and the support base to fight back. He reacted out of fear that Russia’s security was at risk. None of this should be read as an apology for ex-KGB Putin’s autocratic ruthlessness or as making excuses for the kleptocratic oligarchs who surround his throne.
My point, for the purposes of this essay about the relevance of Crimea to the Thamil Eelam storyline, is that Crimean self-determination was only a contingent and peripheral matter.
Did the Crimeans want to join Russia?
Now a separate question: Did the Crimean people want to secede and join Russia? International observes present during the referendum made no adverse reports of electoral fraud. The yes vote was about 95% and the percentage voting in excess of 80% which means about 75% of the population supported the change. It is correct that a part of the Ukrainian and Cossack minorities in Crimea boycotted the referendum. It is also true that the presence of Russian forces would have persuaded many to join the winning side. There was irrational euphoria. A rushed referendum, not preceded by a campaign and debate, would indeed bias the result. Nevertheless, it is hard to contest the assertion that even a properly organised referendum would have produced a sizable majority in favour of seceding from the Ukraine and joining Russia.
Since the outcome is contested by some Western leaders it is pertinent to take note of surveys conducted before the referendum. The German GfK Group found 70% of Crimeans planned to vote to join Russia, while 11% wished to remain in Ukraine. The Institute for European Policy Studies found 80% in favour of reunification with Russia, and a Crimean Institute of Political and Social Research poll found 77% in favour. A 2008 poll by the Razumkov Centre found that 64% of Crimeans wished to secede from Ukraine and join Russia. The verdict I think is pretty clear; yes the Crimean people were in favour of the change.
What implications for Sri Lanka?
The simple fact is that the Crimean experience lends neither support nor disproof of the thesis enunciated by ex-LTTE remnants and Thamil Eelam aficionados since Crimean desire to join Russia was of secondary importance. In contrast to Russia and Crimea, neither India nor Tamil Nadu wants the headache of Lanka’s Northern Province applying for integration with either. There is no strategic threat to Indo-American power in the Indian Ocean; hence there is no great power strategic worry. Are the Chinese going to send half a dozen junks and sampans to sink the Seventh Fleet and seize Vishakapatanam? The international balance is entirely different from the Russia-Crimea equation.
Right now the Ceylon Tamils are best off cooperating with the international community to force the Rajapakse Regime to honour 13A and putting up a fight to get as much power as possible devolved to Wigneswaran and the Northern Provincial Administration. Getting this racist kleptocratic regime to do even that is a big enough battle.