10.02.2007
Self-Determination: Between Law and Politics
№1 2007 January/March
Alexander Aksenyonok

Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Vice President of the Russian International Affairs Council.



The fallout from the geopolitical
upheavals that shook the world at the end of the past century has
yet to be fully appreciated, but their impact on world politics is
becoming increasingly pronounced. Today, there is a growing gap
between the generally recognized rules of international law and the
new realities. The erosion of hitherto inviolable principles
compels a review of the balance that has evolved between two tenets
of international law – territorial integrity and the right to
national self-determination – that are often in conflict with each
other. How do these concepts apply in practice? What are the
historical precedents? And finally, what are the objective
standards of judgment needed for applying them?

Dramatic events, such as the
chaotic disintegration of the
Soviet Union, the
civilized “divorce” between the Czechs and Slovaks, and the bloody
breakup of
Yugoslavia, amongst
others, effectively repudiated the inviolability of postwar borders
in
Europe, which in 1975 was solemnly proclaimed
in
Helsinki. Furthermore, international recognition of the
newly formed states legitimized the changes, regardless of whether
they had occurred peacefully or through the use of
force.

The violation of territorial
integrity in
Europe
– regardless of the causes of the
breakups – gave ethnic minorities within multi-ethnic states a
powerful incentive for asserting their independence (including
extreme forms of ethnic separatism). Interethnic tension can also
be viewed as a byproduct of democratic transformations, for
example, the decentralization of state governance, especially
in
Russia and East European countries.

To date, the strongest incentive
for reviewing the concepts of “territorial integrity” and “national
self-determination” are the dramatic turn of events that occurred
in Kosovo in the late 1990s – and most importantly, NATO’s
one-sided reaction to the situation. There is little doubt that
this
province
of Serbia, with a
predominantly Albanian population, is close to acquiring
independence from the hands of the international
community.

The primary question now is: Can
Kosovo’s imminent independence be seen as a precedent in resolving
other internal state conflicts, including in the former Soviet
republics, or was it some sort of an exception in international
practice?

The West replies categorically
that it cannot be viewed as a new precedent, while

Russia believes it can. Meanwhile, this problem has gone from
being a subject of academic dispute to an explosive element of
realpolitik. This applies above all to the ongoing conflicts over
the so-called unrecognized states in the post-Soviet space –
Transdnestr, Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia, and
South Ossetia.

The search for universal
approaches to resolving complicated interethnic problems could be
facilitated by a comparative analysis of Kosovo in the
former
Yugoslavia
with Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the post-Soviet area. In undertaking this analysis, the
author has advisedly put aside the historical aspects of these
issues, since each nation and each ethnic group has its own
“truth,” and it is all but impossible to resolve such conflicts by
invoking the past.

KOSOVO’S PATH TO
INDEPENDENCE

As a part of the former Socialist
Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Kosovo had the status of an
autonomous region; later it was recognized as an autonomous
province. Under the 1974 Constitution, Kosovo was empowered to
elect its own parliament, form its own government and

Constitutional
Court
, and it also acquired
full cultural and even economic autonomy. In other words, already
in the 1970s-1980s, the scope of the province’s regional authority
was approaching the criteria that were later enshrined in the
Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of
National Minorities.

Kosovo did not become a hotbed of
interethnic and interfaith tension until the late 1980s, when, on
the initiative of the country’s president, Slobodan Milosevic, the
central government in
Belgrade started
“rectifying the mistakes” of decentralization. The resistance of
the Albanian majority was originally of a political and civil
nature, but gradually it transformed into an armed
struggle.

Following the abolition of the
province’s extended autonomy, power was turned over to regional
bosses appointed by
Belgrade who relied on
ethnic Serbian law enforcement and security structures. The
Albanian population boycotted the new governing authorities,
creating their own parallel administrative, educational, health,
and social security agencies. In July 1990, a constituent assembly
of the self-proclaimed parliament in Pristina adopted a declaration
of independence and then the Constitution of the
Republic of Kosovo. Alongside the
consolidation of the political structures of the unrecognized
state, the military organization of Albanian militants, known as
the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), began to gather
strength.

The next stage in the evolution of
the Kosovo situation can be described as an unstable balance in the
armed confrontation that by now had already begun. In response to
mounting terrorist attacks against official structures, as well as
the Serbian minority population in Kosovo,
Belgrade began to build up its police presence there. When it became
obvious that police forces were ineffective for dealing with the
situation, army units were brought into Kosovo.

The international community became
directly involved in the resolution of this internal Yugoslav
problem following major clashes between regular troops and KLA
militants in February 1998 in the Drenica area, which inflicted a
heavy death toll, including among civilians. Large-scale military
actions continued for several months, placing the province on the
verge of a humanitarian catastrophe. Responsibility for the crisis
was laid exclusively at
Belgrade’s door, although
in the majority of cases the Serbian side had only responded,
albeit not always proportionately, to the armed provocations of the
Albanian militants. Furthermore, it has never been proven that the
Serbians were the ones who provoked the displacement of many
refugees at that time. Subsequent conflicts involving the
participation of illegal armed groups in
Chechnya, for
example, or more recently in
Lebanon, show that
terrorist organizations regularly use civilians as human shields,
counting on the reaction of the international community.

Whatever the case, it is now all
but senseless to apportion blame for the tragic events of 1998-99.
In making a comparative analysis of the Kosovo precedent and the
Georgian-Abkhazian or Georgian-Ossetian conflicts, there is another
factor of greater importance: to objectively understand the nature
of these conflicts and the role of extraneous factors.

The main goal of putting the
Kosovo problem on the international agenda was to prevent a
humanitarian catastrophe. But insofar as the West a priori placed
all responsibility for the crisis on the Serbs and personally on
Slobodan Milosevic, this became the keynote of all discussions at
the OSCE, the Kosovo Contact Group, and the international
conference in Rambouillet (France) on the political settlement in
Kosovo (late 1998-early 1999). For its part, the Serbian leadership
underestimated the seriousness of the situation, displaying
shortsightedness during the negotiations. As a result, more
subjective conditions evolved, thereby giving the North Atlantic
Alliance a formal excuse for armed intervention.

Another specific feature of the
Kosovo crisis is that the UN, as an instrument of political
settlement, only became involved post factum. In treating the
Kosovo case as “unique,”
Russia’s Western partners
at the Contact Group refer to UN Security Council Resolution 1244
and its violation by Milosevic. Such references were inappropriate
at the very least. The UN resolution was adopted on

June 10, 1999, that is, more than two months after
Yugoslavia had begun being subjected to massive missile and air
strikes (the NATO military operation against the
Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
began on March 24, 1999).
The main goal at that specific time was to end the air strikes that
had placed one ethnic group, the Serbians, on the verge of a
national catastrophe for the sake of “saving” another ethnic group,
the Albanian Kosovars.

Resolution 1244 was in fact the
price that had to be paid for ending the air strikes. It gave the
UN and its Security Council a central role in the settlement
process and sanctioned the presence of an international
peacekeeping force in Kosovo (KFOR), as well as the deployment of
the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). As a
matter of fact, Belgrade was forced to cede a part of its territory
and agree to foreign military presence – the NATO-led
KFOR.

The UNMIK, defined under the
aforementioned UN resolution as the supreme political and
administrative authority in Kosovo pending the final definition of
its status, has since been consistently pursuing a course toward
Kosovo’s maximum isolation from Serbia and the creation of yet
another independent state on the territory of the former
Yugoslavia. Eduard Kukan, former foreign minister of Slovakia who
in 2000-01 frequently visited Kosovo as a special envoy of the UN
secretary general, described the situation as follows: “It was
amusing to see former militants, who had recently changed their
camouflage uniforms for civilian clothes, continue to press for
full independence.”

Despite the declarations that a
democratic, multiethnic society has been built in Kosovo, the
situation for the Serbian minority remains critical. The exodus of
non-Albanians has led to the creation of a mono-ethnic Albanian
space. The outstanding problems have yet to be settled, which
include the return of more than 200,000 non-Albanian refugees and
temporarily displaced persons, provision of equal security and
freedom of movement for ethnic minorities, and the creation of a
genuinely multiethnic environment.

In pushing for independence, the
Kosovo Albanians are striving to keep international interest in
Kosovo alive by all means (including acts of violence against the
Serbs). The aim is to demonstrate that if the “independence
scenario” does not materialize, bloody interethnic clashes, as in
March 2004, will resume. In this situation, the West is seriously
concerned by the unpredictability of its bellicose Albanian
protégés, who are more than ready to use force – and not
only against the Serbs. That would mean a total collapse of NATO’s
policy in the Kosovo conflict with far reaching implications for
other hotbeds of tension in the region. This explains the strong
pressure that is being exerted on a weakened Serbia, which
forwarded a compromise formula for the status of Kosovo: “More than
autonomy, less than independence.”

Summing up this retrospective
review of the Kosovo case, it is essential to note that the
territory’s final status was predetermined by a combination of
three internal and external factors:

– demands from the Albanian ethnic
minority in Yugoslavia, accompanied by the use of violence, not to
mention the use of blackmail against the international
community;

– the coincidence of U.S. and EU
interests, dictated by the simple considerations of political
expediency, in removing Milosevic’s nationalist regime;

– the possibility, without the
risk of a global confrontation, to impose that expediency scenario
by military-political means amidst a new lineup of forces on the
international arena. 

THE CAUCASUSSIMILARITIES,
DIFFERENCES

The evolution
of the Georgian-Abkhazian and Georgian-Ossetian conflicts, which
have led to the formation of two so-called unrecognized states, has
a number of similarities with the Kosovo case. Meanwhile, the
differences between them only highlight the need for a clear-cut
definition of universal principles in resolving such internal state
conflicts.

In the late 1980s, unitary states
were introduced by brute force in both instances. Smoldering
interethnic conflicts flared up with new intensity when the central
governments abolished the broad privileges that had been enjoyed by
ethnic minorities both in a federal state, Yugoslavia, and in a
constituent member state of the Soviet Union, Georgia. In other
words, South Ossetia and Abkhazia began to break away at a time
when Georgia had not yet become an independent state. It is
important to bear this in mind at a time when Georgia continues to
insist on its territorial integrity.

In 1989-90, well before the
breakup of the USSR, the Supreme Soviet of the Georgian Soviet
Socialist Republic (SSR) passed a series of resolutions abolishing
the Soviet republic’s 1978 Constitution and restoring the 1918
Constitution of the Georgian Democratic Republic, which ruled out
the existence of regional autonomies. In response to that move, in
July 1982, Sukhumi declared the abrogation of the Constitution of
the Abkhazian Autonomous Republic as part of the Georgian SSR and
the restoration of the 1925 Abkhazian Constitution that proclaimed
the sovereignty of Abkhazia.

The events in South Ossetia
followed a similar scenario, when in late 1989 the Georgian
authorities brought police forces into Tskhinvali, while in
November 1990 Georgia’s Supreme Soviet abolished the South Ossetian
Autonomous Region, which sparked the breakout of hostilities.
Against that backdrop, on January 19, 1992, a referendum was held
in South Ossetia in which the majority of the population voted for
independence and accession to Russia. A few months later, the
Supreme Soviet of the South Ossetian Republic adopted an Act on
State Sovereignty.

Just as in Kosovo, armed conflicts
on the territory of the former Georgian SSR took a heavy toll in
human lives and had devastating humanitarian consequences for the
Georgian and Abkhazian populations. Of 550,000 citizens of pre-war
Abkhazia, 7,000 were killed, with 200,000 to 250,000 fleeing the
region, mostly ethnic Georgians. Another parallel with Kosovo is
that both conflicts were frozen with the involvement of external
forces – in the case of Kosovo, NATO member states – with Russia
playing a marginal peacekeeping role; and in the Georgian-Abkhazian
conflict, it is Russia that took the main initiative with the West
playing a marginal role. Importantly, both sides formally agreed to
political settlement mechanisms, which were laid down in an array
of international documents.

Over the past seven years, Kosovo
has been formally under the jurisdiction of the UN, while UN
Security Council Resolution 858 (1993) also applies to the
situation in Abkhazia. This resolution established the UN Observer
Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG), which is still active. Furthermore,
the UN is involved through the special envoy of the UN Secretary
General who heads a coordinating council with the participation of
the OSCE, Russia, the UK, Germany, France, and the U.S. The
collective peacekeeping force (made up predominantly of Russians)
deployed in the zone of the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict has a CIS
as well as a UNOMIG mandate (under UN Security Council Resolution
1666, March 31, 2006).

As for South Ossetia, here too a
quadripartite peace mechanism known as the Joint Peacekeeping Force
and the Joint Control Commission (JCC), which was instituted with
Russia’s mediation in 1992, is supplemented by the efforts of
international organizations. An OSCE mission has been working in
Georgia and South Ossetia since December 1992, while EC
representatives have been involved in JCC operations in an observer
capacity since 1999.

But the main similarity between
these scenarios is the political will of the mono-ethnic community
(ethnic majority) in Kosovo, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The
referendums sponsored in these regions reaffirmed this will, and
far more convincingly than the EU sponsored plebiscite on
Montenegro, for example, which the international community
recognized.

Statehood on these territories
evolved in the same way and within the same timeframe as in all
post-Soviet republics. Geopolitically, Abkhazia, for more than 10
years now, has been a de-facto independent state with all the
trappings of a state that conforms to democratic standards. It even
has its own army and law-enforcement structures. Its economy is
self-sufficient and not dependent on Georgia. The people of
Abkhazia see themselves as citizens of an independent state, and
make their future economic prosperity contingent on the republic’s
integration into Russia. At the present stage, recognition of
Abkhazia’s independent status is of paramount
importance.

The majority of Abkhazians
perceive any denial of their right to independence as the
“enslavement” of an entire nation “within Stalin-era boundaries.”
In a conversation with Thomas de Waal, a Caucasus expert and
project coordinator for the Institute of War and Peace Reporting
(IWPR) in London, Sergei Bagapsh, the president of the unrecognized
Republic of Abkhazia, stressed that Abkhazia has more grounds for
acquiring the status of an independent state than Kosovo does
because the former was forcibly incorporated into Soviet Georgia.
While acknowledging that this argument was not incontestable, de
Waal, writing in The Financial Times, admits that he has not met a
single person in Abkhazia who envisioned it as ever becoming a part
of Georgia.

The strive toward reunification
with Russia is especially strong in South Ossetia, which is rather
weak economically and populated by people who have relatives in
North Ossetia [which is part of Russia – Ed. ]. The South Ossetians
see themselves as being forcibly separated from their “blood
brothers” due to unfair subjective and objective historical
events.

THE POSITION OF “MOTHER
COUNTRIES”

For all the similarities between
the situations in Kosovo, Abkhazia and South Ossetia as de-facto
independent states (UN jurisdiction over Kosovo only formally
conceals this status), there remains one rather substantial
difference – specifically, the difference between the positions of
Serbia and Georgia, i.e., the ‘native people,’ or so-called
‘titular nations.’

The final decision over the status
of Kosovo is a serious test for the democratic forces of Serbia
that replaced the authoritarian regime of Slobodan Milosevic. The
new governing authorities are between a rock and a hard place: to
agree to the separation of the historical cradle of Serbian culture
and Orthodoxy means courting the danger of being overthrown by a
wave of Great Serbian nationalism. On the other hand, to resist
outside pressure in granting independence to Kosovo means losing
the chance to open negotiations on EU membership – the direction
that all other Balkan countries, including former Yugoslav
republics, are now moving. Thus, just as in the case of
Montenegro’s separation from Serbia, admission to the EU is a good
incentive for completing the ‘Balkanization’ process.

Yet, for all the complexity of the
situation, the Serbian leadership pursues a fairly sensible,
well-balanced line, taking into account the hard legacy of the
Milosevic era, as well as the current situation in and around
Kosovo. In searching for a compromise solution, it prioritizes high
democratic standards in guaranteeing the legitimate rights of
Kosovo’s Serbs, protection of Orthodox sacred places, and
decentralization of power. These problems have not been resolved,
despite the numerous declarations and promises by UN administrators
and KFOR command. These issues are now at the top of the agenda
amidst ongoing negotiations between the Serbian and Albanian sides
with the mediation of a special representative of the UN Secretary
General in Vienna.

The negotiating process on
Abkhazia and South Ossetia, however, is shaping up quite
differently. Tbilisi is standing firm on Georgia’s “territorial
integrity,” but within the old Soviet borders, offering the
Abkhazians and Ossetians “broad autonomy.” Sukhumi and Tskhinvali
have made any political settlement conditional on the international
legitimization of their de-facto independence as the logical
conclusion of the breakup of the Soviet Union with full guarantees
for the rights of ethnic Georgians.

All indications suggest that the
chances for arriving at a solution that is acceptable to both sides
are remote, while the overall situation continues to worsen.
Tbilisi’s line of conduct, always unpredictable and meandering, is
becoming utterly destructive under the leadership of Mikhail
Saakashvili. There are increasing violations of current agreements
and the security regime in the conflict zone; offensive weapons are
being constantly built up; peacekeepers are becoming a target of
provocation while unjustified demands are being set on them.
Finally, bellicose rhetoric is beginning to grow louder. All of
this gives the Abkhazians and Ossetians reason to believe that the
Georgian leadership has decided on the use of force; to this end it
is necessary, above all, to eliminate the existing settlement
mechanisms and compromise the Russian peacekeeping mission. The
Georgian parliament’s resolution, On Peacekeeping Forces in
Conflict Zones, makes it incumbent on the government to implement
measures to ensure the earliest possible withdrawal of Russian
peacekeepers from Abkhazia and South Ossetia, abrogate the relevant
international treaties and structures with their subsequent
replacement by a new format, including the deployment of an
“international police force.” Meanwhile, the ongoing rapprochement
between Georgia and NATO further encourages radical elements within
the country’s leadership.

The experience in peacekeeping
operations in other parts of the world shows that their successful
completion is impossible without each party to the conflict
maintaining an atmosphere of trust and refraining from steps that
could be misinterpreted. That was the atmosphere in which Eastern
Slavonia was reintegrated into Croatia under the auspices of the UN
Interim Administration and with the close involvement of Russia,
which had taken part in both the military and civilian components
of the operation.

Another condition for a successful
peacekeeping operation is the voluntary acceptance of an imposed
settlement by all parties involved. These operations are known as
‘peace enforcement’ and, as a general rule, involve ‘nation
building.’ A case in point is the Dayton Peace Agreements on Bosnia
and Herzegovina that brought about the end of the civil war in the
former Yugoslavia (1992-1995). The NATO-led multinational force
that was deployed there in 1996 had a tough mandate, which included
the use of force, and guaranteed the implementation of these
agreements. That mandate provided additional leverage to the chief
administrator who had been entrusted by the international community
with special functions, similar to those of a governor
general.

Peacekeeping operations in
Abkhazia and South Ossetia are based on a narrower mandate and an
international mechanism that does not provide for the imposition or
enforcement of specific solutions on any of the parties involved.
In both cases, Russia acts only as a facilitator in settling
conflicts. The peacekeepers’ mandate is reduced to preventing
engagement of forces and maintaining the security
regime.

Considering the differences in the
scope of mandates and settlement mechanisms, the attacks by the
Georgian leadership against Russia, including accusations of
obstructing the peace process, point to a pronounced attempt to
impose at any price a different format providing for enforcement
functions with respect to the “separatists.” At the same time, it
is well known that the mandate cannot be changed without the
consent of both sides. But neither Abkhazia nor South Ossetia will
give such consent, fearing, and not without reason, that the
withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers could have disastrous
consequences for the civilian population, causing widespread
destabilization. The unrecognized republics see the Georgian
parliament’s resolution as Tbilisi’s intention to resolve the
problem by force.

The current ethnic-territorial
conflicts in the South Caucasus are dangerous insofar as they can
grow into a permanent hotbed of tension. Georgia, in its striving
to have its way no matter what, is presumably acting on the
assumption that if the restoration of its territorial integrity is
delayed for another few years, this could perpetuate the status
quo, which would be subsequently recognized by the international
community. There are also internal political considerations
involved: it is necessary to bolster the ruling regime, which is
going through serious difficulties, with time-tested nationalist
arguments. But just as in the Kosovo scenario, external factors
play a crucial role in the South Caucasus as well.

The evolution of the situation
around the unrecognized states of Abkhazia and South Ossetia
reflects the logic of the old “zero sum game,” but in new,
non-confrontational conditions. Tbilisi’s defiant, provocative
actions with respect to Russian representatives would hardly have
been possible without open support or connivance on the part of the
United States. If Washington’s policy is really aimed, in defiance
of Russia, to steer Georgia toward full NATO membership, even as it
turns a blind eye to its failure to meet the established standards
and criteria, Tbilisi cannot fail to construe this as carte blanche
abilities for a one-sided resolution of the problem of Abkhazia and
South Ossetia. This incorrect interpretation of the nature of
international support will continue to encourage the Georgian
leadership to take ill-considered actions, which is fraught with
escalating tensions throughout the region.

As the conflict worsens and the
sides toughen their negotiating positions, the Russian Federation
as a neighboring state that is deeply involved in the peace process
could end up in a rather delicate situation. Because of Russia’s
geographic position, the outcome of the conflict in the South
Caucasus is probably more critical for it than the outcome of the
Kosovo problem is for Europe.

Today, Russia’s political position
is based on the recognition of two principles – territorial
integrity, with the proviso that in the case of Georgia it is just
a “possibility,” not a “politico-legal reality,” and the right to
self-determination. The international community fully endorses the
last principle. In this way, Moscow indicates that the principle of
territorial integrity is not absolute and may not be applied
automatically. 

This two-pronged position leaves
some room to maneuver. But the field is narrowing more and more,
and there is an increasing danger of Russia being held responsible
by both sides – Abkhazia and Ossetia on one hand, and Georgia on
the other – for freezing the conflict.

The delicacy of the situation is
that either outcome – in favor of territorial integrity or in favor
of secession – involves both advantages and disadvantages for
Moscow. But in neither case are there any absolute
advantages.

In the boiling ethnic cauldron in
the Caucasus, where everything is closely interconnected and
interwoven, the use of force to coerce Abkhazia and South Ossetia
to return to Georgia’s fold will imminently create new hotbeds of
tension in southern Russia – in North Ossetia, Adygeya, Chechnya,
Karachayevo-Cherkessia, and possibly beyond. In such a situation,
there is no way Russia can count on Tbilisi’s loyalty. At the same
time, responsibility for the fate of ethnic minorities also has a
moral dimension for Russia. The Russian state, just like any other
state, is obligated to defend the interests of its citizens.
Moreover, as is already known, a substantial part of Abkhazia’s and
South Ossetia’s population (who were denied the right to a free and
democratic expression of their will either in the Soviet Union or
later in independent Georgia) are in fact Russian
citizens.

To date, nobody has successfully
explained to the Abkhazians and Ossetians why the Kosovars and
Montenegrins have a right to secede but they do not. All references
to the “uniqueness” of the Kosovo case are unconvincing.
Furthermore, if Kosovo’s independence is to be formalized de jure,
the paradoxes of realpolitik on the ethnic-territorial issue will
be too obvious even to non-professional politicians. On the one
hand, the United States and Europe, as punishment for Serbia’s
uncooperative and “despotic” regime, encouraged separation on its
territory, but on the other, the same group of influential states
continues to deprive other peoples of the right to secession by
supporting the “democratic” Georgian regime, which is amenable to
them.

Whatever the case, in the context
of post-confrontational politics, the following question on the
international agenda is becoming increasingly important: Are there
any objective criteria for striking the right balance between the
principles of territorial integrity and national
self-determination?

Needless to say, the idea of
secession for secession’s sake is flawed, and will ultimately lead
the world to chaos. However, there are other forms of
self-determination, such as, for example, cultural autonomy,
federative and confederative designations, ethnic-territorial
formations with different degrees of economic independence, and
finally, interstate integration with voluntary delegation of part
of national sovereignty to the center. But in all of these cases,
the crucial conditions are the high degree of trust between a
state-forming nation and an ethnic minority, common sense displayed
by the central governing authorities, and their ability for
guaranteeing a worthy life to their citizens.

Canada and Spain may serve as
models for the civilized resolution of ethnic problems. The results
of a recent referendum in Quebec, for example, showed that the
French-speaking population trusts the historical state in which it
lives. In Spain, greater autonomy was handed to Catalonia, which
acquired the status of a separate ethnic entity within the country.
This shows that self-determination does not necessarily mean the
acquisition of state independence.

At the same time, the
international community cannot ignore cases when, due to different
interethnic problems – historical, psychological, or economic in
nature – secession by an ethnic minority is more in harmony with
historical reality than is the preservation of its uncertain status
as an unrecognized state. The ethnic-territorial conflicts in
Kosovo, Abkhazia and South Ossetia all fall into this category.
Responsibility for the situation that has evolved is ultimately
borne by the central governments that alienated their citizens with
their arrogant chauvinistic policies. The main criterion here
should be an international consensus on the legitimacy of the
secession of ethnic minorities, based on generally recognized
democratic and humanitarian standards.