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Self-determination and ethnic cleansing

Frederick Lauritzen

6th October 2023

Knowledge is trouble. The decline in education is based on the idea that knowing things is troublesome and therefore not knowing means not having trouble.


Culture is discussion among different opinions. Often great culture emerges from conflicting local opinions. Even jokes are useful, a manner of diffusing tensions between communities which are regularly in touch but find each other different or even difficult to understand. 


The fashionable international solution is to eliminate conflict and discussion by separating peoples.


Woodrow Wilson on 8th January 1918, proposed self-determination in his 14 points. He later stated: “National aspirations must be respected; people may now be dominated and governed only by their own consent. ‘Self-determination’ is not a mere phrase; it is an imperative principle of action”. Each group which felt homogeneous could and should ask to become an independent country. Lenin had already stated it in 1914.


This has been a time bomb for Europe and elsewhere.


The idea is that if a people within a country is linguistically, culturally, and even ethnically identical there would be no conflict. The idea that having a minority is a problem rather than the source of exchanges which generate culture.


Ireland was one of the first countries to benefit from such self-determination in 1922. The result was that all Irish protestants living in southern Ireland were expelled or emigrated. Moreover, one could point out that the great age of the Celtic revival occurred precisely when some in Ireland felt animosity within the UK, not after it had left it.


Eastern Europe became populated with countries which became internally more homogeneous, but could not withstand the German and Soviets attacks starting in 1939 leading to World War II. To fight this problem, after the war, the European Union was created, a mix of different traditions and heritages, in opposition to the spirit of self-determination.


The displacement of minorities was viewed as the solution for the breakup of Yugoslavia. European countries started recognizing the independence of countries and turned away when it led to trouble for their minorities. Slovenia seemed to be the only country which suffered less from this problem: a small homogeneous country. Croatia, Bosnia, and Serbia received the lion’s share of trouble from self-determination. People died or moved. The displacement of peoples is effectively ethnic cleansing. The aim had been to make sure that each geographic area would not have a minority.


In Northern Ireland, the international community is told the west is Catholic and republican and the east is Protestant and unionist. This simplistic notion forgets the infinite local differences and the shared past and present of many mixed communities.


Indeed, the principle of self-determination and ethnic cleansing opposes mixed communities, in which people of different traditions live together. Such a mixture promotes cultural creativity. 


Belfast before 1998 had ten peace walls, cement walls which separate quarters within the city. Since the Good Friday/Belfast agreement in 1998 there are over one hundred of such walls. The principle of peace, as seen from abroad, is to separate and ethnically cleanse areas. Mixed families are the first to suffer from such childish simplicity.


Democracy is about the defence of the minorities interests within the decisions taken by the majority. It is not the removal or elimination of the minority. The alternative is the suppression of minorities as Hitler proposed and executed in the lands he occupied during World War ii.


Today we are petrified looking at Nagorno Karabakh. The inaction of the international community tangled and lost in notions of self-determination and ethnic cleansing is appalling. 


It appears that an entire population has decided to eradicate its roots and live in a country where some have considered them eccentric and even troublemakers. They cannot go back to their homeland for fear of reprisal. This situation is becoming rather common in Europe and around the world. One may think that Cyprus was a mixed society, which is now segregated and divided. 


Passport diplomacy does not help. Ireland, Russia, and other countries offer passports for those who fulfil citizenship criteria, even if born and living abroad. Many Bosnians have either Croatian or Serbian passports even though they were born and have always lived in Bosnia.


Equality before the law means that each should be treated equally in the justice system, not that each person needs to be identical to his or her neighbour. 


Diversity in society, but equality before the law, was introduced by the emperor Caracalla in 212 aD when he declared that all people living within the borders of the Roman Empire were Roman citizens. Borders define citizenship, not ethnic purity derived from self-determination.

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