Last Week’s Vote

Tom Nardi

There are so many things to say about last week’s U.S. midterm elections. The Democrats won both chambers of Congress; Rumsfeld stepped down; Nancy Pelosi is on track to be the first female Speaker of the House; the Democrats won the majority of governors’ mansions and picked up state legislatures in several states … But, I wasn’t thinking of the U.S. elections but rather, the South Ossetian elections.

For those of you who aren’t up-to-date on your former Soviet republics, South Ossetia is located in the north-central region of the republic of Georgia. Not the Georgia that has Atlanta, but the one in the Caucasus region east of Turkey. That’s the country where a man threw a grenade at President Bush a while back.

What is so interesting about South Ossetia is that it held a referendum vote on national independence from Georgia; actually, it was the second referendum, as South Ossetia held a similar vote in 1992 after a civil war that killed more than 1,000 people. That was not recognized by the international community either.

What is striking about the recent vote is not only that the referendum was approved, but also that it was approved by a margin percentage of 99-1. That is a mandate similar to a ruling party loss of the entire legislative branch in one fell swoop. Actually, it’s more impressive, but I had to throw that out there.

Despite the overwhelming majority that voted for independence, the West is set up to ignore these results once again. A statement released Monday from the European Union said that “the ‘referendum’ contradicts Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders.” I thought this was strange, because the West is made up of nothing but secessionists and radicals.

Think about it. Modern Germany is a conglomerate of two nations, East and West, whose merger defied internationally recognized boundaries. Even before that, Germany was a conglomerate of many recognized principalities, and joining them violated sovereignty. Same thing goes for Italy. Holland? Just a break-away province of Spain. England’s current boundaries only represent land-grabs against the Scots, Welsh and Irish. Ireland seceded from England in the last 100 years. The Czech Republic and Slovakia used to be one country. Same deal for Austria and Hungary. And everything was part of the Roman Empire at one point.

The most famous instance, at least to our national conscience, was when America engaged in open, armed rebellion against its government. Not only that, but we also engaged foreign powers to aid our violation of England’s “territorial integrity.”

So, why does the West deny South Ossetia’s claim for independence? Because we fear that Russia will be able to use it as leverage against a weakened Georgia. (Incidentally, Georgia is a break-away republic from the Soviet Union, but I don’t think anyone complained about that violation of borders. And the Soviet Union was explicitly given international recognition with a seat at the UN.)

Ostensibly, South Ossetia’s vote is void because ethnic Georgians were not given the right to vote in it. (Whether this is true or not, I can’t say. CNN says it, but I don’t see any independent backing of that statement.) Still, ethnic Georgians living in South Ossetia number about 14,000 – compared to 55,000 non-Georgians. It would be like negating SGA elections because Stanford Hall residents didn’t vote. A righteous claim, but not really with the spirit of things.

It is so odd that the United States doesn’t recognize the legitimacy of this vote, because the right to self-determination is embodied in one of our more sacred documents: the Declaration of Independence. Aside from that, the United States has promoted self-determination internationally ever since the days of Woodrow Wilson and his Fourteen Points. Bush, whether he knows it or not, supports Iraqi self-determination by aiding that nation in establishing its government. Clinton did the same by protecting Kosovo from Serbia and involving us in the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s.

But Georgia is a close ally of the United States. President Mikhail Saakashvili has explicitly tried to forge good relations with the United States “with the aim of throwing off historic Russian dominance” of his state. So this is Bush’s repayment for Georgia choosing us over Russia. It is similar to why we support Nursultan Abishuly Nazarbayev, the strongman leader of Kazakhstan since 1984, even though his election in 2005 was decried for being a violation of democracy.