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Self-Determination And Its Value

by Israel Shamir

(A Talk given at  Rhodes World Public Forum of Dialogue of Civilisations, 12 October 2008.
We gather in fateful, wonderful times. The great financial crisis is leading to a collapse of hegemony; the nets they made to catch us are being undone. 
We are like prisoners who notice that their jailers are in terrible commotion and confusion. Our first response is fear: maybe they will not deliver soup for our lunch, maybe our small privileges we slowly accumulated will be gone. But have no regrets, no doubts, no fears -- we are on the way to freedom: The walls will fall, the jailers will run away, and we shall be set free! 
Jailers and their junkies try to convince us to support them. Otherwise, they say, they would not be able to rule as they have up until now -- instead there will be anarchy, no work, no pay. They promise to improve our conditions if we play ball. Refuse them -- no support for the jailers! Maybe we'll miss a helping of their soup, but the whole world will be ours. The melting stocks and bonds are just worthless paper; the real economy will remain untouched. If all the dollars in the world should vanish, we working people would survive, just like the Russians survived the vanishing Rouble, and the Germans the melting of the Mark.
Now we can shake off the cultural hegemony of the Core; the semi-colonial dependency of the East will be over. In the new world we shall need a new equality-based system of international relations. For the past two hundred years, Western hegemony has relentlessly fragmented the East, breaking off bits and pieces of it. Now we can begin the opposite process, that of integration. Where once our values were undermined by their hegemony, our interests and values shall prevail. Even a year ago, this would have been an empty dream. Today, thanks to the financial collapse, it is really possible.
National Self-Determination is a key issue in the centuries-long dialogue between East and West. The two sides speak at cross-purposes about it, even (or especially) when they use identical terms. National Self-Determination really has two meanings, as different as "the root of a tree in a square" is from "the square root". It can refer to both Political Self Determination (PSD) and System Self Determination (SSD).
- SSD is old, as old as mankind. 
- PSD is the novel invention of Woodrow Wilson. 
SSD is close to the concept of sovereignty, and is described as the right of a nation (meaning: state) to freely choose its political, economic, social and cultural systems -- to live in its own way according to its own values. 
PSD is the right of a people (meaning: ethnic cultural unit) to create, join or secede from a state.
Both forms of self-determination are enshrined as national rights by the UN Charter (Article 1, paragraph 2; and Article 55, paragraph 1), but their applications are quite different: 
(1) Political self determination 
The right of nations to Political Self-Determination (PSD) is an integral part of the modern paradigm; it was upheld by the West as part and parcel of a national-romantic trend, and was used to tear the Balkans and the Arab world away from the great Eastern commonwealth of the Ottoman Empire. Coincidentally, the territories that realised their "self-determination" became British colonies, protectorates or dependent territories, and eventually passed into the Pax Americana. Realisation of PSD at the breakup of the Ottoman Empire caused massacres and ethnic cleansings on a scale previously unheard of. Smyrna and Salonika, Greeks and Turks, Armenians and Kurds, and later Albanians and Serbs were victims of this Weapon of Mass Destruction. 
The West upholds the application of PSD to the East, and often invokes it in supporting independence for Tibet, Kashmir, Chechnya, Balujistan, Wasiristan, Kurdistan and what not. Full implementation of this principle would have the East fragmented into hundreds of statelets, but with all of them embracing the same liberal Western system of values.
Irony of history: In the 19th century, the West was divided into nation states, while its adversary the East was organized by big supranational territorial units, the commonwealths of Ottoman Turkey, Austro-Hungary, Russia, China and India. The West fought against the East not only with weapons of steel and fire, but also by brandishing the concept of national (read: ethnic) identity and of the desirability of each such identity's self-determination through secession and independence. In the 21st century, after almost two hundred years of applying these principles, the West is united in two large supranational territorial units of the USA and the EU, while the East is fragmented into dozens of states, and the fragmentation tendency is not over yet. In other words, the West and the East have traded places; with the West's superiority well entrenched.
This transformation allows us to recognise political self-determination for the potent weapon of ideological warfare that is: a Western device created for the purpose of undermining and colonising the East. The dissolution of the Soviet Union was caused ­ to an important extent ­ by the activation of this device, this ideological long-term "sleeping mine" that had been incorporated in the Soviet structure by the Communist Party for historical reasons. The Russian Marxists had inherited this principle from the European Marxists for whom this was part and parcel of their Eurocentric point of view. Lenin's Party minimised its application but did not exorcize it completely. In 1991, it was used to break up the Soviet Union and caused great damage to millions of Soviet citizens. Millions became refugees and even more millions lost their right to use their native tongue or even their basic civil rights. 
This false and damaging "right" should be stricken from the books and vigorously denied, as its very presence causes damage and bloodshed. The East (meaning the Eurasian lands east of the core Western European countries) could then return to its roots ­ in other words, it could utilise the European integration experience and reconstitute the large commonwealths uniting its population. 
All big Eastern nations need it: 
China -- It is impossible to agree to the secession of Tibet, for it would make two million Tibetans (or rather their monastic elite) the owners of millions of square miles of territory, while two million non-Tibetans living there would lose their rights or even their lives. The PSD of Tibet would cause a vast ethnic-cleansing wave; it would undermine both China and India (as parts of historic Great Tibet belong now to India), and it would create a new Western military base in the very heart of Eurasia. 
India -- Kashmiri secession is equally unacceptable. An independent Muslim Kashmir would not be able to keep two thirds of its present territory, for the Buddhist Ladakh and Hindu Jammu, now parts of the Jammu and Kashmir State, will not follow Srinagar. Dealing with the waves of Muslim refugees that would ensue from Ladakh and Jammu, and the likewise predictable Hindu refugees from Kashmir proper would ruin the country for ages, whether or not such secession renews hostilities between India and Pakistan. Instead of that, a large integration project could be undertaken to revert the fateful Partition of the Raj and the partition along the Durand Line. Pakistan, a failed state, may be deconstructed: part to join back with Mother India, and part to rejoin Afghanistan.  
Russia -- It is doubtful whether the 1991 application of PSD to the former Soviet territory will have a lasting effect. The secession of the Ukraine bore bitter fruit: the pro-Western regime of Yushchenko banned the Russian language, the first tongue of majority of Ukrainian population. People are not allowed to use Russian; even the works of the greatest Ukrainian writer Gogol are being classified as "foreign literature," as they were written in Russian. Yushchenko supplied modern weapons to Georgia and intends to bring his own country into NATO, thereby turning the Ukraine into an enemy of Russia. Georgia is a criminal basket-case: half of the Georgian population moved to Russia in order to escape Saakashvili and his "independent" regime.
The dubious "right to PSD" should be counterbalanced by two more fundamental principles: that of forbidding discrimination, and that of avoiding bloodshed. The creation of new states on an ethnic, religious or cultural basis unavoidably causes bloodshed and discrimination. For instance, the creation of the independent Estonian, Latvian and Georgian states brought forth brutal discrimination against non-Eestis, non-Letts, non-Kartvels who constitute almost half of these countries' population. At the first (post-Versailles) attempt to tear these areas away from Russia and make them independent, local elites expropriated and expelled the Germans from Estonia and Latvia, and Armenians were expelled from Georgia. At the second attempt in the 1990s, they victimised the Russians in Estonia and Latvia and the Abkhazians and Ossetians in Georgia. This caused a chain reaction: while the expelled Germans of the Baltic States had given support to Hitler's militarism, Ossetians and Abkhazians have created a new problem, that of Georgian refugees from these regions.
We know that a marriage may fail -- but a divorce can fail, too! The 1991 divorce of the Soviet republics failed. The way out lies through reintegration of the post-Soviet areal, followed by the reintegration of other large Eastern commonwealths ("Empires"); the reintegration of the Muslim and Orthodox lands formerly united in the Byzantine or Ottoman Empire into one Commonwealth of the East, under the auspices of Russia and Turkey, could reverse the process of fragmentation which created a dozen Balkan states, broke Iraq into three statelets, tore Lebanon off from Syria and Kosovo off from Serbia. Instead of allowing Kashmir to secede, India and Pakistan should reintegrate. Re-integration is the way to stop discrimination, pauperisation and submission to the West for all the nations of the East. The present collapse of the Western finance system makes such a move possible and desirable.
The priority of the principle of non-discrimination over the principle of self-determination should be proclaimed and established in the Middle East. The Jewish State is a pilot Western project, created by breaking off a slice of Syria for the implementation of "right" of the Jewish people to Political Self-Determination. It became a constant source of discrimination, it encourages secession and separatism, it is a military base for the West, it is a state with long history of aggression against its neighbours, a potential aggressor against Syria and Iran, and a transgressor against nuclear non-proliferation. All of this can be cured by the reintegration of Palestine into one non-discriminatory state. As the November 29, 1947 UN Resolution was never implemented, and as a separate Palestinian state has not been created due to the intransigence of Jewish elites, this project should be abandoned, and an integration project should be put in its place. The creation of a non-hegemonist, non-discriminatory state of all its citizens in place of the Jewish State could become the turning point for the transformation of the East from fragmentation to integration.
(2) Hegemony and Self Determination
The way of nations' SSD -- the way of their right to live in accordance with their values -- is blocked by the Western hegemony. This hegemony is not only material, as expressed in military conquests and colonisation, but cultural as well. This cultural hegemony has ancient roots, beginning with the old claims of the Pope of Rome to his primacy over all the Patriarchs. That hegemony is connected to, but not identical with, the Eurocentric world view. Eurocentrism is basically a parochial view by people who are not sufficiently aware of the rest of the world, and who thus sin against political correctness. But Western hegemonism reaches far beyond the parochial Eurocentric view. Edward Said correctly noted the drive for political and ideological dominance behind the cultural Eurocentric view. 
Dr J C Kapur quoted the "Macaulay Minute" document to the same effect: "We (the British) can't ever conquer India, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage. If the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation." This is not an exact quotation but rather the gist of Macaulay's speech. In other words, cultural hegemony is a prerequisite for lasting political and economic dominance, in Gramscian terms. 
In the last quarter of 20th century, hegemony shifted; its power base narrowed considerably. First, it became US hegemony; later, it became the hegemony of the finance-based and heavily Judaised American elites. This is not Western hegemony any more, but hegemony against the West as well as against the East. The hegemonic liberal paradigm is a hostile force standing against the peoples of the West as well -- the long truce between the hegemonists and the people of the West is over.
Hegemonists deny the right of systemic self-determination. They deny:
- The right of Iranians to live in accordance with their religious views and under the guidance of their spiritual leaders,
- The right of people of North Korea and Cuba to stay Communist,
- The right of Palestinians to elect the religious and solidarist Hamas government,
- The right of Malaysians and Russians to keep their TV under national control;.
Moreover, they deny:
- The right of the Austrians to elect a right-wing government,
- The right of Americans to ban abortions and celebrate Christmas openly,
- The right Frenchmen and Germans to disprove the Judaic worldview;
- The right of Swedes to limit immigration and cultural diversity.
In short, hegemonists deny the right of nations to choose their political system and to live in accordance with their own values. They claim there is only one acceptable and permitted system of values -- the Western, liberal, secular, civilised one -- while other systems are inferior, erroneous, criminal and defective. 
The nations of the West are still subjugated and do not dare to rise up in open revolt against the hegemonists. The East has a different attitude: nations and civilisations are entitled to live their own ways. The West is entitled to break with this hegemony, or to accept it, as it finds fit. The East claims the same right for its many ways. 
This was proclaimed by the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in his call for multipolarity. This doctrine of multipolarity is not limited to multiple power structures, as some people claim. It goes well beyond that: It is recognition of many different political and value systems, or recognition of the right of system self-determination. 
The hegemonists theoretically accept this right as it is stated in the UN Charter, but practically speaking they deny it, and carry on their fight against every other value system, while demanding submission to their hegemony on the civilisational level.
Now we can re-evaluate the Cold War: It was not an ideological war of two equal political systems, but rather a war of the East to live in accordance with its own values. The Communist East did not try to impose its values on the West, while the West denied the right of the East to live its own life the way it wanted.
Noam Chomsky tried to reduce this question of hegemony to its economic factor. He wrote that the US as the carrier of Western hegemonist spirit seeks "only" access to the markets and resources of other countries -- the "right to rob", in his words. That would be bad enough, but the hegemonists are not satisfied with sheer robbery; now they need only your money and labour, but your soul as well.
For this purpose they built up a system of single civilisational control over the world; they utilise the UN, International Tribunals, World Court, IEAE, tolerance-imposing bodies and other agencies. The leaders of the East still do not understand that these agencies are kept in the hegemonists' hands and they undermine the civilisational independence of the East.
Many nations recognise that the Western hegemonists are not satisfied with financial prey -- that they demand submission to their cultural diktat. That is why all Russian post-Soviet leaders (including Mr Medvedev) swear that they subscribe to the hegemonist value system, though they try to defend their natural resources. They agree to go to various Auschwitz-related events, build tolerance museums and denounce the spurious offences of racism and antisemitism. They do this in order to be kept off the shortlist of the enemies -- the "Axis of Evil." 
But Russia ­like other non-Core lands ­ does not really submit to the liberal paradigm, and therefore it remains an adversary, despite its leaders' claims to the contrary. A value system is a system defines sins and virtues, and these do not coincide for all civilisations.
Under hegemonist rule, Mankind not only switched from the carriage to the motor car, and not only gave up pleasant conversation in salons and gardens for watching CNN and MTV. The most advanced and progressive part of Mankind also forged the old sins into new virtues: A glutton became a sought-after restaurant columnist; a lecher paraded his pride along the city streets; a wrathful man called for the righteous bombing of Teheran; sloth was promoted to a way of life. Greed became the highest quality of the New Man. 
Systems are divided by different attitudes towards God and towards the Majority. The East ­ as well as the traditional West ­ prefers solidarity, loves God and rejects greed; while the hegemonist liberal paradigm celebrates individualism, approves of greed as a supreme virtue and leaves God a modest place among the personal belongings of the faithful. The Gospel-stated choice of God or Mammon has never been so obvious or so valid.
Now, as the Mammon-built card palaces collapse, the illusion of the Market as the only true measure of things is being swept away. Greed necessarily destroys societies. Societies that choose God are wiser than those that choose Mammon. 
In the West, believers are being persecuted; in the US it is forbidden to even give Easter or Christmas greetings. Teachers are being sacked for such public expressions. On the other side, the East is still full of faith. In Russia, the churches are full, street signs celebrate church feasts, and the demand for solidarity is as high as ever. The same tendency is apparent in Palestine, Turkey and Iran where people prefer faith-based solidarity to cold and rational secular nationalism. It could be the same in the West, if the great spiritual teachers of the past century, Simone Weil and T S Eliot, were only heeded today. Their defeat occasioned the rise of liberal hegemony. Only after the defeat of hegemony will the civilisations be able to respect each other and carry out their dialogue, all the while respecting each other's systemic self determination. At last we have the chance to fulfil this dream. 

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