Europe in challenge by the right of people to self-determination

By Ferhat Mehenni, president of the provisional Kabyle government in exile

The self-determination referendum of Catalonia on October 1, 2017 plunges the European Union into a crisis that affects its referential principles.
Suddenly, the right of people to self-determination, one of the cornerstones of their identity and international law, has become suspect and toxic for its members, of which it is nevertheless a basic element!
The alignment of European countries with the Madrid position, which refuses to recognize the verdict of the Catalan polls, is in itself a denial of democracy.
By denying one of its people the right to decide peacefully and in accordance with pre-established forms of its future, the EU turns its back on the law, contributes to international jurisprudence in its disfavor and creates itself, an illness auto-immune (Editorial note:  it is a term of medicine, which refers to a dysfunction of the immune system that attacks the normal components of the body. The immune system supposed to protect the body turns against its own organism, in the case of Europe, destroys itself by destroying its own values and its own foundation).
Indeed, when it acts in the manner of a Union of States to the detriment of a common project, in the respect and the valorization of its people, the European Union jeopardizes its own existence and weakens its voice in the world.
Is it a falling mask revealing a Europe with “geometrically variable” principles, or is it simply a “whim”, a sort of right-hander that is conceded to a country in many ways respectable, but in which persists real hints of Francoism?
In both cases, the Cartesian Europe, the Europe of enlightenment regresses, begins its decline by inverting the scale of values which until then established the primacy of international law over that of each country.
To say that Catalonia was bound to respect constitutional legality and the rule of law without first having examined the conformity of the Spanish Basic Law with the United Nations Charter, which explicitly guarantees the right of people to govern themselves is to ignore the norm that maintains, as best as possible, peace in the world. This would be a drift with incalculable consequences for the future of international stability.
The paticular will of the Catalan people for their independence is irreducible, by any process whatsoever. The wisest course for Europe, it is not too late, would be to take note and try to get Madrid to go on the road of negotiations with the legitimate representatives of Barcelona.
Is the fear of a “domino effect” of the Catalan case on other people of Europe so alarming, to oppose it as an incomprehensible and clumsy refusal to accept?

To adopt the “ostrich policy” in this case is a renunciation of the intelligence of which Europe, however, does not lack..

Today, a European leader is in exile in another European country. And people are arrested for their opinions. This is in itself an abnormal situation and revealing of a burning question that Europe should approach with more wisdom and refinement. There is even a need to accompany the ongoing process in order to develop a new modus operandi appeased over an question that will become recurrent in the years to come, both in Europe and around the world.
For the moment, the violations of human rights and those of the people of the Union by Spain undermine the European institutions supposed to ensure their respect (European Court of the humans right or that of the justice).
In some ways, a form of dictatorship has just been established on the Iberian Peninsula. In any case, this is the feeling and the experience of the Catalans.
Europe, which had however turned the page of authoritarianism in the seventies, after the democratization of Greece, Portugal and Spain, has returned without taking care.
As it stands, Europe can no longer denounce Russia, or elsewhere in the world, what it authorizes at home, without calling in to question its own credibility and expose itself to an argument that would send it back to its own shortcommings.
Spain has placed itself in a dead end. Europe, by its approach, has become hostage.
Now that the Catalan institutions are dissolved, how are we going to govern without democracy? Should a policeman, a soldier or a Madrid official be put behind or in the place of every Catalan? And that, until when?
This Spanish demonstration of power, supported by Europe, appears as the premise of a new era that is less peaceful and more unstable. It also reinforces the disenchantment between Europe and the people’s groups who form it and whom it would be better to hear.The right of people to self-determination is inalienable and irrepressible. History testifies to this.
It is urgent for Europe to imbued with it and accompany the inevitable reconfiguration of borders, both at home and in the world, especially where, in Africa and Asia, colonization had created countries without account of the reality of the people involved. Where, yesterday, colonialism had preferred to oppose states without a nation to nations without a state, it is indispensable today to make the opposite choice, that of a geopolitics in conformity with the aspirations of people to dispose each of their own state. The demands for independence of many people are most legitimate and must be taken seriously.
After, Quebec, Scotland, Kurdistan and Catalonia, Lombardy and Veneto, here is Kabylia which is fully in this dynamic and postulates to live in peace, free and standing. To this end, Kabylia has just made public the memorandum it sent to the UN in this regard on 28/09/2017, to claim the formal recognition of its right to self-determination.
With the reasonable hope that the European Union will recover and act again, in the continuity of what has made its continent, a cradle of thought and human values, Kabylia does nothing but submit, in all modesty, a reflection on the risks of falling values around the planet. The danger that this can have a devastating effect on the world is all the greater as it starts from Europe.
Europe in challenge by the right of people to self-determination


  • Post-colonial independence movements: a difficult task to become a sovereign country in today’s Africa.
    By DAVID FORNIÈS 16.11.2017

    Somaliland, a state that is not recognized by anyone but that is independent since 1990, has just celebrated its third presidential election. The case of this former UK colony is surely the most consolidated one among current attempts to achieve independence in Africa, but at the same time exemplifies how difficult it is to get foreign recognition, even when independence is implemented on the ground. Africa, after witnessing how virtually all the states that make it up came into existence in the 1950-1980 period, has only given rise to three post-colonial independent countries: Namibia in 1990 (from South Africa), Eritrea in 1993 (from Ethiopia) and South Sudan in 2011 (from Sudan). Still, pro-independence movements do exist in a number of other African countries. Which are the main ones nowadays? North to south and east to west, this article highlights a dozen of them.


    A country lying in the northwest of Somalia’s internationally recognized borders, Somaliland was colonized by the British while the rest of Somalia was dominated by Italy. In 1960 Somaliland was independent for five days, before joining the former Italian colony to make the new independent state of Somalia. In 1990, however, Somalilanders re-established their independence amid the chaos of the Somali civil war. Since then, Somaliland has held three presidential and two parliamentary elections. No other state has recognized its independence, even if it maintains diplomatic relations with neighbouring states such as Ethiopia —which holds a consulate in Somaliland capital Hargeisa— and Djibouti, as well as with several European countries. The United Arab Emirates and Somaliland signed an important diplomatic and military agreement in 2017.

    Southern Cameroons

    Unlike the rest of Cameroon —which was subject to French rule during colonial time—, Southern Cameroons was a British mandate territory before decolonization. A pro-independence movement has been active in Southern Cameroons since the 1970s. Common perception there is that the Cameroonian government has politically and economically marginalized Southern Cameroonians. After years of relative calm, tension is again on the rise since the end of 2016, when protests flared in Southern Cameroons asking the central government to facilitate the use of common law and to restore a pre-1972 system by which Cameroon was a two-state federation made up of Southern Cameroons and the formerly French part of the country. A group of Southern Cameroonians declaredsymbolic independence 1 October. Subsequent crackdown by the Cameroonian armed forces left dozens killed.

    Western Sahara

    Pro-independence, anti-colonial Polisario Front proclaimed the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic in 1976, after Spain —the colonizing power— illegally transferred the territory to Morocco and Mauritania. Morocco is currently occupying 80% of Western Sahara, where Moroccan settlers are altering the territory’s previous demographic makeup. The remaining 20% —mostly desert in the interior parts— is controlled by the Sahrawi Republic. The Polisario continues to demand, as agreed with Morocco in 1988, the holding of a referendum on self-determination. The Alawite kingdom, however, has withdrawn from its previous commitment, and now merely offers Sahrawis an autonomy plan. The Sahrawi population has repeatedly revolted against Moroccan occupation, most recently during the 2010-2011 Gdeim Izik protests.


    Western Zambia’s Barotseland had been given a measure of recognition by the British during colonial rule, following the existence there of an indigenous traditional kingdom dating back to the 19th century. At the time of independence (1964), the Barotse king and the new Zambian government signed an agreement, by which Barotseland would retain a degree of autonomy. But the current Barotse pro-sovereignty movement complains that the Zambian government has not fulfilled its commitments, turning Barotseland into a non self-governing province and economically marginalizing it. Since 2010, several pro-independence protests have taken place to demand restoration of Barotse sovereignty.


    The independence of Nigeria (1960) was followed by various political, regional and ethnic tensions that reached their climax in 1966, when tens of thousands of Igbos were murdered in the north of the country in a mass pogrom. The following year, the Igbo movement proclaimed the independence of the state of Biafra, which included all of oil-rich southeast Nigeria, the homeland of the Igbo as well as that of other peoples. After a terrible war of independence against Nigeria (1967-1970) that killed between 500,000 and 2 million, Biafra was defeated. For decades, independence dreams had seemed gone. However, in the 1990s the secession movement began to reorganize itself and, since 2015, it has been carrying out mass mobilizations, always with the Igbo people as a support base.


    Since the 1960s, several armed movements have sought to achieve Cabinda independence by military means. Cabinda is an oil-rich coastal exclave (that is, a territory without physical connection with the rest of the country) of Angola bearing certain pre-colonial and colonial features differentiated from the rest of the country. This fact is argued by pro-independence proponents as a proof that Cabinda never belonged to Angola. FLEC is the most important among secessionist political-military groups, but is at the moment internally divided. FLEC maintains an armed struggle against the Angolan army; in 2016 and 2017, clashes have left several people dead. The Angolan government not only chases FLEC members but also attacks the freedom of expression and association of non-secessionist Cabindan grassroots right groups. The most well-known case abroad is that of Mpalabanda rights group, which was banned by an Angolan court in 2006.


    Unlike many other African independence movements, Kabylia is not based on a pre-existing colonial entity, but rather on the right to self-determination of a people defined in linguistic and cultural terms: the Kabyles, one of North Africa’s Amazigh peoples. The Movement for Self-determination of Kabylia (MAK) advocates the independence of a Kabyle secular republic from Algeria, a state it accuse of violating human rights, attacking Kabylia’s Amazigh personality by imposing a Arab-Islamic identity, and marginalizing its territory. In 2010, MAK created the Kabyle Government in Exile. Every year, the party mobilizes tens of thousands in self-determination demonstrations.


    Lying in southern Senegal, Casamance is almost cut from the rest of the country by Gambia. The Casamance movement began to organize itself during the French colonial era, but it was not until the 1980s that it launched a political and armed struggle for independence, when the Movement of Democratic Forces of the Casamance (MFDC) was established. The group, later on, suffered several internal divisions, while at the same time a huge social rejection against the military conflict emerged. Under the auspices of the Community of Sant’Egidio, peace talks —still ongoing— were launched between Senegal and the MFDC in 2012. The Senegalese government has promised economic development in Casamance and a decentralization plan for Senegal as a whole.


    East Ethiopia is a dry and impoverished area, almost exclusively populated by Somalis, who on paper enjoy self-government under the Ethiopian federal system but that are effectively ruled by the central state. Some 40% to 70% of Ethiopia’s Somalis, depending on sources, are members of the Ogadeni clan, among which the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) has its main support base. The ONLF is a politico-military group established in 1984 during the dictatorship of Mengistu Haile Mariam aimed at achieving Ogaden self-determination —including an option for independence. After Mengistu was overthrown, the ONLF won in 1992 the election for the newly-established Assembly of the Somali Region, with 60% of the seats. The party sought to start a self-determination process, but the Ethiopian government prevented it from doing do and pushed the ONLF out of power. The group then went underground. In 2007 it launched a violent escalation, which was answered by the Ethiopian army with repression and murder of civilians. Since 2012 peace talks between the ONLF and the Ethiopian government, under Kenyan facilitation, have been ongoing.


    The south of Ethiopia is populated by dozens of different peoples, the largest of which is by far the Oromo people. The Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) was born in the 1970s to seek an end to what Oromo nationalism says is the colonial-like yoke of central and northern Ethiopians —the Amharas and the Tigrayans. Some sectors of the Oromo national movement want the establishment of an independent Oromo republic while others seek a democratic reform that gives the Oromo people a genuine measure of self-government inside Ethiopia. In the last years, the OLF has carried out several attacks against the Ethiopian police and armed forces, which have coincided in time with Oromo civil society protests against authoritarianism, corruption and territorial expansion of Addis Ababa at the expense of Oromo land.


    The rise of the Independent State of the Azawad in 2012 in the north of Mali was as glaring as its demise. In January, MNLA forces (a mainly Tuareg politico-military group) launched a campaign that allowed it to control more than 700,000 square kilometers. In April, the group proclaimed independence, not being recognized by any country. In June, in just three days, the MNLA lost control of all north Mali’s major cities at the hands of an armed Islamist coalition, independent Azawad ceasing to exist in practice. The 2012 events meant one more milestone for the Malian Tuareg movement, which has since the 1960s tried to achieve either autonomous status or full sovereignty. Such political goals are echoed by their ethnic kin in neighbouring Niger.

    An emerging crisis? The case of Kenya

    Until recently, Kenya had found itself largely free from secessionist tensions, exception made for some Somali irredentist demands in the east. Things, however, could be changing. Calls from the Mombasa Republican Council for the establishment of a coastal independent state emerged in 2012. The demand has not completely ceased, and as a result of the 2017 presidential election crisis, two coastal governors have put the idea back on the table. It is not the only debate on independence that has emerged from the electoral conflict: governors and MPs opposing president Uhuru Kenyatta have proposed the partition of Kenya into two countries, and have filed a bill to make it effective. Under that scheme, western and coastal regions —the areas that turned their backs on Kenyatta— would secede from Kenya’s central lands. The demand might be temporary, but it is also true that it has become part of the Kenyan political debate.

    On May 29, 2018, Syria became the fifth UN member to formally recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, self-proclaimed republics considered by the international community as an integral part of Georgia. An unexpected and controversial decision, an opportunity for us to revisit the history of the region, and the diplomatic dealings that surround it.
    The reactions to this news were not long in coming. While the decision was obviously welcomed on the side of Sukhumi and Tskhinvali – capitals of Abkhazia and South Ossetia – it aroused the ire of the European Union and the United States, allies of Georgia. It is a shame for countries that have openly supported the creation of another entity with disputed status, Kosovo, before recognizing the independence of the Kosovar state in 2008. Had Abkhazia condemned the strikes of the international coalition against the Syrian regime, this official recognition is at least unexpected, at a time when Tbilisi and Moscow wish to normalize their broken diplomatic relations in 2008 following the South Ossetia war.
    While the USSR is living its last hours, these two territories formerly integrated into the Soviet Socialist Republic of Georgia but enjoying a certain autonomy demand their maintenance in the Soviet Union. The USSR no longer, Abkhazia and South Ossetia proclaim their independence, which will be obtained de facto at the cost of heavy losses after two wars against Georgia. While South Ossetia was comparatively unaffected by comparison, the Abkhazian war (August 1992 – September 1993) claimed the lives of about 20,000 people and left 200 to 300,000 refugees – mostly Georgians – to leave the country. There followed years of blockades and economic sanctions that hurt the two self-proclaimed republics. The second Ossetian war broke out in August 2008, when the Georgian army bombed the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, to bring the separatist republic back into its fold. It was as a result of this “five-day” war and the quick victory of the Russo-Ossetian troops over the Georgian army that Russia officially recognized the independence of the two republics. It will be followed by Venezuela, Nicaragua and the Pacific Islands: Nauru, Tuvalu and Vanuatu (the latter two will come back later on their decision).
    Why would Russia, trying to improve its image internationally, take the risk of being singled out again when it is already under US sanctions? In recognizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Syria is depriving itself of US and Western funds that could be released to rebuild the country through the Consolidated Appropriations Act signed by Donald Trump in 2017. This measure has to purpose of “countering the influence and aggression of Russia” and supports “civil society in Europe and Eurasia”. Indeed, effective Georgian lobbying has ensured that none of the funds allocated could be used to support the annexation of Crimea or made available to countries that have recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The island of Nauru has already paid for it and has lost the financial support of the United States.
    It had been years since any other UN member had established diplomatic relations with Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The establishment of diplomatic relations between Syria, Abkhazia and South Ossetia under the leadership of Russia can obviously be likened to a “small service between friends” as stated on Twitter journalist Monde Isabelle Mandraud. Syria’s unwavering and historical ally, Russia is militarily and diplomatically defending the Damascus regime, which is about to win the war. The financial support and military protection provided by Moscow to the Abkhazians and Ossetians is also known to all. From this point of view, this official recognition is logical and the role played by Moscow is obvious. But an unknown historical factor can explain this strong act.
    As Syria plunged into an endless civil war, the Abkhazian government wanted the Syrian Abkhaz to return to the country. If their exact number can not be determined with precision, it is estimated that the Abkhaz diaspora in Syria would comprise between 10 and 30,000 individuals, but this figure could actually be much higher. The grouping under the same name of Circassians, also called Cherkessians or Adygeans, of all peoples of Abkhazian-Adygean origin (from the North West Caucasus) living in Syria prevents an exact census. This Circassian diaspora is estimated at about 300,000 individuals in Syria and Jordan. There are 3.7 million Circassians worldwide.

    Under the leadership of the Abkhaz State Committee for Repatriation, about 500 Abkhaz from Syria have already been hosted in the small Black Sea Republic since the beginning of the war. The presence in Syria of these brotherly Caucasian peoples, mostly Muslims (the Abkhazians and Ossetians are now predominantly orthodox) has its source in a tragedy.
    The conquest of the Caucasus and the Russification undertaking led respectively by the Tsars Alexander I, Nicholas I and Alexander II between 1817 and 1864 sentenced these Circassians to exile. If the figures are contested, Tsarist documents mention 400,000 killed Circassians (including Abkhazians and Ossetians) and 500,000 exiles who will take refuge in the Ottoman Empire. This ethnic cleansing of the mountain peoples of the Caucasus by the Russian Empire is now considered by some researchers as the first modern genocide. It is called this massacre and the exile that followed “Makhadjirstvo”. Circassians who had to flee the Caucasus are considered as “Mahadjiri”, an Arabic word meaning “immigrants” or the act of performing the “hijra”, ie the resettlement of a Muslim to another Muslim country. Mahadjiri that we find today mainly in Turkey and Syria.

    If this official recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia by Syria would not have been possible without the pressure of the Kremlin, historical elements can better understand this unexpected gesture. The question now is whether other recognitions will follow, especially among the Arab countries. It will be interesting to observe the position of Jordan, which has strong links with Abkhazia and Iran, which is close to Moscow. As an Abkhazian proverb says, “patience is one of the signs of wisdom” (oidin из признаков мудреца – терпение). If Abkhazia and South Ossetia will have to wait, this official recognition is a source of hope for their inhabitants.

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