Monday, August 11, 2008

On the Cuban View of the Russian Invasion of Ossetia/Georgia


En el bote iba remando
Por el lago seductor,
Con el sol que era oro puro
Y en el alma más de un sol.

Y a mis pies vi de repente,
Ofendido del hedor
Un pez muerto, un pez hediondo
En el bote remador

José Martí Versos Sencillos (1891). ("In the boat I was rowing By the seductive lake, With the sun that was pure gold and in my soul more than mere sun. And at my feet I suddenly saw Offended by its stench, A dead fish, a disgusting fish, In the row boat ").

Cuba and Russia have been moving back together as Russian wealth has made it possible for Putin to assert at least a shadow of the policies and objectives of the old Soviet Union. That, like the sun of a golden are now past, is alluring to those who once basked in its golden warmth--like depictions of heavenly spaces in Byzantine frescoes. But there is a rotting fish in that golden aura of part striving for a Stalinist internationalist world order--the nationalities problem.

And so it is that the Russian invasion of Georgia in defense of the autonomous region of South Ossetia, has posed a problem for that old friend of the Soviet Union--Fidel Castro. Fidel Castro Ruz, Reflections of Fidel: Cannon Fodder for the Market, Granma, August 12, 2008. This rotten fish makes the usual analysis difficult. And so Fidel Castro falls back on an old bromide--the Americans are at fault! Yet that also smells for Fidel as he rows his boat toward that Stalinist utopia that seems even more elusive as the fiction of the Old Soviet Union is replaced by the fascist authoritarianism of the new Russia. But still--loyalty counts for something.

And so the sadly repetitive ethnic warfare, that boils beneath a global commitment to the maintenance of multi-ethnic states whose diverse citizens are theoretically guaranteed equivalent civil and political status, is reduced to a commodification of American market power. This is a hard act for Fidel--who must concentrate on Georgian efforts to pacify South Ossetia while ignoring Russia's attempts to do the same in Muslim Chechnya.

But no matter--the difference is the United States. An odd choice, but a sensible one from an anachronistic perspective. Yet it was more clever than that. For Fidel suggests that the Georgian affair was concocted for the amusement of the American media and its efforts to jostle for viewership in a hotly fought campaign for global markets.

Why did Georgia choose August 8th, at the time the Olympic Games were being opened in Beijing, to occupy Tskhinvali, the capital of the Autonomous Republic? On that day, four billion people on the entire planet were watching on television the marvelous spectacle with which China opened those Games. Only the American people could not enjoy a live broadcast of the exciting festival of friendship among all the people of the world that was staged there. The monopoly over the broadcasting rights had been bought by a television channel that had paid $900 million and wanted to earn maximum commercial dividends for every minute of broadcasting time. The rival corporations got even by covering news of the war in the Caucasus, since this was nobody’s exclusive. The dangers of a serious conflict were threatening the world.

Reflections of Fidel: Cannon Fodder for the Market, supra. But more than that--the Georgians deserved their fate at the hands of the noble Russians--who had only the best interests of the South Ossetians at heart--after all Georgia has sent troops to Iraq at the behest of the Americans (and might send South Ossetains as well). "It is only natural that people from South Ossetia do not wish to be sent as soldiers to fight in Iraq or in other parts of the planet at the behest of imperialism." (Id.).

And thus we have the ultimate reductionism--a Georgian adventure for the amusement of the global (American) media that threatens nuclear war for the profit of the news media--that from Castro's perspective is no media at all. "Saakashvili, on his own, would never have launched himself into the adventure of sending the Georgian army into South Ossetia, where he would be clashing with Russian troops stationed there as a peace force. A nuclear war is not something to fool around with; and providing cannon fodder to the market cannot be rewarded." (Id.).

Georgia is a small actor on the world stage, South Ossetia even smaller. Regions and Territories: South Ossetia, BBC News Online, August 12, 2008. Russia is not, nor is the American media. The nationalities issue appears like a small nuisance on the road to the embrace of greater values. Yet it has the power to undo the nicely crafted system of political ordering post 1945 as readily as it undid the old and stable 19th century order based on Imperial control. Castro adds the interesting wrinkle--it is not only states that now drive the politics of sub national agitation, but any set of organizations with power to influence actors. In this sense, American media, like large corporations or larger states, can as easily influence political events--and the construction of demos, ethnos, and communal relationships, as traditional political sovereigns. Yet that insight suggests as great a danger for Cuba as it does for the integrity of Georgia--whose fate suggest the integrity of other multi cultural states--not the least of which include Russia and China (and in that sense Castro appears to be cheering the wrong side)--or that of other politically aware ethnic territories. And so Fidel rows his cosmological boat to that golden sunset of completion, only to discover a rotting fish in the boat, the odor and presence of which cannot be avoided on the journey of the rower to a place now less perfect for the fish and its odor. "Let’s hope that the Olympic Games can continue without being interrupted by a very serious crisis. The women’s volleyball match against a good U.S. team was great and the baseball has yet to begin." Reflections of Fidel: Cannon Fodder for the Market, supra.

Thus, of course, another consequence of the West's foolish adventurism in the former Yugoslavia, and lately, in the independence of Kosovo. It is ironic, indeed, that the there should be such a great concern about the territorial integrity of Georgia almost immediately after years of hostility to such integrity for Serbian territory. See, e.g., UN Split Over Over Georgia Resolutions, BBC News Online, Aug. 22, 2008. In both cases, larger and more powerful states, with all sorts of agendas--vengeance, advantage, etc.--have paid lip service to the ideals of multi-ethnic states as they conspire to fracture all but the largest states into such small units that they would have no choice but to become dependent on the few remaining large states. But there may be logic to the apparent inconsistencies. Thus, from Kosovo to Georgia--from the United States, the European Union, to Russia--there appears to be an attempt to reconstitute empire, if only by default. In a world in which all states are equal--but only a handful are large multi-ethnic and multi-national political entities among a large number of tribal states--the reconstitution of the family of nations along a more formally constituted hierarchical basis cannot be far behind.

Consequently, perhaps, the world is embarking on a two track approach to the constitution of states. For the larger states--The United States, the European Union, China, Brazil, India--will continue to advance the ideas of states based on popular sovereignty grounded in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious demos. A limited autonomy might be possible within these systems, but the power of the center to reach all of the national territory, and the legitimacy of efforts to forge a single political community of shared values will be legitimated and privileged. Their constitutions, political philosophies and legal structures will reflect this to various extents and the ideals will continue to serve as the framework for state construction within the international organs they control, not the least of which will be the United Nations. For the others, there will be the comfort of tribalism--ethnos as demos. And the possibility of manipulation by the larger multi-ethnic states. The Chinese seem to understand this better than most, when in a subtly critical editorial they noted:

Georgia, a pro-Western ally of the U.S, is intent on asserting its authority over South Ossetia - population of about 70,000 – which is within Georgia, but has an autonomous government. Many South Ossetians support unification with North Ossetia, which would make them part of Russia. It is reported by many Western media that Russia supports the South Ossetian government, has given passports to many in South Ossetia, and calls them Russian citizens. Cease Fire for Olympics, People's Daily On Line, August 12, 2008.

The mechanics will be either autonomy as virtual independence (the approach to the breakup of Georgia) or the Yugoslav solution. Where tensions remain high, Ariel Sharon proved the effectiveness of a stricter separation. As the Russians have suggested with respect to their designs on Georgia: ""Our draft resolution is a reconfirmation of the six-point agreement, and there's no territorial integrity in the six principles," Vitaly Churkin, Russia's ambassador to the UN, said after a council meeting on Thursday." UN Split Over Over Georgia Resolutions, BBC NewsOnline, Aug. 22, 2008.

And there is some value to this two track approach--especially for the fantasy states that are the detritus of colonial expansion--either European, Russian, Persian, Spanish, Indian or Asian--a certain amount of reconstitution might well be necessary, starting with the organizational principle of ethnos as demos. But for these states the real long term solution, if they mean to retain their independence and avoid recolonization by the larger states (in one form of another), would be to follow the example of the European Union--from ethnos to demos within more or less well constituted supra-national governance organizations. But none of us may live to see this, despite its glimmering in organizations like the African Union. Too bad--for them. For others, like Georgia--the solution is to gravitate to an existing union.

This reconstitution of the construction and integrity of states is the really rotten fish in the rowboat.

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