The principle of national self-determination has been haunting the world since the French Revolution. There may be no other term in modern political discourse which is used with more emotion and passion. Recent history has known many wars fueled by conflicting interpretations of self-determination. Woodrow Wilson thought that implementation of the principle of self-determination would lead to a better world, a world without wars and “safe for democracy.” His secretary of state, Robert Lansing, had doubts. He suspected the concept of selfdetermination to be “loaded with dynamite” (Pomerance 1982: 74) and capable of causing even more bloodshed because it “will raise hopes which can never be realized” (Cobban 1970: 62). The principle of national self-determination as a moral issue dominated much of Europe’s politics during the latter half of the nineteenth century (De Shalit 1996; Freeman 1996; Horowitz 1997; Moore 1997; Tilly 1993; Werther 1992). Woodrow Wilson led the United States into World War I in order to make the world safe for democracy and national self-determination, while Lenin led the Soviet Union out of the war proclaiming the principle of nationalities as a new guiding principle for a socialist world order. Later the principle of national selfdetermination was universalized and legalized. While in the post-World War I era people talked only about the principle of national self-determination, after World War II international conventions established the right of peoples to national self-determination. Today, many international jurists agree that national self-determination is no longer solely a moral demand and a political principle but, in many circumstances, a legal right recognized by international law. Indeed, national self-determination appears after 1945 in all-important documents relating to the organization of the international community. The United Nations Charter speaks about “the principle of equal rights and of self-determination of peoples, " while the International Covenant of Human Rights says that “all peoples and nations shall have the right of self-determination” (Emerson 1964: 27). The ambiguity and ambivalence contained in this principle of selfdetermination are best shown by the fact that opposing sides in many international conflicts often justify their positions by resorting to it. They can do so because there is no agreement on what is “national, " what is the “self” and what “determination” means. The principle has thus acquired almost universal acceptance, but the interpretations to which it is subjected continue to be widely divergent. Let us be aware that there are principles of national self-determination - not one principle which applies to all situations. We have to differentiate between “external self-determination” (“the right of every people to choose sovereignty under which they live”) and “internal self-determination” (“the right of every people to select its own form of government”) (Pomerance 1982: 1; Kiss 1986). External self-determination may also mean the right of a nominally independent state to true independence, while internal national self-determination may also refer to minority regimes, regional autonomy schemes, or federalism within an established state. That means that one may talk about two varieties of external self-determination: internationally recognized independence for a people and true independence for an already existing state. While the Poles and Czechs before World War I, the Lithuanians and Georgians in the late 1980s and the Chechens in the 1990s all fought for national self-determination in order to attain legally recognized statehood, the Hungarians in 1956, Czechoslovaks in 1968, Poles and Romanians in the 1970s and 1980s strove to achieve self-determination in the sense that they wanted their national independence to be true and “real.” In addition to external self-determination there would be three varieties of internal self-determination: democracy in a homogeneous state; autonomy or federalism for a distinct people within a democratic state (e.g. the Hungarians in Slovakia); or autonomy/federalism for a distinct group within a non-democratic system (e.g. the “titular nations” within the Soviet Federation). The distinction between states and nations (or peoples, nationalities, ethnic groups, or any other distinct population) with regard to national self-determination is a crucial one. While there are thousands of nations in the ethnocultural sense on the globe - all potential candidates for external sovereignty or internal autonomy - there are less than 200 sovereign states and only about 15 states in which state and nation completely overlap. Sometimes external and internal self-determination are completely interwoven and cannot be separated. For example, the choice given to East Timor in 1999 involved both external self-determination (independence or no independence) and internal self-determination (autonomy within Indonesia). Different from political self-determination is “cultural self-determination, " the right to teach and study in one’s own language, to develop an autonomous culture and to resist assimilation by a dominant power (Faust 1980: 6). Cultural self-determination may again be both external and internal. For example, the derussification of language, culture, and education after independence in the former Republics of the Soviet Union (e.g. the abandonment of the Cyrillic script and a return to the Arabic or Latin script) has to be seen as cultural selfdetermination vis-à-vis the former external colonizer. On the other hand the Berbers’ demand for cultural autonomy within Algeria is directed against the same policy of “Arabization” which is regarded as cultural liberation by the Arabs and oppression by the Berbers (Maddy-Weitzman 1999). Demands for cultural selfdetermination may be linked to a specific territory (e.g. Transylvania in Romania) or it may be raised as a demand for personal-cultural self-determination (e.g. the Jews in Eastern Europe after World War I). In the twentieth-century Third World, there is also a crucial distinction between “colonial (or better, anticolonial) self-determination, " which is the liberation of Asian or African peoples in a colony from European colonial rule (e.g. Algerian or Palestinian selfdetermination), and secessionist self-determination, which represents a people’s aspiration to break out of the postcolonial state and achieve liberation for one Afro-Asian people from rule by another Afro-Asian people (e.g. Kurdish or Southern Sudanese self-determination). In the 1990s in Eastern Europe we have seen a variation of this distinction between self-determination by recognized political units and self-determination by peoples who don’t reside in recognized political units. Federal states within the Soviet Union (Ukraine, Belarus, Estonia, Lithuania, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, etc.), Yugoslavia (e.g. Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina), and Czechoslovakia (Czech and Slovak Republics) were recognized by the European Union, the UN and the international community as legitimate units for external self-determination. This recognition was not accorded to the Tatars and Chechens in the Russian Federation, the Ossets in Georgia, the Hungarians in Serbia (Vojvodina), the Serbs and Croats in Bosnia, the Turks in Bulgaria, the Gagauz in Moldova or the Russians in Kazakhstan, the Ukraine and Moldova (Smith 1996; Tappe 1995). National self-determination is, at first glance, clearly a democratic principle. Or, as Richard Falk (2002) puts it: The idea of self-determination recognizes that the legitimacy of any political arrangement depends on the will of the people subject to its authority and is closely associated with ideas of democracy and fundamental human rights. The whole history of the right of self-determination is, for better and worse, the story of adaptation to the evolving struggles of peoples variously situated to achieve effective control over their own destinies, especially in reaction to circumstances that are discriminatory and oppressive.
|Title of host publication||Nationalism and Democracy|
|Subtitle of host publication||Dichotomies, Complementarities, Oppositions|
|Publisher||Taylor and Francis|
|Number of pages||28|
|State||Published - 1 Jan 2010|
Bibliographical notePublisher Copyright:
© 2010 Selection and editorial matter, André Lecours and Luis Moreno; individual chapters, the contributors.