Tuesday, March 04, 2014

The Crimean Tatars and the problem of forcibly homogenized nation states

The forced ethnic homogenization of territories characterized much of Europe including Crimea during the 20th century. As I explained to my students here in Africa the ultimate logic of the nation state is a single political state for each ethnic group and no national or ethnic minorities in any state. Or to put it more succinctly, because people had neighbors that spoke different languages than they did they went and expelled or killed their neighbors. Crimea was no stranger to this violence. During World War II Soviet ethnic cleansing and Nazi genocide succeeded in greatly reducing the ethnic diversity of the peninsula. The Germans, Jews, Crimean Tatars, Greeks, Armenians, and Bulgarians all were almost completely eliminated from the territory which became mostly Russian with a Ukrainian minority. Since 1987 some of the people forcibly deported by the Stalin regime and their descendants particularly among the indigenous Crimean Tatars have returned to their ancestral homeland. They unlike many nationalities in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s  have committed themselves to living in a multi-ethnic Crimea as a constituent component of a larger Ukrainian state. Many of the descendants of Russian settlers that took their lands and homes after 1944, however, have not moved beyond the idea of living in ethnically uniform territories and have opposed the return of the Crimean Tatars. Now, the Russian state under Putin has intervened militarily in Crimea on the side of these Russian chauvinists to separate the territory from Ukraine and place it under the political rule of Moscow. The use of partition, expulsion, and genocide to eliminate the "problem" of having neighbors of a different ethnicity has resulted in humanitarian disasters throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa. It is time for people in the 21st century to start thinking beyond the idea of living in ethnically uniform states controlled by people of the exact same cultural background and realize that just because your neighbor speaks a different language or belongs to a different religion does not mean he is your enemy.

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