If they want to leave, why not let them?

Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are ramping up their demands for independence. Russian Parliament has asked President Medvedev to approve their bids for secession from Georgia saying they “have legal grounds and are morally justifiable”. So what right does Georgia have to stop them leaving?

The history of the 20th Century is dominated by independence movements in post-colonial regions. Yet every year millions of dollars are spent by countries all over the world to keep regions whose populations would rather leave. The Indian Constitution makes it illegal for states to secede, but is this fair in a democratic country? Much of the 98% muslim population of the Kashmir valley would like to join Pakistan, and this result has some support amongst Indians too.

The US constitution does not deny the right to secesion and Vermont has a sizable secessionist movement. In June a sailor, Stuart Hill declared the independence of “The Crown Dependency of Forvik” on an island off scotland. But Michael Smith (from Utah, USA) on the BBC Cornwall blog demands “tell us what has independence done for anyone…independence is only as good as your income per capita”. So should people be able to claim independence for their home regions, or should it be legal to pressure them to stay?

29 Responses to “If they want to leave, why not let them?”

  1. 1 Dennis
    August 25, 2008 at 19:16

    If someone wants to leave, then they should be allowed to…


  2. 2 Dennis
    August 25, 2008 at 19:17

    We are forgetting the Basque country in Spain….they also want to leave Spain’s mainland…


  3. 3 Brett
    August 25, 2008 at 19:52

    I would love to see Vermont lock up shop and tell the US “Peace out” lol.

    Georgia doesn’t want to let go because it will look like Russia got its way.

    Theres always reasons for and agaisnt it, but if the majority wants it, its only fair to go along 😉

  4. August 25, 2008 at 19:55

    I don’t have a problem with it, but a lot of other people might. Independence for Kurds would mean tearing away a chunk of both Iraq and Turkey, finally uniting Kurdistan into a very ticked-off group of people, which, for some reason, the West is leary of. It would also mean tearing away a chunk of Spain and France to unite Basques (as Dennis points out), but also Lapps from Finland, etc. Where it becomes interesting is with Native American nations (labeled “nations” in the lower 48 of the United States so that the U.S. Government could declare war on them). No doubt, many of these groups would elect to secede, as would Native groups throughout the Americas. This is all fine with me, but what seems to gall the governments they would all be seceding from is this notion of land as real estate, and more importantly that it and the people on it somehow “belong” to that Nation.

    This is a thick subject, one worth debating. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to have engendered much of a response.

  5. 5 Jens
    August 25, 2008 at 20:08

    i would like new mexico to leave. we have oil and plenty of nukes, you know……would put us the risk of an invasion though….

  6. August 25, 2008 at 20:15

    Not yet, but it’s only been up for half an hour!

  7. 7 Katharina in Ghent
    August 25, 2008 at 21:24

    I listened to this guy on “Europe Today” (BBC World Service) and he summed it up nicely: Russia clearly lacks the foresight when they support South Ossetia and Abkhazia, because there are plenty of groups within Russia who would like their independence, starting with Chechnya. Also, Russia didn’t support Kosovo, so where does this change of mind come from, other than to anger Georgia (and possibly the West, if it actually cares).

    In the end of the day, the question is often whether it’s actually economically sensible to achieve independence, I’m sure there are plenty of examples out there who would have no economic viability whatsoever on their own.

  8. 8 Roberto
    August 25, 2008 at 22:53

    Scotland to be assuming control over the North Sea oil platforms.

    They also says the UK is going to have to start importing their haggis now.

  9. 9 Dan
    August 26, 2008 at 00:19

    Are you kidding? Every country has the absolute right of territorial integrity. Russia brutally invaded Georgia.
    The strength of any country is more than its resources and GDP it is in the diverse people within that country that come together to build a nation. That is what makes the USA great.
    If Russia wants to become monolitic or develop monolitic nations then they will cease as a people and culture.

  10. 10 Bob in Queensland
    August 26, 2008 at 04:17

    Really if you support one or two calls for independence then, to be consistent, you have to support them all. This seems to be an area where virtually every country in the world shows its hypocrisy.

  11. 11 rick
    August 26, 2008 at 05:07

    let them all go
    from Quebec to Tibet, from Abu-syef to the Kurds and Chechnia. not worth fighting over. most would be worse off alone. what do these breakaway states from Georgia think they would accomplish? They will end with a Russian puppet dictator and be no better off than they are now.

  12. 12 pendkar
    August 26, 2008 at 07:06

    The Chechens have long been wnating to leave Russia. Why not let them?

    I dont knnow anything about how the ethnic Russians stand with respect to Georgia. But the Chechens have always, always resisted being assimilated into Russia – ever since the Czarist days.

    I believe their struggle is described rather honestly in Tolstoy’s ‘Cossacks’.

    How can Russia demand the right to self determination for the russians in Georgia when it itself refuses to consider the more justifiable demand of the Chechens?

  13. 13 rick
    August 26, 2008 at 10:10

    the prime minister of Georgia is a complete idiot and should be chucked out of office immediatly. he provoked the Russians and handed them an excuse to invade on a silver platter. he invaded south ossetia and started the whole fiasco. why should the west care if he got his butt kicked?

  14. August 26, 2008 at 10:44

    The west supported Kosovo for independence against the will of Serbia and Russia. Since America and her staunch allies want independence all over the place, why not support South Ossetia and Abkhazia for independence. Until America bodies allies can stop the double standards in world politics, we’ll continue to be in chaos.

  15. 15 rick
    August 26, 2008 at 11:36

    I wonder if Russia is going to allow North Ossetia to join the south as an independent state? Somehow doubt it!

  16. August 26, 2008 at 12:23

    i wonder why the west is afraid of Russia..the united states does worst but nobody says anything…the new cold war is just propaganda by the west and a shaky united states,who’s afraid of losing foot in world affairs

  17. 17 Jonathan
    August 26, 2008 at 13:22


    “Really if you support one or two calls for independence then, to be consistent, you have to support them all.”

  18. 18 rick
    August 26, 2008 at 13:25

    we are not afraid of Russia, we’re afraid of ww3

  19. 19 Jonathan
    August 26, 2008 at 13:39


    “Really if you support one or two calls for independence then, to be consistent, you have to support them all.”

    I’m surprised Bob, why would you say that? Surely not all “calls for independence” are equally valid, and some not at all. There’s nothing inconsistent about looking at the merits of individual cases. Some claims are reasonable; others are a fiction, as this one is. As I said when it happened, it’s a clear swipe at the West and an attempt by Russia to rebuild its empire. The fig leaf of “calls for independence” is as hollow as the ones from Czechoslovakia in 1940 (?) which supposedly “asked” Germany to invade. Georgia has been angering Russia for a while now. Its president famously called Putin “Liliputin” after the dwarves in “Gulliver’s Travels.” Relations have been awkward ever since.

    Also of note is that the “disputed territory” includes the only oil pipeline to Western Europe that does not go through Russia. Russia would like to absorb it or shut it down.

    True, the US Constituion doesn’t forbid secession, but the last states that tried got a very severe spanking. I’ve never quite known why we didn’t let the South go, to form the Mosquito Republic or whatever.

  20. 20 Count Iblis
    August 26, 2008 at 15:07

    I wonder if Russia is going to allow North Ossetia to join the south as an independent state? Somehow doubt it!

    Why not? It would save the Russia State from having to pay a lot of pensions. A lot of tax money could be saved. Which is exactly why the Ossetians will want to join with Russia.

    The same is true for Chechnya. How on Earth is an independent Chechnya going to pay for all their own expenses? Also, the moment they become indpependent, they would have to pay the market price for oil, gas and electricity.

  21. 21 Count Iblis
    August 26, 2008 at 15:32

    I think that the analogy with Kosovo is interesting. For many years the two situations were completely analogous: Both provinces were de-facto independent regions. The West was heavily involved in Kosovo, while the Russians were involved on South-Ossetia and Abchazia.

    While the West was trying to find a settlement for Kosovo along the lines of some far reaching autonomous status or total independence, they were condemning South-Ossetia and Abchazia for being breakaway provinces and wanted to see a re-integration of these regions within Georgia.

    For the Russians and the Serbs autonomy for Kosovo was acceptable, that would ammount to legalizing the de-facto situation. I tink the Russians were in favor for a similar situation for Abchazia/South-Ossetia.

    Now, these provinces were subject to sactions by the international community, including even Russia. The West was accusing the Russians of not sticking to the sanctions. After the West recognized Kosovo, Russia decided formally not to stick to the sanctions anymore.

    So, if we look at both Kosovo and Abchazia/South-Ossetia, we cannot say that the Russian position was inconsistent at aall. The position the West took makes no sense. Only now that Russia has recognized the independence of the breakaway regions can we say that the Russians are not consistent.

    I think this was motivated by the fact that the West strongly supported Georgia and strongly condemned Russia and the West wants to integrate Georgia into NATO. Georgian NATO membership would lead to the provinces becoming formally part of NATO’s responsiblilty. Given Russia’s distrust of NATO and all that has happened, this move by Russia was quite reasonable.

  22. 22 Emile Barre
    August 26, 2008 at 16:25

    The Planet is gradually moving into the era of being a planet of the provinces rather than nations. So its ok to secede if the majority want it.

  23. August 26, 2008 at 18:31

    I do not have any problems with Ossetia and Abkhazia if Russia also recognizes the right of Chechenya to leave the Russian Federation. The USA should also recognize the right of Vermont to leave the Union.

  24. 24 roebert
    August 26, 2008 at 20:27

    It’s complicated, but a good rule would probably be: the smaller the independent unit, the better for the world as a whole. But as things currently stand, the west has no right to criticise Ossetian/ Abkhazian demands for independence, or Russian accession to such demands. While Kosovo remains alienated from Serbia, all countries which recognise Kosovar independence must allow any illegal secession anywhere in the world.

  25. 25 Michael
    August 26, 2008 at 21:39

    One thing I’ve learned from traveling and living in various countries and making friends from around the world, is that it is quite difficult to get objective information when it comes to these situations.

    My habit is to seek out the news from various international sources, unfortunately limited to English because of my own language deficiencies, and then reach out to friends around the world to get their feel for things. This is often enlightening and results in attaining a very complicated understanding of world issues that other Americans generally dismiss as someone else’s propaganda.

    I find that many politicians and media outlets jump to conclusions influenced by national/political/corporate self-interest and “strategic” priorities without really engaging in honest dialogue with the parties really involved. More often than not, this arrogance of outsiders eliminates the possibility for genuine and necessary dialogue and diplomacy, as well as the dissemination of objective reporting of the news.

    Usually the losers in all this are the people most directly involved, in this case, the people of Georgia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Putting aside our own selfish “strategic” interests, as well as cooling down the political posturing and arrogant rhetoric and replacing these with a genuine attempt to listen to and give a voice to these people, is the only way. This should not be a USA or NATO or UN versus Russia situation, but a what is best for the Georgian, Ossetian and Abkhaz people and how can we support them to come to a peaceful and positive resolution that results in a better quality of life for them, even if that creates some inconveniences or financial cost to others that might result from ceding to Georgians, South Ossetians and Abkhazians the control their own resources necessary for improvement of their quality of life.

  26. August 27, 2008 at 04:40

    reasons not to let them leave.
    1) Not all governments view themselves as existing solely to serve the people or act that way. “ask not what you’re country can do for you, but what you can do for your country” is an example of this philosophy held by many powerful nations. Territory and people are resources to create a bigger national budget and gain power as individual politicians and an organization. The business/organizational philosophy is that it’s better to be in charge of a large power base than a small one and growth is accepted as being good by dogma. The basic principles of self organizing systems such as business and government encourages in a Darwinian way growth and conquest. Governments that allow succession risk downsizing and loss of revenue with the possibility of eventually being taken over just like business can be acquired by another larger more successful business. Whether this is beneficial for the individual citizens or not is largely irrelevant since there appears to be no way of preventing the natural inclination of business or nations or any organization from seeking to grow and expand. In this analysis any newly seceding independent smaller state will immediately seek to grow and expand in power and territory much the same way that life seeks to survive, flourish, reproduce and expand in numbers. It’s a social evolution phenomena that seems built into the natural order of things and the larger system(government) will seek power over smaller systems(business, individuals) as a matter of self preservation.

    2) The tragedy of the commons also known as the fallacy of shared resources is exacerbated by increasing the number of independent actors. If a large region is broken into two smaller regions the incentive not to exploit a shared resource such as water and or clean air is reduced. If Global warming is to be successfully managed it will require a worldwide organization that strictly prohibits any nation from seceding. If one nation were allowed to secede from global warming agreements then they will still enjoy most of the benefits of a clean planet without the economic cost associated with paying for it. Soon after another nation and another will follow suit. This has been demonstrated in game theory, and while their are other solutions to the tragedy of the commons that allow for a large number of independent actors they are more complicated and less easily maintained. So for the health of the planet, it’s probably best if nations become larger and eventually form some kind of world government. According to this analysis their is some optimal game theory number of actors/nations in the world that leads to the most likely solution to the tragedy of the commons under a single unified world governing body. On a more local level the tragedy of the commons results when one state may allow lax liqour laws or environmental laws or criminal laws that then cause problems for neighbors. Imagine if your neighbor 30 miles away sees nothing wrong with promoting gambling institutions because it brings in revenue while you realize gambling is a net drain on the economy and declare it illegal. Or perhaps you share a common river and one nation on the east side has strict legislation to avoid polluting it to protect the resort towns down river while the nation on the west side has only factories down river and no territory along the ocean that will be damaged by ocean pollution.

  27. 27 Natasha
    August 27, 2008 at 10:28

    Several years ago Russia lost a lot of troopers – and killed thousands of civilians – tried to prevent the independence of Chechnya. Several years we heard about danderous any separastictic movement. Moreover inspite of massive propaganda most of Russian do not believe current Chechnya authorities and prefer to allow Caucasen nations to let them go and build the enourmous huge border between this “new countries” and other Russian areas: Chechnya as well as other Caucasen regions is temporary reason of problems. Ok, it is our terretory but officials strongly do not advice Russian citizens to visit these regions and warn that both auto and health insurance does not remain valid there.
    Now Russia support independence of Abhazia and South Osetia, but I wonder Russia will be very glad to support the common and independent state which can appear if Nort and South Osetia – it is one nation – decided to intergate.
    I don’t think that now is good time to discuss real issue. It’s also possible that the international community should allow Abhazia and Osetia to create their own state. But this opportunity, very significant, does not seem to be relevant to current situation.
    Russian officials so many times shown that they did not care about human lifes and were ready to kill people only to keep their position that to believe their statements means to believe that pigs may fly. They are not interested in living condition local citizens or do not think how to improve the situation. They only provoke West.

  28. August 28, 2008 at 22:24

    Where a nation is racked by bitter internal conflict along linguistic, race, religious or similar lines to the point which result in serious human rights violations, gross crimes against humanity and war crimes, the imperative need arises under international humanitarian law to afford such people the right of self-determination under free and fair voting. In practice, however,this has caused vexatious problems. Failure of internal governance or external causes are often at the heart of these problems. The need arises to not only permit this inalienable right to affected populations but also to bring to justice those responsible for such grave crimes. Timely UN intervention can prevent costly and intractable wars.

  29. 29 Bulentzhane
    September 5, 2008 at 18:37

    “Seperatism” what a strange word. Usually used by occupiers, or former colonizators.Generally “seperatists” are freedom seeking small nations.But this word in our brain washed minds(by imperialist monopolist media) means bad. whole western countries are talking about “integrity of Georgia”.Who integrated Abkhazia and South Ossetia to Georgia?…….Answer is STALIN. Who was Stalin?
    Answer is GEORGIAN. South Ossetia was ripped from Ossetia and gifted to Georgia as well as Abkhazia.These small nations suffered under Georgian Nationalism during Soviet Union. After collapse of Soviet Union US started to squeeze necktie against Russia .Turkey has lost its strategic importance and US found new puppet Georgia.If US is there ,Georgia will never be free country.It will be fighting against “seperatists” to protect its “integrity” , and will destroy whole its cultural roots and lose culturally close “seperatist brothers”.

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