The authorities of states around the world are on the offensive against the rights and freedoms of autonomous territories. In the future, this will raise the question of the future of protracted conflicts in the CIS – primarily in Ukraine and Moldova.
Curtailment of autonomy
A few days ago, the world community was shocked by the decision of the government of the recently elected Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, to deprive the northern most state of Jammu and Kashmir (populated mainly by Muslims) of the special status previously guaranteed by law. This means a serious narrowing of autonomy: the region loses the opportunity to have its own Constitution, to coordinate acts of the federal authorities at the local level, etc. Moreover, experts predict a further division of the state into two union territories, which in India have much less rights in terms of decision-making at the regional level. In fact, the new leadership of the country creates conditions for the ‘absorption’ of autonomy.
It is easy to guess that the decisions taken threaten with indignation and mass protests in Kashmir itself, including the aggravation of nationalist and separatist sentiments. In addition, the confrontation with Pakistan, which is ‘patronizing’ the Kashmiri Muslim communities, will inevitably escalate. For example, today it became known that Islamabad is lowering the level of diplomatic relations with India and suspending bilateral trade. Given the historically tense relations between India and Pakistan, not least because of Kashmir, the decision of the Indian authorities and its possible consequences cause serious concern of the world community. Pakistan, which considers Kashmir to be its own occupied territory, has already declared its readiness to provide military support to the population of the region. In addition, the decision of Delhi can cause a nervous reaction of China, which has a border with Kashmir in Ladakh region and is contesting part of its territory.
The situation in Hong Kong, which is now a special administrative region of the PRC, remains even more difficult. Anti-government protests do not stop there throughout the summer. Not only the local leadership, but also the central government in Beijing is heavily criticized by the Hong Kong residents. The protests are perfectly organized and thanks to the ‘beautiful picture’ have received wide publicity in the media. So the demands of the protesters today are shared not only in Hong Kong itself, but also in many democratic countries, which further fuels the protest. It is obvious that the city police forces at some stage will not be enough to deter anti-government protests. Then the leadership of the PRC, while maintaining the stressed calm, will certainly have to resort to forceful methods of suppressing the protest – and this, of course, will affect the prospects for Hong Kong’s special status.
The fact that the trend towards a top-down curtailment of the sovereignty of self-governing territories is not an Asian phenomenon is proved by similar processes in Europe. In particular, the after-Brexit situation between the central authorities of the United Kingdom and other parts of the state is becoming the focus of increased attention. It should be recalled that in the 2016 referendum, the majority of residents of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland voted against leaving the European Union. That means, in fact, that the ‘divorce’ of the country from the EU is contrary to the interests of 3 of the 4 state entities that make up the Kingdom. Taking up the post of Prime Minister by Boris Johnson, who was one of the ardent supporters of Brexit and ready to leave the European Union without a deal until the end of October, may further exacerbate the discontent of Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast.
Scotland has always had strong separatist sentiments, even more strengthened in recent years despite the results of the 2014 referendum. For many years Scotland has been headed by the party advocating for independence in its policy documents. The Brexit situation in recent months for the first time in the 21st century has led to a preponderance of supporters of separation from London in opinion polls.
In Northern Ireland, the crisis is complemented by the fact that the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the EU will mean not just a real border with the EU, but also with Ireland. Putting up the border may be interpreted as a violation of the 1998 Belfast agreements, which once put an end to the bloody armed confrontation between the communities of the island. The border can provoke not only the discontent of Dublin, but also the involvement of Washington, where the Irish lobby is extremely strong (in the US there are three times more Irish than in Ireland).
A bad example for Donbas and Transdniestria
The mentioned crises again reveal often an extremely unstable status of many world’s autonomies, which is often easily sacrificed by the central authorities for the sake of political interests. Therefore, even international guarantees and integration into the global division of labor (as in the case of Hong Kong) or de facto state status (as in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) cannot ensure that the views of the people of a territory are fully taken into account when making crucial decisions. Abolition of the autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir in a snap of the fingers of the government in Delhi is the most revealing and high-profile case of recent times, but, as can be seen, it only reflects global trends.
It is obvious that the process of elimination or limitation of autonomy rights is directly related to the case of unrecognized countries. These state formations get an additional powerful argument for rejecting the special status, which is usually offered to them in the negotiations with the former central government. Thus, regional separatist conflicts in Europe, especially in Ukraine and Moldova, can get a new negative development. Donetsk, Lugansk and Tiraspol witness yet another confirmation of how unreliable in terms of their interests is any configuration of the co-existence with Kyiv and Chisinau. After all, as experience shows, their ‘special status’ in a hypothetical common state can be reconsidered at any time. Transdniestria also has not the best example in the form of Moldovan Gagauzia, since the laws on its autonomy are often neglected by Chisinau – even the influence of the European Union and Turkey does not help.
In such circumstances, it is utopian to expect the compliance of Donbas and Transdniestrian separatists in the international Normandy Four and 5+2 formats. The evolving geopolitical reality is on their side: the same postulate about “independence as the best guarantee of the population’s security”, which for many years as a mantra is repeated by the leaders of Tiraspol, now gets convincing information support. Perhaps, the principled position of all participants of the settlement in Transdniestria and Donbas on the situation in Hong Kong and Kashmir, as well as the trouble-free end of the Brexit epic could somewhat smooth out the effect of the ‘offensive against autonomies’. Until, each unpunished violation of the rights of another self-governing territory reduces the already small chances that the ‘special status’ offered to the self-proclaimed republics of Donbas and Transdniestria will become at least somewhat attractive to them.
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