Crimea: The Core Principle

Much needs to be said about the Ukrainian crisis, though almost all of the important lessons appear to be in the process of being shoved under various rugs. The most fundamental seems to me the right, denied by every politician in power everywhere, of people to choose their country and, it logically follows, for a regional majority to choose to become part of another country. Putin would have a very, very strong case if he were advocating a fair and honest referendum in Crimea (rather than one run by the Russian army).

The general principle of democracy now having been stated, let us all take a deep breath and consider what this principle would entail right up front (nothing fancy here; leave all the ultimate consequences for later consideration). To make this perfectly clear, I propose U.N.-supervised referendums, all on the same day, in the following regions:

  • Crimea
  • Chechnya
  • Palestine
  • Waziristan
  • Baluchistan
  • Tibet
  • Kashmir
  • Quebec
  • Vermont.

If Vermont votes to secede, I have just one caveat – please, please, allow me to sign up! As for Chechnya, Putin’s vicious suppression of Chechen aspirations for liberty–and when has a minority ever been treated worse than the Chechens???–gives the lie to his sudden concern for the aspirations of various Ukranian groups in the clearest possible terms.

Bottom line: No one should be forced to live in a country he does not want to live in (no, I do not want to get into all the obvious practical problems), and no local majority should be either. I am of course speaking of principles. Actually determining some set of feasible procedures is only step two. But why is it that despite all the talk about democracy, no one is willing to recognize the principle of self-determination when it requires “me” to give up territory to “them?”

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