Imagine if a new regime formed in Kiev and then said to the Donbass Republics, you can have full cultural, economic, spiritual, linguistic and even immigration autonomy so long as you hold off on the issue of receiving international recognition for your Republics for the time being? One doesn’t actually need to imagine this, because the framework of the Minsk agreements allows for just such a thing. Furthermore, the Minsk agreements are supported by Russia in earnest while members of the so-called “international community” pay lip service to the agreements, albeit while continuing to arm and fund a genocidal Kiev regime.
The reason that the Donbass people voted to form independent republics was because an illegal, unconstitutional and criminal regime seized power in Kiev through force. It was and remains a regime which practices a fascist ideology that Russians and fraternal peoples remember fighting and defeating between 22 June 1941 and 9 May 1945. Russians throughout the world say “never again” to such fascism and this is why protests throughout what is currently Ukraine, broke out in the months after the Kiev coup of February 2014. In the case of Donbass, this resulted in a declaration of independence. In other places, such as Odessa, it resulted in the slaughter of innocent men and women, many of whom were in their teens and early 20s. In effect they were little more than children.
The situation in Iraq could not be more different. Ever since the late 1990s, even during the rule of President Saddam Hussein, Kurds in Iraq started to enjoy large amounts of legal autonomy. This was further enhanced after 2005. The Kurdish regions of northern Iraq were in a position that can rightly be described as enviable, certainly from the perspective of Donbass. Kurds in northern Iraq had their own economy that was totally de-centralised in respect of its relationship to Baghdad, they had linguistic and cultural autonomy, they issued their own visas and controlled their own international airports, they had surprisingly good relations with their Turkish neighbour and they were spared much of the violence of the brutal Iraqi civil war.
But this was not good enough and against the wishes of the entire international community and in violation of the Iraqi constitution which Baghdad continues to uphold, Iraqi Kurds voted to secede from Iraq in a referendum that was boycotted by Arabs and Turkomen Iraqis. Making matters worse, Kurdish secessionist began waving flags of Iraq’s historic Israeli enemy throughout the process. In so doing, the Kurdish referendum became a de-facto attack on Arab human rights and the right of the Arab world to survive in peace.
One must also consider the security concerns of both Turkey and Iran which are very real and very pressing. In this sense, Kurdish nationalism is essentially a regional imperialist movement which threatens the territorial integrity of two major Arab states (Syria and Iraq) as well as Turkey and Iran. This is similar to how Albanian regional imperialism threatens the peace and unity of Serbia, Macedonia, Greece and Montenegro.
Arab Nationalism versus Ethno-nationalism
The 20th century witnessed the birth of Arab nationalism, a series of movements and political parties which aimed to restore independence and unity in the Arab world after centuries of Ottoman rule, as well as more recent decades of western imperialist occupation and aggression.
Arab nationalists were anti-tribal, progressive and anti-sectarian. Arab nationalists sought to retain the traditional harmony in which Arab Muslims lived with one another as well as with their Christian and Jewish neighbours. Likewise, Arab nationalist parties did not favour discrimination against ethnic minorities. In many cases, Greeks, Armenians and Assyrians welcomed Arab nationalism as a progressive respite against late Ottoman realities that were increasingly ethnocentric and genocidal.
The progressive realities of Arab nationalism contrast with the aggression of western imperialism, the backwardness of Wahhabism, the settler colonialism of Zionism and the ethno-nationalism of present day Kurdish secessionists.
In this sense, while the Kurds have spun a narrative that they are oppressed freedom fighters, the reality is rather different. Iraqi Kurds are attempting to break apart the unity of the Arab world and in so doing, threatening the survival of what remains of the Arab nationalist ideal. If the Kurds got their way, many Arabs and other minorities such as Turkomen would find themselves becoming refugees in their own country as a result of Kurdish ethno-nationalism. By contrast, in the modern Arab world, Kurds are not threatened. One could say that they are fact, in a privileged position.
Furthermore, with many Arab nationalist governments being the victims of neo-imperialism from the west, Wahhabi terrorism from Saudi Arabia and its allies, in addition to Israel occupation and intimation, one can easily see why Arab states like Iraq have clearly stated their opposition to a further dagger in the heart of the Arab world.
Like the Arab world, the Russian world has experienced similar attempts by ethno-nationalist movements to destroy the unity of a peoples who traditionally lived peacefully among each other and with ethnic and religious minorities.
The Russian Empire, Soviet Union and Russia Federation were/are all multi-ethnic and multi-cultural states, wherein the Russian majority lived across vast united lands after years of uniting various Slavic and non-Slavic peoples. In the Russian Empire, mosques, churches and other places of worship co-existed. In the Soviet Union, Marxist-Leninism helped people aspire to a new kind of unity and in today’s Russian Federation, all religious and ethnic minorities have wide ranging cultural freedoms, all under the guiding force of the Russian constitution.
Like Kurdish regions of Iraq, Muslim Chechnya enjoys vast socio-economic autonomy under the Russian constitution.
This is not to say that any one system is perfect, but even an imperfect united state is preferable to the pangs and tumult that almost always accompanies violent ethno-nationalist secessionism. In this sense, Yugoslavia is a prime example of a successful, prosperous and peaceful state which was torn apart by largely foreign funded ethno-nationalism.
However, like the Arab world after the Sykes-Picot agreement, the post-Soviet map of historic Russian lands have been artificially divided into states which do not correspond to real regional identities.
The problem of political geography
In an attempt to appease nationalist movements and frankly because many Bolsheviks came to detest the idea of Russian culture, an internal map of Soviet republics was created in the 1920s wherein the local regions or gubernya (губе́рния) were eliminated in favour of states within a state.
These Soviet republics did not often conform to the realities of regional identities. Whereas the internal map of the Russian Empire were largely in keeping with local traditions, the proto-nationalism of the Soviet map paved the way for disaster when the unifying ideology of Marxist-Leninism was killed off in 1991.
After 1991, peoples who had shared a fraternal cultural in a united state that nested multi-cultural sub-regions, was replaced by the kind of violent nationalism which tore Europe apart after the First World War, thus setting the stage for the Second World War.
Ukraine, which was perhaps the most artificial of all the Soviet republics, has been the greatest victim of this nationalist tendencies as a minority of people from former Polish regions have declared war upon the Russians of the historical Malorossiya region of the Russian state.
In 1916, the secretive Sykes–Picot Agreement which was eventually exposed to the world by the young Soviet press, divided much of the Arab world into nation-states which continues to have the effect of dividing a peoples who like Russians, were once united peacefully among themselves and among the minorities of their wider civilisational realm.
However, while some seek to fight nation-state nationalism with more nation-state nationalism, this has only created problems for both Russians, Arabs and the minorities of each realm.
Freedom and reality
The world has come to accept that the division of Germany after 1945 was unjust to the German people and likewise, while the political situation remains incredibly difficult, both Seoul and Pyongyang eventually seek the re-unification of the single Korean people.
Likewise, both Russians and Arabs can and should work to peacefully reunite with one another while retaining the political understanding of and compassion towards minorities of each realm which defined the great Russian states of the past as well as the pre-Ottoman Arab caliphates.
While Arab nationalists more or less settled on retaining the post-Sykes-Picot map, in practice, attempts at union and federation were continually made, most recently the Federation of Arab Republics which existed between Libya, Egypt and Syria between 1972 and 1977.
The failure of Arab unity has been due to a persistent combination of western corporate imperialism and military occupation (Iraq, Libya and partly Syria for example), the Zionist settler colonialism in Palestine and the inevitable, but not disastrous problems of political leaders who do not always share the same vision.
The problem with modern Russian unity is likewise that the great western powers have armed and funded ethnic minorities in historic Russian lands in order to encircle the Russian Federation and magnify the crisis of Russian refugees.
The solution in both cases is not more micro-states, failed states and disputed territories, but more unity, more cooperation and more federation between existing states.
In Donbass, the goal of the anti-fascists is to eventually live in a confederate union between Malorossiya, Belarus and the Russian Federation. Others among the anti-fascist movement advocate for full immersion within the Russian Federation. The position of Moscow is to implement the Minsk agreements, restore constitutional rule in Kiev and live as separate states but with restored fraternal agreements, which prior to 2014 allowed for a common economic area which included freedom of movement with de-facto cultural and religious freedoms for all. In many ways the Eurasian Economic Union, Commonwealth of Independent States and the potential inherent in China’s multi-national One Belt–One Road, will allow Moscow to create a reunion of Russian and fraternal peoples, without needed to engage in the often tricky word of formally redrawing regional maps.
While many scholars focus on the differences between Ba’athism and Nasserism or between the Malorossiya plan and the Minsk agreements, the reality is that while the means differ, the desired end result is much the same, unity among peoples with or without having to redraw specific political borders.
Europe has been the most divided region of the world over the last 2,000 years. Countless small wars fought between sects and later nations stand out against the comparative placidity in the Arab caliphates, the Russian Empire, Soviet Union and pre-19th century Ottoman Empire.
And yet in spite of this, Europe, which incidentally also produced the most aggressive imperialist states in modern history, has formed a European Union which does not legally erase borders, but does create a single unified realm. While problems with the EU dominate the headlines, this again obscures the fact that most Europeans are happy to live in a single free trading area and are happy to have the right to travel across borders as if in a single state.
If a deeply divided Europe can unite, why cannot a formerly united Russian and Arab world reunite? The answer is that they can and that they must. Modern Arabism does not threaten Kurds, not least based on the models of autonomy in Iraq and full citizen rights in Syria. However, Kurdish secessionists like Israeli settler colonists do threaten Arab unity. The solution for the Arab world and the Russian world is therefore the same. Fewer states, not more, and the embrace of pan-nationalisms over ethno-nationalism.