Tamils - a Trans State Nation..

"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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TAMIL NATION LIBRARY: Nations & Nationalism

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[see also Tamil Eelam: Right to Self Determination]

Book Review

This is an important book and will be essential reading for many in the Tamil diaspora. It contains a collection of articles on the central issues relating to national self determination and secession. Do nations have a right to collective self-determination?  If they do, what is it about nations that entitles them to this right? If not, are there any conditions in which a group can justifiably secede from a state?

The book is edited by Margaret Moore, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Waterloo, Canada and includes articles by Rogers Brubaker, Professor of Sociology, University of California, Los Angeles; Donald L.Horowitz, Professor of   Law and Political Science, Duke University; David Miller, Official Fellow in Social and Political Theory, Nuffield College, Oxford.

In her introduction, Margaret Moore rightly points out, that the issues discussed in the book are of pressing importance. She adds:

"... Between 1947 and 1991, only one instance of secession occurred (Bangladesh). In that period, the superpowers were committed to upholding existing state boundaries, and they encouraged the development of international law and practice in which borders were viewed as permanent - not negotiable - features of the international state system. Since 1991, however, numerous multinational states have disintegrated along national lines - the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Ethiopia - and the process may not have exhausted itself yet, as many of the successor states are as multinational as the states they left behind. Nor is this limited to former communist countries. There are numerous secessionist struggles across the globe: in the First World (e.g. Quebec, Northern Ireland, Flanders, Catalonia, the Spanish Basque country, Israel/Palestine); and in the Third World (e.g. Sudan, Sri Lanka, Kashmir and Punjab, and the Kurdish regions of Iraq and Turkey)..."

In an acutely perceptive review of the book, Josep R. Llobera, University College, London remarks in Nations and Nationalism, Volume 6 Part 2, April 2000:

"While self-determination is a vague expression in which it is not clear who is the 'self' and what 'determination' entails, the meaning of the word secession is plain enough and, of course, it involves the removal of part of the population and part of the territory of an existing state. Not surprisingly, states are reluctant, for a variety of economic, political and prestige reasons, to allow secessionist movements to triumph. At the international level, the United Nations, which consists of states and not nations, has consistently opposed secession, at least until very recently. The only type of separation that the UN could accept, and even encourage, was decolonisation, though as the disintegration of the USSR attests, even that process was rather selective.

The collapse of the Soviet order in Central and Eastern Europe between 1989 and 1991 has made the 1990s into the decade of secession. The effects of what happened in that part of Eurasia have reverberated all over the world, particularly in the ex-colonial world (riddled with multinational and multiethnic contraptions wishfully called 'nation-states'), but also in the West. Whether this will lead to a major movement in the direction of the total or partial dismantling of the existing Third World states remains to be seen. By and large, the UN have not changed their attitude towards the undesirability of secession, though in practice this has been tempered with a certain amount of realism...

The book edited by Margaret Moore contains eleven chapters written by well-known political scientists and philosophers, and it is presented as a serious effort in the direction of analysing the conditions that make secession ethically acceptable The book concentrates on two main areas what does the principle of self-determination mean for nationalists'? And can secession be morally justified?..."

He concludes:

"Most of the arguments in  the book are conducted in an idealised political world ruled by liberal and democratic principles History shows, however, that secessionist movements tend to come, on the whole, in waves which are provoked by specific political conjunctures (wars, revolutions, collapse of empires, etc ). The predatory and expansive nature of the state has no other limits than the presence of a stronger state or a coalition of states. On the other hand, we have learned  from Leo Kuper Pierre van dell Berghe and Walker O Connor  among others that genocidal states are historically the rule rather than the exception and that things are not much different  today. For those at the receiving end of extermination policies, it mattered little whether the state was liberal-democratic or despotic, though admittedly the latter was arguably more ruthless and arbitrary.

It would seem to me that in the light of historical evidence the international order has consistently opposed any form of secession. Some years ago normative theories of nationalism (and particularly the issues of secession) were rare. At present this is no longer the case. But sometimes I have the impression that the discussions are taking place in a rarefied, lofty environment, far away from the world of realpolitik. Many of the authors in the book are either against the principle of separation or impose so many conditions on its implementation as to make it unpractical. This position is, of course, perfectly defensible, though in the meantime Rome keeps burning."



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