Will The United States Support Secession?
By David S. Reif
Contemplating a nearly unprecedented action the United States State Department is on the verge of supporting a United Nations backed plan to recognize the secessionist state of Kosovo as an independent nation on 28Nov07. Kosovo is a province of the country of Serbia which was itself carved out of the disintegrating nation of Yugoslavia during the Balkan War of the 1990's.
The Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) has been fighting for secession from Serbia. Kosovo is a predominantly Muslim section of Serbia that borders Albania and is predominately ethnic Albanian. However, it has always been considered part of the Serbian national heritage and is included in the popular constitution of Serbia which describes Kosovo as part of Serbia.
The former Soviet-Bloc nation of Yugoslavia all but disappeared in the 1990's breaking up into Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Serbia-Montenegro. Bitter fighting dogged the political activities with charges and counter-charges of "ethnic cleansing" were made by various groups. State Department claims of "hundreds of thousands" of Muslims being systematically murdered in WWII style concentration camps proved to be erroneous but according to www.antiwar.com at least 2000 fighters of all ethnicities including UCK personnel were murdered and placed in mass graves.
Exaggerated claims of genocide, usually attributed to United Kingdom Foreign Minister Geoff Hoon, were thought to be used to justify NATO involvement. Hostilities cease not long after the NATO carpet bombing of Belgrade; the Serbian capital.
The situation inside Serbia regarding Kosovo is complicated by both history and current events. Ethnic Albanians allied with neighboring Albanian nationals are reportedly interested in consolidating all of "greater Albania" which includes ethnic Albanian enclaves in several countries into one large Islamic State.
The State Department, the European Union (EU), and the U.N. over a period of time have decided that the Kosovo problem is intractable and are reported near an agreement with Russia to ratify claims of Kosovo secessionists and give legal recognition to the independent Kosovo state. Serbia opposes the plan but is rapidly loosing ground to the U.N. sponsored scheme.
According to an Associated Press (AP) story issued on the Serbian Diocese of Ras-Prizren website "Serbia's government denounced a U.N. plan for Kosovo Tuesday after Serbs living in the disputed southern province and the influential Serbian Orthodox Church called for its rejection. The government of Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica released a "resolution," saying the U.N. proposal on Kosovo's future is 'contrary to international law because it ignores sovereignty and the territorial integrity' of Serbia. The plan, created by (Finnish) U.N. envoy Martti Ahtisaari, envisages self-rule for Kosovo, including a flag, anthem, army, constitution and the right to join international organizations. The province's ethnic Albanian majority want to secede from Serbia and have largely welcomed the U.N. proposal."
Prime Minister Kostunica declared "Giving Kosovo prerogatives of a sovereign state ... is a dangerous precedent, bearing in mind minority questions and territorial disputes in Europe and worldwide. The (U.N.) plan aims to deprive Serbia of an important piece of its territory, would make survival of Serbs impossible ... and lead to destabilization of the entire region." There are a number of secessionist movements in Europe notably: North Italy, Scotland, and Bavaria.
The U.N. plan is being seriously eyed by the Foreign Ministry of Russia who is said to be considering a fundamental change in its longstanding policy of supporting Serbia. If the Russians decide to back the U.N. plan they will almost certainly support two other secessionist states; Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The two are secessionist provinces of the Republic of Georgia which was part of the old Soviet Union.
The United States has a policy of not supporting secessionist movements or recognizing secessionist states. Even in 1967 when the mostly Christian Ibos of Biafra attempted to secede from Muslim dominated Nigeria due to religious and cultural oppression the State Department refused to recognize Biafra and over 1,000,000 Biafrians were killed. If the US does recognize an independent Kosovo it will surely do so by couching the change in policy in impenetrable diplomatic jargon while the rest of the world says it is recognizing a secessionist movement.
The last time the U.S. granted recognition to a secessionist movement was during the War Between the States. After the military partition of the Virginia the Lincoln administration gave recognition to the new State of West Virginia claiming that it had seceded from Virginia and in 1863 accepting it into the Union.
In the United States today government surrogate groups consistently try to link secession and racism yet more thoughtful people do not. Secession is a legitimate form of political expression guaranteed by the 10th Amendment to the Constitution. It has traditionally been seen as the right of the people through the States to exercise a public veto against the central government and peaceably reorganize into an alternative structure.
The most notable incident involving secession came when a section of this country dominated by the Lincoln Administration refused to accept the legal secession of 13 sovereign states which formed the Confederate States of America (C.S.A.) precipitating the War Between the States (1861-1865). After the War the president of the C.S.A., Jefferson Davis, was to be put on trial for the "crime of secession" but the Federal Courts would not hear the case because secession was not illegal in the Constitution recalling the West Virginia issue and the guarentee of State soveriegnty in the 10th Amendment.
If the Kosovo independence movement goes forward the interest in secession may become increasing important. In an AP article by staff writer Bill Poovey posted on the Drudge Report (03Oct07) notes that secessionist sentiment is being expressed at the current North American Separatist Convention in Chattanooga, TN.
Mr. Poovey writes, "In an unlikely marriage of desire to secede from the United States, two advocacy groups from opposite political traditions - New England and the South - are sitting down to talk. Tired of foreign wars and what they consider right-wing courts, the Middlebury Institute wants liberal states like Vermont to be able to secede peacefully.
That sounds just fine to the League of the South, a conservative group that refuses to give up on Southern independence. 'We believe that an independent South, or Hawaii, Alaska, or Vermont would be better able to serve the interest of everybody, regardless of race or ethnicity,' said Michael Hill of Killen, Ala., president of the League of the South.
Separated by hundreds of miles and divergent political philosophies, the Middlebury Institute and the League of the South are hosting a two-day Secessionist Convention starting Wednesday in Chattanooga.
They expect to attract supporters from California, Alaska and Hawaii, inviting anyone who wants to dissolve the Union so states can save themselves from an overbearing federal government.
If allowed to go their own way, New Englanders 'probably would allow abortion and have gun control,' Hill said, while Southerners 'would probably crack down on illegal immigration harder than it is being now.' The U.S. Constitution does not explicitly prohibit secession, but few people think it is politically viable."
Whether or not secession is politically viable remains to be seen. When the subject came back into the American political debate 10 or 15 years ago it was confined to esoteric cultural and political venues. Today it draws increasing public attention.
If the Kosovo issue comes to fruition and the States of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are recognized by Russia then the world will be on notice that political separation is indeed viable. Even without Kosovo the serious discussion of this issue should be welcomed by all who really believe in democracy, free expression, or open society. When the great power countries cannot figure out any other way to deal with the problems caused by increasing centralization then new answers may undeniably "rise again".
About the Author
David S. Reif and his wife are full-time artist/craftsmen living in the Missouri Ozarks. Currently working in silver and other precious materials, they have been professional artists since 1981. David is the Press Officer for the John T. Coffee Camp #1934, Sons of Confederate Veterans, and has been a guest speaker at many SCV events including the dedication address for the Missouri Brigade Monument, Missouri Secession Day Dinner, and the MOSB luncheon speech at the 1998 SCV Reunion in St. Louis, as well as other occasions. He has written about Missouri history and politics, modernism, and the impact of science on culture for publications in the United States, Europe, and on the Internet. He has served on numerous local and county government commissions and on the board of community-based artist and writers programs, chemical-dependency centers, and art-marketing groups. He was the director of the independent scholar society, The Institute for Perennial Studies, edited the journal, Perennis, and was the state Chairman for the Missouri Southern League, as well as an officer for the Mid-Missouri Peace Alliance, which opposed ballistic missile silos stationed in Southern states.