1945, just now the Second World War was ended by the formal surrender of Germany on May 8, at least in Europe and on paper, though not yet in Asia. Germany was totally destroyed – “thanks” to Allied bombings in Leipzig and other cities even more than necessary-and everyone knew what war meant: the really worst thing that could ever happen to an affected population. Mentally, however, there was a new spirit of optimism: Never again war!
Already at the international conference of the then great powers Great Britain, USA and Russia in Yalta in the Crimea in February 1945, a “charter” of international cooperation was drawn up and signed by 50 countries at the Conference of San Francisco on 26 June of the same year. The Charter of the “United Nations”, the UN, came into force through ratification by the first Member States on 24 October 1945 – as a new attempt at a war-preventing platform, after the League of Nations that emerged after the First World War had failed miserably.
One of the most important principles and objectives of the UN was what was already stated in the Charter in the first chapter (!) has been fixed:
The United Nations sets itself the following goals:
– to maintain international peace and security …
– to develop friendly relations between nations based on respect for the principle of equality and self-determination of peoples and to take other appropriate measures for the consolidation of world peace …
The “self-determination of peoples” – really?
Yes, this was meant seriously, and there was also in 1955 an excellent example of how “self-determination of the peoples” can be realized: the Saarland, the surrounding area of Saarbrücken, located on the left side of the Rhine and actually assigned to France after the World War, was given the opportunity to vote on whether it would rather belong to France or to Germany. Germany and France agreed that both countries would accept the result of the vote. And so it happened that the Saarland, surprising and disappointing for the French, with 68 percent of the votes cast, wished to belong to Germany.
This was the lived right of peoples to self-determination. Also concerning Germany: In October 1990 the former GDR was reunited with the Federal Republic of Germany. However, there has never been a referendum on this. And not quite comparable, but worth mentioning in this context: after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the 15 Soviet republics decided to become independent states. Among them was Ukraine - although even then Ukraine was anything but a homogeneous nation-state. Transcarpathia for example, then part of Ukraine, had to be visited five times between 1917 and 1992 (!) a different nationality, without the population ever having a say. It was always decisions of “those up there”. The fact that this" oblast “demanded a certain autonomy at the same time as Ukraine’s declaration of independence, for example the right to speak its own language, Ruthenian, was simply"ignored” in the Ukrainian capital Kiev.
But that was it with the self-determination of the peoples. Since then, there have been only minor border adjustments worldwide and some of France’s smallest colonies, mostly islands, were allowed to vote on whether they wanted to stay with France or become independent. As a last example in November 2018, the Pacific island New Caledonia, half the size of Switzerland and with 280,000 inhabitants. They decided to stay with France.
The Basques, who wanted to become independent of Spain, did not get a chance to vote on it. Even the Corsicans, who wanted to become independent of France, were not heard. Algeria had to fight for its independence by force of arms. When Yugoslavia disintegrated after the death of autocrat Josip Broz Tito in 1980, some regions seized the chance to become independent states. Slovenia, for example, achieved its independence in 1991 after a war lasting only ten days with less than a hundred deaths. In most other regions, however, there were extremely bloody battles. Kosovo was separated from Serbia in 2008 without Serbia’s consent and without a prior referendum. This operation was led by NATO.
Since autumn 2017, an independence movement has also been active in the region of Catalonia in Spain, even leading to a referendum banned by the Spanish central government, in which a majority voted in favour of independence. Interesting is the reason for the desire for independence there: not because Catalans feel badly treated by Madrid, they want to become independent, but because Catalonia is the economically strongest region in Spain and therefore has to pay the most to the state finances. This would be comparable to the scenario that in Germany Bavaria wants to become independent of Germany, because the Free State has to pay by far the most to the German state financial compensation, more than double the three other net payers Baden-Württemberg, Hessen and Hamburg combined. At least seen from the outside it is in Catalonia at the moment but rather a bit quieter again.
Many civil wars and wars could be prevented
A highly interesting case of “self-determination of peoples” was the Crimea in 2014. The local population had never been happy with Khrushchev’s decision to allocate Crimea to Ukraine, which, however, did not cause any problems in the Soviet era, but after Ukraine’s declaration of Independence in 1991. In 2014, in the wake of the dramatic events in Kiev Maidan, a referendum was therefore held in Crimea, the clear decision of which was to seek re-union with Russia. Russia agreed. However, the Ukrainian leadership in Kiev had never said yes to this referendum, it did not agree with the self-determination of the population in Crimea and wanted to prevent the referendum. For this reason, the secession of Crimea and its reunification with Russia has been and still is considered by many states to be contrary to international law. The no from Kiev was (geopolitically) weighted higher than the clearly expressed desire of the Crimean population. Sanctions followed, that is the self-determination of the peoples stipulated in the UN Charter?
The approximately 35 million Kurds live in a region that is politically largely part of Turkey, but also partly located in Syria, Iraq and Iran. The Kurds have long wanted their own state. But they have never been given the opportunity for self-determination. Military conflicts have been the result for years.
The Nagorno-Karabakh region has historically always been inhabited by Armenians, but was assigned to Azerbaijan by Stalin in Soviet times. This has already twice led to a war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, with many dead and immeasurable war misery. Self-determination of peoples?
Separatist groups declared the districts (oblasts) of Luhansk and Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine as independent in 2014. Since then there has been a civil war, longer than the Second World War and already with thousands of dead. The breakaway provinces are supported economically and to a certain extent militarily by Russia, which is why Kiev has forbidden this warlike conflict to be called a “civil war”. There would be a simple solution: if both states, Ukraine and Russia, were certain that the people in Luhansk and Donetsk would be best served in their union, the vote in Saarland in 1955 could be copied: Ukraine and Russia would have to give advance assurances that they would accept the result of the vote, to which country the people would like to belong. Thus, hundreds or even thousands more deaths, endless misery and last but not least a lot of money could be saved. Ukraine spends almost a third of its public expenditure on military rearmament, and NATO states are helping tens of millions as the population leaves the country, even in this evil Russia.
The right of peoples to self-determination is an empty phrase
Last year, 2020, the UN celebrated its 75th anniversary. The vast majority of the 193 Member States are certainly happy, or at least satisfied, that this platform for avoiding international conflicts still exists. And no doubt the UN has at one time or another actually succeeded in preventing a greater war. But why, above all, do the Western countries and, first and foremost, the Americans claim that democracy is to be promoted all over the world, without even thinking for a minute that genuine democracy also includes the right of peoples to self-determination? The honest statement would be that this is not about democracy and certainly not about the right of peoples to self-determination, but about power, about hegemony and about economic interests.
The “case” of Scotland should be interesting
As we know, Scotland voted against Brexit in the vote on whether the UK should remain part of the EU or break away from the EU. Two years earlier, however, Scotland had decided against secession from England in a referendum with 55 percent of the vote. In the meantime, however, the SNP party, which currently represents the Scottish government, is once again advocating separation from England and political independence for Scotland. Will “London” allow the Scots to vote again, thus accepting the desired self-determination of the Scots? And if Scotland carries out such a vote in spite of a “no” from London? Will there also be a vote in the UN, as in the case of Crimea in 2014, and will the same 100 of the total 193 UN members vote for economic sanctions against Scotland, as in the case of Crimea, for example, Switzerland? And if so, will credit cards no longer work in Scotland, as they do in Crimea today, no more Swisscom mobile phones ringing, no more travel agencies being allowed to offer a trip to Scotland?
From this point of view, such a vote in Scotland with the result “independence” would be almost desirable. It would make several mendacities of this world transparent. And to show even more clearly that the right of peoples to self-determination, as already mentioned in paragraph 2 of the UN Charter in the first chapter, after the exemplary vote in the Saarland, has hardly been and is no longer accepted and taken seriously by the powers of this world.