Send this article to a friend:

September
25
2017

Patriotism, Flags and Referendums
Raúl Ilargi Meijer

‘Tis the jolly time of elections, referendums, flags and other democracy-related issues. They are all linked in some way or another, even if that’s not always obvious. Elections, in New Zealand and Germany this weekend, referendums in Catalonia and Kurdistan the coming week, a looming Party Congress in China, quarrels about a flag in the US and then there’s always Brexit.

About China: the Congress is only in October, Xi Jinping looks sure to broaden his powers even more, and it ain’t all that democratic, but we should still follow it, if only because party officials will be either demoted or promoted, and some of them govern more people than most kings, queens, presidents and prime ministers. They say everything’s bigger in Texas, but in China everything really is. Including debt.

New Zealand: the election very early this morning didn’t bring a much hoped for win for Labour, or any clear winner at all, so don’t expect any grand changes in policy. New Zealand won’t wake up till its economy dives and the housing bubble pops. 

Germany: Angela Merkel has set up today’s election so that she has no competition. Though she will see the ultra-right AfD enter parliament. Still, her main ‘rival’, alleged left wing Martin Schulz, is a carbon copy of Merkel when it comes to the main issues, i.e. immigration and the EU. An election that is as dull as Angela herself, even though she’ll lose 10% or so. The next one won’t be, guaranteed. 

As for the US, no elections there, but another round of big words about nationalism, patriotism and the flag. Donald Trump is well aware that 75% or so of Americans say the flag must be respected, so criticizing people for kneeling instead of standing when the anthem gets played is an easy win for him. No amount of famous athletes is going to change that. 

It all doesn’t seem very smart or sophisticated. But then, the US is the only western country I know of that plays the anthem at domestic sports games and has children vow a Pledge of Allegiance to it every single day. Other countries can’t even imagine doing that. They keep their anthems for special occasions. And even then only a few people stand up when it’s played. For most, it’s much ado about nothing but a strip of cotton. 

What is perhaps interesting is that a whole list of NFL team owners donated a million dollars to Trump, and now speak out against him and ‘side with their players’, even though not one of them has offered Colin Kaepernick a job since he got fired for going down on one knee. Should I add ‘allegedly’? The only right way to handle the issue would seem to be to talk about why Kaepernick and others do what they do, not that they do it. There’s more than enough division in the country to warrant such talks. 

Let Trump invite Kaepernick and Stephen Curry, maybe even Lebron and Stevie Wonder, to the White House with the very intention to talk about that. In the current hostile climate that is not going to happen though, even if Da Donald might want to. There’s a group of people who after 30 years of a deteriorating economy said ‘this is not my country anymore’, and voted for the only -apparent- alternative available, Trump, and another group who then said ‘this is not my president’. 

And never the twain shall have a conversation. Somebody better find a way to get them to talk about it, or worse is to come. Far too many Americans identify themselves solely as not being someone else. Yeah, Trump too, but he’s been under constant siege from all sides, and of course he’ll fight back. No, that does not make me a Trump cheerleader, as some have suggested, but what’s happening today threatens to blow up the entire nation, after first having eroded the whole political system. This is a serious risk.

Now spymaster James Clapper is saying again that the whole Russia thing, for which there still is zero proof, could make the election invalid. Well, not without proof, Jimbo. And until you do have that proof, shut up, it’s poisonous (he knows). Instead, go help the 3.5 million literally powerless Americans in Puerto Rico. There are plenty issues to deal with that don’t involve bashing your president. Keep that for later.

(Proposed) referendums (referenda?) in Catalunya and ‘Kurdistan’ raise interesting questions about sovereignty and self determination. We’ll see a lot more of that going forward. I’ve repeatedly mentioned the issue of sovereignty when it comes to Greece, which cannot really be called sovereign anymore because others, foreigners, make all main decisions about its economy. 

There may be plenty different definitions of sovereignty, but there can be no doubt it means that a domestic authority has control over a country. That also means that possible changes to that authority can only be made domestically. To come back to Greece briefly, I’m surprised that no constitutional lawyers or scholars have questioned respective governments handing de facto control to ‘outsiders’.

But that can be both deepened and broadened to the decision to join both first the EU, and later the euro. Have all 27 EU countries run these decisions by their constitutional lawyers and highest courts? I’ve never seen an opinion like that from any country. Does a country’s ruling authority have the power to sign away its sovereignty? I would bet in most cases it does not, or the constitution involved was/is either shoddily written or not worth much to begin with. 

That any elected US president -or Congress, Senate- would have the power to sell the country to the highest bidder -or any part of it- sounds preposterous, even if I’m no constitutional lawyer or scholar. What countries CAN do, of course, is sign treaties and other agreements concerning defence or trade, among others. But any possible sovereignty violations would always need to be scrutinized at the highest domestically available level of judicial power.

Moreover, I would argue that sovereignty is not something that can be divided, split up or broken into separate parts. You’re either sovereign or you’re not. One country, indivisible, as the US Pledge of Allegiance states (but that doesn’t mean a group of people inside a country can’t seek its own sovereignty).

The ‘composition’ of the EU raises a lot of questions. Many countries have given up their rights to control over their currencies, and therefore their entire economic policies, and though the euro is undoubtedly beneficial in some areas, it has turned out to be a straight-jacket in others, when less sunny economic times arrived.

So what happens if those less sunny times are here to stay? Will countries like Greece continue to bend over for Germany, and for the ECB it controls, or will some of these countries (re-)examine their rights to sovereignty? How is this defined in the EU charter anyway? It has to be there, or many constitutions were violated to begin with when countries signed up. Sovereignty that is not properly defined is meaningless. 

Another, non-economic, example concerns the Visegrad countries, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. It’s wonderfully ironic that Wikipedia says the Visegrad alliance (est. in 1991) was formed “for the purposes of furthering their European integration”, ironic because one might be tempted to think it does the opposite. The Visegrad countries refuse to be part of the EU’s scheme to resettle refugees.

And Brussels tries to force them to comply with that scheme, with threat after threat. But that too, no matter how one views the issue or where one’s sympathies lie, is in the end a sovereignty issue. And what use is it to force refugees upon a country that doesn’t want them? The bigger question is of course: why were they ever invited into the EU when they think that way, and that way is fundamentally different from that prevalent in Brussels and other member countries?

Or perhaps the even bigger question should be: how do you combine a country’s sovereignty with a political and economic union of nations that must sign away parts of their sovereignty -and therefore all of it, as argued before-. If you ask me, it’s not nearly as easy -let alone legal- as they try to make it look.

Catalunya and ‘Kurdistan’ are good examples – albeit from a different angle- of that same conundrum. A topic closely linked to sovereignty is self-determination. Wikipedia:

The right of people to self-determination is a cardinal principle in modern international law (commonly regarded as a jus cogens rule), binding, as such, on the United Nations as authoritative interpretation of the {UN] Charter’s norms. It states that a people, based on respect for the principle of equal rights and fair equality of opportunity, have the right to freely choose their sovereignty and international political status with no interference. 

[..] on 11 February 1918 US President Woodrow Wilson stated: “National aspirations must be respected; people may now be dominated and governed only by their own consent

‘Self determination’ is not a mere phrase; it is an imperative principle of action.

The Kurds have been denied that right for a very long time. For reasons related to divide and rule policies in a whole slew of different global powers both in the region and outside of it, and reasons related to oil. After being a major force in the fight against ISIS, and after seeing Turkey get ever more agressive against them -again-, the Kurds have -not for the first time- planned a referendum for a sovereign state. As the UN charter unequivocally says is their right. 

The problem is, they want to establish their state on land that other countries claim is theirs. Even if the Kurds have lived there for a long time. And that’s a common theme in most of these ‘events’. Catalunya, Palestina, ‘Kurdistan’, they’re told they can perhaps have independence and sovereignty, but not on land where their people have lived for 1000s of years, because that land ‘belongs to us’. 

And holding a referendum is therefore unconstitutional, says Spain, or whatever legal term is thrown out. But if the UN charter makes the international community’s position as clear as it does, how can it contradict a member nation’s constitution? Was that member not paying attention when it signed up to the Charter, or did the UN itself let that one slip? 

Catalunya (Catalonia) is the northeast tip of Spain. Its people have long wanted independence and never gotten it. When present day Spain was formed, it was made part of Spain. And now the people want their own nation. It is not hard. But then again it is. We are now one week before October 1, the date the referendum was planned, and the Spanish government has done everything it could and then some to frustrate the referendum, and therefore the will of the people of Catalunya. 

As the politicians who inhabit the EU and UN sit by idly, scared silly of burning their fingers. After arresting Catalan politicians and confiscating anything that could be used to hold the referendum, Spain has sent cruise ships full of police to Catalan harbors, and tried to take over control of the Catalan police force. But Catalan politicians and harbor crew have refused to let the ships dock, and Catalan police won’t obey Spanish orders.

It’s starting to look like Spain PM Rajoy wants to provoke a violent Catalan reaction, so he can send in his army and blame Barcelona and environs. What he doesn’t want to understand is that this will be the end of his government, his career, and of any chance Catalunya will remain part of Spain other than in the short term. It feels like Franco’s military, who, don’t forget, only relinquished control some 40 years ago, are still there in spirit if not physically. 

For everybody’s sake, we can only hope someone does something to stop Rajoy and whoever’s behind his decisions, because if anyone ever wondered why the Catalans wanted to be independent, after those decisions there can be no question anymore. If he sends in the army, Spain as a whole will be something of the past. But first the referendum result, which was very doubtful all along, has now been settled: nearly all Catalans stand united against Rajoy today.

And Catalans are a mixed people. Many do not have their roots there, or even speak the language. But they will not turn on their friends and neighbors. 

Kurdistan’s situation is even a lot more convoluted than Catalunya’s. Borders in the Middle East were drawn more or less at random by the French and British after the fall of the Ottoman Empire nearly 100 years ago. And the Kurds never got their independence, or their country. But now they want it. However, they live spread over 4 different countries, Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. And some of the land they live on has oil. Lots of it. And the cradle of civilization, between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

Just about everyone, including the US, all countries in the region, and the old colonial powers, have declared their resistance to the Kurdish referendum. Getting back to the UN charter et al, isn’t that a curious position? Politicians sign lofty declarations, but when their successors are called upon to uphold them, nobody’s home. And it’s not as if self-determination is such a difficult topic to understand.

The referendum will be held on September 25 in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region, so not in other Kurdish regions. Therefore only 900,000 people, out of some 35 million Kurds, get to vote. But the question on the ballot will be: 

“Do you want the Kurdistan region and the Kurdistani areas outside the region’s administration to become an independent state?”

And that of course means something much more, and much bigger. There’s a ‘Kurdistan’ in Iran, Syria and Turkey as well. Kurds there don’t get to vote, though.

Quoting Bloomberg: “The vote will be held in the three governorates officially ruled by the KRG, as well as in disputed areas currently controlled by Kurdish forces, known as the peshmerga. The Kurds expanded their domain in 2014 when, faced with Islamic State attacks, the Iraqi army deserted the oil-rich city Kirkuk.”

Here’s where the Kurds were living according to the 2014 CIA World Factbook: 

 

As is the case in Catalunya, Iraq’s parliament and top court have declared the vote unconstitutional. That again raises the question: how can a vote violate a country’s constitution if and when that country has signed the UN charter which explicitly defines every people’s right to self-determination? Who’s been asleep when both documents were signed? 

How could the UN let countries sign its charter whose constitutions violated that same charter? Have we all just been playing fast and loose all along? Or, more interestingly, what are we all going to do now that we know about this? Are we going to take self-determination away from people, and sign that into a whole new UN charter? Or are we going to make sure the charter is upheld and make countries change their constitutions to comply with it?

There is a third option (very much in favor): to not do anything. But that gets more dangerous all the time. The days that people could just be ignored are gone. Social media have probably played a large role in that. And so have changing power relationships. 

The EU is blowing itself up through increasing calls for more Europe just as people want less. I’ve said it often before: centralization stops when and where economic growth does. And despite all the creative accounting we see, economic growth is definitely gone in Europe. Just ask Greece, Spain. Ask the people, not the politicians. People will only accept their decisions being made by far away ‘leaders’ if they perceive them as beneficial to their lives, the lives of their children.

Those days are gone, no matter the propaganda. That’s true all over Europe, and it’s true all across the US. The refusal by incumbent powers to recognize this, admit to it, is what gives us the likes of Trump and Brexit and countless other challengers. That Marine Le Pen and others have failed to date doesn’t mean the status quo wins; others will follow. In that vein I was surprised to see Yanis Varoufakis, whom I hold in very great esteem, declare in name of his DiEM 25 movement that:

“I am not taking sides on whether Catalonia should be independent or not” and “What we’re promoting in DiEM25 would solve the problem. We want a real European Union that becomes a single jurisdiction, a country if you want to call it that. In that scenario, it doesn’t matter if Catalonia is part of Spain!”

Europe will not be one country. Nor should it want to be. Europe has 1000 different ways to work together, and the EU has been an utter failure at that. While it has done a ton of good, it is being -predictably- destroyed by the power politics at its top levels. Nobody ever told Europeans that they would wind up living as German provinces. But that is what they are. 

As Varoufakis himself makes abundantly clear is his book Adults in the Room. That’s why Germans have no real choice in today’s election: they have such utter control of the EU they would be crazy to vote against it. But at the same time, the rest of the ‘Union’ would be crazy to let them hold that power. 

And I know that DiEM25 wants to change and reform the EU, but how will they do that knowing they need Germany, more than all other countries, to accomplish it, as Germany is sitting so pretty? Calls for a one-country Europe seem at the very least irresponsibly premature. That’s very far from reality. First things first. No cheating. You can’t say it doesn’t matter what happen to the Catalans today because ‘we’ have bigger plans for tomorrow. That means abandoning them. That’s not a new Europe: that’s what they already have today. 

As for ‘Kurdistan’, what can we do but hope and pray? Hope that the old European colonial powers, as well as Turkey, Iraq and Iran, plus Russia and China, live up to the UN Charter they signed, and let the Kurds show they can be a force for peace in the region, which needs one so badly?! They have shown in no uncertain terms they can defend themselves, and their land, against anyone who threatens them. The Kurdish women army, YPJ, is all you need to know when it comes to that. They are the bravest amongst us. 

If they had their own country, they would continue to do just that, and better. Which just goes to show that nationalism and patriotism are not of necessity negative emotions. It gives people an identity. Which is exactly why brighter heads than the present ones put the right to self-determination in the UN Charter, at a time, 1945, when the world had seen indescribable destruction. 

There’s a lesson there. That we seem to have forgotten already. And now have to learn all over again. Through Colin Kaepernick, through the unbelievable Kurdish women’s YPG army, though the streets of Barcelona. Our world is screwed up, and we need to unscrew it.

 

Nicole M. Foss is co-editor of The Automatic Earth, where she writes under the name Stoneleigh. She and her writing partner, Raúl Ilargi Meijerhave been chronicling and interpreting the on-going credit crunch as the most pressing aspect of our current multi-faceted predicament. The site integrates finance, energy, environment, psychology, population and real politik in order to explain why we find ourselves in a state of crisis and what we can do about it. Prior to the establishment of TAE, she was previously editor of The Oil Drum Canada, where she wrote on peak oil and finance.

Her academic qualifications include a BSc in biology from Carleton University in Canada (where she focused primarily on neuroscience and psychology), a post-graduate diploma in air and water pollution control, the common professional examination in law and an LLM in international law in development from the University of Warwick in the UK. She was granted the University Medal for the top science graduate in 1988 and the law school prize for the top law school graduate in 1997.

 

 

[Most Recent Quotes from www.kitco.com] [Most Recent USD from www.kitco.com] [Most Recent Quotes from www.kitco.com]

Send this article to a friend: