Kosovo is finally having its elections. This brings up an interesting topic on the success of rebellion as a tool for independence.
The fracturing of Western colonial empires has brought about the emergence of new, independent countries. Usually hard fought with revolutions in their various forms, nations have carved out for themselves their own territory, with their own military, and established their own state. Revolution was the battle cry of the time, and it was radical, and it was beautiful.
As time passed though, the changing state of nations have made segments of their populations realize the need for further divisions, for new states to emerge. When their requests weren’t heeded by inherently defensive and territorially static governments, they turned to rebellion.
People joining rebellions have various reasons. One is ethnicity. The Kurds of Iraq have asked for an independent Kurdistan (actually, Kurdistan covers several countries). Albanian Kosovars want to be freed from the clutches of Serbia. Muslim Mindanao have asked for a separate state in the Philippines. Despite the fluid definition of ”nation”, it seems these movements refuse to be percolated with their fellow citizens. The claim of ethnic differences hearken to deep insecurities held by these groups against the prevailing, “dominant” race or religion. They conjure up feelings of oppression, repression, and discrimination that were the lifeblood of revolutions in the past. They spark rebellion in these countries.
These make us ask two things: First, is rebellion the solution? Second, is independence the solution?
Rebellion comes in different forms, depending on the state of the government’s controlling apparatus. In more controlling states with the capability to enforce that control (such as Russia, China and Singapore), rebellion is merely voiced out in various media, only to be clamped down on by the government. In states without the capability to defend the governing apparatus, armed movements gain control over sections of territory. This is what is seen in Africa’s rebellions in Ethiopia, the Congo, and Uganda, to name a few. The same can be said of Asia’s revolutions such as the Philippines, Nepal, Thailand, Sri Lanka and several others. In countries where the state is not as controlling, but has the potential to be so, rebellions come in the form of a dynamic opposition using available legal means to pursue their interests. Good examples include Canada’s Quebecois independence movement, the USA’s American Indian lobbies, and the now pacified IRA in the United Kingdom.
Using a more practical analysis, it seems that rebellions without the full capacity to win their independence have detrimental effects to their country and to their cause. A resurgent and vengeful government would throw its military might at them, cutting down their numbers, repressing their freedoms, and fueling even more of the discontent and oppressive feelings that sparked rebellion in the first place. But when that government doesn’t have enough of the military muscle to accomplish its crackdown, chronic tit-for-tat battles take place lasting for decades and resulting in more detriments for the population than both the government or the rebels. Africa itself is a model for this, with rebels having the gall to attack UN peacekeepers who are tiptoeing around, reluctant to use force that may aggravate the situation and result in their ejection from the country. Active recruiting of children into the army is also a common occurence, teaching them how to accomplish the killing, the raping, and the pillaging of warfare.
Rebellions that are successful, though, result in the creation of new countries and the establishment of new governments. At this point, we have answered the first question. Rebellion is only a solution if there is enough bite to back its bark.
But this leads us to a more complicated question: Is independence really the solution?
A new government has a multitude of problems. Being a neophyte in governance, the fledgeling state has no credits in National Management 101, and frequently bungles up its job. One thing it doesn’t do well on is the establishment of viable industries. East Timor is an example of a country tied up so much in economic deals that try to please its more powerful trading partners, that it barely has any GNP left to spend on its own development. Bangladesh is wallowing in poverty, as is Pakistan, from which it gained independence. Other Asian countries, though, are proving that it is possible to learn fiscal discipline. South East Asian countries have shown their resilience post-independence, and even post-1997, when a regional economic crisis occured. The Philippines has the best performing currency in Asia this year, and Vietnam is developing at a rate second only to China.
Of course, economics is not the be all and end all. Democratization, which seems to be the byword in governance in this era, is crucial. Governments have to balance the establishment of security and control over their newly acquired territories, with the expectations of the international community and their own citizens as to their rights and freedoms. It is here that the issue becomes prickly. Juntas in different countries (such as in Thailand, Pakistan, Burma/Myanmar) seem reluctant to let go of their newly acquired power. In a time ripe for political opportunism, oppositionists quickly rise to criticize their governments, drunk too on their newly acquired freedoms. A government has to balance all interests, lest they commit the same mistakes the previous government made, and spark new revolutions in unstable times.
These concerns, along with the growing trend toward the promotion of politicoeconomic stability have downplayed the need for independence, and hence, for rebellion. The internationalization of tolerance and the increasing use of the negotiation table by governments have quelled many rebellions by satisfactory deals. The IRA, for instance has laid down its arms in favor of reforms in representation in the United Kingdom. The MNLF has given up secessionism in favor of a measure of autonomy in the southern Philipppines.
Sometimes, the moderation of formerly rebellious groups has sparked a reactionary radicalism, new movements that aspire to “purer ideals” with no compromise or wavering. The infamous kidnapping group, the Abu Sayyaf, is a spawn of the MNLF in the Philippines. In what is arguably a rebellious movement seeking independence, the Palestine Liberation Organization has split into so many factions, moderate and armed, that makes it difficult for others to negotiate with them.
Thus, in the end, there is no real answer as to whether independence is a solution because it all depends on the change that happens. A new government must prove itself able and willing. It must maintain the principles of its revolution. It must conform to internationally-conceded standards of governance. It must quell other rebellions and security threats.
In short, it must be Machiavellian.