Gordon Johnston examines the parallels between Ireland and Ukraine.
The crisis in Ukraine deepens with each week that passes, bringing us closer to a global conflict. It is sad that we in the United Kingdom do not recognise the importance of self-determination of a minority, instead allowing ourselves to be driven (with hawkish intent) to condemn and punish Russia.
How quickly, indeed, we forget our own imperialist history. Comparison can be drawn between the Ireland of a hundred years ago and the Ukraine of today: Ukraine and the Republic of Ireland are relatively new states in a historic sense. Prior to gaining their independence, both were at the mercy of larger and more powerful neighbours.
Crimea has further similarities to Northern Ireland. The Protestant Unionists in the North East of Ireland were a majority population there, yet formed a minority of the island as a whole. This situation is mirrored in Ukraine, and particularly in Crimea; the ethnic Russian population have a majority in the latter and in parts of Eastern Ukraine, yet in Ukraine as whole they are a minority. Rather than lead us down the road to war, we must hope that they choose the path of peace instead.
The creation of Northern Ireland sewed terrible seeds that would lead to a bitter harvest some fifty years later. With this in mind, global leaders must use their collective wisdom so that the peoples of Ukraine and Crimea do not have to suffer the despair and heartbreak endured for so long by Northern Ireland.
Global leaders must use their collective wisdom so that the peoples of Ukraine and Crimea do not have to suffer the despair and heartbreak endured for so long by Northern Ireland.
The creation of monocultural states is repulsive; it sends a message that humans with differing opinions cannot live together in peace. In libertarian eyes, however, partition may well be the only entirely peaceful outcome left in this crisis to prevent wholesale slaughter of innocents in the region. Ukraine, Russia, the EU and the USA do not have the authority to deny a people self-determination.
The minority populations in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland suffered at the hands of the majority population. Such is the weakness of democracy. Equally, the regimes of Ukraine and Russia do not appear to be shy when delivering their brand of justice to dissenting voices. And, frankly, I fear for the minority populations once this crisis eventually ends.
If the ugly solution of partition is chosen by the respective leaders of the various movements, then it must look to Northern Ireland and the mistakes that were made in its creation. The Northern Irish border was determined for political reasons rather than practical ones, in that Northern Ireland had to be a large enough state to be workable – but also retain a Unionist majority, so that it would not leave the United Kingdom. Later advice to add parts of the Irish Free State (which wanted to be part of the UK) to Northern Ireland was ignored, as was that which suggested ceding those parts of Northern Ireland who wished to be part of the Irish Free State. The citizens affected suffered as a result of the high politics of the elite.
In truth, I do not care if partition leads to an East and West Ukraine or a Greater Russia. These decisions are for the people of Ukraine, and not cosy Westerners thousands of miles away from the conflict engulfing Ukrainians’ everyday lives. If such partition happens, and it secures the lives and freedoms of all the people in Ukraine, I will rejoice – and care little for the nationalistic pride of Ukraine being dented.
It may be an unrealistic hope, but perhaps, in an effort to maintain peace, both parties could fund the voluntary relocation of citizens who found themselves on the wrong side of a newly emerging border. In doing so, a monoculture in the newly formed states may indeed be cemented, but the action might also prevent later discrimination against minorities – minorities, in a monoculture, would not (strictly speaking) exist. This would be a difficult thing for many people to stomach, having grown up in and become attached to certain areas. But it would also be their opportunity to live in the state to which they have a greater affinity.
Both parties could fund the voluntary relocation of citizens who found themselves on the wrong side of a newly emerging border.
This is all a game to the modern superpowers of Russia, the EU and the USA; they are using the people of Ukraine as pawns. The primary concern of the EU and USA is to teach the Russian Bear a lesson, rather than ensuring the safety of all the citizens of Ukraine.
Russia is not without blame in this crisis, of course, but it is easy to forget that the EU and its Ukrainian supporters provoked the current situation. Expansionist EU policy towards Ukraine spooked Russia into overreacting and giving Yanukovych whatever nudge he needed to revoke the EU deal. This dutifully-elected president was then toppled by violent anti-Russian protestors, apparently justifying Russian action. Crimes committed by the Yanukovych regime in their attempt to quell this rebellion have, posthumously, been used to justify that rebellion and denounce the entire regime as unjust. Sadly, there has been little condemnation of the atrocities committed by the new interim regime against pro-Russian movements in the east of Ukraine.
Great Britain and Ireland have learnt painful lessons regarding nationality and identity in the many centuries of violence between their peoples. There will always be an element intent on using violence to achieve their political aims, but we must resist violence with non-violent means as much as possible. In this way situations do not escalate, and further casualties are avoided.
If the majority of Irish in the early 20th century had of been given Home Rule as they wished, perhaps Ireland would have been spared much of the devastation seen in the last hundred years. If guarantees had been given to the minority who wished to remain as part of the United Kingdom, then perhaps they would have treated their neighbours with more respect and less fear.
Rather than fuel discord and conflict in the Ukraine, we should use our experiences to promote peace and agreement by sharing our experiences over the last 100 years.
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