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Debate: South Ossetia independence

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Should South Ossetia be independent?

Contents

Background and Context of Debate:

South Ossetia is a region in the South Caucasus, formerly the South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast within the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic. A part of it has been de facto independent from Georgia since it declared independence as the Republic of South Ossetia early in the 1990s during the Georgian-Ossetian conflict. The issue of its independence arose again in 2008, as Georgia launched military operations to regain control of the territory. Russia, long an advocate of S. Ossetian independence, launched a counter-attack, and obtained control in the middle of August 2008.

The primary factor in favor of S. Ossetian independence is the fact that roughly 90% of South Ossetians desire independence from Georgia, and have voted for it in multiple referendums, most notably in 2006. But, this does not necessarily mean that S. Ossetia has a right to independence. This fact must be weighed against many other factors in this debate in determining whether S. Ossetian independence would be justified.

S. Ossetian independence has not been diplomatically recognized by any member of the United Nations – which continues to regard South Ossetia as part of Georgia. Georgia has retained control over parts of the region's eastern and southern districts where it created, in April 2007, a Provisional Administrative Entity of South Ossetia headed by ethnic Ossetians (former members of the separatist government) under the leadership of Dmitry Sanakoev which would negotiate with central Georgian authorities regarding its final status and conflict resolution.


Self-determination: Does S. Ossetia have a right to self-determination?

Yes

  • South Ossetia has a right to self-determination The 1993 Vienna Declaration, which reaffirmed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Charter (and so sets the standard in current international law), unequivocally gives all peoples the right to self-determination: "All people have the right to self-determination. Owing to this right they freely establish their political status and freely provide their economic, social and cultural development...World Conference on Human Rights considers refusal of the right to self-determination as a violation of human rights and emphasizes the necessity of effective realization of this right". By this measure, South Ossetia has the right to self-determination (by democratic processes), and any suppression of that right should be seen as a human rights violation.
  • 99% of South Ossetians voted for independence in 2006 In 2006, South Ossetia held a referendum that found over 99% of its population of over 100,000 desire independence from Georgia. 95% of the the population turned out to vote. The referendum was monitored by a team of 34 international observers. These facts are the core of the case for South Ossetian independence. It demonstrates that South Ossetians are entirely unified and enthusiastic in their desire for independence. The strength and unity of these calls for independence are almost unprecedented and cannot be ignored by the international community. And, certainly, the percentage of a population that desires independence is of relevance to assessing the legitimacy of the call and a country's right to self-determination. By this standard, South Ossetia's right to self-determination is highly legitimate.
  • S. Ossetians will not accept reintegration with Georgia. It is important to recognize that South Ossetia has been de facto independent for some time. If it does not achieve independence, the proposed alternative is that it re-integrate into Georgia. Yet, Georgians will clearly not accept this change of the status quo against their favor.



No

  • Self-determination is not absolute; S. Ossetia does not qualify. Self-determination is not an absolute right. Not every territory and region in the world that seeks independence has the right to it. This is due in no small part to the fact that such a system would be unworkable. Certain criteria must be met for a territory and people to obtain a legitimate right to self-determination. Much of the below case outlines these criteria and why S. Ossetia fails to meet them all satisfactorily.
  • Self-determination violates Georgia's sovereign territorial integrity. It is not enough that South Ossetians desire independence. Georgia has a sovereign right to maintain its territorial integrity.
  • The world needs fewer borders; A S. Ossetian nation adds more. As a principle, borders should be coming down around the world, not going up. This promotes greater integration, tolerance, and a higher worldview globally. An independent S. Ossetia would create more borders, and would be, therefore, bad for the future of the world. While the principal of self-determination sounds attractive, it must be balanced against this valuable principle as well.
  • Diversity is desirable; S. Ossetia should stay with Georgia. Even if S. Ossetians are a distinct people with a distinct claim to nationhood, isn't this actually good reason for them to stay within Georgia. This would expose both ethnic S. Ossetians and Georgians to greater diversity. While the principle of self-determination has value, so do these other counter-veiling principle.


2006 referendum: Should S. Ossetia's 2006 referendum be respected?

Yes

  • 99% of South Ossetians voted for independence in 2006 In 2006, South Ossetia held a referendum that found over 99% of its population of over 100,000 desire independence from Georgia. 95% of the the population turned out to vote. The referendum was monitored by a team of 34 international observers. These facts are the core of the case for South Ossetian independence.
  • S. Ossetia's democratic 2006 referendum should be recognized globally. Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs described the 2006 referendum as a "free expression of the will of South Ossetia’s people through democratic procedures. Many countries in Europe and America could only envy the level of organization and democratic transparency [in South Ossetia]."[1] Denying the legitimacy of this democratic referendum is to deny the South Ossetian people the right to self determination. That the international community refuses to recognize
  • S. Ossetia referendum cannot be rejected on grounds that it is destabilizing. The US State Department as well as the European Union both argued that the South Ossetia referendum was wrong on the basis that it was "unhelpful" and could exacerbate tensions with Georgia. This, however, is an invalid status quo argument. It posits that any vote taken by the South Ossetians that disrupts the status quo is invalid, while a vote that might uphold the status quote could be considered valid. This is an unprincipled argument. The South Ossetians have a right to express their beliefs, and those beliefs are legitimate and should be respected, irrespective of whether it disrupts the status quo or even leads to conflict with Georgia.



No

  • South Ossetia was wrong to hold elections under conflict conditions. In 2006, South Ossetia can be said to have been in 8 conflict with Georgia when it held its 2006 referendum on independence. Holding referendums under such conflict conditions is generally illegitimate because the results of the elections are skewed by the conflict, threats, and the various risks for the voters involved. This caused David Bakradze, the chairman of a Georgian parliamentary European Integration Committee, to comment, "Under conflict conditions, you cannot speak about legitimate elections."[2]
The European human rights watchdog, the Council of Europe, denounced the referendum as "unnecessary, unhelpful and unfair".


Recognition: Is S. Ossetia recognized in the international community?

Yes

  • Russia supports S. Ossetia's 2006 referendum and right to independence. The world is certainly not united in opposing S. Ossetia's move for independence. Russia has clearly offered support to S. Ossetia's move toward independence, and have called for the world to recognize the will of the S. Ossetian people.


No

  • S. Ossetia is not recognized diplomatically by any UN member This fact is critical against S. Ossetia's case for independence. In order to obtain independence, it is important that a country be recognized diplomatically by a significant number of members of the United Nations. This is important in large part because it ensures that a state will have viable diplomatic relations internationally if it becomes independent. It also demonstrates that the international system supports a certain action being taken internationally.


Kosovo precedent: Does S. Ossetia deserve independence because Kosovo got it?

Yes

  • South Ossetia has as much claim to independence as Kosovo Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2007. Most Western scholars consider this to have been a legitimate claim. A comparative analysis reveals that South Ossetia has an equally legitimate claim to independence as Kosovo. Both have populations that overwhelmingly support independence (roughly 90%). Both have populations with a distinct ethnic, national, and linguistic identity. Both have governed themselves autonomously for some time. And, both have been oppressed by the governments that make a claim to have sovereign rights over them (Serbin over Kosovo, and Georgia over S. Ossetia). Both are small, landlocked states. There appear to be more similarities between Kosovo and S. Ossetia than dissimilarities.


No

  • Kosovo independence was illegitimate so is a bad precedent. Kosovo should not have been given independence. Its independence is, therefore, illegitimate, and should not be held up as a precedent by which South Ossetian independence can be justified.


Georgian governance: Has Georgia inadequately governed S. Ossetia?

Yes


No

  • Georgia has a democratically elected government. Georgia's government is democratic and modern in its institutions. It is fully capable and intent on governing S. Ossetia democratically and honestly.
  • Georgia cannot be blamed for its absence in S. Ossetia. Georgia has been absent in S. Ossetia. Yet, this is not the will of the Georgian government, but the result of S. Ossetian separatism. If Georgia was given a chance to govern S. Ossetia, it would do so very well.


Viability: Would S. Ossetia be a viable state?

Yes

The Republic of South Ossetia is a legally valid democratic state. The Republic of South Ossetia held all the elections without exception, all the procedures of delegation of powers to the President, Parliament, and the Government in strict accordance with the constitutional order. The Republic has independent legal procedure, army and militia and security service. The state levies taxes, provides property rights and social service – public health services, provision of pensions, public safety, power and road and transport services, etc.


No

  • South Ossetia is unviable as an independent state There are many factors that make South Ossetia unviable as a state. South Ossetia is very small with a very small population. It is also a landlocked state and very poor. These facts make it unlikely that South Ossetia could act effectively as an independent state. The result is that it would become dependent on other states.
  • S. Ossetia is economically unviable as a state South Ossetian GDP was estimated at US$ 15 million (US$ 250 per capita) in a work published in 2002. Daria Vaisman wrote in a 2006 Christian Science Monitor article that South Ossetia is "lacking...the basic economic necessities for autonomy."[3] Indeed, a $15 million GDP would make South Ossetia one of the poorest nations in the world. Following a war with Georgia in the 1990s, South Ossetia has struggled economically. Employment and supplies are scarce. The majority of the population survives on subsistence farming. Virtually the only significant economic asset that South Ossetia possesses is control of the Roki Tunnel that links Russia and Georgia, from which the South Ossetian government reportedly obtains as much as a third of its budget by levying customs duties on freight traffic. The separatist officials admitted that Tskhinvali received more than 60 percent of its 2006 budget revenue directly from the Russian government.


History: Does S. Ossetia have an historical claim to independence?

Yes

  • Georgia and S. Ossetia have a long history of conflict. Georgia's long history of attempting to assert control over S. Ossetia consists of unending conflict, tension, and resistance. S. Ossetians have never accepted Georgian sovereignty without putting up a fight. The length of this history of conflict suggests that it is very unlikely to end. The only way to end it is through S. Ossetian independence.
  • Modern Georgia never really controlled S. Ossetia. South Ossetia declared independence from Georgia shortly after Georgia gained independence from the disintegrating USSR in 1991. South Ossetia has maintained de facto independence ever since. Goergia, therefore, cannot really claim to have had sustained, legitimate sovereign control over South Ossetia in modern times. Therefore, its only real claim to South Ossetia must extend back nearly a century, before the time of the Soviet Union. This significantly weakens Georgia's claim over South Ossetia.
  • Bolsheviks recognized Ossetia as an independent state. The Kremlin stated on May 17th, 1920, "… we consider that Ossetia should have the power it prefers. Georgian intrusion into affairs of Ossetia would be an unjustified intervention into foreign internal affairs".[4]
  • S. Ossetia was autonomous under USSR; a basis for independence. S. Ossetia was an autonomous region within the USSR. It was not considered part of the same region that is now Georgia. Therefore, S. Ossetia, during its years under the USSR, built up a significant degree of autonomy and independence in its internal functioning.
  • S. Ossetia legitimately gained independence at break-up of USSR. "Independence of the Republic of South Ossetia". Speech at the VI congress of the Ossetian people. 18 Mar. 2008 - "State Sovereignty of the Republic of South Ossetia After Georgia declared its independence, the Republic of South Ossetia was acting in strict conformity with the Law of “Order of Settlement of the Withdrawal Problems of Union Republics from the USSR” and gained its independence as the result of a national referendum in compliance with all legal norms and procedures under the control of observers from foreign states."
  • The name Ossetia has a history independent of Georgia. Chapter 4 of "The Georgian - South Ossetian Conflict" - "Ossetian historians dedicate much effort to show that the name South Ossetia was not an invention by the Soviet Union, but used much earlier; this they demonstrate by using Russian, Armenian, Western and Georgian sources. They state that the first written source mentioning the name South Ossetia is in the early middle ages by Armenians (as for example in Gagloiti)."


No

  • Ossetians migrated to Georgia; Georgia did not annex Ossetian land. Under Mongol rule, Ossetians were pushed out of their medieval homeland south of the Don river in present-day Russia and part migrated towards and over the Caucasus mountains, to Georgia, where they formed three distinct territorial entities. Digor in the west came under the influence of the neighboring Kabard people, who introduced Islam. Tualläg in the south became what is now South Ossetia, part of the historical Georgian principality of Samachablo, where Ossetians found refuge from Mongol invaders. S. Ossetians, therefore, came to and settled in Georgian territory. This demonstrates that Georgian territory existed prior to a population of S. Ossetians coming to that territory to settle. Georgia, therefore, has a greater claim to the integrity of its territory than S. Ossetia does to its existence in a certain territory.
  • Russia agreed that South Ossetia was part of Georgia in 1917. Chapter 4 of "The Georgian - South Ossetian Conflict" - "After the collapse of the Tsarist Empire in 1917 (of which Georgia had been part of since 1801) Georgia declared its independence. Georgia formed the Democratic Republic of Georgia, led by the Georgian social democrats - the so-called Menshevics. The country was recognised by several Western states (Sakvarelidze 1993, p.27). On 7 May 1920, a treaty of friendship was signed between Georgia and Russia in which, according to Georgian sources Russia recognised South Ossetia as an integral part of Georgia. It was named as Tiflis Gubernia and included the district Shida Kartli, therefore including what was to become the South Ossetian Autonomous Region (Oblast)"
  • The Ossetian people have a divided, non-contiguous history. The Ossetians are originally descendants of the Alans, a Sarmatian tribe. They became Christians during the early Middle Ages, under Georgian and Byzantine influences. Under Mongol rule, they were pushed out of their medieval homeland south of the Don river in present-day Russia and part migrated towards and over the Caucasus mountains, to Georgia where they formed three distinct territorial entities. Digor in the west came under the influence of the neighboring Kabard people, who introduced Islam. Tualläg in the south became what is now South Ossetia, part of the historical Georgian principality of Samachablo where Ossetians found refuge from Mongol invaders. Iron in the north became what is now North Ossetia, under Russian rule from 1767. Most Ossetians are now Christian (approximately 61%); there is also a significant Muslim minority.


Joining Russia: Might S. Ossetia join Russia? Would this be OK?

Yes

  • S. Ossetia may re-join with N. Ossetia and Russia. S. Ossetia may seek independence. Following independence, however, it is equally valid that it seek to re-join with N. Ossetia - its natural kin to the north - and subsequently join the Russian federation. Of course, it would have to first separate from Georgia, whereupon it will have the capacity to then decide to join Russia.


No

  • If the aim to join Russia, S. Ossetia nationalism arguments can't apply. If the aim of the S. Osseitans' is to join with Russia, upon seceding from Georgia, than the many arguments it is putting forward in support of its national identity and right to self-determination do not apply in the same way.


Stability: Is S. Ossetian independence an important means to stability?

Yes

  • S. Ossetian independence will help avoid future conflict. Alan Dzhusoev, head of Club Open Society, a leading South Ossetian non-governmental organization. - "A failure to recognize South Ossetia will turn Tskhinvali [South Ossetia's de facto capital] into Beirut, with unending militarized clashes and tensions in the region."[5] This is confirmed by the fact that the history of Georgia and S. Ossetia is one of unending conflict. This will only continue into the future, unless S. Ossetia obtains independence.


No

  • If S. Ossetians renounce violence, no future conflicts will occur. S. Ossetian militant separatists argue that, if S. Ossetia is not given independence, that future violence and chaos will result. Yet, this is only the case if S. Ossetian separatists continue to resist Georgia's sovereignty violently. If S. Ossetians renounce the use of force and their separatism, there will be no future conflicts. This is an equally valid solution as independence.


Ethnicity: Do the S. Ossetian's have a distinct national identity?

Yes

  • South Ossetia has a resident population. This is one of the primary criteria for recognition as a state in the international system. South Ossetia has a resident population, consisting of peoples with lineages extending back many centuries.
  • Dividing Ossetians stokes ethnic conflict for the future.


No

Language: Does South Ossetia have a distinct language?

Yes

  • South Ossetia has its own distinct language. Ossetian or Ossetic is a member of the Northeastern Iranian branch of Indo-European languages. About 500,000 people speak Ossetian in Ossetia. That Ossetia has this distinct language is an important fact in favor of its status as a nation-state and in favor of its independence.


No

Geography: Does geography favor S. Ossetian independence?

Yes

  • S. Ossetia has a definite territory. This is one of the primary criteria for statehood under international law. South Ossetia has a definite territory in the international system. Its territory is already recognized within Georgia (as an autonomous region), with clear boundaries.


No

Pro/con resources

Yes


No


External links

See also

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