Monday, May 18, 2009

Native Lands - Reservations, Home Lands, and Republics (Part 1)

Nearly every country on Earth has expanded or changed its borders since its founding. Some of the larger and more expansive states, including liberal democracies, have therefore absorbed territory that was populated by another ethnic group. This leads to a variety or combination of outcomes including ethnic cleansing, relocation, and assimilation. Another possible outcome is land being given to the "native" ethnic group. These lands can range from nominal complete independence to merely property ownership exchanges. The history behind these lands can be peaceful to tragic.

Nominal Independence

South Africa's Bantustans: Since the early 1900s the Afrikaners (Africans of Dutch descent) had used British democracy to peacefully retake South Africa from the ruling English/Scottish elite. Once the Afrikaners retook the political scene they set out to separate the various races. Earlier in the 1920s reserves were created for Black South Africans. The 1950s saw the establishment of Bantustan or homelands. These homelands were meant to be the dumping ground for Blacks, lands that would provide Afrikaner-ruled South Africa with resources while also giving Afrikaners the excuse not to spend resources on development of Black-populated lands.

Four of the Bantustans were given independence (not recognized by any other country). One, Transkei, even became hostile towards South Africa. The Bantustans were ruled by local elite whose self-interest was tied into the continuation of Apartheid. At their height the Bantustans covered about twelve percent of South Africa and held about half the population. The Bantustans were abolished in 1994 and reintegrated into South Africa.

Autonomy

Soviet/Russian Republics and Oblasts: The medeval Russian response to constant invasion threats from the east was to conquer everything until the reached the end of Asia and then keep on creating trade posts all the way down into California. This rapid territorial expansion gave the Russian Empire a realm full of Tatars, Poles, Finns, Tajiks, and many more. The policy of the Tsar for the various ethnic groups was the same as the policy towards ethnic Russians: tax and crush any rebellion. When the empire collapsed and the Soviets took a policy of national autonomy was implemented allowing for the various nations to be given their own republics. The idea was to allow each ethnic nation to develop its own culture freely in the confines of communism.

The larger ethnic groups like Georgians and Kazakhs were given their own republics that in theory were on par (but in reality were still treated like colonies of Russia) with the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic. Other smaller groups like Ossetians, Volga Germans, and Karakalpak were given "autonomous republics" which were part of a greater Soviet Socialist Republic. Finally, other groups like the Jews were given their own autonomous oblasts.

The fall of the Soviet Union saw massive change in the various republics. The major ones declared independence. Most autonomous republics went with the flow and allowed independence while others experienced violent war. Georgia continues on-again/off-again wars with its former autonomous republic and autonomous oblast of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Meanwhile Armenia backed the autonomous oblast of Nagorno-Karabakh in its war against Azerbaijan. Russia went to war twice against Chechnya to preserve the union of the Russian Federation. Today Russia is returning to the age of the Tsar and more direct rule over the republics and oblasts. Former president Putin ended the election of presidents of the republic to allow for direct appointment.

Coming Wednesday: Part 2

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