A New “Russian” Internationalism: a (very) early hypothesis

Last week Z Geography examined the interim Ukrainian government’s and Russian government’s narratives of the ongoing conflict over eastern Ukraine (here). In that post, I recounted Russia’s stated objective of protecting the interests of “Russian-speakers” in Ukraine. In this post, I hypothesize that Russia may be adjusting its definition of Russian to include eastern Slavic languages – including Ukrainian.

This presupposes though that Russian is all that different from Ukrainian. It is apparently not, sifting through the sources in the all-popular Wikipedia, we find three academic sources (see note classification 8 on the Ukrainian language page). The first states that among the Slavonic languages (to include Russian and Ukrainian)  “[The] distinction between dialect and language being blurred, there can be no unanimity on this issue in all instances…” And the distinction is very blurry, consider the second definition of dialect from the Random House dictionary: “a provincial, rural, or socially distinct variety of a language that differs from the standard language, especially when considered as substandard.” Language, as some sociologists might argue, may be socially, culturally, and politically appointed. Take the dominance of French in France – as captured nicely in The Discovery of France (Graham Robb). We often take French as the principal language of that political construct called France, but it wasn’t until long after the French Revolution (and the patois are making a comeback).

But I digress. Ukrainian and Russian “have very high rates of mutual intelligibility…The separation of Russian, Ukrainian, and Belorussian as distinct languages is relatively recent…Many Ukrainians in fact speak a mixture of Ukrainian and Russian, finding it difficult to keep the two languages apart…”, according to a source in 1981. As the Wikipedia article notes of a Ukrainian-language source comparing lexicons, Ukrainian is closest to Belarusian (84%), Polish (70%), Serbo-Croatian (68%), Slovak (66%), and Russian (62%). In 1977, a peer-reviewed study asserted that “In terms of immediate mutual intelligibility, the East Slavic zone is a single language.”

Percent of Ukrainian speakers (Purple) and Russian speakers (Blue) in 1989 (lighter) and 2001 (darker) by province

This mutual intelligibility, however, was not sufficient to prevent Russian elites within the Soviet Union from suppressing the language, because it could have become a rallying point for Ukrainian nationalism. A renewed Ukrainian national identity would have been a significant divergence from, and a threat to, the Soviet Union’s internationalist communist/Stalinist identity.

So here’s the hypothesis, could Putin’s (Russia’s) expansionism be fit under the rubric of a more inclusive, internationalist “Russian” (Slavic) identity. The test for this hypothesis will be the remaining years (decades) of President Putin’s rein – will Russia content itself with Crimea and a limited “Russian-speakers only” vision, or will it seek to unite other Eastern Slavic speakers under an enlarging “Russia”? To the ongoing Ukrainian crisis, this identity shift (to pan-“Russian”) would imply that not only could Ukraine’s east be absorbed, but the entire country. If this hypothesis is true, the conflict may resemble the wars of unification in the 1860s (Germany) and 1880s (Italy).

The German case is particularly instructive. Prussia in establishing the Second Reich ignored the German-speaking (at least the elites) of Austria in order to maintain Prussian supremacy in the German empire. Today this curious quirk of political geography is linguistically explained by the existence of “varieties of German.” Consider the map below, how nice that German-German and Austrian-German end at a political boundary! In the current Ukraine-Russia crisis, Russia could leave the west of Ukraine as a rump state.

“Varieties” of German (via Wikipedia)

Geopolitical Cartoons: Monroe and Roosevelt (1900s)

Resurrecting a previous Z Geography series, this week we’ll take a look at the geographic significance of cartoons related to the Monroe Doctrine, specifically the Roosevelt Corollary. As the wikipedia article summarizes, the President James Monroe’s doctrine (articulated in the 1820s) sought to limit European influence in the emerging revolutions in Central and South America. Since the U.S. lacked a “credible” military response at the time, the policy was mostly enforced by the British Empire – who would benefit from new markets for their free trade schemes. At the same time that the U.S. sought to limit European interference in the New World, the U.S. also pledged to respect the internal sovereignty of European countries, to include what colonies remained in the New World.

Of course, perceptions of the doctrine changed with the times. The cartoon below (dated after the U.S. Civil War) depicts a “crippled” American Eagle conversing with an amused British lion and French cock. The context is evident, in the aftermath of the destructive war between the states – the U.S. was in no shape to uphold and enforce the Monroe Doctrine. But by Roosevelt’s presidency, the U.S. had regained its military strength.

a “crippled” American Eagle, unable to uphold the Monroe Doctrine? (post-U.S. Civil War)

President Theodore Roosevelt’s corollary to the Monroe Doctrine (from 1904) moved the doctrine from non-interventionism to hardly-disguised imperialism. The corollary was couched in the language and intent of the earlier doctrine in that the U.S. would intervene in conflicts between European countries and Latin American countries in order to press the “legitimate” claims of the Europeans, rather than have the Europeans attempt to enforce their claims directly. More succinctly, the Roosevelt Corollary promoted the United States as the “hemispheric policeman.”

The two geopolitical cartoons below communicate these points. In the first, we see a President Roosevelt aboard one of the “Great White Fleet” ships resting defiantly on a naval gun pointed at a European monarch. The monarch carries “claims” and reaches to across the Atlantic to a sobbing representation of the Republic of Santo Domingo (now the Dominican Republican). The naval gun is marked the “Monroe Doctrine”. In the distance, Roosevelt is backed by the power of the U.S. Navy (represented by ironclads). The cartoon effectively illustrates the growing strength of the United States. Where before the U.S. required British support to uphold an American doctrine, by Roosevelt’s presidency the U.S. has become a hemispheric (or regional) power in its own right.

Monroe Doctrine as Roosevelt’s “Big Gun” (unknown date)

The second geopolitical cartoon, from 1904, evokes slightly different imagery to explain the Roosevelt Corollary. In it a larger-than-life Roosevelt patrols the Caribbean Sea, which is framed by countries that border it (Santo Domingo/Dominican Republic, Mexico, Cuba, and so on), pulling along the U.S. Navy’s ironclads which are labelled “debt collectors.” In his right hand Roosevelt carries his now-famous big stick, which was his favorite proverb (“Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far”).

Roosevelt and his Big Stick, patrolling the Caribbean with the U.S. Navy (probably 1904)

The Monroe Doctrine was “reinstated” as it were by World War II, as seen in the geopolitical cartoon below. The cartoon depicts an Uncle Sam with a wet paint brush posting a sign in the Caribbean with ink from a “restatement of the Monroe Doctrine” bucket. The sign reads “Positively no hunting.” Glaring closely at the sign is Hitler’s Germany who sports a smoking gun and the corpses of France, Holland, and Denmark – symbolized as adult ducks. The sign is meant to ward off German and Italian (Mussolini is just behind Hitler) poaching of the remaining possessions of those countries, the ducklings, in the Western Hemisphere.

A renewed Monroe Doctrine, warding off Hitler and Mussolini? (World War II)

These cartoons illustrate historical and geopolitical points. Historically, the Roosevelt Corollary illustrated the United States abandoning of the non-interventionism of the Monroe Doctrine for the active asserting of a regional (and soon to be global) power. This couldn’t have happened without a much stronger U.S. Navy. From a geopolitical perspective, the Roosevelt Corollary represented an assertion of American dominance in the Western hemisphere; rather than a European one. The last cartoon, a renewed emphasis of an 1820s doctrine during World War II, chronicles the ascendancy of American power through a defiant Uncle Sam determined to resist Nazi and fascist aggression.

A Geography of Anti-Islam Violence: Burma

The 2000s are not a good time to be a Muslim, because “Muslims” (if there is such a generalized community, which of course there isn’t) are routinely vilified in the media. But this post isn’t about the “lamestream” media that the West (and the U.S. in particular) finds itself saddled with. This post concerns the anti-Islam sentiments of “societies” themselves, specifically in South Asia. A cursory look at recent history will uncover plenty of evidence of violence, sometimes pogroms, against Muslims. Of course, the latent desire for certain people to target, discriminate against, and kill other certain people isn’t helped by current events and the way they’re portrayed.

You know the elephant in this blog post. September 11, 2001. When the actions of 19 individuals, tied to a single organization, not only destroyed two towers and thousands of lives, but was used as justification to vilify the system of beliefs for well over a billion people. Sadly, the media (and the rest of us) are all too willing to present and discuss these conflicts in one dimensional terms, “they were Muslim”. This is the first in a series (not necessarily in order!) of discussions of violence targeting Muslims, today’s post focuses on Burma.

But like all conflicts, the ones I present have multiple dimensions. These discussions revolves around the point that these societies (all societies in fact), made up population groups, are all fractured along multiple identity lines. Sometimes the cracks aren’t visible, nothing manifests in the news. Otherwise the cracks are all too visible. You can see them in your own society, if you know where to look (hint: the cracks). The cracks though run in multiple directions. But as humans, we try to generalize and simplify – in order to make sense of complex situations. The problem, of course, is that we believe our own simplifications and take these as truth. The only truth, of course, is that it is complex and any one thing could never be (fully) explained in a single blog post.

Burma has been experiencing periodic violent conflict, cast in the light of ethno-religious terms by the media, over the past several years. Considering the way the media is structured, especially with the “24-hour news cycle”, and the authoritarian nature of the military regime, we can be certain that the Myanmar conflict has been ongoing (or simmering) for years, perhaps decades. International news are unlikely to report “continued tensions between Muslims and Buddhists”, since this isn’t likely to grab a reader’s attention. However, one-off stories of “Gang of [fill in religious group] kill scores in [fill in place of worship of other group]” are likely to generate readership and interest. A sufficiently authoritarian government (see: Stalin, Tito, Asad for example) is also more apt to keep inter-population group tensions at a minimum through a combination of carrots and sticks. The carrot is providing state/public resources to favored population groups. The stick is… they’ll kill you if you cause trouble. With Burma’s tentative steps towards democracy, ethnic tensions are boiling over. Probably because there’s increased international scrutiny, meaning we’re paying attention more AND because they (Rohingya and Burmans) know we’re paying attention and probably because the government is on its “best” behavior, i.e. not killing trouble-makers.

Last year anti-Muslim violence was concentrated in the west, in Rakhine (formerly Arakan) state. This state hosts, in very broad terms, the Rohingya and Rakhine communities. The Rohingya speak an Indo-Aryan language, similar to (but distinct from) Bengali, and typically practice Sunni Islam. Because of this cultural and linguistic similarity with the majority population group in Bangladesh (the Bengalis), a number of Burman sources in Burma (Myanmar) contend that the Rohingya are “illegal immigrants.” In contrast, the Rakhine community speak a dialect of Burmese, which is a Sino-Tibetan language. They principally adhere to Theravada Buddhism (the so-called “Hinayana”/”Lesser Vehicle” ). The community is also related to the Burman population group (the largest ethnic group in Burma) as well as the Marma and Chakma groups in Bangladesh (which principally reside in the Chittagong Hill Tracts). The recent change has been the spread of Buddhist violence to new areas quite far from Rakhine/Arakan, where there isn’t much of a Muslim minority population to speak of.

The fundamental question is… are the Rohingya illegal immigrants? No. First, who would choose to settle in an isolationist, authoritarian military state. Would anyone want to illegally settle in North Korea? Turning to our history books, Islam was present in South and Southeast Asia centuries before the arrival of the British. It first arrived via Sufi saints and mystics who integrated with local communities, adapting to their customs. It came again through the sword of Turkish invaders. Obviously, the Sufis had more of an impact on local populations. Over the intervening centuries, Muslim traders often settled in commercial and port towns and used their connections to facilitate international trade (much like Chinese traders elsewhere in Southeast Asia). Arakan was one such commercial outpost. Importantly, Arakan also bordered Chittagong and the rest of Bangladesh, which had become increasingly Islamic during the British Raj (due in no small part to the eastern province’s (East Bengal) depressed economic status and the crushing oppression of the Hindu caste system). The history of the last independent Arakan kingdom, Mrauk U, is intimately tied with Bengal. After Burman conquest of Arakan in 1785, the Burma Empire engaged in atrocities amounting to ethnic cleansing (though the source discounts the existence of “Rohingya” in Burma prior to the 1800s).

The lamestream media’s darling, Aung San Suu Kyi (winner of the ::cough, cough:: Nobel Peace Prize) made “rare” (not even my words) comments on the violence gripping the country recently. Honestly, they weren’t even comments it was a shrugging response, a lame answer. It was (gasp) a politician’s response. ASSK commented that she was “not a magician” and couldn’t use magic to make tensions dissipate. Thanks for clearing that up! Prior to this I cannot recall ANY substantive comments from ASSK on ethno-religious violence in Burma (of which there are several instances). As the BDnews24 article observes, ASSK herself is a “devout (Theravada) Buddhist.” I’m guessing that ASSK is a Burman Buddhist. While the decision to support or criticize violence between two population is an individual decision, that she shares a similar language and religious affinity is a hurdle. The violence is focused around the Muslim minority community of Burma, some of whom also happen to share a similar language with Bengali (spoken in Bangladesh and India). Of course, the Muslims have existed in western Burma since before the absorption of the last independent kingdom of Mrauk U in 1785. However, Burma was part of the British Raj, which would facilitate a great deal of “internal” migration within the Raj. This migration, often encouraged by the British to foster economic advancement, would not have been welcomed by the “native” population.

Finally, all of this violence comes about a year before Burma conducts its first census since 1983 (the pilot census should have just been completed a week ago). A census typically forms the basis for the distribution of public resources and political power, it is a catalog of a state’s most important resource – people. People are not, as you should know by now in this post, a homogeneous mass. There is no single Burmese nationality. In a country dominated by a single ethnic group, the Burman for instance, what would happen if a census showed that a minority group, the Rohingya, had actually experienced faster population growth than the Rakhine? If the Rohingya knew and could put aside their own internal differences, they could be reasonably confident of forming a state government sensitive to their rights and desires. Why might the Rohingya be a larger population group? For the simple reason that they are oppressed and poor. Children are their social security, the state doesn’t provide for this group like it does for the favored Rakhine.

Demography always returns to bite autocrats in the ass.

Geopolitical Cartoons: Depictions of the Spanish-American War (1898)

This weeks geopolitical cartoons is brought to you by William Randolph Hearst! Well not quite, I’m pretty sure Hearst would balk at my political tendencies. However, the cartoons do stem from the conflict that he assisted in creating, the Spanish-American War. In this post we’ll explore some of the not-very-subtle propaganda messages in various geopolitical cartoons. Know your sources!

The first image below comes from a satirical German newspaper first published in 1848 (according to wikipedia) and printed the day before hostilities ensued, or were declared, or when scholars agreed the war started (published April 24, started April 25). Coming from a German perspective, its primary focus is on the effects of the impending conflict on “poor Cuba.” The caption reads “this encounter does not seem, at present, exactly a happy one for poor Cuba.” Indeed, as the picture shows Cuba is being ground underfoot by Uncle Sam (the United States who is strolling over to the Caribbean island via Florida) and Don Quixote (Spain who is stretching across the Atlantic from Spain). Quite clearly, the Germans are making a call on who is going to win the conflict. Who would you bet on? A modern Uncle Sam walking over? Or an insane Spanish minor noble, armored and armed with lance in the late-1800s, with a penchant for charging windmills, accosting monks, and generally not following up on his deeds?

“Poor Cuba”, 24 April 1898 (via Ohio State University)

The Spanish, of course, saw things rather differently. The cartoon is apparently from a Catalan source and depicts a greedy Uncle Sam hungrily eyeing Cuba from the United States. His groping hands are hovering over the island. Though I have no idea what “fatlera” means, wikipedia tells me that the caption reads “Protect the island so won’t be lost.” Righteous nationalistic fury indeed! But I have to agree with a comment made in a Blue Sky GIS post, “Spain complaining about anybody else’s imperial ambitions is very much the pot calling the kettle black.” Couldn’t have said it better myself!

Greedy Uncle Sam, 1896 (via wikipedia)

The next two images are from the U.S. The first, from the Minneapolis Tribune, depicts President McKinley holding onto a savage-looking child, the Philippines. He is contemplating whether to “keep” the archipelago, “return” it to Spain, or setting it on his own path. The editors at the Minneapolis Tribune clearly believe that President McKinley should keep the islands. After all, handing them back to Spain is akin to throwing the child off of a cliff. Moreover, it is just a savage child after all, hardly ready for independence. As the world looks on, history is made. McKinley holds on to the Philippines. The aftermath is for another post.

McKinley and the Philippines, 1898 (via wikipilipinas)

The final poster is from the 1900 election campaign season, which McKinley/Roosevelt subsequently won for the Republicans. The poster compares the effects of four years of party rule in 1896 (after four years of Democratic rule under Grover Cleveland) and in 1900 (after four years under McKinley and the Republicans). Two things worth drawing attention to from the geopolitical standpoint. First, is how the United States justified (and continues to justify) its foreign intervention “the American flag has not been planted in foreign soil to acquire more territory but for humanity’s sake.” I wouldn’t be the first person to suggest that Americans are uncomfortable with the sort of power they wield. As a society we take pains to justify our adventures abroad, yellow journalism and yellow cake. When the conflict is said and done, and righteous American power is in place, the shining city upon the hill bring the light of liberty, we have the the last two pictures in the campaign poster. Cuba is compared under Spanish rule and under America’s rule. I think these two messages are one of the most interesting omnipresent debates in American foreign policy. The isolationist trend, content to guard its power and prosperity while the world goes to shit, and the righteous, liberty-exporting revolutionary trend.

Liberty under McKinley, 1900 (via wikipedia)