Kosovo and Quebec

2008-03-10

in Canada, Law, Politics, Security

Andrea Simms-Karp at the Elmdale Tavern

A recent (and very unscientific) poll in The Globe and Mail suggests that many Canadians see the Kosovar declaration of independence as a “precedent that could be used in Quebec.” Personally, I found the question ambiguous. If anything, the situation in Kosovo is a demonstration of why Quebecois succession is a poor option.

Since at least the end of the first world war, there has been a profound tension between civic and ethnic nationalism. At best, ethnically defined nationalism has been a means of peacefully dividing empires into groups of states that get along decently; at worst, it has been a significant cause of genocide and ethnic cleansing. Virtually all states have minorities. Many have minorities in border regions, alongside states where those people have a majority. Given the difficulty and bloodiness of adjusting national borders, it is generally preferable to maintain states capable of accommodating members of ethnic minorities as full and equal members of the society – a possibility only likely to be manifest when the society has some philosophical basis other than ethnicity.

Normally, then, we should hope for pluralistic states that base their legitimacy around popular consent. What Kosovo exemplifies is a case where this has not occurred: where a central government has undermined its legitimacy in an entire region (as Russia has done in Chechnya) and has thus made it impossible for that area to be a legitimate portion of the state. The Kosovar case shows just how far such abuse must generally go before it constitutes good cause to break up a civil federation. Quebecois grievances are not on the same level, and thus do not constitute a license for succession.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

. March 10, 2008 at 9:31 am

The text of Kosovo’s declaration of independence addressed this issue by stating ” … Observing that Kosovo is a special case arising from Yugoslavia’s non-consensual breakup and is not a precedent for any other situation, Recalling the years of strife and violence in Kosovo, that disturbed the conscience of all civilized people, …”. In other words, Kosovo’s declaration of independence claims that Kosovo is a special case after the crisis in the 1990s and that it is not a precedent for this reason. Nevertheless, a number of countries like Spain and Cyprus do not plan to recognise Kosovo as an independent state because they fear that it will be regarded a precedent.

Tristan March 10, 2008 at 9:48 am

The supreme court of Canada set out a clear decision on how a part of Canada could legally succeed. One of the decisions they made was the international law question:

Rights to secede under international law and self-determination

Their decision reflects that it is not a quantity determination, it isn’t that Quebec has “more” or “less” grievances and therefore they do or do not have a right to self determination. Rather, they said this:

The democratic vote, by however strong a majority, would have no legal effect on its own and could not push aside the principles of federalism and the rule of law, the rights of individuals and minorities, or the operation of democracy in the other provinces or in Canada as a whole.

The implication is clear: it doesn’t matter what people say or how they feel. Democracy is not “feelocracy”. Just because everyone feels such and such a way bestows no legal right to dissolve states. Rather, just states have a right to their territorial integrity whether or not that state appears just to the dissenting party – whether the state is just is a matter of fact not opinion.

The fact that Canadians think Kosovo is a precedent upon which Quebec could seperate just proves they are an undifferentiated, feeling mass which does not consult law or reason, but thinks rather that democracy is “do what you feel like” law.

Scott March 10, 2008 at 3:39 pm

I agree with all the comments here.
That being said, don’t expect a recognition from the Canadian government any time soon.

R.K. March 11, 2008 at 2:37 pm

So Kosovo can seperate because it was oppressed, not because it is ethnically homogenous and non-Serb? I suppose that makes sense.

Neal March 13, 2008 at 1:14 am

I’ve always thought a good example of what can go wrong when ethnic and sectarian nationalism overwhelms civic nationalism is the Partition of India.

Scott March 18, 2008 at 4:09 pm

Whoops, and by that I meant: Expect a recognition from Canada eight days later.

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