The potential solution to the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, consistently put forward by the government of the Russian Federation, has been routinely characterized by various European politicians as the equivalent to the lunatic ravings of madmen. To American conservatives and lovers of ordered liberty, this should come as grim news. Since when was political Federalism in the spirit of Madison’s Federalist #10 equivalent to lunacy? Since when was it lunacy for popular sovereignty within diverse territories to determine the political destiny of native peoples? If we shut out the stereotypes whereby all things Russian are eternally evil, and simply examine the content of the Russian government’s proposals, we shall discover it to be—at the very least—deserving of serious consideration.
There are those who may claim, with the current revolutionary government of Ukraine, that Russia has no business making proposals about the kind of political system Ukraine ought to adopt. This is a salient point because civilized men and women agree that the sovereignty of nations should be respected. Nevertheless, the geopolitical reality of Europe is such that when any nation fails at peaceful, orderly self-government, its’ instability creates a general European crisis for its neighbors. Long standing European tradition has been to resolve such situations through a concerted effort of European nation states, particularly neighboring states. At times, these solutions were unjust, violent conquests organized by stronger parties against weaker parties. Many times, thankfully, these solutions were peaceful, political measures agreed by all after reflection and deliberation. Incidentally, Ukraine itself is now demanding billions of American and European dollars, as well as demanding that Russia give away its gas at below market prices. If Ukraine can make such demands of the world, perhaps the world can make a suggestion as to the type of political remedies Ukraine might consider for bettering its condition?
It is folly to deny the Russian interest and right to be concerned for the stability and proper development of its neighbor—Ukraine. Poland, the Baltic States—even far away America claims such a right; surely Russia may do so as well. If a political solution is to be found, reflection and deliberation behoove us to take all proposals that are peaceful seriously. We should also hope for proposals that are serious and bold. The European Union and United States have, sadly, refrained from serious political proposals, preferring platitudes about freedom and democracy. President Obama’s recent speech only revealed his ignorance of recent European history when he erred in describing how Kosovo gained independence as well as being full of mere platitudes about territorial integrity and democracy. If America’s Founders gave such speeches at the Constitutional convention, the United States would not exist. What is required here is serious political thought, not public relations slogans worthy of the childish and deceiving “I am a Ukrainian” video. We need a political solution that acknowledges the reality of the Maidan as a violent coup and the Crimean referendum as a legitimate popular movement. Let us then, in this spirit, turn to the Russian proposal.
1. Federalism vs. the Unitary State
There are numerous positive and negative aspects to unitary statehood, of which the positive seem to outweigh the negative only under conditions of unitary nationality. A homogenous nation, by which I mean a people largely united by language, culture, religion and common history, does not require a federal political order. Federalism is, after all, an artifice, an efficacy of political science, as Publius called it in Federalist #9. Federalism is not natural nor organic nor historical (unlike culture or national identity, which, though artifices as well, are more organic, historical and natural). Federalism arises from human intellect as a possible remedy to the natural conflicts bound to arise in a heterogeneous political body which covers a large expanse of territory and wherein local and general interests constantly collide. It may be pointed out that differences and faction along political lines emerges even within a small homogenous nation, but experience seems to demonstrate that differences in political thought and opinion are never as potentially explosive as differences in ethnicity, language, popular religion and culture.
Germany is one example of the difference between federalism and unitary statehood. The German principalities were long divided by religious and cultural differences. Their unification was only possible under confederation. The confederate nature of German statehood, the semi-autonomous nature of German lands within the Federal republic, has arguably had the same beneficial effect on German greatness as Federalism had in America: it made possible the pursuit of a general German interest while at the same time retaining local autonomy in key areas for each of the Lands. When Germany abandoned federalism and was transformed into a unitary nation state by Adolf Hitler with the Gleichschaltung Law, it came to ruin and took most of Europe with it. The German nation was crushed in war, partitioned and occupied. Only a restoration of federalism in Germany led to the recovery, first of German liberty and prosperity, next German national unity, and now global economic power.
Poland is another example. When Poland formed a confederate political union with Lithuania in 1385, romantic nationalism was by no means diminished by confederation. As the classical Polish nationalist poet commenced his patriotic Ode to Poland—”Lithuania: my Fatherland!” The resultant Union endured for two centuries and stretched from the Black sea (now Ukraine) to the Baltic Sea. The reborn II Polish republic, in contrast, was a unitary state (democratic rather than Monarchic), and the Polish leaders of the time based much of their statecraft and even architecture in Warsaw on the fascist principles of Mussolini, very much in vogue at the time, rather than XXVIIIth century Montesquieuan political theory (sadly “outdated” in the Europe of the 1920s and 1930s). Although the II Polish republic retained parts of what is today Western Ukraine, it failed to win its preservation because, amongst other things, its unitary character led it to a brief civil war and the establishment of a military dictatorship. Internal strife wasted a decade of Polish national life and the country was ill prepared to deal with the III Reich and Soviet Union. Federal mechanisms and greater respect for local autonomy might have prevented such a scenario. Modern Poland is still a unitary state, although it has avoided much of the tumult of the II Republic on account of a greater homogeneity. Currently, the prospect and desirability for federation in Poland are nil. The state is divided into 16 administrative districts, whose governors are not elected, but rather appointed by the central government, and which as their name suggests are the focus of central administration in the Prussian tradition of Bismark and not of local self-government in the American Federalist tradition. The only part of Poland where a modicum of dissatisfaction with this situation exists is the Silesa region (Slask in Polish) where an organized political movement in favor of greater autonomy for the region has been active for years and is viewed by Poland’s nationalist parties as a crypto-German attempt at annexation of Polish lands.
So much for brief practical examples. I will not dwell on the theoretical benefits of Federalism; I trust that amongst American students of Publius and Brutus, no such musings are necessary. Suffice it to say that the point here is merely to underscore that Federalism is never natural, organic or historical, that it is a remedy applicable to political bodies, which by nature or circumstance are heterogeneous, and that it is rather unnecessary where political bodies are largely homogeneous. The question before us, is whether it is a good idea to treat the destructive faction now infecting Ukraine with the Federalist remedy?
2. Nationalism and Federalism
In American political history, we are accustomed to the idea that Federalism goes hand in hand with nationalism. From Hamilton to Clay, the vision of the “American system” is a vision made possible by a strong, effective Federal government. We sometimes misunderstand the term “strong Federal government” and think it means a strong or “big” central government. It does not. A strong Federal government is, as the name implies, Federal in character. It performs its enumerated Constitutional role with energy and dedication for the common good, leaving to the States and the people the performance of those things not enumerated in the Constitution as Federal powers and understood as the local good. American industrial might, American self-government, and American associations are Federalism’s historical results. American national pride is bound to the idea and practice of Federalism. America’s XXth and XXIst century departures from Federalism in favor of elements of unitary national government and the administrative state rather than self-rule have led to much woe and contribute always to a feeling of national malaise. For Americans, nationalism and Federalism are interwoven: American nationalism would not be possible without American Federalism.
This fact may make it difficult for Americans to understand why Ukrainian nationalists (whether extreme or moderate), as well as Polish nationalists, oppose Federalism and favor the unitary nation state with such vehemence. If, the American mind reasons, Federalism allows for the respect for local rule and custom while also expanding general cooperation for the general good, how can this be detrimental to national pride or national welfare? Russian nationalists, who, like Americans, inhabit a Federated republic, may be presumed to think likewise—thus their governments’ proposal: why not Federalism for Ukraine?
The problem with Federalism for Poles and Ukrainians is this: for Polish and Ukrainian nationalists, nationalism is ethnic, racial, linguistic and cultural. A nation, connected in a natural political body by these things, constitutes a state to govern the territory it inhabits. To create a Federal government is to invite a factionalism, which had never been there in the first place—or so the theory goes. Federalism, in this view, is the beginning of national disintegration. Polish nationalists fear, for example, that introducing Federalism in Poland would lead to greater autonomy for certain German minorities and, possibly, an ultimate secession and “return” to German rule, or the establishment of a Silesian republic. Given the Polish historical phobia stemming from its partition and from the German invasion in 1939, the mere possibility of regional autonomy under the guise of Federalism is treated by Polish nationalists as treason. Ukrainian nationalists likely reason in a similar fashion. If Ukraine were to adopt a Federal system and grant greater autonomy to its various regions, what (asks the Ukrainian nationalist mind) would stop these regions from opting to secede or coming under the influence of Russia? To the Ukrainian nationalist, Federalism means national partition and possibly the end of Ukraine as a political entity, or at least its diminishment.
3. The Nature of the Current Crisis: History & The Present
The problem, at least for Ukraine, is that due to the constant failure of its democracy, coupled with the recent coup, elements of its heterogeneous population have come to the conclusion that they have been disenfranchised. Victor Yanukovych won 12 million votes when elected President. By contrast, Yulia Tymoshenko, the convicted criminal whose freedom was unwaveringly sought by the EU and Maidan, is now polling at 8% for President. The candidate polling the highest in the upcoming elections, also anti-Yanukovych, is polling at 20%. By European standards, where there is proportional representation in parliaments and Presidential elections usually have two tiers, this is not abnormal. What is abnormal is the notion that it was justified and democratic to foment an illegal coup d’etat against a man who had fairly and legally won 12 million votes in favor of people polling 8-20%. Even if you combine the anti-Yanukovych vote, it comes to about 40%. The Maidan coup was not, as these polls demonstrate, a popular uprising favored by a clear majority of Ukrainians. Little wonder that the silent majority who supported Victor Yanukovych is no longer silent and, rather than participate in another election, the results of which might against be overturned by American and Polish NGOs, feel disenfranchised and desire secession, autonomy and union with Russia.
You may be wondering at this point why and how people who are so polarized and divided ever got to be citizens of one nation state in the first place. This is a fair question, and if ever a peaceful solution to the crisis is to be found, it must be asked and the answer addressed. Under Stalin and Hitler, the areas constituting modern Poland and Ukraine were the victims of ethnic cleansing and forced repatriation. Hitler’s motives were clear: Germans were the Master Race, those of German decent could sign the Volkslist and join the Reich, while lesser races were to be slaves or raw materials. The Soviet motives were more subtle: Stalin knew that in order to protect the Soviet Union from national uprisings within its constituent parts, it was necessary to smash nationally homogenous populations and forcibly mix nationalities so that no one would ever be “at home”. The borders of modern Poland are a good example of this. Poland’s western territories were largely inhabited by German nationals prior to World War II, while part of modern Western Ukraine was inhabited by Poles and was part of the II Polish republic (including Lvov, the hometown of Ludwig Von Mises), just as most of modern Ukraine was, historically, part of the Polish-Lithuanian Union, (later broken up and divided amongst Austro-Hungary and other states when Poland was partitioned before once again being made part of Poland). Stalin forcibly removed the Germans inhabiting what is now Western Poland and “gave” these territories to the new, postwar Communist People’s Republic of Poland. In “return”, Stalin took the historically Polish East and incorporated it into the new Soviet Republic of Ukraine. Thus, Stalin not only made Poland a satellite state, he also annexed a large chunk of its Eastern territory into the Western part of the Soviet Republic of Ukraine, and he then carved up Germany’s eastern frontier, giving it to Communist Poland. The inhabitants of all of these territories were either murdered in ethnic cleansing during the war or forcibly removed and replaced after. The repercussions of these actions are largely being played out now. The divisions in Ukraine stem largely from the fact that the country is an artifice manufactured from remnants of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the earlier Polish-Lithuanian Union and the later II Republic of Poland on the West, and Russian territories on the East. It is true that there is a danger in this line of thinking—for every European country can quickly be “proven” to be “only” a “historical artifice”—but just as one cannot use history to invent over-simplified excuses for conquest and partition, one certainly cannot ignore history when seeking to understand and remedy crisis.
There is, however, one other historical element to consider here: the notion of “World War II”. Over the years, I have come to agree with the historical revisionists: there was no such thing as “World War II”. There was a XXth century war of ideologies. The Ukraine crisis solidifies this view in my mind. Lovers of ordered liberty can all nominally cheer when someone tears down a statue of Lenin, but we might be quite shocked when they hoist an SS flag in its place. We got a taste of this with President Reagan’s “oh my, I must have been misinformed” moment when he spoke in Moscow State University and was told one of the refusniks he’d helped was a fascist. Caught up by the spirit of freedom then encompassing Europe, we seemed to dismiss the matter. We now see that rather than civilized and Christian Europeans, we are once again dealing with old demons in Ukraine. These demons have deep historical roots.
Ask any Russian about World War II and you will learn no such thing exists. To them, it is the “Great Patriotic War” which started in 1941. They know little about Molotov-Ribbentrop and the invasion of Poland by Soviet forces on September 17th, 1939; only that Fascists took over Europe and then attacked the Soviet Union. According to this view, Soviet Soldiers in the East, like American soldiers in the West, were liberators. The Great Patriotic War, according to popular Russian thinking, liberated Eastern Europe from fascism and then defended the people from American imperialism during the Cold War. I write this not because it is a wholly accurate assessment of history, but because it is the view lodged firmly in the hearts and minds of millions of Russians and Ukrainians as true. Even in Poland, the history of the war is not so clear-cut. The brief Polish civil war of the 1920s carried over and intensified in the 1940s, when two separate armies emerged: the Polish People’s Army, fighting with Stalin against Hitler and against the perceived Capitalists and Aristocrats exploiting Polish farmers and workers and the National Army, fighting against Germans and Russians and naively believing that the British would come to their aid any minute now if only Poles fought in the battle of Britain or in Tobruk. The People’s Army was victorious, the National Army continued fighting after 1945 in certain regions, and its members were murdered, jailed or ultimately fled the country. Only now are Polish veterans of the National Army honored for their service against Hitler and Stalin.
If you were a veteran of this terrible war, a decorated hero of the Soviet Union, who suddenly found himself living in post-communist Ukraine and getting a fraction of the veterans benefits allotted to Russian citizens, you would probably feel cheated. If you were a Soviet citizen who worked all his life for a pension, which, since Ukrainian independence, is now a fraction of what Russians receive, you would feel cheated. If you are a Ukrainian citizen whose family was Jewish, Polish or Russian and was massacred by Ukrainian nationalists under the terrorist Bandera SS, you would no doubt be aghast that Americans financed supporters of the SS who overthrew your elected government and installed NAZIs who began re-introducing Hitler-era laws. You would look at Crimea, where President Putin has guaranteed respect for all national groups, made Tatar, Ukrainian and Russian official languages and equalized Crimean pensions with Russian pensions, as a model to be followed. You may even realize that Crimeans are now part of the largest free trade zone on Earth with a 13% flat tax as opposed to a progressive tax regime in a bankrupt, corrupt country.
The Polish view of the XXth century war of ideologies is, of course different, as is the American, British and German view. Germans sometimes pretend to the teaching that the NAZIs were an alien body which “took over Germany” rather than an outgrowth of German nationalism, paganism and scientific socialism. The Poles paint themselves as a democracy victimized by both fascists and communists, but omit their collaboration with the NAZIs during the annexation of Czechoslovakia as well as brushing over their own national socialist dictatorship which came about after the overthrow of an inept, but nonetheless democratic government in 1926. The British and Americans paint themselves as valiant liberators and opponents of a mass murdering monster, but ignore the fact that they were allies and facilitators of the greatest mass murdering regime in history and that their policies contributed to the destruction of Europe. They lament Concentration camps, but feel Japanese interment a necessity and cast the British concentration camps in South Africa down the memory hole. Every people casts itself in a favorable or forgivable light and refuses to take the view of the XX century best expressed in Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead, written at the height of the war, where Howard Roarke laments during his trial that the world is “dying in an orgy of collectivism.”
So long as the wars of the XX century are taught in the various countries in such sanitized forms, with heroes and villains rather than as a tragic war of ideologies contrasted with the more civilized eras of a bygone age, so long will peoples in different countries feel themselves to be victims and never see how they may have been oppressors to others. Peace requires that history in Russia, Ukraine, Poland and all of Europe and America be taught as truth, even when painful, and that we realize that all of us are victims of the ideologies of the XXth century and of the governments and interests who remorselessly push for war and treat human beings instrumentally. Happily, nations have taken important steps in this direction. President Putin acknowledged Soviet responsibility for the Katin massacre of Poles, long held to be the doing of the NAZIs. Germany has by and large taken great strides in acknowledging its crimes and compensating its victims. Poland has reconciled with Germany and was on the path towards reconciling with Russia until the present crisis in Ukraine. It is lamentable, embarrassing and depressing that the Polish and American governments have so callously abandoned the work of truth and reconciliation, allied themselves with NAZI supporters of a Ukrainian branch of the SS which murdered Poles by the thousands, all to undermine Ukrainian democracy in favor of installing a puppet government with negligible public support. It is alarming to think that this is being done to isolate and punish Russia for its role in halting America’s march to war in Syria and Iran or in pursuit of narrow, corporate economic interests bent on taking oligarchic control of the Ukrainian economy (something quite apart from the economic interest of the people in securing peaceful commerce with all).
4. The Russian Proposal for a Federated Ukraine
In light of all of the above, it seems reasonable to consider the Russian proposal for the Federalization of Ukraine as a potential method for deflating the crisis. The Prime Minister of Ukraine categorically opposes this method, and elections—scheduled for May—could potentially calm the situation by introducing a fully legitimate government and President, chosen in a popular ballot. I am, however, pessimistic. Ukraine has had a number of fair and free elections, but they seem to have produced nothing but deepening crisis. The nation appears to be awash with competing outside interests manipulating its politics, domestic oligarchs who care little for the people and Ukraine shows no sign of having developed an authentic civil society in the past few decades. The coup in Kiev, predictably, only elevated the already heightened tensions in the country and is presently the precursor to what might erupt into civil war.
Prime Minister Yatsenyuk’s claims that all of the secessionist demonstrators springing up in the east and south are merely paid Russian stooges is childish and demeaning to human beings who happen to be Russian and have the right to self-determination. It is equally childish and demeaning to claim that the protestors in Kiev were all paid Western stooges. If this is really true, it would have to mean that Ukrainians as a people are incapable of self-government and the country is a fiction. Are there really no people in that country besides fascist thugs and Russian agents? I cannot believe this. From what I have read and observed on the Internet, the Maidan demonstrators were a mix of fascist thugs and regular people, naively egged on by their Polish and American sponsors, working through NGOs. That Poland was, unfortunately, intimately involved in developing the groundwork for the coup can be gleaned from the Polish government’s refusal, last year, to accept conservative attempts in the Polish parliament to condemn the massacre of Poles in Ukraine by the Bandera terrorist SS as ethnic cleansing. Foreign Minister Sikorski argued that to condemn the Bandera SS for ethnic cleansing would undermine his government’s attempts to work with the Ukrainian NAZIs, euphemistically calling themselves the “Freedom party”, in their common attempt at coaxing President Yanukovych to sign the EU-Ukraine trade deal. It is indeed “1938 all over again”, just not in the caricaturist manner Secretary Clinton perceived it, and Poland is busily working with NAZIs to undermine the sovereignty of another country, as it did with Czechoslovakia, oblivious to the implications this might have for Polish freedom, convinced that Western military guarantees give it a power beyond the meager one combat ready corpus of a few divisions that its government is now capable of fielding.
Watching the developments in Ukraine from afar, civil war seems a foregone conclusion. Trampling free speech and freedom of political association, the revolutionary fascist parliament passed a law banning secessionist political movements, banning individuals from advocating secession and the unelected President labeled any Ukrainian citizen advocating such opinions a terrorist. As usual, the fascists in the Ukrainian parliament made their point with fists, preventing an elected representative of the people from the Communist party from advocating in favor of Eastern Ukrainian rights. Despite all of this, America and NATO continue to escalate tensions. Their solution to the crisis seems to be to hope for the best in the upcoming elections. Given the recent history of democratic elections in Ukraine, this is a naive hope. Given the vast divisions running through Ukraine and the fact that, for all intents and purposes President Putin is sadly correct in asserting that Ukraine is not a “real” country, Federalism is likely the only way to balance the competing ethnic factions and prevent civil war.
Mr. Putin ought not to be misunderstood. His claim merely inferred that Ukraine is a construct of extreme circumstance and cannot be perceived, as naive Western media and politicians tend to, as a homogenous nation with deep roots and a deep yearning for liberal democracy. Russia has, by and large, respected the sovereignty of Ukraine throughout the crisis and acted responsibly and realistically. Russia, in my view, is not eager for military occupation because it understands that intervention on a mass, military scale to supposedly “liberate” Russian nationals will incite a guerrilla war in Ukraine. Experience demonstrates this: Russia could have occupied all of Georgia in 2008, it chose merely to defend itself and occupy two small regions which had been in dispute for years due to the local population desiring a return to Russian rule. Mr. Putin is not George W. Bush. He was able to claim Crimea for Russia not by “invasion” (the troops were already there, legally), but by simply accepting the reality on the ground and moving effectively to formalize it: Crimeans wanted unification, Ukraine was powerless to stop them, Russia welcomed them back. If Mr. Putin were determined to conquer Eastern Ukraine, he would have invaded by now. He instead proposes Federalism because he wisely wishes to restore the pre-Coup status quo: economic trade, cultural exchange and peaceful relations between Ukraine, Europe and Russia. Talk to any Polish or German businessman who trades with Ukraine or Russia, and you will find that for all the faults of pre-Coup Ukraine, it was possible to conduct business in an atmosphere of stability. Poland and Ukraine co-hosted a pan-European football competition. Now, small business suffers, the exchange rates have gone insane, border controls slow down transportation—the whole infrastructure of peaceful commerce is in tatters. Federalization would diffuse tension and restore order while also giving greater freedom and autonomy to Ukraine’s regions.
As to the nationalist fear that Federalism means national disintegration: this is not true. Federalism would only mean national disintegration if the Ukrainian government in Kiev continued to demonstrate to the world that it is incompetent and incapable of governing. If the Kiev government cannot govern, if Ukraine is indeed so splintered and barbaric as to be incapable of self-government, if we continue to see Ukrainians on the streets beating one another, Ukrainian members of parliament beating one another, oligarchs vying for power and attempting to suck Europe, Russia and America into a wider conflict to serve their own interests, then I humbly submit that perhaps Federalism would offer the only peaceful resolution of the inevitable disintegration of Ukraine which is possible. Then, Kiev and Lvov can vote to return to Poland (and thus the EU) while Eastern and Southern cities can vote to return to Russia. If there are true Ukrainian patriots in the country committed to peaceful existence rather than brawling in the streets, they can have they own nation state as well. So long as people vote in a peaceful election, so long as order and liberty are respected, why is “territorial integrity” a priority? Why not make peace and freedom a priority instead?
It is another matter altogether whether Europe and Russia can even manage to absorb such a fractured country and calm its nascent violent factions. Of course, no matter what the political remedy undertaken, none will work unless there is a concerted effort by Russia, America and Europe to deflate the crisis for the common good, rather than escalate it by playing Ukrainians off of one another, inciting faction and violence and pursuing narrow policies which serve narrow and short term interests. To my mind, this is the present policy of the West: they work towards the easy task of inciting revolution and then naively hope another election will miraculously resolve the problems they created. Russia, by proposing Federalism for Ukraine, is making a serious attempt at a settlement. President Putin has demonstrated himself to be extremely well educated and predictable as a Statesman. We would assume an American President would know enough about the benefits of Federalism to at least consider it and perhaps recommend it to the Ukrainian revolutionaries who now reach out to American taxpayers for billions of dollars. Then again, we would assume President Obama would understand the recent history of Kosovo, or have advisors who understood it. Ignorance, it seems, is the prelude to crisis and war. Alas, the XX century seems to continue. When Isaac Asimov said that the XXI century would be guided by one idea—”no more XXth centuries!” he was apparently engaging in wishful thinking. Time will tell.
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