Monday, November 9, 2009

Europe's Other Walls

Today we mark the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall, an event which was the dominant image of a wave of democratic change which swept across Eastern Europe in 1989 before collapsing the Soviet Union in 1991.

I'm not going to comment on that event - there are plenty of others better placed to do that - but I do want to highlight some of the other 'walls' that remain in Europe to this day.

In the far west we have Spain and Gibraltar.  Spain ceded the rock to Britain after a military defeat, but has never reconciled itself to the loss of this territory.  For Britain, Gibraltar is so strategically located that to hand it back would be a major loss.  My guess is, however, that these two mature democracies could develop a solution if they put their heads together (e.g. give sovereignty back to Spain, which would then lease the territory back to the UK).

In the mediterranean we have the island of Cyprus, divided between the Greek South and the Turkish North. There has been a warming of relations between the two sides in recent years, both of which appear to have pragmatic governments that seek peace.  Northern Cyprus is, however, Turkey's trump card in its relationship with the EU.  It will only let the island reintegrate when Turkey itself receives a green light from the EU on membership.

Three of the 'walls' are in the Caucasus, and involve Russia as a sponsor of the conflict.  In the southern Caucasus we have the conflict between European & Christian Armenia and Turkic & Muslim Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh.  I'm not an expert on this one, however the solution would seem to me to be for Armenia to return the area to its rightful owner under international law (Azerbaijan), and for Azerbaijan to then give the region a large dollop of autonomy (so that its majority Armenian population could run their own internal affairs).

The walls separating South Ossetia and Abkhazia from Georgia are much better understood after last years Russo-Georgian war.  These conflicts can begin to be resolved only when Russia exits militarily and is replaced by an unbiased international force.  From that point on the solution would also involve autonomy within the internationally recognised borders of Georgia.

The last wall runs down the Nistru and separates Transnistria from the rest of Moldova.  In some ways this would be the easiest conflict of all to solve.  There is no substantive ethic basis for the dispute as there is in all the other conflicts mentioned above.  The people of Transnistria have little to lose and much to gain from reintegration.  There is little risk of inter-ethnic conflict.

The Transnistrian conflict has no substance.  It's just about Russian misbehaviour (e.g. flaunting of the CFE treaty, non-adherence to its Istanbul commitments and continuing occupation of a foriegn country) and the narrow interests of a couple of business clans in Tiraspol.  The solution to this one is actually dead easy:

  1. Russia leaves
  2. Smirnov hands over the keys to Ghimpu.
That's it.  No need for interminable negotiations, or, even worse, negotiations over the format of negotiations...


  1. If poeple of Transnistria have little to lose, so let them to take dessition. They really would preffer to be with Russia. Ghimpy? Leave this man for Moldova, not fot Transnistria. Why your, bessarabians know better, what is good for us? We like Russian army, we want to be a Russia, not the poorest country in Europe.

  2. Nikolai,

    you should know that under international law Transnistria is part of Moldova and the people of Transnistria do not have the right to choose independence. It is truly unfortunate (not to mention illegal) that they have been led to believe this is a possibility.

    It is also unfortunate that the people of the region have not had access to full, unbiased information since the fall of the Soviet Union. Were a free media to exist in Transnistria I am sure people would think differently.

  3. So, how are we gonna tear down this border wall(Transnistrian) that in my view is nothing more then a power structure?!

  4. The capital distrubution in the world is not even isn't it? Looks like David vs Goliath !

  5. Nikolai, wake up, the "PMR" will never be a part of Russia, which has no need or desire for a "second Kaliningrad." Talk to some Russian policymakers about this and see how excited they are about the idea of supporting Smirnov or whoever his heir turns out to be indefinitely.

  6. I am unsure if Transnistrians in general want to be part of Moldova, and I see no point why they necessarily should. Transnistria was added by Stalin, to increase the Slavic population in the Moldovan SSR (just like South Ossetia has never been part of an independent Georgia)

    That said, Smirnoff is a mafiosi, and a shame to Europe. But why not an inependent democratic Transnistria, an integration with Ukraine, or even a part of Russia, like Kaliningrad? The point is that the country's population needs democracy, progress and sustainability, not that they need to be part of Moldova.