Mr. Minnow wrote:I would therefore suggest that for the abolition of a border to be considered a positive development, the popular consent of both parties is required, but not sufficient. In addition to that, both parties should have benign intentions, and there also needs to be an absence of the negative ramifications in the wider world that we're seeing with Russia.
Generally agreed, but I think we can fairly expand that to include old-school imperialism, where a much larger nation thwaps a pseudopod over a smaller country and absorbs it. Can't think of any examples when that's been okay in the modern world. Back in the glory days of imperialism (not too long ago, sadly), what the natives thought was quaintly irrelevant, but in the modern era these moves are often justified by pointing to the desires of the absorbed entity. In virtually all these cases, those appeals are trumped up if not grotesquely distorted.
For instance, I think it's fallacious to say that the majority of Austrians supported the Anschluss. The German-speaking enclaves
of Austria may have had majority support for it, but hardly in polyglot Vienna (which Hitler resided in after WW1 and detested) and maybe even less so in the Slavic-speaking countryside. The purpose was hardly to "throw open borders," but rather to enclose
a loyal, German-speaking hinterland and forcibly control (and eventually purge) the non-Germans from the rest of it. It was an exercise in imperial border closing.
The only difference with the Sudetenland is that there was less of a long-term German presence.
I'm not up on the Crimean situation, but I'd tend to agree with you that what the majority of Crimeans want is less important than the mere act of pseudopoddery. I didn't support the first Iraq war because it was such a grotesque turkey shoot (and really more meant to exorcize the so-called Vietnam Syndrome in our military than anything else), but I certainly understood the international community's unified outrage at Saddam's unprovoked invasion of Kuwait. But again, that's hardly a matter of "opening borders," rather one of redrawing larger borders.
I'll be honest, I don't know nearly enough about the Basque conflict to make an informed comment about it.
I don't know a lot about it either, save that they've been fighting a low-grade, IRA-style "terrorist" war against Madrid at least since I was a kid, probably longer. Just a as a general comment, I don't think those are the right tactics, as Northern Ireland has demonstrated.
As a general principle, I'd say that any judgement of the conduct of such groups inevitably depends on the context in each individual case. If, for example, you have an authoritarian government which is actively trying to stamp out the culture of a minority group, it's entirely reasonable for that group to try to protect its culture. Indeed, this would be an instance in which separation (and therefore the creation of a new border) could be viewed in a positive light, since without separation that culture might be eradicated. On the other hand, if there is no such repression, and the desire to promote a minority culture is based not just on a love of one's own culture, but also on a disparaging attitude to others, that's not so great, so a separation in that instance would be a regressive step.
"Culture" is a highly charged concept. There's an ongoing political struggle in the Republic of Ireland among a small but very vocal group trying to preserve the specifically Irish culture, especially through language. It involves gripes over funding preservation societies and things like whether bilingual road signs are appropriate in places like Dublin, etc. But this sort of struggle obviously wasn't the main part of the impetus that bailed them from the UK.
It also seems the the impetus to create new borders for minority cultural groups usually isn't so positive. Bantustans and that infamous West Bank wall come to mind. We have reservations for Native Americans; if somebody suggested making the borders less porous, this wouldn't be met positively, least of all by the Native Americans themselves. I think most minority groups want less borders, not more. It's the powerful countries who in nearly all cases advocate wall-building and restrictive borders; witness the Tea Party and UKIP on immigration.
Yes, there are small radical separatist groups who fly the culture flag and I tend to be more troubled by this than see it as a positive sign. Ethnic Tatars should absolutely be protected against Russian abuses, but that strikes me as a Russian problem. It's very difficult to celebrate one's culture without raising it above everyone else's (Worms's comment about Scotland), and therein lies the big problem. Modernity is an acid bath for cultural differences and that's both a good and a bad thing to be sure, but on balance it's as hardwired into progress as science and technology, both which speak a universal language. Universal human rights ought to be, too.