Saturday, February 16, 2008

Independent Kosovo? Why Not Vermont?

Kosovo is about to declare independence. This fact has generated an interesting and problematic article which has gone out across the AP Wire. William J. Kole has written an article titled Independent Kosovo? Why Not Vermont?

Kole begins, "Sean Connery thinks a Scottish nation is a bonnie notion. How about Spain's Basque country becoming a REAL country? And what's wrong with a People's Republic of Vermont? Kosovo's looming independence raises all those questions and more. For starters: Why is statehood OK for some people but frowned on for others? After all, isn't the right to self-determination the essence of democracy itself?"

Unfortunately, I feel Kole does supporters of Kosovo's Independence an injustice. Why Kosovo and not Vermont? For starters, the people of Kosovo overwhelmingly support independence. To boot, many other nations (including the USA and the most members of the European Union) are going to recognize the validity of Kosovo as an independent nation. Only a small percentage of people in Vermont want indepedence. Further, no nations are ready to recognize the independence of Vermont. Kole is contrasting the proverbial apples and oranges.

Kole does this repeatedly throughout the article. He mentions fringe separatist movements in Texas, Alaska, Puerto Rico, and Gagauzia and mixes them with more serious groups in Scotland, Nigeria, Moldova, and Russia. There invariably will be new states in the future. However, these states will only be legitimate, accepted, and successful if the majority of the people of the region (the higher the percentage the better) and the international community are ready for the new state. For this reason, none of the American separatist groups have any shot of independence in the near future and may wait generations (if ever) to be independent.

Kole also wrote, "You can let the people decide...but first you have to decide: Who are the people?"

Indeed. Many separatists movement are in the extreme minority and are little more than fringe. They claim to represent the "people" by using sophisticated arguments based on historical and legal sophistry which reduce the majority of the population to illegal occupiers and declare that the region in question has never been legally acquired by another nation. Hence, these groups claim they are not seceding but seeking restoration. See the Legal Status of Texas article at Wikipedia for a good summary of this type.

My congratulations to Kosovo for what appears to be imminent independence. However, let's not use this occurrence to lump every separatist group in the world under the same status of legitimate. There are big differences between them and some (if not most) will never be successful.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The failure of Balkan Communism and the causes of the Revolutions of 1989

The failure of Balkan Communism and the causes of the Revolutions of 1989. Steve Sowards of Michigan State University has this lecture up on the failure of communism in the Balkans. It is part of a larger Twenty-Five Lectures on Modern Balkans History.

Sowards cites fours causes for the failure of communism in this area:

1. Collapse due to economic failure.

2. Collapse due to the arms race.

3. Collapse due to "perestroika" in the Soviet Union.

4. Collapse due to the rise of alternatives to Communism.

From the site:

The Revolutions of 1989 that ended Soviet-style Communism in the East European socialist states from the Baltic to the Balkans, were both dramatic and largely unexpected. It will be many years before a full documentary record is available, or the evidence that is required for a complete, reliable picture of what happened. However, one can discuss the causes of 1989, and explore some interpretations. This lecture discusses four explanations. Many of the key events in those explanations are interrelated, and it makes some sense to treat them as four stages in a lengthy process.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Requiem for Rome

Alternate history can take many forms. Sometimes it can be simple (What if Lincoln had lived?) to the unbelievable such as Harry Turtledove's accounts of aliens invading during World War Two. I recently read a role playing game supplement that goes in the unbelievable section right with Turtledove. However, just like the Turtledove saga, this is very enjoyable alternate history.

The book is Requiem for Rome by several authors. It was written to support the Vampire: The Masquerade game system. Here is a description of the book, "A gameplay expansion and setting book, Do battle with barbarian vampires, uncover the secrets of mystery cults, rule a family of the Roman aristocracy and change the course of Kindred history in the Necropolis beneath Rome."

Ancient Rome was a bloodthirsty place which had a great deal of reverence for the past and the dead. Is it such a stretch to imagine a vampire influence over the city? This book gives a good fantasy try at it.

What I found interesting for alternate history was not the large portions of the book that dealt with game playing mechanics. Instead, I found the authors account of vampire clans and how they influenced the various aspects of Roman history from the Kingship of Romulus, the founding and fall of the Roman Republic, the founding of the Empire, and the decline and fall of the Western Empire very entertaining. The first chapter of this book (Ab Urba Condita: The History of Rome) has a detailed time line of Roman history coupled with short essays on key periods. Of course, some of these essays discuss vampire politics and how this altered the history of Rome. Who would have guessed that the founding of the Roman Republic coincided with a vampire revolution in the catacombs below the city?

I realize this book review is a strange choice for this blog. However, I like alternate history and I like Roman history. I found this book satisfying and enjoyable. I hope the goth teenagers playing this vampire role playing game are inspired by this and go on to study Roman history.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Suetonius and his treatment of the Emperor Domitian's favourable accomplishments

I just finished reading Suetonius and his treatment of the Emperor Domitian's favourable accomplishments by Geoff W. Adams. It appeared in volume VI (2005) of STUDIA HUMANIORA TARTUENSIA. I found it very enjoyable. Was the Emperor Domitian really as bad as he has been portrayed by ancient historians?

From the abstract:

Suetonius has become one of the most influential and important ancient sources for our understanding ofthe socio-political climate in First Century Imperial Rome and the personalities of its emperors. However, he has illustrated in his texts a bias, often in a subtle manner that illustrates the historical and cultural aspectsof the literary climate during this period. One notable example is his Life of the Emperor Domitian, which corresponds well with the maturity of Suetonius’ writings by this time, but is also unique because of its constructionand personal attributes, being the most recent imperial life written by Suetonius. This life illustrates both the literary climate of this period (being clearly influenced by its Senatorial audience) as well as the damning and lasting impressions that the damnatio memoriae has had upon the historical sources on the Emperor Domitian.