In 1988, the ethnic conflicts in Azerbaijan began. The battle ground was the Armenian dominated territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan were Soviet republics, however deep hatred existed between the two nations. Soviet patriotism could not prevent the rise of ethnic nationalism in the final years of the USSR. Right-wing forces on both sides were able to profit from the Gorbachev reforms and by 1988, ethnic riots led to murder and a brutal war. Under the banner of ethnic nationalism, many Soviet nations turned on each other. After 70 years of forced ”Soviet Brotherhood”, nationalist poison took over the minds of millions!
Nagorno-Karabakh is only one example of nationalist conflicts that rose out of the ashes of stalinism. There is also the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (Transnistria) on the borders of Moldova and Ukraine. This tiny nation came into existence after ethnic Russians and Ukrainians feared that Moldova would join Romania. With support from the former Soviet Army (now the Russian Army) stationed on the borders, these Russians and Ukrainians created the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic in September 1990. After the collapse of the Soviet-Union, Transnistria changed its name to Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic, although its Soviet symbols remain in use!
In March 1992, Moldova (with Romanian support) tried to take Transnistria by force. The war lasted 4 months, 2 weeks and 5 days. Thanks to the former Soviet Army and ethnic Russian militia’s, the Moldovan & Romanian offensive was halted. Over 1.500 soldiers and civilians died in these four months of bitter fighting. Transnistria became a post-Soviet frozen zone, although independent it remains isolated and deeply corrupt. For Moldova this defeat was costly, because during Soviet days many heave industries were build on the Moldovan-Ukrainian border. These heavy industries now came under control of the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (Transnistria)!
Ethnic nationalism was the key in this conflict. Because Russians and Ukrainians feared the nationalist politics of the Moldovan Popular Front, especially after Moldova left the USSR. They feared they would become second class citizens and would lose their privileged. Under stalinism, the Russians were granted cultural dominance over the USSR. However after years of living under the Russian joke, the people of none-Russian Soviet republics were easy poisoned by ethnic nationalism. After the victory of the Moldovan Popular Front, the Moldovan Socialist Soviet Republic was renamed Republic of Moldova and took a flag similar to that of Romania. Also the Moldovan (Romanian) language was made the only national language, which angered ethnic Russians. Mixed with their own chauvinist propaganda, Transnistria became what Donetsk and Lugansk in Ukraine are today!
In April 2016, the guns are firing again in Nagorno-Karabakh, after 23 years of silence. The battle is classic as the Army of Azerbaijan fired on the Armenian separatists. The biggest winnaar of this stupid nationalist conflict are the Russian weapon manufacturers. Because both Armenia and Azerbaijan have bought Russians guns to fight each other. Although Moscow has called on both parties to end hostilities, the capitalists who own the armaments industry make huge profits. At least 30 people have been killed in the first hours of hostilities between Azerbaijani soldiers and the Armenian separatists!
Nagorno-Karabakh is a landlocked region in the South Caucasus, lying between Lower Karabakh and Zangezur and covering the southeastern range of the Lesser Caucasus mountains. It used to be part of the Azerbaijan Socialist Soviet Republic, but the majority of its population is ethnic Armenian. Its foundation goes back to 1923, after the Soviet; People’s Commissariat for Nationalities decided to add the region to the newly created Azerbaijan Socialist Soviet Republic. The Armenians who lived in Nagorno-Karabakh were cut off from Armenia and now lived surrounded by Azerbaijan!
Ethnic nationalism was suppressed by the Stalinist monolith, who promoted Soviet nationalism. However with the rise of Micheal Gorbachev, the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh wanted to return to Armenia, this could not be accepted by Azerbaijan. The first signs of trouble started in 1987. Ethnic violence led to killing, plundering and riots. Armenians targeting Azerbaijanis and Azerbaijanis attacking Armenians. A year later, the Soviet governments of both the Armenian SSR and Azerbaijani SSR entered the conflict and used their guns against each other. In November 1991, the Supreme Soviet of Azerbaijan abolished the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast. Now the Armenians rebelled in full force, all pretenses of Soviet brotherhood were dropped!
After the final collapse of the USSR, the symbols of socialist unity were striped and nationalist flags & symbols were put up. Armenians were fighting under the blessing of Christian orthodoxy and Azerbaijan fought with blessing from Shia-Islam. The war was bitter for the Azerbaijanis. They lost over 25.000 soldiers while the Armenians lost 6.000 soldiers. In the end, the battle lasted 6 years, 2 months, 3 weeks and 1 day. Nagorno-Karabakh stayed independent, although it is not recognized by the United Nations. Even the Republic of Armenia has not accepted the landlocked region as a independent nation. Together with Transnistria in Moldova, Donetsk and Luhansk in Ukraine, the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic is a post-Soviet frozen zone!
The lack of genuine workers parties is what led to the rise in ethnic nationalism. Stalinism had oppressed the people of the Caucasus for 70 years. Enforcing Russian chauvinism masked under the banner of Marxist socialism. Many young people rebelled against the ruling caste of communist party bureaucrats in the late 1980’s. However because they could not see the differences between top-down stalinism and genuine Marxist socialism, they became die-hard anticommunists easy manipulated into becoming ethnic nationalists. These young nationalists would become the front soldiers in the brutal wars of the 1990’s. The ”WE” against ”THEM” mentality is born out of mistrusting people from other ethnicity’s!
In Northern Ireland, religious sectarianism is used by two types of nationalists. The Irish Nationalists are republicans and support unification of the Irish island. Irish Unionists reject this idea and wish to remain part of the United Kingdom. They seem themselves as British, not Irish. Religion also plays a huge role here. The Irish Nationalists are Catholics while the Irish Unionists are Protestants. Over 3.000 people have been killed between 1968 and 1999 as these two groups fought each other. Both Irish Nationalists and Irish Unionists use nationalism again each other. Unionists are British nationalists and the Irish Nationalists are loyal to Irish nationalism!
Revolutionary socialists reject this nationalist poison. We seen how a genuine protest against a corrupt conservative president in Ukraine can led to a brutal nationalist conflict. The EuroMaidan movement that brought down Viktor Yanukovich did not ended the corrupt oligarchy. In fact the current president is a member of the oligarchy and now wants to enter the European common market. Petro Poroshenko is a capitalist oligarch and has allied himself with European imperialism. While Yanukovich was seen a pro-Russian, Poroshenko is supportive of integration into the European Union. This will not bring any genuine changes as the EU is a product of capitalist forces, who wish to maximize their profits at the expense of workers and their families!
Ukraine will not benefit from Europe, although the pro-European propaganda claims otherwise. It is ironic that all nationalists in the Ukrainian conflict wish to ally themselves to either one of the two imperialist blocs. Western Ukrainians wish to join the European Union and Eastern Ukrainians would love to join the Russian Federation. Revolutionary socialists reject both sides, we stand against European and Russian imperialism. We reject Moscow and Brussels and call for workers unity and a socialist society. It is difficult to fight for these ideals in a environment that is poisoned with nationalist hatred. In West-Ukraine you care called a ”Kremlin puppet” if you call yourself a Marxist. In East Ukraine they reject you as a puppet of the western world, should you critize Vladimir Putin and his great Russian chauvinism!
This is why many anti-imperialists have sided with the deeply chauvinistic rebels in Donetsk and Luhansk. Those leftist from the Stalinist tradition claim that by supporting the separatists, they are ”supporting anti-fascists”. But totally ignore the chauvinist nature of the rebels, as far-right forces fight on both sides. Separatist forces are supportive by far-right political groups such as Russian neonazi’s and ethnic nationalists. These nationalists are deeply intolerant of Ukrainians and their culture. We see this in Crimea were Ukrainians and Tartars are losing more basic liberties each month. In Donetsk and Luhansk many separatist fighters have said they wish to build a ”Orthodox society” were there is little room for those who don’t agree with the Russian Orthodox Church!
It is true that the Kiev government is nationalist, intolerant of communism, corrupt and a product of the oligarchy. President Petro Poroshenko has banned the whole communist ideology and began to glorify those who committed mass-murder against Ukrainian Jews in WW2. The Kiev regime is indeed reactionary and there are many far-right Ukrainians fighting with the main armed forces. You have the 1000 man strong, Azov Battalion. This unit fly proudly the Swastika banner and the NATO flag. It seems that glorification of those who fought for Adolf Hitler, is tolerated inside the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
Like in Nagorno-Karabakh and Transnistria, Donetsk and Luhansk are now post-Soviet fronzen zones. These region’s are marked by political instability, lawlessness, deep corruption, poverty and a small group of people who enrich themselves at the expense of the working class. The international community does not recognize them, but this does not matter for the rulers of these brake-away republics!
Ethnic nationalism is also enforced in extreme Stalinist regimes. North Korea is a very nationalist nation that enforces radical hatred against the Japanese. Children are told that Japan is evil and that they are Koreans stand superior. The Kim Dynasty which rules the north of Korea since 1948, has used ethnic nationalism to boosts its own popularity among the Korean youth. Kim Il Sung used it against his political opponents in the 1950’s. Thanks to the overwhelming support from young nationalists, he was able to purge his party from those who rejected his extreme personality cult and ethnic nationalism!
In the former Soviet republic of Georgia, two separatist states were founded after the collapse of the Stalinist monolith. The Republic of South Ossetia and the Republic of Abkhazia broke away from Georgia. This began on 14 August 1992, when Georgian forces attempted to take control of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russian forces and separatist troops prevented this and like Transnistria, the two nations became post-Soviet frozen zones unrecognized by the international community. The deep hatred between Georgians and Abkhazians led to ethnic cleansing. Separatist forces forcefully removed 200.000 ethnic Georgians from their homes in Abkhazia. In response, the Georgian soldiers took no prisoners and killed any separatist on sight!
By 2016, a few allies of Moscow have recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. But the United Nations keeps seeing them as part of the Georgian nation. After the election of right-wing nationalist; Mikheil Saakashvili, the war resumed in 2008 with another Georgian attack on the separatists. Saakashvili hoped his western trained troops would triumph this time. But Russia came to the defense of the separatists again. Russian forces attacked the Georgians and forced them back. Saakashvili called Russia to be the agressors and the capitalist media of the western world, portrayed Georgia as the ”victim”. In the end, Saakashvili failed to take Abkhazia and South Ossetia by force. He fled Georgia in 2013 after his right-wing movement lost the elections. Mikheil Saakashvili now serves oligarch; Petro Poroshenko and is Governor of Odessa Oblast, he is also granted Ukrainian citizenship!
Revolutionary socialists cannot support independence based on ethnic nationalism and capitalism. We can support Independence if this leads to a socialist transformation of society. But for this to work you need a mass party of the working class. A party by workers and for workers. Professional and disciplined workers parties, this is what we lack in the world today!