Remember Eastern Rumelia

Glen Newey

In 1878, as the Russo-Turkish war raged and Britons feared Russian expansion, the music-hall star G.H. MacDermott was crooning the ditty that gave the word ‘jingoism’ to the language. As McDermott pointed out, ‘we’ve fought the Bear before’ and ‘we’ve got the men, we’ve got the ships, we’ve got the money too.' Now we’ve got few men, no aircraft carriers, and we’re broke. All that’s left, like a feedback screech, is the high moral tone.

A democratically elected government, albeit with a lot of blood on its hands, is ousted by an opposition that includes fascists from the Right Sector and Svoboda parties. The new junta, though not elected, is greeted by the western powers as ‘the government of Ukraine’, its foreign secretary fêted in the Europole. Russia acts to secure its strategic assets in the region, notably the Black Sea ports which it leases from Kiev; its interests also include the gas pipelines through Ukrainian territory and the many Russophones and indeed Russian nationals within Ukrainian borders. All this is strongly condemned by the US administration and legislature; and less so by the European Union. The EU has long courted Ukraine over accession, to fears from the Russophones in the east of the country. Meanwhile a hastily got-up plebiscite on Crimean sovereignty is condemned by the ‘government’ in Kiev and Euro leaders.

Thursday’s EU summit on the crisis delivered as little as one could hope for. Poland and the Baltic states, for obvious reasons, favoured a strong line, the communiqué amounted to brandishing a toothbrush. No surprises there. We in the EU need Russian gas. The EU’s trade with Russia is worth 15 times the United States'. With no European army or gunships to dispatch, threatening to cut off trade is like threatening to hit oneself in the face with a custard pie. Eurobods vow darkly to cancel the upcoming EU-Russia summit; the Kremlin must be quaking over that one.

Without the means to project force, the EU can at least indulge in the moral fantasies of the impotent. Meanwhile the US, heir to British imperial ambitions in central Asia, remains in Afghanistan and roundly condemns Russian assertiveness. Sevastopol makes for an interesting comparison with Guantánamo, another naval base leased from its host country (though Havana never cashes the cheques). That of course is in ‘America’s backyard’, which now seems to stretch over to the Aral Sea and beyond: the US, directly or via proxies, has been in Afghanistan for thirty-odd years. Russia, in invading its backyard to assert its strategic interests, has violated Ukrainian sovereignty, just as John Kennedy did at the Bay of Pigs in 1962; at least Crimea, unlike Cuba, contains a sizeable number of nationals from the invading country.

With the effortless lack of historical perspective that marks his generation of politicians, the deputy prime minister said on the telly this week that Russia was acting as though the Cold War were still raging. But Putin is more of tsar than a commissar and his ambitions are imperial. In the palmy Victorian summer, worries over Russian expansionism meant life support to the Ottomans (known, slightly incongruously, as ‘the sick man of Europe’), dust-ups in the Crimea, the ‘Great Game’ in Afghanistan, and attempts at the Congress of Berlin in 1878 to stem the tide of Pan-Slavism which, it was feared, would give the ‘Bear’ a habitat in continental Europe. At Berlin, Britain insisted on creating the pseudo-state of ‘Eastern Rumelia’ in northern Thrace as a multi-ethnic counterweight to slavic irredentism. That lasted all of seven years.

What does the EU-US endgame look like? That the Russians get out of Crimea? But there is no credible way of making them do that. To create an EU-friendly west Ukrainian statelet, or to corral both Kharkiv and Donetsk as well as Kiev into the big tent, with another state-building exercise of the kind that the West has sponsored so successfully in recent years? As the Spectator said a few years after Berlin, ‘Lord Beaconsfield's experiment has now had five years' trial, and the result is pronounced by the people of Eastern Rumelia to be a disastrous failure.’


  • 8 March 2014 at 11:00am
    Geoff Roberts says:
    Good to keep this crisis in the historical context. Who was it said (or wrote) that the first victim of war is the truth? There's a nice anecdote in Tuchman's 'August 1914' about the Russian armies coming to help stop the Boche on the western front. Russian troops were seen on Aberdeen station (I think it was), just landed. And how did we know they were Russians? They had snow on their boots.
    Those Russians in Eastern Ukraine probably have snow on their boots too. Pursued by SS forces, all wearing Nazi uniforms, according to Russian News. There are many Russians who despise Putin and wish he could be quietly dispatched to Siberia but their voices are seldom heard and they have frequent encounters with KGB (or whatever it's called today) when they go out to do the shopping.
    For the people in Ukraine, this whole crisis is a complete disaster. Prices are soaring, food is short and their opinion of the European gurus is rapidly turning into distrust. They actually believed that being in the EU would improve their situation.

  • 8 March 2014 at 8:07pm
    DanJ says:
    What a load of nonsense this article is. The kind of weary moral relativism that the first paragraph engages in is exactly the reason I am getting very tired of the LRB - its all so predictable what line will be taken on every single issue. Why we should feel any more sympathy for Russia's actions because America and Britain have also done things wrong in the past is never unpacked, just lazily assumed. Compare and contrast with Timothy Snyder's brilliant three part report on Ukraine on the NYRB blog, meticulously addressing the specific claims and counterclaims with factual evidence, and putting the whole thing in relevant historical context. Ive been a subscriber at the LRB for 5 years or so now, but it wont take much more to persuade me to swap for what increasingly seems like a far sharper and more critical operation in New York.

  • 9 March 2014 at 1:23am
    praymont says:
    And then there's all that UK intervention in Ireland, based on the presence of a large pro-UK population in the north, who were moved there around the same time (?) the Czar was moving ethnic Russians to Crimea, precisely in order to support continued intervention in a land that wasn't theirs.

  • 9 March 2014 at 7:34am
    Swedish Observer says:
    Excellent article. I have read Timothy Snyder's report on the NYRB blog and it surprised me by being totally uncritical in it's approach to the revolutionary masses on Maidan.

    We have long held the view that borders established by Communist dictators against the wish of the peoples concerned should be changed. That's why we now have independent and prosperous states in the Baltic region. When the people of Crimea now want to change a border established by a Communist dictator in 1954 many in the West seem to be upset. Why? We allowed the Kosovars to determine their own destiny. Crimeans should of course have the same right.

  • 9 March 2014 at 12:21pm
    guido franzinetti says:
    I was overawed by the wit and erudition of Newey's article. I think it should be transformed into a book. Who had ever heard of Eastern Rumelia before? Who had thought of the brilliant (and irrelevant) comaprisons made by Newham (Cuba 1961, for example)?. Newey's remarks are very informative of his reading habits.
    That said, if any reader is actually interested in knowing something about Eastern Rumelia, I suggest s/he might more usefully consult the studies of Richard Crampton (rather than back issues of the Spectator).
    As a matter of fact, I think Newey's article was intended for Private Eye (as part of a Lord Gnome-type column).
    Readers interested in the Ukranian crisis might usefully read the article by Meek in the forthcoming issue of LRB:
    guido franzinetti

  • 9 March 2014 at 10:21pm
    farthington says:
    DanJ: Snyder’s brilliant three part report on Ukraine on the NYRB blog, meticulously addressing the specific claims and counterclaims with factual evidence, and putting the whole thing in relevant historical context.
    I don't think so. I read Snyder III and found it a joke.
    The guy is a charlatan.
    This is the kind of stuff one expects from the NYT or the Washington Post.
    The NYRB long ago gave up on the political independence that made its name in its youth.

  • 9 March 2014 at 11:26pm
    farthington says:
    I'm staggered by how the management and editors of the anglo-american meda imagine that educated anglo-americans will accept a white-black, good guys-bad guys view of global affairs - more, and pay for the privilege.
    The same media rails against media censorship and control by various 'regimes', but the anglo-american MSM (and the French, don't know about the rest but expect no difference) play variation on a comparable theme.
    The MSM in its entirety has lost legitimacy, and the bizarre 'reportage' on the Ukrainian crisis has been an acid test of its failure.
    If people want white-black. good guys-bad guys stories they should be watching B-grade Westerns.

  • 11 March 2014 at 8:30pm
    Ralph W Reed says:
    Nice piece. I'm overwhelmed, too, by the jingoism and uniformity of the perspectives in the US MSM. The exception perhaps are short bits by Stephen Cohen on CNN and Gwen Ifill's PBS panel discussions. He is nearly in tears at times. Quite a courageous academic "warrior" and certainly no "weary moral relativist" to paraphrase DanJ.
    A parallel, indirectly related affair over the weekend was the University of Amherst student party being depicted nationally as "violent." I was a homeless alcoholic in Amherst for several years quite recently and these students were written about with bias and malice. The state police had clearly taken the initiative and the public diplomacy was overwhelming. Those poor students were herded mercilessly through gantlets of riot police who fired CS gas pellets at them. Not anything approaching balance in reporting with gleeful malice a clear violation of human rights.
    I'm fed up with the NYRB. They often play with exile nationalisms while purporting to have a cosmopolitan point of view. They aren't very good about the current human rights and histories of African Americans and Mestizos in the US anymore.

    • 11 March 2014 at 9:19pm
      Ralph W Reed says: @ Ralph W Reed
      I think I hit the "Submit Comment" to soon before laying into the NYRB. I'm just returning to electronic communications after mostly leaving in the 80s when I used to post regularly on the "whole earth 'lectronic link," the WELL, early in the morning after work in the Air Force with occasion for similar regrets.
      I felt sad when the NYRB tried to stem the last Iraq War with a not querulous lonely fortitude.

  • 14 March 2014 at 3:14pm
    Timothy Rogers says:
    Glen Newey’s contribution to the discussion of ongoing events in Ukraine is both scattershot and a little scatter-brained. In other words, he makes no sensible contribution (either in terms of historical background or current events) to a discussion of how the problems might be solved with a minimum of violence. His piece is one of sly invective - he knows his villains (UK, US, marginally the EU) but who are his heroes (or his “legitimate claimants” whose actions can be justified – by just what?)? Russia certainly has a legitimate claim to have its leases on Sevastopol’s naval facilities honored, but Newey’s blather about “legitimate strategic interests” partakes of the older and more general nonsense of “geopolitical” blather that is part of our modern discourse and that is used willy-nilly to justify such absurdities as US actions in Iraq and Afghanistan (where, of course, as a neighbor, the USSR had both “legitimate interests” and “imperial ambitions” during the period of its misadventures there). “Giving” Crimea to Ukraine in 1954 proved to be a mistake by Khrushchev, but who has 50- or 60-year foresight, and it was probably done as his personal penance for the rather devastating effects of his role as Stalin’s minion and ramrod in Ukrainian affairs in the 1930s (one can imagine such a human reaction for Khrushchev, certainly not for Stalin). Top this off with a casual reference to “Russophones”, the implication of which is that Russia has a moral right and duty to offer its version of “protection” to threatened Russian-speakers who reside outside of Russia. This is just silly.
    On the subject of Rumelia, the name and its origins are far from obscure, and any reader of late Roman and early Byzantine history or 19th century histories of central Europe and the Balkans will understand it. As to its role as a so-called political entity resulting from decisions made at the Congress of Berlin in 1878, it was just a small part of the agreements made. Anyone aware of the region’s history (Newey?) would know that the more important decision was to assign Bosnia-Herzegovina to Austro-Hungarian “administration” on behalf of the Ottoman Empire (which raised few objections). The alternative would have been to give it to the freshly minted Serbian nation, but that would have created just as many if not more problems of local dissatisfaction, given the rough ethnic breakdown of 40% Orthodox Serbs, 40% Roman Catholic Croatians, and 20% Muslim “Bosniaks” (Slavs who also spoke Serbo-Croatian, but were the local men that counted due to their landowning status and Turkish support). Prospectively the majority of its inhabitants could expect as good if not better treatment from Vienna (though not Budapest) than from Belgrade. In any event, these were all moves made on the basis of the prestigious Bismarck’s desire not only to keep Russia out of the Balkans but also to stabilize the region sufficiently to keep Germany out of a potential clash between Russia and Austria-Hungary (“The whole of the Balkans is not worth the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier” is the apposite quote here). This was the conservative Bismarck as peace-maker, who had already realized his main goals with the creation of Germany in 1870-71 and did not wish to rock the European and Russian boats. Is Newey’s mention of eastern Rumelia meant to enlighten us about anything – does it put the current events in “deep historical context”.
    Then Newey throws in the standard boilerplate about fascist and Svoboda participation in the overthrow of Yanukovych, neglecting everyone else (the vast majority) who has participated in the movement to depose the kleptocratic thug and re-organize the basis of governance. Of course the opposition is full of blemishes – is there any political coalition or grouping that isn’t? Your referendum is my unjustified coup. The fact that there is a great deal of Western hypocrisy and ”geopolitical masquerading” in response to the events is rather irrelevant. The “anti-fascist” posture of Putin and his cronies is equally laughable – fascist methods of police-state control are quite amenable to the ex-KGB functionary that is Putin. Who was pro-Nazi when that counted for a great deal diplomatically and politically (those 22 months from Aug. 1939 to June 1941)? None other than the good old USSR, which obscured this chapter of its history as much as it could (and which its imperialist inheritors continue to do – it’s just too damned embarrassing, as is their behavior toward Poles and Poland during the war). Putin is an inheritor of memories of that balmy period of Gestapo-NKVD co-operation that must make Russian security cops weep in their vodka over their lost Paradise. The said fact of life is that there are neo-Nazi groups in both Ukraine and Russia, and they are often used as front men by “nationalists” or auxiliary cops in the latter nation.
    The real problem with Newey’s blog-essay is its lack of coherent political or moral standards, made very apparent by his eclectic use of “evidence” and history.
    As to the side-discussion of Timothy Snyder’s writing about Ukraine, Swedish Observer and farthington seem to have read his very “fair and balanced” pieces (too bad Fox News has ruined this phrase for common, everyday use, so that it now requires quotes around it) with their personal-redaction glasses on, since he mentioned everything they say he didn’t, and he didn’t say everything or anything they said he did. What’s that all about? Snyder, as a truly professional historian with great knowledge of the region, knows just how messy its history has been and how the “uses and abuses of history” are undertaken by politicians and polemicists.
    To sum up. Ukraine is not really a place or a situation in which the US or UK has any serious or necessary standing – their involvement should be peripheral and in the nature of diplomatic pressure on both sides to find a peaceful solution, if that is all possible. Russia, of course, has “standing” but it will doubtlessly use this to mask its real power-grabbing motives, so all declarations of its motives and goals have to be taken with a ton of salt. But to expect the Eastern flank of the EU not to get excited or anxious about Russian intentions is also ridiculous, given the malign role that nation has played in their own nations’ histories, just up to yesterday, as it were.

  • 14 March 2014 at 6:58pm
    Glen Newey says:
    'The real problem with Newey’s blog-essay is its lack of coherent political or moral standards', writes Mr Rogers. I'm always happy to acknowledge my lack of such standards, and am a bit surprised that this verdict is delivered as a revelation when it is fairly clearly flagged, for example in the first paragraph. DanJ's charge of 'relativism', however, strikes me as exactly wrong: the problem that seems to worry him or her is that I suggest that the US can be held to the same moral standard (if one's in that game) as Russia is, which assumes precisely that some such standard is, if applicable at all, applicable generally. It is consistent with that to observe that, even so, moralism is not the best lens through which to view international politics. One problem which can come up when policy-making is fuelled by righteous certitude, is that one can end up killing people for charity – sometimes, as in Iraq, in large numbers. 

    The post is not particularly pro-Putin and I did not describe him as 'anti-fascist' as Mr Rogers implies. Putin has however consistently outthought western leaders, in the Ukraine and elsewhere. It's certainly no surprise that eastern EU states are nervous about Putin, but the EU has helped to bring this situation about through its aggressive courtship of Ukrainian accession, which was never going to play well either in Moscow or among ethnic Russians in the south and east of the Ukraine. EU diplomacy on this has been cack-handed at best. 

    Violence is often a bad thing, though the level of it has been pretty low compared with, say, the DRC recently and there is an obvious pragmatic contradiction in the idea of using force to achieve it. The idea that 'we' – the plenipotentiaries, the self-identified good guys – have to 'do something' even if that means making things worse, is pretty hard to shift. The Eastern Rumelian lesson, which I stand by, is that remote-action state-building as a way of scratching the itch to act is doomed to failure: the just deserts of stupidity. 

    • 14 March 2014 at 8:24pm
      Timothy Rogers says: @ Glen Newey
      While it is not wise to argue with authors, who more or less always have the last word of rebuttal (as, perhaps, they should), I’ll keep this alive by noting that, though it was certainly a mistake to combine political and moral as adjectives qualifying “standards”, there is still an inconsistency of standards in Newey’s view of Putin vs. the West in this particular case. I myself have no objection to a “uniform standard of behavior” applied to any and all nations (as should have been clear in my derogatory remarks about US involvement-- call it what it was, i.e., invasions of “sovereign states”, though that phrase and the thing it allegedly stands for sometimes raises a quizzical smile -- in Iraq and Afghanistan, and many other unnamed places as well). And there is (sanctimonious) blather vs action, the US being forced to resort to the former in this case, while Putin shows the courage of his weird convictions (including his adolescent male’s desire for “respect” on the world stage – we have way too many of this type in the US too), but his convictions may lead him down a path that doesn’t end where he imagines it will. As to the Eastern Rumelia business, I doubt that any of its harassed creators actually viewed as “state-building”, rather than as a holding measure while each nation regrouped and developed its positions about how to divvy up the Balkans. The 1878 Congress was summoned (nobody was forced to attend, everyone who did, did so out of negative or positive incentives) to actually alter the results of the Russian-Turkish treaty of San Stefano. The other Powers were disturbed by the Greater Bulgaria this created (implying a Russian-friendly government putting its new patron close to Constantinople, the capture of which was one of Russia’s long-standing goals), so some parts were stripped off and assigned to the nonce territory of Eastern Rumelia. Nobody expected this to last, and it didn’t. Perhaps no one should have expected a permanent incorporation of Crimea in the Ukraine either, but the move was made when Ukraine had no really autonomy within the USSR, so Russian desires and plans for the area were paramount anyway (this kind of control did not prevent Stalin from pushing for Ukrainian and Belarussian representation in the UN as real countries who had voluntarily affiliated themselves with Russia through the USSR mechanism, a veritable figment of nonce countries, only Russia being real in any political sense). But while a Ukrainian Crimea may be a fiction, the fact that there is a “real Ukraine” about half of whose citizens wish to have a Western orientation (while fearing Russia enough not to raise the red flag of advocating NATO membership), is not a fiction, and then the question gets to be who-whom when it comes to divvying the territory up along rational lines (another “state-building” exercise that history shows is difficult, if not impossible). Putin does not seem to be the kind of man who will let rationality prevail in such an exercise – while he puffs out his chest, he has more chips than his shoulders can bear.

    • 17 March 2014 at 7:24pm
      DanJ says: @ Glen Newey
      Not very convincing I'm afraid. If you were really keen on trying to hold any sort of moral standard you would make some attempt to actually lay out what those standards are, and apply equal criticism to all those that have contravened them - particularly, you would think, those that have done so in the last few weeks. Instead you choose, as so many on the left have done, to focus your efforts on downplaying the Russian action, before attempting a bit of mud-slinging at the Ukrainian opposition, and then moving on to what clearly you find the most heinous action of this last month - western politicians making ignorant, hypocritical statements (for a change!).

      The reason I accused you of relativism is because one of your central points is clearly 'how can we criticise Russia - look at all the bad things others have done' - and that you focus only on the criticisms of Russia made by those who are themselves morally suspect. As your reply demonstrates, you make all sorts of telling assumptions that anyone who see's Russia's actions as illegitimate and dangerous must therefore want 'action' to be taken by the west, that they they see 'us' as the good guys, that they have 'righteous certitude' - it is always the mark of relativism that every other view must be that of a fundamentalist.

      The reality is I would like nothing more than to see all states, especially America, held to the moral standards that Russia has clearly contravened here. I just dont see how claiming that those standards dont apply, or at least apply less, because they have been contravened before by others, does anything other than make that less likely. Presumably the next time America "acts to secure its strategic assets in the region", we can expect a similar article, dispassionately laying out how Russia did the same in Crimea, so its all just fine really.

    • 17 March 2014 at 9:58pm
      Timothy Rogers says: @ DanJ
      To DanJ: While I was responding to Mr. Newey (and not you), I feel that I should note that you are a careless reader, the kind who is so entrenched in his own beliefs that he finds them supported or contravened all over the place, when in many places they are irrelevant (they’re certainly irrelevant to me). “Moral relativism” is, rather entertainingly, a relative phrase in itself, as anyone who reads blogs can plainly see. Your moral relativism is my prudence and judiciousness; in other words caution, which may save lives in the long run. With respect to the events in Crimea, Putin behaves like the thug he is, but he has some history (the absurd “gift” of the peninsula to Ukraine in 1954 – who has the right to give a large region full of people to one government – in this case a USSR sham local government – to some political entity?) and some demography (lots of Russians there, not many “real Ukrainians”) on his side. If the “moral” world honors break-away movements on demographic or ethnic grounds, it has no sufficient reason to object to this one. The Tatars are the “real Crimeans”, but their numbers are insufficient to affect the outcome or judgments about the outcome; this is sad, but true. Sometimes the “international community” objects to this kind of action (Putin’s) on the grounds that it will elicit too much bloodshed (the poor slobs on the ground are always the victims here, the righteousness of causes, goals, or general principles playing no role in who gets shot or trampled), but the suggested remedies or responses result in equal or greater bloodshed. This should all be obvious and points to the lack of conventional morality when it comes to everyday politics (everywhere). So my caution tells me to have the West stay out of the Crimean affair. Then the problem becomes what to do about the rest of Ukraine. The western half of Ukraine has a fairly old (“traditional”) association with points farther west (the product of their status as part of the vanished Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and after that, as the Galician part of Austria for about a hundred and forty years), and most of its inhabitants would rather go west than be incorporated into Russia (again). The eastern half, not so much, and it’s chock full of Russians, not just ‘Russophones”. How many real Ukrainians live in Kharkov/Kharkiv? Very few, I suspect. If the wishes of people who live in a specific place actually have some justifiable status in determining how they are to be governed, then we in the West might have to resign ourselves to accepting a partition of the country. Once again the fact that Putin is a malign and thuggish person is not relevant here. He can be slapped with all kinds of economic sanctions, that’s fine, but this will probably not affect his behavior or outlook, which can only be countered by internal Russian protest and politics, as feeble and overpowered as they are by his policeman’s tactics at the moment, but things can change, even for the better, though it’s more likely they’ll change for the worse. Moral objections make you feel good, but will accomplish little, probably nothing. The US, UK, and EU are not going to war over what happens in Ukraine, nor should they. (Because, uprightly moral DanJ, the outcome and suffering would be much worse, or don’t “the facts of life” cut any weight with you? Somehow I doubt they do, as your comments indicate a purist streak of character that will reject compromise in the interest of less suffering of real people). How you came to the conclusion that I am a ‘leftist” mystifies me. At the age of 70 I’m an old-fashioned “FDR liberal” when it comes to domestic American politics, and a moderate-to-truly conservative person (i.e., neither a neo-liberal nor a neo-conservative, both of whose views about foreign policy I find hilariously stupid) about US involvements abroad, feeling that we are overextended and too shallow and self-righteous in our thinking, polemically overwhelmed by our own ideas about “American exceptionalism”, an idea that is a sick historical joke. But, back to you, my moral lad, who thinks he can cut through the thickets of real life problems by wielding moral principles that are in need more than a little doubt (or circumstpection).

    • 23 March 2014 at 12:34pm
      DanJ says: @ Timothy Rogers
      You've misunderstood me - I too was replying to Mr Newey response, rather than to yours. The stupid way that they have set up the comment system here means it looked otherwise.

      I certainly dont think you are a moral relativist - as I pointed out, its not necessary to hold pure and simple moral principles to avoid relativism - there is more than one way to be wrong! Where you and Mr Newey differ - and why I accuse him of relativism - is that he selects very specific historical examples as a way only of excusing the actions of Russia, and ignores those that dont. You on the other hand have demonstrated an admirably in depth knowledge of the situation, and rather than using this to bemoan how complicated the situation is, have still drawn conclusions about the realtive merits of different actors actions, where it can fairly be done. In truth I think we are mostly in agreement - certainly I dont wish for war or military action of any action of any type. Then again, neither do I wish for Russia to be excused criticism or punishment of other types, because those with the particular political persuasion like Mr Newey prefer only to criticise America.

    • 27 March 2014 at 4:40pm
      Timothy Rogers says: @ DanJ
      My mistake (or the website's formnat), so you have my apology for "ventilating" too loudly and without caution (the peril of blogs).

  • 18 March 2014 at 9:29pm
    Timothy Rogers says:
    One final note on this, with a little history thrown in on the Eastern Rumelia analogy drawn by Mr. Newey. I don’t see the Crimean peninsula as analogous to that older territory, because Eastern Rumelia, as I said, was meant to be a temporary measure that allowed each of the Great Powers to walk away from the Berlin Congress of 1878 with some face-saving (in the sense that they did not have to accept yielding this hunk of land to a potential enemy). It was designed to “cool off” the Balkan situation in that particular area (where four small countries – Greece, Serbia, Romania, and Bulgaria – were jockeying for position, grabbing as much as they could, and looking for Great Power sponsors to validate their moves). As I noted, within a few years the Powers were conceding that some of this land should be given back to Bulgaria, as long as the latter pledged (and was warned) to keep its hands off Macedonia. Like the Crimea, Eastern Rumelia had a mixed population (I doubt that there was a majority in the plus-50-percent sense, but there may have been a plurality of one of the nationalities – only census data would resolve this, and any census taken at the time would have been very tendentious when it comes to nationality). But, unlike the Crimea, the region had never been governed (or misgoverned) by any of the competing local nationalities, but by the Turks. Just like the US will not be giving back large tracts of land to the real natives (American Indians), neither Ukraine nor Russia will be giving it back to the small Tatar population that dwells in the Crimea – that’s a non-starter. An “independent Crimean nation” resulting from the recent election would make it more like Eastern Rumelia (politically), giving both Russians and Ukrainians time to cool off before trying to relegate it to a different status, but that seems unlikely (it would appear to Putin as a dirty compromise – a sign of weakness! -- that doesn’t guarantee the final incorporation of Crimea into Russia). Putin will get his way in this case, but it is his next move that is far more worrying. And, to repeat, it is the eastern fringe of the EU that will experience the most anxiety (very justified) in the face of Putin’s appetite, calling for stronger measures in response to his actions. For instance, something like 50-60% of the inhabitants of Riga are Russians or the children of people who came from Russia and settled there when the Baltic States were constituent parts of the USSR (most of them went there for economic opportunity and a higher standard of living, indicating something about how they felt about Russia proper at the time, though they seem to have forgotten that). While members of the younger generation of these recent immigrants mostly identify themselves as Latvian (I base this observation on travel and personal experience), there is a large number of older, dejected Russophiles living there who might be used by Putin as pawns in one of the many games of intimidation that he enjoys playing. And yet, there is no clear option short of war for the West that would work to restrain Putin’s moves in Crimea and, most likely, in eastern Ukraine, and war isn’t (and should not be) in the cards.

  • 20 March 2014 at 3:07pm
    telzey says:
    So, let me get this straight. Russia invades and seizes Crimea...and it's all about Guantanamo? LOL. Talk about moral hysteria. From the author's discussion of Afghanistan, you would never know that Russia invaded that country, occupied it for a decade and killed 1.5 million Afghans. But that's not important. What matters is that the US is withdrawing from that country this year. Which you would also never know from reading this ridiculous blog post.

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