When does the will of the people matter and when is it insignificant? Well it depends on where you sit and with whom.
On Sunday, a little-known speck of land, South Ossetia, votes in a referendum on independence.
The Caucasus is awash with ethnic groups of all stripes, making it the world's biggest melting pot. But some in the soup want out, including the South Ossetians who fought a bloody war against the Georgians in the early 1990s. (Ethnically, South Ossetians are different from Georgians -- their language is related to Iranian.) Since then, the 70,000 or so South Ossetians have run things on their own without international recognition.
Enter Mikheil Saakashvili, the U.S.-trained lawyer, (as boilerplate dictates I tell you), who vowed to bring to heel South Ossetia and another breakaway region, Abkhazia, when he came to power in 2004. Saakashvili has made no secrets about his intentions to join all the Western clubs he can from NATO to the European Union. That hasn't sat well with Russia, of course, which has been accused of stirring up things in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. True, the Russians are chummy with South Ossetians separatists.
The outcome of Sunday's vote is hardly in doubt. Most of the South Ossetians want independence, and even eventual union with Russia. Since the South Ossetians outnumber ethnic Georgians.... well do the math.
So, will the vaunted West listen to the will of the people and uphold the principle of self-determination? Um, not likely. Mikheil's their friend, and the South Ossetians are Moscow's. Simple as that.
Contrast that with Kosovo, where the majority of ethnic Albanians want to breakaway from Serbia. The conventional wisdom holds the ethnic Albanians have been brutalized by the evil Serbs and are deserving of independence. I'm not buying this black-and-white version of events. For those interested on another take of things there, read this . To gauge the caliber of people in Kosovo's leadership ranks, take a look at Agim Ceku, the so-called prime minister. Plus, as I've pointed out the U.S. has a humongous military base in Kosovo, and if the Serbs hold the reins of power there Camp Bondsteel could be caput.
Contrast that stance with the Western take on Bosnia-Hercegovina, made up of a ethnic Serb republic and a Muslim-Croat federation. Here, the West wants strong central institutions, despite objections from the Serbs, Croats, and Muslims to keep this artificial construct just that.
The Russians have pointed out the hypocrisy of the West pushing for Kosovo independence on the one hand, while opposing it on the other in Southern Ossetia or Transdniester, a sliver of land in Moldova where the ethnic Slavs -- Russians and Ukrainians -- want no part of the central government.
Having a Russian-friendly statelet on the western border of Ukraine is a no-no in Washington and Brussels, doing all they can to whittle away any influence Moscow may have in its former empire. That Moldova is ruled by a Commie matters little to the U.S. and the EU. Vladimir Voronin is not in Moscow's pocket and has even criticized the Kremlin over gas shipment delays. Like the South Ossetians, the people of Transdniester held their own plebiscite on independence back in September. They voted overwhelmingly for independence, as the South Ossetians are about to do. The West, however, ignored the Transdniester vote, and will do the same in South Ossetia.