Independence or Unification with a Patron State? Not Such Dichotomous Ideas as One Would Think: Evidence from South Ossetia

Tomáš Hoch

Abstract


Independence or unification with Russia? That is a question that is constantly present in the South Ossetian public space. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, two referendums have been held in South Ossetia on the issue of state sovereignty (in 1992 and 2006). Since 2015, many proclamations have been made by South Ossetian politicians about preparations for another referendum on the subject. In the case of South Ossetia, what one would think as dichotomous ideas – independence and unification with Russia – are in fact overlapping concepts. The aim of this paper is to contribute to a closer understanding of the puzzling current reality in South Ossetia in terms of the debate on unification versus independence. On the one hand, South Ossetia seeks independence, but on the other, it is constantly seeking to join Russia. The second goal of the paper is to identify the factors, which underlie the South Ossetian discourse supporting the idea of unification with the Russian Federation. As a result of the analysis, the author concludes that the issue of security and the idea of a divided nation play a crucial role in this discourse. These topics frequently appear in the statements of the South Ossetian political elite as the main arguments in favour of accession to Russia. In addition, there are several other important variables, which can explain this prevailing South Ossetian narrative: the lack of human and natural resources for a viable state, the fatigue of the South Ossetian population in the face of the incompetence of local elites, and their aspiration for Russian centralisation. Finally, because a fuzzy independence narrative has also been documented in other de facto states, the author seeks an answer to a more general question: Why does this overlap in the narrative of independence versus unification arise in de facto states?


Keywords


sovereignty, independence, de facto states, conflict transformation, South Ossetia

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