Wednesday, 7 December 2011

What does it mean to live in an Independent Country?

What does it really mean to live in an independent country? 

Today here in Finland people are celebrating Finland’s 94th independence day and there are big celebrations. Finns celebrate their independence in a unique way. In the evening there is a big party at the president’s official residence. The glitterati are invited and almost 60% of the population are glued to their TV sets watching this livecast. Who’s there with whom and wearing what motivate the curious watchers.

What does living in an independent state really mean?

Does independence mean owning the land or being able to own land? 

Then 1.338 billion Chinese are not independent as by Chinese law, people have only land-use rights, which in the case of residential property, expires after 70 years (40 years for commercial property).  

Does independence mean having your own language and culture? 

There are many communities speaking the same language yet they do not have their own country e.g., 4,7% of Bulgarians are Roma people but they do not have their own state.

Does independence mean recognition by other states? 

This criterion is also not universally valid. The State of Palestine is an official member of the Arab League, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and UNESCO in addition to being recognised by 127 UN member states. But Israel does not recognise it and occupies the land and even though the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) recognises Israel.

Does independence mean having your own currency? 

What about the Euro then? It is the only legal tender in 17 of the 27 member states of the European Union. 

  • In the UK, Scottish, Northern Irish, Channel Island and Manx banknotes are legal tender and technically can be used all over the UK. But they are considered a local issue of banknotes denominated in GBP and these areas are not separate countries.

Does independence mean having your own army? 

The Vatican is recognised as a sovereign state but does not have an army (any more after 1970). Costa Rica abolished their army in 1949. Liechtenstein also abolished its army in 1868. They do have a SWAT team in case someone is planning something naughty against them. 

Then there are non-state armies such as the 

  • Mahdi army in Iraq
  • the Taliban in Afghanistan
  • the Hezbollah in Lebanon and 
  • the Al-Qaeda. 
  • About a dozen separate armed groups fight the Junta (and sometimes each other) in Myanmar. 
  • Private armies like the Bakassi Boys in Nigeria can be found in many countries alongside national armies. 

Does independence mean having your own legal system and court of laws? 

British Overseas Territories like Falkland Islands, Pitcairn Islands, Saint Helena, Gibraltar or Bermuda have their own legal systems (based on English common law) but they are not independent states. Non-state judicial systems can be found in many parts of the world e.g., Bangladesh and Philippines. 

Does independence mean having the rights to tax people? 

People living in most countries pay taxes to different bodies like central or federal government, state government, municipalities, and cities. Nation states like Monaco have no income tax. Companies can also deduct money from employee salaries to pay for their pensions, e.g., Mandatory Provident Fund in Hong Kong, Employees Provident Fund in Malaysia and Employees Provident Fund in India.

Max Weber in Politics as Vocation approached this issue of defining an independent state through the criteria of compulsory political organization and the right to a monopolyof the legitimate use of force

  • Would the people of Iraq and Afghanistan (with soldiers from 23 countries using their monopoly of the legitimate use of force on some Iraqis) agree?
  • The militaries of three foreign countries - Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan - are now operating in or around the edges of DR Congo. 

Is independence just a feeling?

Positive feelings are closest to people’s heart when asked about what being independent (as a country) means. People who have lived in areas occupied by “other” outside countries, states or powers often talk about experiencing oppression but not always. 

  • Could it be that in reality, the majority of the people staffing the local level mechanisms of oppression operated by outsiders are indigenous people? They stand to gain the most by helping to maintain the power imbalance.

  • Oppression and unjust treatment can be got from one’s own elected representatives. The plethora of class-action lawsuits and the current civil unrest in many countries (mostly rich democracies) do reveal this sad truth. 
  • Are the common people in stateless Palestine under occupation more miserable than people in North Korea ruled and oppressed by their own people?

Did all the people in history who lives "stateless" not know what Independence means? For 99.8% of known history, people have lived rather autonomous lives without strong central authorities controlling them (Carneiro, 1978).

Most of the symbols of nationhood, statehood or cultural hegemony come from a people’s history. Many factors, some careful manipulation, have influenced how these have gained the power to generate emotive responses in the people. 

Is the feeling of being a proud patriot contradictory to the lofty concepts of universal brotherhood of man? Sometimes they may seem to be, but they need not necessarily be so.

Crew of the Japanese submarine I-29 after the rendezvous with the German submarine U-180 300 km southeast from Madagascar. At bottom left is the Indian nationalist Subhash Chandra Bose. 28 April 1943.

In most countries, where independence was not always there (meaning limitation of basic rights and some other state power dictating local matters), independence is portrayed as having been won and defended by precious blood. Later generations, who have never experienced such strife, usually consider many earlier hard-earned freedoms as givens, their birthright. 

Let us hope that they should never need to experience loss in order to value what they have.

Some Thoughts About Independence From Around the World

From USA, this is Veteran Walter Smith’s message to Finland on its 94th Independence Day.  

"The old Finns were a lean and hardy lot. Emerging from years of oppression, they cherished their hard won freedom. Alas in too many nations fat with prosperity, their people have drifted off into complacency, as their freedoms were slowly shriveled away by political corruption. 
I live in a Roman style republic, and like old Rome, my nation has become a military empire of conquest, my freedoms become less and less by the day. But there is one freedom they cannot take away, and that is the freedom to Love.  
As Emma Goldman once said: 
Free love? As if love is anything but free! Man has bought brains, but all the millions in the world have failed to buy love. Man has subdued bodies, but all the power on earth has been unable to subdue love. Man has conquered whole nations, but all his armies could not conquer love. Man has chained and fettered the spirit, but he has been utterly helpless before love. High on a throne, with all the splendor and pomp his gold can command, man is yet poor and desolate, if love passes him by. And if it stays, the poorest hovel is radiant with warmth, with life and color. Thus love has the magic power to make of a beggar a king. Yes, love is free; it can dwell in no other atmosphere. In freedom it gives itself unreservedly, abundantly, completely. All the laws on the statutes, all the courts in the universe, cannot tear it from the soil, once love has taken root.

I love Finland, home of the brave; in war and peace, yours is a history to be proud of♥."
From India, this is Aswani Srivastava with his thoughts about living in an independent country.
"Independence is everything. Freedom is everything. I think it is foolish to debate over the same. One has to agree with me. Being independent is what everyone aspires for. And I am very much sure of the fact that today most of us are enjoying the fruits of freedom. Life without freedom is a waste, a disaster to be more specific. I really cannot imagine myself being in such situation at any point of time in my life.

I love my country and I am glad we are living in one of largest democratically independent countries of the world. As a citizen of an independent nation, I have nothing much to wish except see my country grow fourfold. No doubt, the growth has been staggering since the day we got independence, but there’s still a lot to be done. We are still being rated amongst the developing nations and this is really sad to know. I think a lot depends on the youth brigade, which I believe has the firepower to make it happen at anytime in future. Hopefully, we shall achieve the same status one day...!"

Source: Robert L. Carneiro, "Political expansion as an expression of the principle of competitive exclusion", p. 219 in: Ronald Cohen and Elman R. Service (eds.), Origins of the State: The Anthropology of Political Evolution. Philadelphia: Institute for the Study of Human Issues, 1978.