chapter  5
17 Pages

States without sovereignty: imitating democratic statehood: Nina Caspersen


The above statement, from a website which promises to teach you ‘10 things you didn’t know about Europe’s newest country’, Transnistria, illustrates the effort, and occasionally considerable skill, that the leaders of unrecognized states put into raising their international profile and conveying an image of stability and acceptability. From Abkhazia to Somaliland, these entities emphasize not only their right to self-determination, and their alleged suffering of human rights violations, they also proclaim the creation of effective statehood, and this has become a central part of their claim to independence. For example, when asked why Abkhazia should be recognized, one of its leaders responded that it had proven itself viable as a state.3 These entities are hoping to be recognized as independent states; therefore, trying to build something that looks like a state appears to be an obvious strategy. The unrecognized states are, however, not content with merely the symbolic attributes of statehood, such as a flag, a national anthem, national holidays, a head of state, etc.; they are making more ambitious claims to statehood. They are claiming to have created viable entities with state-like structures that enable them to defend the territory to which they lay claim and provide basic public services to their populations. They are, in effect, claiming that they have all the necessary attributes of statehood except international recognition. But can statehood exist without sovereignty and, if so, in what form? Moreover, as part of their strategy for gaining recognition, unrecognized states are also claiming that they embody democratic values. The regimes are keen to emphasize that they enjoy popular legitimacy and hence do not represent what Walter Kemp (2005) has termed ‘selfish determination’. In the past, the basis for this claim would usually be an independence referendum, and it would therefore be directly linked to the claim to self-determination, but over the last decade these entities have increasingly been proclaiming the creation of democratic institutions. Thus, the speaker of the Nagorno Karabakh parliament argues

that the entity has ‘a serious basis for the international recognition of our sovereignty’; ‘we have held free elections for 16 years, law-enforcement bodies are formed, powers are divided, [the] army is under civil control . . .’ (Karabakh Open 2008). Such claims may be meant mainly for an external audience, but the question is whether they can be reduced to this and are, therefore, entirely without substance. Can democratization co-exist with lack of recognition? In some unrecognized states, this rhetorical commitment to effective, democratic statehood has in fact been accompanied by the building of relatively effective state institutions and a gradual movement away from rule by authoritarian war heroes. However, in other cases, the proclaimed statehood remains embryonic and a few unrecognized states, notably Chechnya and Republika Srpska Krajina, never really managed to move away from the anarchical badlands that dominate the popular imagination of such entities. While they all share the context of non-recognition, and the accompanying uncertainty and isolation, and although their legitimizing strategies are strikingly similar, we find considerable variation in the kind of entity that is created when it comes to both state effectiveness and regime type. Such differences are of course found among recognized states as well, and the question is therefore whether there is something qualitatively different about states without sovereignty. Are they just like other states, merely unrecognized? This chapter focuses on the internal dynamics of these international anomalies: what kinds of entities tend to develop in the context of non-recognition? It examines the driving forces behind these processes, including the significance of external and internal legitimacy, and argues that the creation of effective, democratic statehood in unrecognized states is both constrained and enabled by the lack of recognition. The factors that may enable its creation also constrain the emerging statehood. The struggle for recognition and for maintaining de facto independence can, under the right circumstances, enable these anomalies to make a significant move away from chaos and disorder. Non-recognition provides powerful incentives for imitating democratic statehood – for imitating what good, recognized states look like – but unrecognized states are not just like other states, merely without the added bonus of recognition.4 The context of non-recognition and the path of their creation set them apart from their recognized counterparts and make the claim to viable democratic statehood, at best, a claim filled with tensions and contradictions, and moreover affect their long-term sustainability. The specific dynamics of unrecognized statehood therefore affect whether we are dealing with something new in the international system and whether it is merely a transient phenomenon or something more permanent.