Ethnic ties across borders do not imply a right to secede

In response to the June 5 article, "The coming of the micro-states": Whether or not Balkan precedents will legitimize the secession of unrecognized micro-states in post-Soviet territory or elsewhere, participants in the debate must treat ethnic and geographic descriptors with care. The article's assertion that Georgia's South Ossetia, for example, is "ethnically and geographically linked" to Russia's North Ossetia is of less significance than it may seem.

While Ossetians make up approximately two-thirds of South Ossetia's population, the fact that some 50,000 Ossetians are "ethnically linked" to 350,000 or so Ossetians in North Ossetia does not justify or explain South Ossetians' drive for secession. Minority ethnic populations live in border regions all over the world. Ethnic links either imply a right of secession to all these groups, or they imply a right to none.

As for adjacent borders, the Greater Caucasus mountain range divides North Ossetia from South Ossetia. Modern transit between the two regions exists thanks only to a tunnel blasted through the mountains in late Soviet times. Soviet power facilitated geographic links between North Ossetia and South Ossetia, just as Russian imperial power, a century before, gave South Ossetia its name.

The use of ethnicity or geography (or religion) to justify or explain a minority's drive for secession cannot substitute for an understanding of history and context when attempting to draw out the implications of one secessionist conflict for another.
Cory Welt
Deputy director, Russia and Eurasia Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies
Arlington, Va.

Managing a girl's college gear

I had to chuckle at the June 9 article, "How much stuff does a student need?" I chuckled because, despite his humorous complaints, as the parent of a male student, the author had it rather easy. Only two bales of clothes? Try being a mother to a girl who prides herself on having an outfit for every possible occasion, spends her spare time shopping at consignment shops for designer castaways, and likes to try every new hair and makeup product on the market.

Now imagine that this same daughter attends a college more than 3,000 miles away from home - so bringing all her stuff home via the family car isn't an option! Thankfully she's the friendly sort and found a "townie" friend willing to store most of her gear over the summer, or we'd be stuck with an expensive shipping and storage bill. Still, every time we flew out for a visit, we'd bring the largest suitcases we could find, toss in just two outfits each, and leave the rest of the suitcase space to take home her seasonal changes of clothing.
Barbara McClurken
Tewksbury, N.J.

Good citizens can oppose war

Your June 8 editorial, "What Canada's captures show the world," notes, "[Canadian Muslim] groups must also call for better cooperation with police, support Canada's military role in Afghanistan, and apply the same tolerance toward other religions that other faiths in Canada do." I can see the common sense in the first and last propositions but fail to see how any Canadian should feel obligated to endorse and support Canada's military exploits in Afghanistan.

Obeying the law and being tolerant are intrinsically important as general principles. In fact, being a good citizen rather hinges on both. Supporting Canada's military mission in Afghanistan has no bearing whatsoever on the quality of one's citizenship.
Ken Hogue

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