At a session on De Facto state regimes at last month’s ASN, Tom de Waal wittily remarked on how there appears to be an Irish-Japanese axis of researchers studying these oddities of the world political map. Looking at the presenters he was surely right. Kimitaka Matsuzato has long brazed a unique trail with his research in the North and South Caucasus, his ASN paper updating and revising research he had undertaken in South Ossetia immediately after the August War, as well his longstanding research in Abkhazia. Donnacha O’Beachain, from Dublin City University, has developed deep knowledge of elections in the post-Soviet de facto states, having visited three of the four for first hand observation and research during the 2011-2012 campaigns. Few may be aware that he is the author of a highly regarded history of Ireland’s ‘party of power’ until recently, Fianna Fail, entitled The Destiny of Soldiers. JohnO and I anchored the discussion. To this group could be added Yoko Hirose who has undertaken considerable research in Azerbaijan (and was in the audience).
Any full discussion of current international researchers on de facto states needs to take account of the great work by Norwegians, in particular the work of Pal Kolsto, his collaborator Helge Blakkisrud, and the UCL political scientist Kristin Baake with whom JohnO and I have cooperated. And then there is Eiki Berg in Estonia, the British in Nina Caspersen, Laurence Broers and Tom, and pretty soon the axis is more like a burgeoning matrix of cosmopolitian academics and policy analysts. One thing this growing network underscores is the passing of the era when de facto states could be described, as Charles King did more than a decade ago, as “informational black holes.” Like it or not, with the important exception of South Ossetia, de facto states are more accessible and connected than ever before. While parent states may not like this, it is a positive development for policy making and peace building. The more these regions are understood in their complexity, the more outsiders can appreciate the dilemmas and policy challenges they present and the more difficult it is to perpetuate tabloid geopolitical conceptions about them. The arc of the Enlightenment is long…..