As readers know, in recent months Ukraine has struggled with the Russian annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, and continues to deal with the threat posed by Russian troops massed near Ukraine's eastern border. Matt Qvortrup, author of Referendums and Ethnic Conflict, has been called on regularly over the past weeks to give comment and perspective on the evolving situation in Ukraine.
Most recently, Qvortrup published an op-ed in The Scotsman, and was tapped by BBC radio for comment. In his op-ed, titled "Crimean referendum is an act of desperation," Qvortrup argues that whether the Crimean referendum was legal or constitutional, it was brought forward poorly, and is unlikely to help the political situation:
The referendum can be a mechanism that consolidates a peaceful settlement. A plebiscite can provide the seal of approval to a negotiated settlement. This was famously the case in Northern Ireland in 1998, when a massive 73 per cent endorsement by voters in the referendum on the Good Friday Agreement facilitated the end of the Troubles. The same was true in Burundi in 2005, where a negotiated settlement between Hutus and Tutsis was endorsed by a referendum.
But the referendum must only be held after a compromise is reached. Anything other than that is likely to result in strife and in many cases, civil war. “War is the continuation of politics by other means”, the German military theorist Carl von Clausewitz famously noted. Nowhere is this truer than in the cases of referendums on ethnic issues.
Granted, all-out war is less likely in Crimea than in Croatia or in Bosnia, but a referendum is unlikely to be conducive to constructive negotiations.
Furthermore, Qvortrup believes that the referendum does, in fact, violate Ukraine's own constitution, saying, "It is difficult to see how the referendum to be held on 16 March can be compatible with Article 73 [of the Ukrainian constitution]." In this short BBC radio spot (40 sec.) Qvortrup expands on that view.