Even as war continues to rage in Syria, normal people in the country are doing their best to survive in places like the village of Korin. It has transformed into a kind of mini-republic and has WiFi on the town square.
Of course, the situation isn’t all roses. The catastrophe that is life in this war-torn region is well described; I don’t mean to suggest that I am presenting a complete picture – either of the situation in Syria or of a fully-developed life without a state. However, in this situation one will find governance forming in the absence of a state – along a line that conforms to the idea that both local culture and natural leaders will come to the fore.
In other words, non-state-enforced governance in a world occupied by humans.
Korin and the entire region surrounding it, with hundreds of towns and villages, have been living for almost four years in a state of anarchy.
It is almost as though someone had devised a wicked experiment to see what happens when everything that serves public order is suddenly removed. When police, courts and indeed the entire state simply disappears without a new one replacing it.
Anarchy in the worst sense and anarchy in the best sense. Here I will offer some green shoots – how might a society form governance structures without the existence of a state?
If the war weren't still going on, one could almost have called it a peaceful summer.
Life in the village of Korin, with a population of about 11,000, is relatively peaceful except for those occasions when the villagers were met by an enemy (the Syrian air force as one example) that overwhelmingly out-gunned the residents.
Natural leaders develop…naturally:
Ajini used to be an English professor in the provincial capital but is now the village's chain-smoking éminence grise.
Without a state, all is not chaos:
Instead of simply crumbling, public order has merely contracted….For years now, the media has portrayed Syria as being entirely consumed by horror and destruction, by explosions and black-clad barbarians who behead their victims on camera. But there are countless places that -- like islands in a storm -- are doing all they can to survive the fighting.
Contrary to open borders, residents want to be careful about who comes and goes – a managed border:
Traveling from one town to the next "is today like crossing an international border," adds the Korin village council member who is responsible for ensuring the town's water supply.
Fear of the others grew automatically, he says, fear of those one doesn't know so well and who don't offer protection.
No police, no courts – yet there is relative calm:
The calm is astounding given the fact that it is simple for people to arm themselves. It is easier than ever to kill someone should one so desire…
Calm, even though it is easy to secure firearms. Not “astounding,” if one considers the entire circumstance.
…and it has become virtually impossible to hold criminals accountable without risking a blood feud.
But criminals are held accountable; it is done in a tempered manner – a level of justice determined in order to avoid unending escalation.
Everything must be negotiated. The authorities have been replaced by personal relationships and village solidarity.
Which is why “authorities” do all they can to destroy “personal relationships and village solidarity.” No competing authority, no competing governance structures; these stand in the way of government by a state. .
Disagreements are dealt with personally, among and between individuals who are known to each other.
For an example of criminals held accountable: two individuals confessed to the murder of a distant cousin – what was the punishment?
How could a blood feud be avoided?
Find a good judge with a good reputation, one accepted by all parties:
"We referred the case to the Sharia court in the city of Binnish," Ajini explains. "It has a good reputation in the entire province" because it is home to one of the region's ablest judges.
The murder case was a difficult one. A prison sentence was not possible because [there] are no prisons and the death penalty could have torn the village apart. So the court negotiated a compromise in the form of 7 million Syrian pounds of blood money, equivalent at the time to roughly €32,000.
No beheadings à la ISIS or Saudi Arabia. A punishment deemed just, yet designed to maintain peace and end the conflict.
Furthermore, the two murderers were forbidden from entering the village for a year.
Banishment, used also in medieval Europe – a time of great decentralization. Punishment enough, as the two must find a safe place in another village; not easy to do given the situation.
The villagers are able to secure diesel fuel from either the Syrian regime or the Islamic State, demonstrating the value of trade to bind as opposed to divide.
They have internet access:
…a former IT specialist for the Interior Ministry in Aleppo returned to his hometown of Korin and installed a satellite facility and several Internet hotspots. Since 2013, there has been WiFi on the main square and you can buy coupons in the stores for Internet access.
Culture and moral norms are highly valued:
…religious groups receive support from people in many villages in the Idlib Province. The reasons for such support are multifaceted and often rather worldly: It frequently has to do with the desire to strengthen moral norms in the absence of functioning institutions or with consolation in the face of ongoing violence.
“Moral norms” reduce the expectation of “functioning institutions,” aka the state.
Village republics such as Korin embody both the promise and the limits of the revolution. On the one hand, the inventiveness and tenacity of these mini-states is astounding. Despite the adversity they face, they work on a local level.
If you bother to read the article, you will find that I did not paint a complete picture – the biggest issue is the chaos around the villages, primarily brought on by other-than-private actors. As noted, a complete picture was not my intent. My purpose was to focus on the way that self- or local-governance develops in the absence of a state. Villages such as this offer a modern example.