Annexation, as in the latest example of Russia with Crimea, usually refers to a smaller entity being swallowed up by a bigger one. It has a long history with both violent and peaceful outcomes. A recent example is East Jerusalem which Israel took over after the Six-Day War in 1967, resulting in enmity ever since. Before that was the Anschluss in 1938 when Hitler declared Austria to be part of Nazi Germany. Not long afterwards he annexed Sudetenland, a German-speaking area of Czechoslovakia, precipitating the road to World War Two. In 1975, Indonesia invaded East Timor and announced it had annexed it, much to the disquiet of its residents.
It may surprise some that Hawaii and Texas became part of the U.S. as a result of annexation in the 19th century. Texas had been a northern state of Mexico until a majority of its people favoured joining the U.S and got the blessing of Congress to do so. Hawaiians had little say in the matter. The Americans overthrew their Queen and made Hawaii part of the U.S. for strategic and trade reasons. In 1910, Japan annexed Korea. In 1914, Britain added Cyprus and Egypt to its Empire, taking both from the Ottomans with whom it was at war.
In 1961, Goa, the Portuguese colony on the west coast of India, was forcibly absorbed into the newly-independent country. In formal terms, it was annexed, but India has always insisted it was ‘liberated’. It has similarities with with Crimea. Both are small specks in the overall geography of their regions. Crimea has a Russian-speaking majority who voted overwhelmingly to become part of Russia. In 1961, nearly two-thirds of Goa’s population was Hindu just as they were the overwhelming majority in India. Goa had been in Portuguese hands since 1510. Crimea became part of Russia in 1783 when Catherine the Great actually annexed it until the Soviet Union ceded it to one of its states, Ukraine, in 1954.
The reasons for both takeovers were mainly strategic. In its latest move, Russia clearly wants to protect its naval access to the Black Sea and to the Mediterranean. In the case of Goa, India was worried by the likely consequences of the 1955 CENTO pact (Central Eastern Treaty Organisation) consisting of Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Turkey and Britain with the U.S. taking a keen interest on the sidelines.
The distinguished Indian newsman, Prem Prakash, who covered the Goa takeover, recalls:
‘With the prospect of Goa, the only natural harbour along the vast western coast of India, possibly becoming a military base of the U.S.-led CENTO which could bring Pakistan forces there, India became alarmed. India’s hawks and anti-U.S. lobbyists led by Krishna Menon, the then Defence Minister, started pressurising (Prime Minister Jawaharlal) Nehru to take pre-emptive action’.
Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, wanted to see if the matter could be resolved peacefully. But the Portuguese Prime Minister and dictator, Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, said Goa was non-negotiable because it was part of metropolitan Portugal.
India began building up its forces around Goa. Portugal tried to rush warships there, but President Nasser of Egypt refused them access to the Suez Canal. That was because India and Egypt had just become founding members of the Non-Aligned Movement. Portugal then tried to provide reinforcements through its air force only for its planes to be denied overflying or refuelling rights. A civilian charter did get through. Portuguese soldiers, expecting to find hand grenades, instead found sausages for their consumption.
Salazar demanded his hopelessly-outnumbered troops in Goa fight until the last man. They ignored him. The result was that India took control of Goa within a day with minimal casualties. Later the Portuguese governor was tried for treason.
Just as happened with the Crimea takeover, the U.S. rushed to the UN Security Council to protest, while the Soviet Union applauded the action. China, though a vociferous opponent of colonialism and its running dogs, neither condemned nor supported the invasion.
Prakash says the Indian action was justified in much the same way as the Russian one was. Why, he asks, would India allow the threat of a foreign takeover of a prime naval base just as Russia reasoned much the same about its Black Sea presence after the elected leader of the Ukraine had been overthrown by mob rule tacitly supported by the West?
Goa became part of India with little trouble and has developed into a prosperous and peaceful international tourist destination. Lisbon still offers Goans Portuguese nationality if they can prove they or their ancestors were born during colonial rule. For Crimea, separation may not be so easy when it depends on the Ukraine for its water and power supplies and has no contiguous border with Mother Russia.
John Tulloh had a 40-year career covering foreign news.