In Depth: Spain is not the only nation battling a separatist movement
Bryn Lennon / Getty Images / The flag of Flanders, a Belgian region that has flirted with independence for decades
Catalan President Carles Puigdemont has called for mediation with Spain following a violent independence referendum in which pro-separatists claimed 90% of voters’ support. But while Puigdemont says he is not planning a “traumatic split” with Spain, Madrid doesn’t even recognise what it considers to be an illegal referendum, and blamed voters for fuelling tensions.
“The police’s use on Sunday of batons and rubber bullets to disrupt the referendum risks deepening the confrontation and putting off the moment when Madrid and the Catalonian authorities sit down to find a way out of the impasse,” the Financial Times says.
Spain isn’t the only country grappling with a major independence movement. Soldiers in Cameroon shot dead at least eight people during independence protests in the English-speaking parts of the country on Sunday, reports the BBC. And more than three million Iraqi Kurdistan voters cast ballots in a non-binding referendum last month on secession from Iraq, with more than 92% in favour of independence.
So which other countries are struggling with separatists?
In a 2014 referendum, Scotland voted 55% to 45% to remain in the UK, but the matter didn’t end there. The UK’s 2016 Brexit referendum – when Scotland voted by 62% to stay in EU – stirred up the political rhetoric again.
First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon teased the idea of a second referendum, but shelved plans for a new vote after the SNP lost 21 seats in the June general election, saying she needed to “reset” her independence strategy. However, with Brexit negotiations still stalled, Scottish voters may become more receptive to calls for a second independence referendum.
On Sunday, Sturgeon tweeted her support for the people of Catalonia, and condemned the UK Foreign Office for its “shamefully weak” response to the violence.
Support for the greater autonomy of Flanders has been bubbling for decades, largely owing to Belgium’s cultural and linguistic differences – namely a Dutch-speaking Flanders and French-speaking Wallonia.
Bart De Wever, president of the New Flemish Alliance, has asked his parliamentary whip to devise a strategy on “securing greater autonomy for Flanders after national elections in 2019”, devolving powers so that Belgium would be forced to split in two, Politico reports.
Belgium’s constitution says that the government should consist of 50% Flemings and 50% Walloons, and major decisions need the support of both – which would make independence difficult. “In practice, this means that 20% of the population (i.e. half of the Walloons) can veto every decision,” The Brussels Journal says.
Bavaria, occupying the southeastern corner of Germany, has its own dialects and traditions. The wealthy state comprises about 20% of Germany’s land mass and is home to the pro-independence Bavaria Party. A poll – conducted by YouGov and the German newspaper Bild in July – showed that up to a third of Bavarians support independence, a result that Bild described as “frightening”.
Independence would be difficult, however. In 2016, a Bavarian man filed a court claim hoping to force a referendum on whether the state could vote to leave Germany. The case was rejected on the grounds that the German Constitution does not allow for individual states to quit Germany, says The Washington Post.
One of the most notorious separatist movements in Europe is the Basque region, located mainly in Spain, with a section in French territory. The concept of Basque nationalism has historically been tied to violence, chiefly owing to the activities of Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (Eta), a militant Basque separatist group founded in 1959.
Between 1968 and 2011, Eta and related groups killed approximately 840 people, wounded a further 2,500, and kidnapped 80, according to a report on the conflict by the Washington DC-based United States Institute of Peace.
Eta declared a ceasefire in 2011 but did not disarm, the BBC says. Between a quarter and one-third of voters in the Basque region support separation from the Spanish state, EuroNews said last month. It is so far unclear whether Catalonia’s struggle for independence will revive tensions in the Basque Country.
Bosnia and Herzegovina separated into two largely autonomous regions following the Bosnian War in the 1990s: the Bosniak and Croat-inhabited Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the Serb-inhabited Republika Srpska. Diplomatic tension has been high ever since. In 2015, Reuters reported that Republika Srpska had said it aimed to hold a referendum on independence in 2018, unless the region was granted more autonomy.
“The threat represents potentially the greatest challenge to Bosnian statehood since it split from federal Yugoslavia and descended into war that killed 100,000 people from 1992 to 1995,” Reuters said. Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik has since postponed an independence referendum, following what Politico describes as pressure from Western powers who would not recognise an independent Republika Srpska.
“The postponement of the referendum is likely to placate Bosnia’s Western partners in the short term,” says IHS Jane’s Intelligence Review, “but the Bosnian Serb leadership is unlikely to completely abandon their challenge to central authorities.”
The Pacific island of New Caledonia, off the east coast of Australia, is a special collectivity of France, with partial autonomy. It answers to France on major legislative matters, and citizens of New Caledonia vote in French general elections. Independence is now on the radar, however, with a referendum planned for 2018.
This week, rival camps of New Caledonian politicians are in New York to put their arguments before a meeting of the UN decolonisation committee. While no date has yet been set for New Caledonia’s plebiscite, one anti-independence faction has proposed 7 October 2018, says the Radio New Zealand website.