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Regionalism and Secession

Past Secessions
CzechoslovakiaCzechsCzech Republic
SlovaksSlovak Republic
Potential Secessions
AlbaniaGreekNorthern Epirus
BosniaSerbsRepublika Srpska
DenmarkGermansNorth Schleswig
Faroe IslandersFaroe Island
FinlandSwedish LappsLappland
France AlsatiansAlsace
BasquesBasque Country
CaledoniansNew Caledonia
DanesNorth Schleswig
North Frisians 
Italy AostansAosta Valley
Croats and AlbaniansMezzogiorno
Northern ItalyPadania
South TyroleansSouth Tirol
MacedoniaAlbaniansRepublika Srpska
NetherlandsWest Frisians 
Finnsnorthern Norway
Serbia HungariansVojvodina
BasquesBasque Country
Swedes, SamiNorrland
FinnsTome Valley
Lowland Scots 
GaelsIsle of Man
GaelsNorthern Ireland
Norman FrenchJersey & Guernsey
“I wouldn’t like a European Union in 15 years that consists of some 98 states,” Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, said in a 13 October 2017 speech at Luxembourg University. “It’s already relatively difficult with 28 and with 27 [after Brexit] not easier, but with 98 it would simply be impossible.” The EU bureaucracy in Brussels considers the bloc has 98 major regions.

Independence strengthens democracy, Weber argued. "The larger the political unit, the less chance individuals have of being heard." Closer EU integration makes the 19th century nation state obsolete, and frees up Europe's ancient patchwork of identities. In Scotland, Catalonia, Flanders and other regions speaking of secession, a relatively prosperous region wants to keep its riches instead of letting a central government distribute the gains to everyone else.

Pro-independence parties won a series of elections across Europe in late 2012, many of them campaigning on anti-austerity platforms. Despite EU calls for closer integration to overcome the euro crisis, the popular movement appears to be in the opposite direction. The EU has grown more powerful, but this is being countered by regional, national, and local views. The United Kindom moved toward devolution by establishing regional parliaments in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. In Spain, nationalists seek greater autonomy in the Basque region and Catalonia. There are various other separatist groups in France, South Tyrol secessionists in Italy, Catholics in Northern Ireland, as Flanders in Belgium, etc.

Scotland already had its own parliament in Edinburgh. The ruling Scottish National Party wanted to break away entirely from the United Kingdom. First Minister Alex Salmond secured a referendum on Scotland’s future - to be held in 2014. The referendum was held on the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, when Scottish forces routed the English army. But polls showed just 30 percent of Scots support independence. Salmond said an independent Scotland would rely on an energy economy, becoming the "Saudi Arabia of renewable energy." But the problem with North Sea oil and gas is that the amount of tax collected is extremely volatile.

The Scottish referendum helped to energize independence movements elsewhere, like in the Spanish region of Catalonia. Madrid blocked a referendum - but more than half of Catalans say they want to break away. In Belgium, the separatist New Flemish Alliance won several local elections this month. Voters say it’s about the economy. It could be the end of Belgium. In the opinion of many, things cannot go on any longer like this with the French-speaking southern part of Belgium.

Scotland voted 18 September 2014 against breaking away from the United Kingdom and becoming independent. Tallies from all 32 Scottish councils show that 55.3 percent of voters were in favor of remaining part of Britain compared with 44.7 percent for independence, a wider margin than anticipated after a record 97 percent turnout. The result of the referendum was welcomed by other governments around the world battling secessionist movements. But in London, it heralded a complex road ahead as other regions of Britain demand greater autonomy. For the pro-independence camp it was a narrow but crushing defeat. For the UK government in London, a moment of relief.

In many cases the economic crisis has fueled long-existing grievances and independence movements. But in terms of viability, an independent Scotland, an independent Flanders and an independent Catalonia are quite clearly viable entities. The wave of separatism could reach more volatile regions like the Balkans - a Republika Srpska in Bosnia for example, northern Kosovo, problems in Macedonia. These are areas where there is a lot of concern about it. Pro-independence parties across Europe will be watching the Scottish referendum closely to see if this is the birth of Europe’s newest nation-state.

The EU faces several possible futures. It might become a coherent European superstate, with one foreign policy and the military power to pursue its interests on a global scale. This would take many years and might provide the United States with a partner to share global responsibilities. A European superstate could also become a rival in terms of influence and ideas but would likely have interests very similar to the United States, with little grounds for conflict. Alternatively, the European integration process could become overextended and unravel or stagnate. Publics might resent the loss of identity and sovereignty or believe economic prospects have worsened.

France has a long-standing experience of resisting separatism and extremism on its territory, above all in the Mediterranean island of Corsica. The Corsican national groups clashed with the French army in the middle 1970s. The Corsican Nationalist Union and the Movement for Self-Determination are the biggest and most influential among these groups. Both have combat units. In the last 25 years, the island's status was upgraded twice - in 1982 and 1990 the local authorities were given increasingly broad powers in the economy, agriculture, energy industry, transportation, education, and culture. Several years ago, French parliament recognized the existence of the Corsican nation. This decision was later cancelled as contradicting the Constitution of the French Republic.

The Breton Revolutionary Army (BRA) has operated in Bretagne, a north-western French province, since the early 1970s. The descendants of the Celts, who once came from the British Isles, do not identify themselves fully with the French, or consider themselves special among other French citizens. During censuses, many of them call themselves Bretons although put French as their native tongue. The BRA (apparently named by analogy with the Irish Republican Army - IRA) belongs to the extremist wing of the nationalist movement Emgann, which is fighting against the "French oppressors." In Italy, the separatist attitudes are strong in the industrially advanced northern regions. The influential League of the North has so far given up its demand of secession and insists on Italy becoming a federation. There are also people wishing to see South Tirol, which Italy received after WWI, reunited with Austria.

Belgium may separate into northern Flanders (whose residents speak Dutch and are leaning towards the Netherlands) and southern French-speaking Wallonia. This confrontation between Belgium's two linguistic communities is rooted in the beginning of Belgium's independent history when the Walloons and the Flemish formed a union against the Netherlands. Having once united in the name of freedom, they have been trying to break apart for almost two centuries. Appeals for independence are growing stronger and stronger - the economically advanced Flanders does not want to "feed" the Walloon Region. The polls show that more than 60% of the Flemish and over 40% of the Walloons believe that Belgium may disintegrate.

Denmark's Faeroe Islands are a semi-autonomous territory, living on the government's subsidies of almost $170 million a year. This fact is a restraint for the local separatists, although seven years ago they tried to conduct a referendum on independence.

Quiet Switzerland also has its own separatists. The Front for the Liberation of Yura has been demanding this canton's independence from the confederation for over 30 years. At one time, Yura inhabited by French-speaking Catholics was transferred to the canton of Bern with its predominantly German-speaking Protestant population. The Front's leaders admit that their chances of success are minimal.

Vojvodina is a Serbian autonomous region located some 35 km (22 miles) away from Belgrade. The Alliance of Vojvodina's Magyars, whose representatives control almost 70% of the region's territory, demand a republican status for the region, a referendum on secession from Serbia and a confederation with Hungary. Late last March, the Association asked the European Union to send a mission to study the situation. Hungarians now account for more than 40% of the region's population.

A similar scenario is developing in Romanian Transylvania (in 1940-1945 it belonged to Hungary; in 1919-1939 to Romania; and before that to Austria-Hungary). The percentage of Hungarians there already exceeds 45%. The Union for the Revival of Hungarian Transylvania, set up under Ceausescu, has already held referendums on territorial autonomy in three Transylvanian districts late last March. The local Hungarians expressed themselves for the maximal autonomy from Bucharest and independent relations with Budapest.

The "anti-colonial" raids have become more frequent in Italian Sardinia, and in the Austrian provinces of Stiria and particularly Carinthia, mostly populated by the Croatians and Slovenians. The South Albanian Greeks and the residents of the Portuguese Azores have also become increasingly active in demanding autonomy.

Kosovo, with a 90% ethnic-Albanian majority, has been formally recognized as a sovereign state by over 55 countries including the U.S. and most EU members since it proclaimed its independence from Serbia on February 17, 2008.

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Page last modified: 30-10-2017 10:46:30 ZULU