Oct 17th, 2017, 06:08 PM

In Pursuit Of Independence

By Joachim Fernandez
Image Credit: Flickr/SBA73
The borders of our world may be changing—from one referendum to another, it seems like everyone wants to be independent.

Today, we find ourselves in a world of well-established nation-states whose geographical boundaries have been formulated by centuries of war and political maneuvering. While a nation-state seeks to unite the political and cultural entities of a geographical boundary, the diversity of cultures found within these boundaries has proven this pursuit to be difficult.

With this diversity of cultures comes a diversity of desires. With different customs, ideologies, and languages, we’ve come to see that a nation-state is hard-pressed to cater to the variety of identities often found within its geographical boundaries. In the past year alone, we’ve seen great efforts from various socio-political groups in their pursuits of independence, with the terms “referendum” and “secession” becoming fixtures in the global headlines. 

The following territories are just a handful of those who seek independence from their UN-recognized states. They are Catalonia, Kurdistan, the UK, Scotland, the Faroe Islands, and the Republic of California. 

Image Credit: Wikimedia/Liz Castro

Catalonia (Spain)

Just last month, on the first of October, Catalonia, an autonomous region of Spain, held a regional referendum which confirmed the will of the people to declare themselves independent from the Spanish government. The leader of Catalonia, Carlos Puidgemont and his Catalonian government has since taken a formal, parliamentary vote, declaring their independence. Spanish President Mariano Rajoy intends to hold a Senate committee in response, where they will decide to implement Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, allowing the central government in Madrid to impose direct rule on the region of Catalonia. Since then, Puidgemont has turned himself in on charges of "disobedience" to Belgian police after an EU-wide arrest warrant was issued by Madrid. 

While this referendum was recent, it is only one of the newest chapters in what has been a nearly century-long pursuit for independence. It began in the 1920’s with the founding of the Estat Català, a Catalan political and paramilitary party whose priority was the independence of Catalan from Spain. Decades later, after the oppressive regime of Francesco Franco and the successful transition into an autonomous region, the various ruling parties of Catalan have enacted several referendums, such as the Self-Determination referendum of 2014, which would push for independence. This push has only been further exasperated by the ongoing economic crisis in Spain, where Catalonia accounts for about 19% of Spain's GDP.

Image Credit: Wikimedia/Erfan.Kurdi

Kurdistan (Iraq)

This year, on September 25, the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi-Kurdistan held a referendum for independence, in which about 93% of votes were in favor of independence from Iraq (of which has claimed the referendum to be illegal). Since the referendum, the pursuit for independence has faced a disastrous challenge as Iraqi forces have seized Kirkuk Provence, which was previously held by Kurdish forces. This seizure significantly hindered the movement for independence, as Kirkuk’s oil fields were vital to the Kurdish movement’s ongoing success.

While Kurdish people as an ethnic group have been identified as such for centuries, Kurdish nationalism did not begin till the end of the first World War, which saw the Ottoman Empire come to an end. As the Allied powers divided the territories of the late Ottoman Empire, and as the borders of the newly formed Republic of Turkey were set, the Kurds, with their own language and customs, found themselves without any region of their own, instead being split between Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Syria. Over time the Kurds would push for their own territory and in 1992, after the First Gulf War, the autonomous region of Iraqi-Kurdistan was established. The current push for independence in Iraq surged into reality after the jihadist militant group, ISIL, contested territory in Iraq effectively weakening Iraq's infrastructure and providing a seemingly open opportunity for Kurdish independence. 

Image Credit: Wikimedia/Ilovetheeu

United Kingdom (European Union)

On June 23, 2016, a referendum took place within the UK, which was split between 51.9% and 48.1%. The UK had decided for itself that it no longer wished to be a part of the EU. Brexit, as it's come to be known, would begin a tumultuous chain of events which included a change in leadership, as Theresa May assumed the office of the Prime Minister. As of now, the UK is still only forming the arrangements of their separation. Brexit is expected to be formalized by March 2019. 

The European Union began as the European Coal and Steel Community, the European Economic Community, and the European Atomic Energy Community aiming to facilitate cooperation between European nations through a shared economy and shared energy resources. The UK joined these European Communities in 1973 and then the European Union in 1993 when the EU was officially created. The European Union established open borders between member nations as well as a shared economic market. The drive for the UK to leave the EU partly had to do with a concern of paying the debts of other member-states to the EU, as well as the desire to limit immigration. 

A sign for the 2014 "Yes" campaign for Scottish Independence. Image Credit: Geograph/John Allen

Scotland (United Kingdom)

While the UK has sought independence from the EU, Scotland has repeatedly sought independence from the UK. On September 18, 2014, Scotland held a referendum as to whether or not Scotland should be an independent country, 55.3% of voters chose “No” while 44.7% chose “Yes” as their answer. While the referendum failed in providing Scotland with independence, it did incite the formation of a cross-party commission between the UK and Scotland. Since then, the Scottish National Party, the leading political party in Scotland, has stated that a second referendum may be held due to the UK’s decision to leave the EU.

While Scotland has been in union with the UK since the 1600's (when they shared a king: James VI of Scotland) there have been various pursuits to devolve or secede. In 1979, a referendum was held to decide the devolution of Scotland from the UK. The referendum would form a Scottish Assembly which would hold power separate from the central government of the UK. The first referendum was repealed, and it was not until 1997 when a devolution referendum was passed and the elected Scottish Parliament was created, giving Scotland sovereign power it had not previously possessed. In 1996 the Scottish National Party, which advocates for Scottish independence, came into political prominence with a parliamentary seat. As of today, the SNP is lead by Nicola Sturgeon, who is the current First Minister of Scotland. 

Image Credit: Wikimedia/Arne List

Faroe Islands (Denmark)

The Faroe Islands will hold a referendum in 2018 to establish a new constitution and declare their separation from the Kingdom of Denmark. The new constitution, if passed, will provide greater powers to the Faroese government on matters such as monetary independence and full control of their own foreign relations.

The Faroe Islands are located 990 km from Denmark, this itself has been stated as a reason for the desire for independence, with the lack of proximity creating evident divisions in culture and language. Faroese language itself is separate from Danish and is not mutually intelligible. With a difference in culture and language, as well as economic matters such as the status of flourishing Faroese fishing trade, the Islands have frequently sought pathways to independence. As far back as 1946, an independence referendum was held, passed, and then annulled by the Danish government. Since then, the Faroe Islands have succeeded in establishing sovereign rule as an autonomous territory, but their currency and foreign affairs are still controlled by the central government of Denmark. 

The Republic of Iceland had once also been a Danish dependency and had voted to terminate their personal union with Denmark in 1944 in order to establish a sovereign republic. If the Faroe Islands establish their territory as an independent state, the Danish territory of Greenland may follow suit. 

Image Credit: Wikimedia/Makaristos


California (United States)

Since the election of Donald Trump to the US Presidency, the California National Party has increased their efforts in campaigning for the independence of California from the United States. Their primary goal is to achieve independence, but their party platform also includes a wide variety of goals for the new republic with progressive reforms to the constitution. The Republic of California, once achieving statehood, intends to join the United Nations, enter mutual defense treaties with North America, and establish a mandatory military service and peace corps. The platform also includes goals for prosperity, growth, healthcare, rule of law, education, and immigration reform. 

The last time any state attempted to secede from the United States, the American Civil War began. This contemporary movement for secession has no intention of violence, the priority is peaceful separation.  It's argued by independence supporters that there exists a significant cultural divide between Californians and the rest of the United States. Yes California Independence (a separate independence campaign) argues the economic argument for Calexit, which is the approximately $103 billion difference between federal taxes paid by Californians and federal aid received to California infrastructure.

It may seem as though the national borders of today are set, unchangeable, but just take a look at a  map of the world from a century ago and you'll see just how they have changed. The socio-political boundaries of the world we currently see today may very well not be the ones we see tomorrow.