Not by Catalonia alone: The most famous cases of separatism in Europe

Author : Oleksandr Ilyushchenkov

Source : 112 Ukraine

A number of European countries has faced quite strong separatist movements that are either actively fighting for independence or waiting for precedent to demand their independence
22:08, 5 October 2017

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Referendum in Catalonia has passed on the background of active confrontations and clashes with the police who tried to interfere with it. October 1, Spanish authorities said that there was no referendum. Catalan authorities stressed that during the clashes 893 people were injured, adding that 90% of the Catalans voted for the independence of the region.

The situation in Catalonia is tense, the authorities have already announced the beginning of a general strike, Madrid states that it will not allow any independence.

The case of Catalonia is among the most famous ones in Europe, but not the only one. A number of countries has faced quite strong separatist movements that are either actively seeking independence now or waiting for precedent to demand their independence.

Spain (Basque Country)


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Basques belong to one of the oldest nationalities in the territory of modern Spain. The first time the Basque country gained independence in 1425, but later it has lost. Then there were many years of uncertainty, and in 1936 (albeit for a short time) autonomy with fairly broad rights was established: for example, the Basques have got their own government and parliament.

However, in the following year the Basques have lost virtually all their rights: the then head of state, dictator Francisco Franco, has liquidated their autonomy.

AP photo

Francisco Franco

Since then, for over 40 years, one of the oldest nationalities of Spain have been struggling to restore its rights. It managed to achieve autonomy and very broad rights in 1979, but before that there was Euskadi Ta Askatasuna separatist group (ETA).

Related: General strike in Catalonia: most mass protest against police

Fatherland and freedom of the Basques

The extremist group ETA was established in 1959. The participants of this organization wanted to create "Great Euskadi - Basque Country", which was to include a number of provinces of northern Spain, the Navarre region and some provinces of southern France.


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Euskadi Ta Askatasuna

It is noteworthy that the activities of ETA did not concern France, although today there are forecasts that in the future this grouping can become more active on French territory.

From late 1960 to 2006, ETA claimed responsibility for the deaths of nearly 900 people, including politicians, businessmen and law enforcement officers. The activities of this organization were not actively supported within the Basque Country. For example, to date, according to official polls, 64% of Basques are against ETA, another 10% support the organization's goals, but not methods.

Almost 50 years after its creation in 2006, ETA announced the cessation of the armed struggle in exchange for a broad amnesty and legalization of the political wing of extremists - the party "Erri Batasuna." Negotiations with the Spanish authorities were foiled due to the continuation of the terrorist attacks.

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In January 2011, the Basques again announced the cessation of the armed struggle, repeating their decision in October of the same year. Currently, three provinces - Álava, Guipúzcoa y Vizcaya have the status of an autonomous region, which is called Euskadi (Basque Country).

According to various estimates, the total number of Basques in Spain ranges from 600 thousand to almost 2 million people.

United Kingdom (Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales)

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has received a problematic push after Brexit in 2016, at which 51.9% supported exit, while 48.1% of voters favored staying in the EU.

Residents of Scotland and Northern Ireland, countries that periodically declared their intention to become independent, have majorly supported the exit.

Related: Ukraine considers referendum in Catalonia illegitimate, - MFA

The apogee of the independence movement of Scotland was a referendum in September 2014. The question was "Should Scotland become an independent country?" According to the results of the referendum, 55.3% voted against, and Scotland remained a part of the UK.

The idea of a referendum on independence came after the voting for Brexit.

"Scottish parliament should have the right to hold another referendum if, compared to 2014, there are significant changes in the situation, such as the withdrawal of Scotland from the European Union against our will," said the leader of the Scottish National Party Nicola Sturgeon.

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Nicola Sturgeon

To date, level of support for independence in the country remains stably high, although according to official polls it does not reach 50%. Independence is primarily a matter of economic disadvantages: important economic ties with the rest of the UK might be broken.

In addition, fears are voiced that, if successful, the issue of independence can significantly increase in Northern Ireland and Wales.

Independence issue in Northern Ireland is periodically activated. The country has already survived the experience with IRA (the Irish Republican Army) - armed extremists, who, like ETA in Spain, staged terrorist attacks. IRA was founded in 1919.


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Irish Republican Army

IRA fighters were remembered for a series of bloody actions in the streets of Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. They also organized the assassination of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1984 and the mortar bombardment of Heathrow Airport in 1994.

Related: Catalonia's separatism threatens the EU more than Spain itself

The purpose of the IRA was to achieve the full independence of Northern Ireland. Their last action took place in 2010. To date, Britain is trying to actively suppress separatist sentiments in the region, including through financial injections. But it does not help. For example, in Northern Ireland, as well as in Scotland, the issue of leaving the United Kingdom raised after Brexit. In particular, in March 2017, leader of "Sinn Fein" party (political wing of the IRA), Michael O'Neill voiced the need to hold a referendum "as soon as possible."

Previously, the number of supporters remaining in the UK in Northern Ireland was greater than the number of opponents of this idea. However, there were no large surveys after Brexit.

Wales, unlike Northern Ireland and Scotland, has supported Brexit in 2016, but it has its own story of separatism. First of all, the local separatists chose the tactics of "do as Scotland", they watch closely the attempts of this country to secede. After an unsuccessful referendum in Wales, they said that "independence can become a reality after a generation".

Related: Referendum in Catalonia is inner affair of Spain, - Russia

In 2014, local separatists claimed that Wales are late behind Scotland, but the process is on.


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Leanne Wood

The next upsurge in the activity of the separatist "Party of Wales" and its leader Wood took place in 2016, after the referendum on Brexit. According to Wood, the course of the British authorities regarding the withdrawal from the EU "can make the United Kingdom away as a state." She once again clarified that if Scotland separates from the UK, Wales will also try to consider the option of holding a referendum.

At the same time, Wood stressed that before the referendum "it is necessary to rise support in favor of increasing its own control over its affairs." Since to date, the number of supporters of withdrawal from the UK in Wales is below 10%. It is worth mentioning that, although in Wales they prefer to act primarily in a political way, they are also more familiar with the more radical ways.

The most well-known outbreaks of violence by the radicals occurred in the early 1980s, when the Welsh Army for the Working Republic organized several explosions against military facilities, government buildings, conservative offices, and burned British houses.

Related: Referendum in Catalonia illegal, - European Commission

Belgium (Flanders)

To be blunt, the problem of Belgium is the reluctance of the two regions of the country (Flanders and Wallonia) to understand each other. Walloons in the south of Belgium speak French, the inhabitants of Flanders (in the north) – speak Flemish. Both sides cannot find a common language on any issue, be it economy or foreign policy challenges.

The conflict reached an epic scale in 2011. Before that, in 2010, parliamentary elections took place, after which the Flemish separatists (the New Flemish Alliance party of Bart De Wever) became the strongest party in the country.



Bart De Wever

The party has even identified the way to the independence of Flanders, the first stage of which meant reforming the state system. The result of the victory of the Flemish separatists was a deep political crisis, during which the country could not form a government for over a year and was on the verge of collapse.

The government managed to form only by the end of 2011, but the contradictions between the two parts of the country remain critical. In late September, the chairman of the Parliament of Flanders, Jan Peumans, announced the support of Catalonia in the matter of holding a referendum on independence. He welcomed the head of the Catalan Parliament, Carme Forcadell in Brussels, with the words "We are all Catalans today."

Related: 90 percent of voters say ‘yes’ to Catalonia’s independence

At the moment the activity of Flanders has calmed down and passes in a sluggish rhythm.

France (Corsica)

In 1768, the Italian-speaking island of Corsica was simply given to France. Genoa did it, and the reason for such a decision was debts. Since then, the island belonged to France and was remembered by an active separatist movement.

The flagship of the struggle for independence was the extremist organization "Front for National Liberation of Corsica", on account of which hundreds of victims were left.


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National Liberation Front of Corsica

Recently, Corsica has chosen main method of fighting – political one. In particular, in 2015 the separatist leader Jean-Guy Talamoni concluded an alliance with more moderate autonomists Gilles Simeoni and won in local elections.


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Jean-Guy Talamoni

The leaders of the two factions distributed posts among themselves and set up a team to negotiate with Paris. They demanded the recognition of legal status of the Corsican language, introduction of the concept of "Corsican people" in the legislation and amnesty of activists.

Italy (Venice, Sardinia, Sicily, South Tyrol, etc.)

The peculiarity of Italy is a significant number of diverse regions, which became part of this country in the past ages, but in fact they always remained original.

For a long time, Venice was quite an influential state. It became part of Italy in 1866. Taking into account historical traditions, it is expected that separatism in the region has gained quite a serious support.

Related: Ballot boxes and ballots are brought to polls in Catalonia

Residents of Venice (or Veneto) have already held a referendum on the exit from Italy, however, it did not have legal force. It was organized by the party "Independence of Veneto" in 2014. According to organizers, more than 2 million people took part in the referendum, and more than 80% voted for secession.

In 2014, President of Veneto Luca Zaia declared that the inhabitants of the region do not want to sponsor the poor south of Italy alone, and also stressed that the initiative on the referendum came from the people.


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Luca Zaia

"We have 1100 years of history of Republic of Venice independence. The accession to Italy as a result of the plebiscite of 1866 was more than a mistake. This is a crime because the results of that plebiscite were rigged," added Gianluca Busato, president of the Veneto region's Independence Committee.

The issue of the independence of Sardinia and Sicily rests on the desire to achieve the right to self-determination. Politics Sardinia is based on the principles that the Sardinians never achieved full sovereignty on their own territory and followed the Italian state system. In addition, attention is drawn to the gradual disappearance of the Sardinian language.

The movement for Sicily's independence was active in 1943-1947. Supporters of this movement tried to achieve their goal not only through political elections, but also by public protests.

Today, the separatist movements have quieted down in both regions, but hardly disappeared completely.

South Tyrol is known primarily for the military-political organization "Committee for the Liberation of South Tyrol," which was established in the 50s of the last century. The aim of the Committee members was to achieve South Tyrol's separation from Italy (through propaganda and terror).

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The first terrorist attacks were committed in September 1956. In total, from 1956 to 1988, as a result of 361 terrorist attacks in the region, 21 people died. Responsibility for the terrorist attacks of the 80s lies on the group "One Tyrol", the activities of the same Committee came to naught in 1969.

In 2001, Tyrol was recognized as an autonomous province of Bolzano-Bozen, which somewhat reduced the separatist sentiment among the society, but so far in Italy there are parties that favor the withdrawal of Tyrol from Italy and reunification with Austria.

Other examples

The most famous examples of separatism, which have reached the summing up stage, are Kosovo and Chechnya. According to the constitution of Serbia, the territory of Kosovo is Serbian and it is part of it as the Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija, but to date, Kosovo has become (de facto) a separate state.

In 2008, Kosovo authorities unilaterally declared independence, which was now recognized by more than 100 countries. Ukraine is not among them.

This announcement was preceded by the long struggle of Serbs and Albanians inhabiting Kosovo, ethnic cleansing, appearance of peacekeepers and frequent armed clashes.

We know Chechnya as an example of Russia’s brutal suppression of an uprising against the central authorities.

The Chechen Republic of Ichkeria proclaimed independence in July 1991, which led to a protracted military conflict with the central government. Then there were two wars, the complete destruction of Grozny and thousands of victims. Yet Moscow succeeded in eliminating attempts by Chechens to secede, after armed suppression it used the method of coaxing the local elites with huge financial injections.

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