7 separatist movements that closely watched the Scottish referendum

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By Samyukta Maindarkar | dna Webdesk

On Thursday, September 18, Scotland will be voting in a referendum to decide whether or not to become independent from the United Kingdom, a union it has been a part of for over 300 years. Voters will be simply asked “Should Scotland be an independent country?”, to which they will have to only answer either Yes or No.

Both the “Yes” and “No” campaigns are going neck and neck, making it extremely difficult for opinion polls to predict the outcome of the referendum with any certainty. However, it has made all of Europe and the rest of the world aware of the very real possibility that the UK could be heading for a split.

Read: From JK Rowling to Sir Alex Ferguson’s views, 9 things you need to know about Scotland’s independence referendum

The Scottish independence referendum comes at a time when the world is witnessing much strife from anti-government protests and the ensuing crises in several countries. There has been an ongoing wave of violence in Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, Palestine-Gaza, Libya and other parts of Africa, what the Pope recently referred to as a ‘piecemeal World War III’.

Amidst fears that the referendum, coming at a time of such turmoil, could cause a domino effect, nationalist and separatist or independence movements around the world are keeping a close eye on the ongoing events in Scotland. Here are seven such movements:

Catalonia (Spain):

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Close on the heels of Scotland’s September 18 independence referendum, Catalonia, a prosperous region of 7.4 million people in the north-east of Spain, is holding its own referendum on November 9. On September 11, around 1.8 million Catalonians staged a protest in Barcelona for the right to vote to decide their region’s political future, a move that has been rejected by the Spanish government in Madrid. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has called the referendum illegal, and warned that it would be an economic disaster for both Spain and Catalonia.

Catalonia has been part of Spain since the 15th century, when the Kingdom of Spain was formed after the marriage of King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile united their two realms. Fiercely proud of their distinct culture, language, and a history that goes all the way back to the middle ages, many Catalans claim a unique identity and think of themselves as a nation separate from the rest of Spain.

The demand for independence has escalated in recent years, especially after Catalonia’s statute of autonomy, agreed between the Catalan parliament and the Spanish parliament in 2006 was unilaterally rewritten by the Spanish constitutional court in 2010. Catalonia is one of Spain’s richest and most highly industrialised regions, and Catalans believe their wealthy region will be better off as independent country rather than carrying the economic burden of the rest of Spain. In addition, the suppression of the Catalan language and culture has only spurred the demand for independence.

If the Scottish vote “Yes”, this will definitely encourage the Catalonians to head down the same path.

The Basque region (Spain, France):

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Located in the Western Pyrenees straddling the Spain-France border, the Basque region — comprising the autonomous community of the Basque Country and Navarre in Spain and the Northern Basque Country in France — has had a long and bloody nationalist movement. Like Catalonia, the Basque region has also maintained linguistic, cultural and economic differences with the rest of Spain.

The separatist group ETA, which conducted a wave of bombings and shootings, killing more than 800 people in 40 years, has led the demand for the establishment of an independent Basque country based on their unique cultural identity and distinct language. The ETA, which was declared a terrorist organisation, announced a cessation of armed activity and an end to its wave of violence in October 2011, but continues to fight for an independent homeland.

Crimea (Ukraine/Russia):

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On March 16, 2014, Crimea, an autonomous region of Ukraine located south of the Ukrainian mainland on the Crimean Peninsula, voted overwhelmingly in a referendum to secede from Ukraine and join Russia.

The United States, the European Union (EU), the Ukraine government and representatives of Crimean Tatars condemned the referendum, saying it violated Ukraine’s constitution and international law. A United Nations General Assembly resolution passed on March 27 declared the Crimean referendum invalid and the incorporation of Crimea into Russia illegal. On April 15, Ukraine declared Crimea a territory temporarily occupied by Russia. The Crimean referendum has also been condemned as a breach of Ukraine’s sovereignty by most nations that have taken a stand on the issue.

With the Crimean referendum being widely held as illegitimate — a view supported by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the G7, and criticised by Russia and Crimea — Crimea will be keeping a close watch on the outcome of the Scottish independence referendum.

Though there is nothing illegal about Scotland’s referendum, in the event of it gaining independence from the UK, Crimea will use it as an example to assert the legality of its own vote, considering both referendums are being conducted only within the territories seeking independence.

Venice (Italy):

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In March 2014, a referendum was held in Venice and the surrounding region of Veneto on whether or not to secede from Italy and form their own independent republic. Local activists and parties that organised the online poll, which is not legally binding, seek to restore the sovereign Venetian republic which existed for over 1,000 years before losing its independence in the wars with Napoleon in the 18th century.

As the Republic of Venice, the region was one of the most prosperous city states of its time, on par with other great trading centres and intellectual crossroads, and influencing much of Europe’s art and culture, especially during the renaissance years from the 14th to the 17th centuries.

Today, Veneto is one of Italy’s richest regions. Many of its residents however, believe the Italian government is inefficiently using its wealth on the poorer southern parts of the country, and that an independent Venice would be better off without having to carry the burden of much of the rest of Italy.

Though the Venetian quest for independence is not as entrenched as Scotland or Catalonia, it is slowly gaining momentum. A “Yes” vote in the Scottish referendum would give their movement more impetus.

(Pictured above: Luca Zaia, the president of the Veneto region, at a press conference in March 2014 on the vote for the independence of Venice.)

Flanders (Belgium):

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Another region closely watching the Scottish independence referendum is Belgium’s Dutch-speaking part of Flanders. With a unique identity quite distinct from the southern French-speaking region of Wallonia, the Flemish nationalist movement has seen a surge in recent years.

With the absence of a proper central government for 18 months after elections in 2010, during which Belgium was governed by a caretaker administration, governance was essentially carried out by the regions themselves.

Linguistic division and the socio-economic imbalance between the two regions have only underscored their differences, especially cultural and economic, over the last few years. Many analysts believe a referendum is not too far away.

Xinjiang (China):

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It is not just Europe that is experiencing secessionist movements. China has every reason to worry about the outcome of Scotland’s independence referendum. Apart from the decades-long unrest in Tibet, which has been under Chinese control since the 1950s, China is also facing persistent unrest in the restive province of Xinjiang, the traditional home of the Uyghurs, an ethnic Muslim minority.

Then there are Taiwan and Hong Kong, the former being a self-ruled island China claims as its own, and the latter where the pro-democracy movement is gaining momentum, with elections planned for 2017.

Xinjiang is China’s largest and most mineral-rich province. Exiled Uyghur groups and human rights activists blame the Chinese government policy of repression of the ethnic minority, especially the religious restrictions it has imposed, for the turmoil in Xinjiang, which has seen several incidents of violence in the past months. Separatists seeking the independence of Xinjiang from China want to govern themselves and call the region “East Turkestan”.

Kurdistan (Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria):

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The region of Kurdistan comprises parts of northern Iraq, north-western Iran, eastern Turkey and eastern Syria. It is home to the Kurdish-speaking people, who have long agitated for a homeland of their own. Kurdistan has commonly been described as the “world’s most populous stateless nation”.

Within Iraq, Kurdistan is an autonomous region. The Kurds in Iraq were the targets of atrocities by Saddam Hussein, who used chemical weapons against the ethnic group. Those living in Syria, Turkey and Iran have also endured much repression. As a result, many Kurdish organisations are seeking to create an independent Kurdistan, based on their distinct language and culture.

Iraqi Kurdistan has emerged as one of the most stable areas of the country in the aftermath of the US invasion, and was one of the safest regions even as the Islamic State laid waste to much of the war-torn nation. Its Peshmerga fighters form the frontline in the battle against the jihadist group, and have been among the few groups to achieve some measure of success in checking the expansion of the Islamic State. Moreover, thousands of Iraqis, including several minority groups, fled to Kurdistan to find a safe haven from the Islamist militants.

Kurdistan’s relative stability even with the rest of the region experiencing massive upheaval, is one of the strongest arguments in favour of independence. It will be closely monitoring the referendum in Scotland.

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*Originally published on dnaindia.com on September 18, 2014