What have Catalonia, Kurdistan, Chechnya and Tibet in common?.
As Spain reacted ruthlessly to Catalonia's declaration of independence,
the rest of the world has mostly avoided getting drawn into this new euro-mess.
The main reason is that each independence movement reopens a can of worms and there is hardly a country that doesn't have to fear from a domino effect of independence movements.
The world is full of minorities clamoring for independence: Kashmiris, Chechens,
Palestinians, Sahrawis, Tibetans, Somaliland, the Kurds of Iraq, the Baluchis
of Pakistan, the Rohingas of Myanmar, the Muslims of the southern Philippines,
the Catholics of Northern Ireland, the Basques of Spain,
two provinces of Georgia, one province of Moldova,
the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan,
the ethnic Russians of former Soviet republics such as Ukraine,
the Serbs of Bosnia and Kosovo,
Quebec (1995) and Scotland (2014) are the rare cases in which the independence movement was allowed a referendum... and it lost it.
That is the only case in which a minority can be
removed from the list: the Scots and the Quebecois are no longer a minority looking for independence because their majority explicitly said so in a referendum.
Then there are the Turkish Cypriots, who are currently a people without a nation. And there are ethnic groups split between different countries: the Masai in Kenya and Tanzania, the Anyi in Ghana and Ivory Coast, the Chewa in Madagascar and Zimbabwe, the Hauso in Nigeria and Niger, etc.
The powers of the world don't really welcome redrawing borders, and less so now
that so many new countries have failed (Eritrea, East Timor, South Sudan, Kosovo, ...).
But the issue can hardly be forgotten simply because the powers ignore it.
Spain did not allow a referendum in Catalonia/ Catalunya, claiming that it would be unconstitutional.
These is obviously a very weak justification: Spain wrote the constitution that makes it unconstitutional for a region to declare independence, just like China made it illegal for Tibet, and Russia made it illegal for Chechnya, and Turkey made it illegal for the Kurds, and so on.
Spain then did not recognize the referendum organized by the local authorities claiming that only a minority voted in this illegitimate referendum.
This is an even weaker argument because the whole world saw the images of Spanish police beating Catalans who were trying to vote, and, in any event, the prime minister of Spain was elected with an even lower percentage than the percentage of Catalonians who favor independence.
China routinely claims that Tibetans people are happy to be part of China.
There is another argument against these independence movements, and this one is
at least honest and rational.
Jean-Claude Juncker of the European Union said that he doesn't want a EU with hundreds of members.
However, that's not really a scientific statement. One can easily argue the exact opposite. The number of nations in the world has quadrupled since 1945. The result: the number of conflicts has declined to an all-time low and economic prosperity has spread.
In fact, many of the wars that we have today are due to the stubbornness of the West to preserve the colonial/imperial borders (eg in Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Congo, Libya, Somalia), and not to wars between Singapore and Malaysia or Lithuania and Latvia.
Where we allowed states to disintegrate (e.g. Yugoslavia) the civil war ended.
The German states were relatively peaceful when Germany was fragmented, and when
Germany got unified the result was a new colonial empire (Namibia, Uganda,
Togo, etc) and two world wars.
It is very debatable if devolution of power (all the way to independence) is good or bad. In the networked age in which we live, the economic effect is null or even positive. Small states pass laws rapidly, big states argue forever.
The nation state is the invention of the Peace of Westphalia (1648). Certainly a great invention but, like all inventions, it doesn't have to last forever.
Before 1648 there were only empires and/or city-states in the civilized world
(and tribes everywhere else).
Small countries tend to be among the most peaceful because they are too weak to start a war: where is the danger from Singapore or Slovakia? These are two tiny countries that seceded from a bigger country. Where's the chaos?
Frequently the seceding countries fare much better than the original one (e.g. Singapore and Estonia).
Somehow the same European Union that enthusiastically welcomed all the countries seceding from the Soviet Union is now hostile to one more (wealthy) member.
And countries like France are already divided into many autonomous departments:
where's the chaos?
The number of states in India has doubled from independence (14 to 27) but India seems to be doing better today than in 1947.
On the other hand, the opposite is true: multicultural empires tend to create
problems that last for a long time: the Balkans (that used to be part of the
Austrian and Ottoman empires) are still a problem today, and so is the
Middle East (that used to be part of the Ottoman empire) and so is the
All multi-ethnic empires dissolved: Austria, the Ottoman Empire, Yugoslava, the Soviet Union, the British and French empires. Like it or not, there has clearly been a universal movement towards self-determination. It didn't mean chaos because so many of these new countries felt that they had to unite in supranational organizations like NATO and the European Union.
The trend since 1945 has been devolution and, in parallel, aggregation.
Several scholars have written that the future belongs to the city-state
(these are not necessarily scholars that i personally like but they are
scholars, not just kids or Trumps posting on Facebook/Twitter):
Benjamin Barber in "If Mayors Ruled the World - Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities (Yale University Press, 2013) ,
Jamie Bartlett in "Return of the city-state" (Aeon, 2017) ,
Corin Faife in "The Rebirth of the City-State" (How we Get to Next, 2016) ,
Justin Clark in "The city-state returns" (Boston Globe, 2015) ,
Michele Acuto and Parag Khanna in "Nations are no longer driving globalization — cities are" (Quartz, 2013) ,
Joel Kotkin in "A New Era For The City-state?" (Forbes, 2010) ,
All independence movements are facing a central power that tells them
"the constitution doesn't allow it" and then this central power
justifies itself to the rest of the world claiming that "it would create chaos".
Most of the world accepts the second statement even when it is obvious that the
first one is very weak.
In my opinion, there is only one strong argument to reject independence referendums.
If independence referendums were held in every region of the world, many regions would be tempted to vote "yes". The issue then would become at which level of granularity you stop: if California as a whole votes for independence, but the whole of northern and eastern California votes against it (most of the population is in southwestern California), do northern and eastern California get to vote for independence from California? And if most of eastern California votes "yes" but its city Bishop votes "no", does Bishop get to vote for independence from eastern California? And if most of Bishop votes yes but some neighborhoods vote no, do those neighborhoods get to vote on independence from Bishop? You can continue this process all the way down to each individual household.
It is sad to see Spain in the same camp as Turkey (Kurds), Iraq (Kurds), China
(Tibet), Russia (Chechnya), etc.
Just like in all those other places, the independence movement is strengthened
precisely by the refusal of the central power to give it a chance:
what Spain is doing now is to indirectly raise a generation of Catalans
who will look at Madrid as the oppressor.
Spain keeps repeating that there is no chance that the independentists can win
a referendum in Catalonia.
The only way to end the discussion once and forever would be precisely to grant a referendum and accept the result. Then everybody would go back to thinking
about soccer instead of independence (unless of course the referendum is won by the independentists, but Spain keeps saying that it is impossible...)
I confess that, as an Italian, i wish that Catalonia were independent: this way we would finally beat Spain at football.
TM, ®, Copyright © 2017 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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