Catalan Crackdown. - The events in Spain could reignite a wave of separatist movements across Europe. Who else wants out?
The scenes of violence beamed live around the world from Calalonia were horrific to watch for those of us who believe in the right of the people to choose their own destiny. Police brutalising their own citizens is not something you expect to see in a civilised country however this may be a more common occurrence in the months and years to come.
There are a number of similar movements across Europe which have the potential to put the nail in the coffin of the EU's insipid centralised control mechanism. But does the 'separatist movement' have the potential to break up some of Europe's biggest countries too?
There are many groups across Europe's many countries that seek independence from the government that currently rules over them.
The map seen below was taken from an article called Here's How The Map Of Europe Would Be Redrawn If All The Separatist Movements Get Their Way found at uk.businessinsider.com.
There appears to be many more than I expected to find although some are much bigger than others and some have gone to extremes to get their voice heard throughout the years.
Below we take a look at three of the more well known groups and see where they are, what they want and what they have tried so far to gain their independence.
The Catalan separatist movement is by no means the only one in Spain. For many years now the Basque territory has sought independence from Spanish control.
The region was famously involved in a political and armed conflict with Spain from 1959 - 2011.
The conflict was made infamous by the activities of ETA who used terrorist tactics over many years in an attempt to gain their independence from Spanish rule.
Here is a concise summary of a special report from The United States Institute of Peace regarding the Basque separatists struggle. Please take time to read the report as it gives in depth analysis into the history and tactics used thus far.
The violent separatist group Euskadi ta Askatasuna (ETA) emerged in 1959 in response to General Francisco Franco’s repression of Basque identity during and after the Spanish Civil War and pursued the independence of a Basque homeland, Euskal Herria, that extends across seven administrative units in Spain and France.
ETA’s continued violence after Spain’s transition to democracy reflected support within a wider community of radical nationalists that believed the transition had been incomplete.
Disagreement on the problem that ETA represented—criminal terrorism or the violent mani-festation of an unresolved political conflict—had a direct impact on Spain’s difficulties in establishing a clear strategy against ETA.
ETA’s violence was met by increasingly effective counterterrorism efforts by Spanish and French security forces, robust application of Spanish post-9/11 criminal law, and a slow but powerful mobilization of civil society against it.
Three attempts were made to arrive at a political solution. The third, and most audacious, was launched by Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero in 2005. Each attempt involved an ETA cease-fire that subsequently broke down.
I have no desire to dwell on the attacks perpetrated by ETA during their campaign of terror, however for those of you who are interested click here for the full list and timelines.
When ETA’s violence finally ended in 2011, it could be attributed to multiple factors—coun-terterrorism and the activism of civil society, changes set in motion within ETA’s political base after the collapse of Zapatero’s peace process in 2007, and limited but essential assistance by international actors.
Although no direct negotiation took place and no peace agreement was signed, the unusual trajectory of the Basque peace process offers important lessons for others who seek to persuade violent actors to return to the channels of democratic politics.
While I support the Basque people's right to govern themselves I cannot condone violence and the indescriminate murder of innocent people to achieve the aim. The tragic events of both 9/11 and the Madrid train bombings in 2004 which ETA were originally thought to be responsible for urged the Spanish government to introduce new legislation to combat the threat of terrorism, and similar to the IRA in Northern Ireland, ETA were compelled to cease their violent activities and seek peace.
The problem I see here though is if the Basque people seek to gain independence through the democratic process in a way similar to the Catalans, who's to say that the Spanish government won't react in the same way as seen at the weekend?
If that were to happen the situation could go back to square one with violence being perpetrated by both sides, let's hope that won't be the case and a peaceful transition can be achieved.
For many years France has tried deny the Corsicans of their local language and over those years has fought strongly against independence movements. The National Liberation Front of Corsica FLNC has tried to pressure the French government by force, attacking both representatives of the government and symbols of the French state.
The separatist group announced an end to official hostilities in 2014 however the potential for conflict remains. The French Prime Minister at the time Lionel Jospin made some cautious proposals in the 2000's to allow a certain amount of autonomy for the region however these were strictly opposed by the opposition party at the time.
The fear was that the region would break away entirely. Sadly the central government in Paris has a dim view of regional languages seeing them as a danger to national unity.
Ominously the FLNC have shown to still be an armed and formidable force. In reaction to Islamic terrorism in Corsica they made a statement regarding reprisals that would ensue should ISIS or any other terrorist entity perpetrate acts upon 'their' homeland.
Reported here in this BBC article last year.
A Corsican nationalist group has said it will retaliate for any attack by Islamists on the French island.
For decades the armed Corsican National Liberation Front (FLNC) carried out bombings and robberies targeting the French state. In 2014 the FLNC declared a ceasefire, but did not disarm.
The FLNC warned of a "determined response, without any qualms" for any jihadist attack in Corsica, in a message to the Corse Matin newspaper.
Jihadists stormed a church on Tuesday.
The two attackers killed an elderly priest, Father Jacques Hamel, and took hostages in the Normandy church, before police shot the pair dead outside.
So-called Islamic State (IS) released a video of what it said were the two men pledging allegiance to the group.
It is the latest jihadist atrocity to hit France, still traumatised by the Paris attacks last year in which 147 people died.
In December protesters in Ajaccio, Corsica, vandalised a Muslim prayer hall and trashed copies of the Koran.
The FLNC message - issued by a faction called 22 October - called on Muslim leaders in Corsica to "take a stand against radical Islam" and "alert us to any excesses you notice among disillusioned youths inclined towards extremism".
Addressing jihadists, the FLNC said "your medieval philosophy doesn't scare us". It added: "You should know that any attack against our people would trigger a determined response, without any qualms... The Salafists clearly want to establish the Daesh (IS) policy among us, and we're prepared for that."
Nine French policemen were killed in 34 years of pro-independence violence led by the FLNC.
So here again we have an armed group of individuals willing to use violent methods to defend their homeland from external threats who would I have no doubt turn their weapons on government forces should a peaceful transition to self governance not be forthcoming.
Should the French government choose to go down the same path that the Spanish government chose at the weekend I fear this is a place where the situation could turn very ugly very quickly. Let's hope that is not the case.
Rather than pick a particular region I have decided to cover the entire country of Italy such is the division within its borders. The reason for this is due to the fact it has only been a united country since 1861, prior to this it was a loose affiliation of nation states and as such there is still a healthy amount of regional differences.
Written in 2014, this article from thelocal.it called 'Why Italy might not exist in five years' explains the reasons why that may be the case.
With Europe's eyes on independence referendums in Scotland and Catalonia, Italy's own potential breakaway states have failed to gain much attention. But separatists in Venice - and other parts of Italy - have the wind in their sails, as Angela Giuffrida reports.
For many foreigners, Italy seems to have a strong, unified identity. But its language, food culture, religion and history often blind the outsider to the fact that many Italians themselves fail to identify with the Italian state - and many are so disillusioned that they would like to break away from it altogether.
The polls tell their own story: an unofficial online referendum in Veneto - the region around Venice - saw 89 percent vote for separation from Italy. Two opinion polls in March put support for independence at 51 and 54 percent. Compare this to Scotland, where not a single poll has shown a majority for separation from the UK, and the seriousness of the challenge for Italy becomes clear. And the Venetians are not alone - Lombardy, Sicily and Sardinia all have significant independence movements.
Despite this, many ordinary people in other parts of Italy are dismissive about the various regions' pushes for independence.
“It’s all talk, talk, talk,” Massimo, who lives in Rome and works for a telecoms firm, tells The Local.
“We’ve seen it all before, especially in times of crisis, and especially with the Venetians: they seem to forget how much the rest of Italy actually helps them."
Giovanni, an engineer from the northern Italian city of Padua, agrees: “It’s totally crazy, but it’s always been the same in Italy.”
But despite facing this kind of scepticism, those pushing for independence believe they have a solid case.
In Sardinia, which has one of the highest unemployment rates in Italy, people are so disillusioned that some are only half-jokingly demanding to be made part of Switzerland, while last week Sicilian campaigners, waving banners in solidarity with their separatist counterparts, marched for independence in Palermo.
The separatists have so far been peaceful, although events in Venice almost took a violent turn last Wednesday when 24 activists allegedly plotted to ‘liberate’ St Mark’s Square with a homemade tank.
Italy only became a united country in 1861, and regional identities have remained strong ever since. Now, the lacklustre economy and huge public debt have combined with unease at the appointment of a second unelected government to further undermine the Italian state's credibility. This has given moves for regional independence fresh impetus, Giovanni Roversi, who heads up Pro Lombardy Independence, tells The Local.
“Matteo Renzi [Italy’s new prime minister], is like all the others,” he says.
“He didn’t get voted in…and I don’t think he’ll do much. The change of government has made us even more determined to take this forward.”
A similar vote to the one in Veneto is planned in Lombardy, although a date is yet to be set. People have had enough of public money being wasted, Roversi says.
“The main problem is that Lombardy pays much more tax compared to other regions and it doesn’t get the services to match.”
Ironically, he says some of the fiercest opponents of independence are the region’s politicians. Last week, 64 regional councillors were accused of squandering €2.14 million worth of public funds on everything from premium wine and caviar to jars of Nutella and placing bets.
The corruption that is seemingly endemic in Italian politics has been well documented over many years and this is in part the reason for the lack of trust in a centralised state. It doesn't help when a Prime Minister is appointed as opposed to being elected by the people.
The article continues....
“Some politicians are worried about who will pay for their ice-creams,” he jokes.
He’s only in his late 20s, but Roversi harks back to an era before 1861, the year Italy was unified, as a model for his region’s democracy. Despite this he insists the plan is very much “focussed on the future”.
“Italy has always been a divided country,” he says.
“But what we want is for people to vote like they did before, for their towns, economy and politics…we want them to be able to vote for themselves and not things they can’t change.”
He also looks to neigbouring Switzerland for inspiration as it’s a country he says Lombardians “feel close to”. But unlike the Swiss, who recently voted to limited mass immigration, Lombardy’s plan will include “fully integrating” the region’s large number of foreigners, Roversi says.
“It’s not that we want to put borders up for people, we just need to be organized differently.”
Paolo Luca Bernardini, a professor of early modern European history at the University of Insubria in Como who helped organize the Veneto poll, tells The Local that “almost everywhere in Italy, there’s a strong desire to push the clock of history to before 1861”.
He firmly believes that in just four or five years' time, “Italy will be very similar to how it was before unification.”
Italy’s demise will mainly be triggered by the collapse of its bloated pension system, he added.
“In Italy, almost half the population is on a pension…And in four to five years' time, when pensions are not being paid and when four million civil servants get a massive reduction in salary, this will be the end.”
Like Roversi, he says Italians have long been deprived of democracy.
“What we’re fighting for is to bring back the full meaning of democracy in Italy; we don’t elect our prime ministers anymore.”
“Nobody trusts this government,” he adds, and with a bleak economic outlook weighing down on them, “people are desperate.”
“Even today, I read about a young man who killed himself out of desperation…there have been about 160 suicides in little over a year.”
Bernardini visualizes a ‘Republic of Veneto’ that would be better able to manage public spending and the widespread problem of corruption as well as make politicians more accountable.
Others beg to differ. Pietro Piccinetti is a businessman from Veneto and the founder of Comitato per il NO, a group fighting against breaking up Italy.
As the chief executive of Pordedonne Fiera, a conference and exhibition company in Veneto, he has had to lay off hundreds of staff due to the crisis, so he can relate to the frustrations with the state being felt by those calling for independence.
But he says fragmentation “is not the right path for Italy” and could set the economy back even further.
“It’s emotional, everyone is unhappy and there are a lot of anxieties…the crisis has very much destroyed the socio-economic fabric,” he tells The Local.
“But we can’t revert back 200 years. The right path is to have a federal state, with regions helping each other…solidarity is part of our culture.”
He adds that a fragmented Italy could also tarnish the country’s image abroad.
“We are global and if we want to be credible at an international level, we need to stand together.”
“People abroad love the Italian lifestyle, they love Italian products…we are ‘made in Italy’ not ‘made in Veneto’. Any division is anti-historical, it’s unusual and it’s uneconomical."
Despite wanting to split from Rome, most of the separatists visualize their regions as still being part of the EU.
Part of the vision for Veneto is for its fiscal policies "to be negotiated with Brussels", Bernardini says.
But with the European Commission warning that breakaway states would have to apply afresh for EU membership, such things may not be certain. Whatever the outcome, disillusion with the state of Italy means the independence movements will be around for a long time to come.
I take a number of things away from this article.
- Italy is a deeply divided country.
- Italians are deeply distrustful of government.
- The Italian economy has been terribly mis-managed.
- Italian politicians care more about themselves than the people they're supposed to represent. Not exclusive to Italy.
- If the right set of circumstances occurred Italy has the potential to break into its original parts peacefully.
- The unelected EU bureaucrats will make things as difficult as they can for any region that wants its freedom.
The fourth one is my hope, the separatist groups in Italy have in the most part been non violent and domestic separatist terrorism doesn't seem be on the cards. Not only that many of the regions have separatist movements and if one got traction the others may follow leading to a movement too big for any government to quell.
All across Europe there are separatist movements some that have resorted to extreme violence however most would like peaceful transition to self governance. The economies of the Southern European countries are teetering on the brink of disaster due to many factors one of which is over bloated bureaucracies that govern them.
As these countries become less economically viable and some regions are asked to contribute more to the central government local factions will gain ever increasing support from their citizens, this will fuel existing and new separatist movements. Whether any will be succesful remains to be seen however it it my hope that if they are both sides remain peaceful in its excecution. For if they don't the scenes broadcast from Catalonia at the weekend will sadly become all to commonplace.