A 1.5-million-person demonstration in Barcelona in support of Catalonian independence and the fact that the Catalonian parliament is controlled by two separatist parties are the most noticeable signs of the new blossoming of separatism in Europe. Earlier, in October 2012, British Prime Minister Cameron and First Minister of Scotland Salmond signed an agreement on the holding of a referendum in 2014 on the independence of this part of the United Kingdom. At the same time, the Flemish separatists from the New Flemish Alliance won the local elections in Belgium. Nationalists have also come to power in the Basque Country in Spain.
The examples cited are only the tip of the enormous separatist iceberg of Europe, which includes over 40 political parties and civic movements which are part of the European Free Alliance. This non-governmental organization is a kind of European international of regionalists, autonomists and moderate separatists. In Spain, besides the rebellious Catalonians and Basques, separatists are active in Andalusia, Asturias, Valencia and Galicia.
In Italy, the ceaseless desire of the rich north to form its own state under the name Padania keeps the central authorities under constant tension. Another part of Northern Italy – South Tyrol, whose population is mostly German – has also become more active. Separatists in this region demand that a referendum be held on unification with more prosperous Austria.
In France, proponents of independence are becoming more numerous in Corsica, Provence, Savoy and Brittany. On Corsica, for example, the activities of militants from the underground National Liberation Front of Corsica cost over three thousand people their lives in the 1990s. In Provence it has not yet come to the point of armed conflict, but the idea of an independent Occitania is in people's minds. Occitan separatism is especially noticeable in Nice. This city was annexed to France by an 1860 treaty with the Kingdom of Sardinia. Savoy was also annexed to France in the same year. The celebration of the centennial of this event, as in Nice, led to a surge in separatism. The small «Savoyards' Club of Savoy» grew into the Savoyan League.
The Bretons are of the opinion that they are more French than the French themselves; however, they have their own language which is rooted in the depths of Celtic history. The Bretons dislike the immigrants from Asia and Africa who have inundated the country; the percentage of Arabs and Blacks in the region is insignificant. It is from their midst that the leader of the Front National, Marine Le Pen, emerged; she, however, defends the territorial integrity of France.
In Poland separatists have appeared in Upper Silesia, which once belonged to Germany. The Movement for the Autonomy of Upper Silesia was created in 1990, and it would have been considered a marginal group if not for the fact that the 2002 census showed that 173,000 residents of the country prefer to call themselves Silesians rather than Poles. Experts say that there are no fewer than a million Silesians in all of Poland.
Catalonia: Let There Be a Referendum!
It is first and foremost those provinces in Europe which act as donors to their neighbors and the center that are now rebelling. Catalonia in Spain is one of these. The main complaint of the Catalonians is the improper, in their opinion, distribution of finances. They believe that the central government in Madrid, when it collects tax revenues from Catalonia, does not return enough of them to the regional treasury. The Catalonians assert that each year the local government gives the center 16 billion euros more than it spends itself. They are tired of sponsoring the rest of the country when the state of local infrastructure leaves much to be desired, while Catalonia's GDP per capita (over 30,000 euros!) is on the same level as that of Great Britain and Austria.
These economic difficulties are superimposed on centuries-old historical and linguistic disputes between the Catalonians and the rest of Spain. In particular, the residents of the region speak their own distinct language, which belongs to the Gallo-Romance language group and is very close to Occitan in French Provence. The Catalonian language was repressed by the Spanish authorities for many generations, and during the Franco dictatorship it was prohibited altogether.
On November 25, 2012 early regional elections were held at which the parties which advocate the secession of Catalonia from Spain won almost two thirds of the seats in the local parliament. Long before the election was held, the head of the Catalonian government, Artur Mas, promised that in the case of a victory he would hold a referendum on independence.
And that is what has happened. A vote on the question of Catalonia's independence is scheduled for November 9, 2014. The government of the Spanish province made this decision in spite of a direct prohibition from Madrid. The parliament of Catalonia passed a declaration of sovereignty back in 2012; however, the Constitutional Court of Spain immediately declared the document illegal. And the Spanish capital has commented on the latest step of the Catalonian cabinet in the same fashion: there will be no referendum.
To this the mutinous province responded that it might make a unilateral declaration of independence. In confirmation of these words, on January 16 an overwhelming majority of the Catalonian parliament (87 to 43, with 3 abstaining) supported the decision of the government and voted for holding a referendum on independence.
The Flemings vs. the Walloons
The economic crisis has reopened the chronic sore of separatism in Belgium as well; Belgium consists of two parts in which two unrelated peoples live. The southern part is Wallonia, where the French-speaking Walloons live. The northern part is Flanders, or the Flemish Region of Belgium, whose population speaks Dutch.
Up until the end of the Second World War, the Walloons held power in the country. Thanks to its coal mines and heavy industry, Wallonia enjoyed greater economic development than Flanders. The language of the Flemings, who made up over half the country's population, was not even an official language. But after the end of the war, Flanders was able to take the leading position in the economy based on new high-tech industries. The Flemish language became a second state language along with French. Wallonia ended up in a crisis. The steel and coal mining industries, with the advent of the «postindustrial economy», were gradually dying.
Given the critical state of European finances, more economically developed Flanders is increasingly expressing its displeasure at the current mechanism of tax payments to the country's budget. On the average, the northern part of Belgium pays 16 billion euros more into the state treasury each year than the southern part. The country's integrity is also in peril because over half of Belgium's 11 million residents live in Flanders.
In the October 2012 local elections, Flemish nationalists who advocate the full independence of Flanders were victorious. Their leader, Bart de Wewer, who after his party's victory became the mayor of the country's largest industrial center, Antwerp, constantly makes note of the flawed, in his view, system of redistributing finances in favor of Wallonia. «The Flemings are tired of being taken for cows that are only needed for the milk they give», says de Wewer.
Flemish nationalists are now making it clear that if Scotland gets a pass into the European Union and NATO, they will be the next in line. They will most likely make a final decision based on the results of the next parliamentary elections, which will take place May 25, 2014, at the same time as elections to the European Parliament.
If Belgium disappears from the map of Europe, the consequences will be unpredictable for the entire continent. If Flanders decides to unite with Holland, it will mean a complete redrawing of borders. In addition, the Walloons and Flemings will fight fiercely for control over the country's capital, Brussels, where important European Union institutions, including the EU headquarters and the European Parliament, are located.
The Scots Believe in the North Sea
There is no doubt that October 15, 2012 was one of the most important dates in the modern history of Great Britain. On that day Prime Minister of the United Kingdom David Cameron and First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond signed an agreement on the holding of a referendum in 2014 on the question of Scotland's independence. The referendum will take place on September 18. «Do I believe that independence will win this campaign? Yes, I do. I believe we’ll win it ..». stated Alex Salmond after the signing of the momentous agreement.
It is proposed that the British pound sterling would remain as the currency in an independent Scotland, and the Queen of Great Britain would remain the head of state. At the same time, Scotland would have its own armed forces. British nuclear weapons would be removed from the territory of Scotland.
It its attempts to convince the Scots to vote for independence in the referendum, nationalists are placing the greatest emphasis on the fact that, if it secedes from Great Britain, Scotland will be able to independently control the natural resources which it is now obliged to share with the center. This refers to oil and gas reserves which are being extracted on the Scottish shelf in the North Sea.
Alex Salmond says, «Look on the other side of the North Sea, and you will see a country in which oil and gas make up a much larger share of the economy than in Scotland. Despite the volatility of that kind of economy, Norway is the only country in Europe that does not have a budget deficit. It has a fund for future generations amounting to over 300 billion pounds sterling».
If the populace votes for independence, it will be declared on March 24, 2016. Before then Edinburgh and London will have to agree on the terms for dividing Great Britain, which acquired its current form after the signing of the Acts of Union between England and Scotland in 1707.
Scotland's gaining independence could threaten to demote Great Britain to the role of a second-rate power; former Secretary General of NATO George Robertson (incidentally, a Scot by birth) openly warned of this in The Washington Post on January 6. Robertson is especially concerned that «Britain’s nuclear-deterrent base is in Scotland, and those advocating separation have pledged to expel it».
In any case, the process of the Balkanization of Europe and its fragmenting into smaller states will apparently begin in the months to come.