The Wind of Secession is Taking Over Europe: from Crimea to Veneto, from Scotland to Catalonia

2014 will be a year of secession in Europe, or at least the year, for certain European regions, to take a stand against their centralized State and show once and for all the will of the people. We are all aware of Sunday’s referendum in Crimea, but March 16 will be a big day also for the Italian northern region of Veneto, when the citizens will have the possibility to vote for the independence of the region from the Italian State. Later this year Scotland and then Catalonia will hold a referendum for the same cause, respectively on 18 September and 9 November 2014–although the latter has not yet had the approval from the Spanish national Parliament.

The Chamber of Crimea voted for the independence from Kiev three days ago, a vote that will have to be ratified by Sunday’s referendum.The votes are 78 out of 81 in favour, the lonely three are the Tartars, and the autonomous region goes on alone, or better goes back in time to when the area was transferred from Russia to Ukraine in 1954. With 58,5% of Russians, 24,4% of Ukrainians and 12,1% of Tartars the declared-but-not-recognized independent Republic of Crimea already has the vision of the future country in its mind: “The Republic of Crimea will be a democratic, secular and multinational State, which will be committed to maintain peace” as stated after the Chamber’s vote. A petition of the people is already going viral in order to get rid of the Ukrainian trident, the Tryzub, carved on the Crimean Parliament’s wall.

Apparently though, there will be no option for a “no”. The population faces a stark and controversial choice: whether to join the Russian Federation or to return to the 1992 constitution, which gave broad autonomy to Crimea within the State of Ukraine. There is no possibility to retain the actual situation. Campaigns have started heavily with billboards and flags with the Russian colours scattered around the whole region, inciting the population to make the right decision and to turn its back to the ruling State.

Photo credits: Daily Mail.  Billboard in favor of joining the Russian Federation, in Crimea.
Photo credits: Daily Mail.
Billboard in favor of joining the Russian Federation, in Crimea.

Spain and Catalonia will look at the results carefully since it’s been centuries that they have been yearning for independence and Crimea’s turnout might be crucial for the fate of these two regions.

This year Scotland celebrates the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, which saw the English army defeated by the forces of King of Scots Robert the Bruce, during the wars of independence. Plus, the northern region will host the Commonwealth Games this year. The rules of the game are that everyone over the age of 16 who is resident in Scotland will get to vote, while the Scots living outside won’t. The question will be simple: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”, followed by a simple yes or no answer. The turnout for the Scottish referendum is harder to predict though; the only polling data available are the ones of a limited number of the population (1.229), which revealed a 23% in favour of the independence from the rest of UK–the survey was carried out from July to November 2014. The Social National Party gained significant popularity after the successful devolution and the creation of the Scottish Parliament in 1999, but it remains unclear as to what the future of Scotland will be and whether the people will follow the “Yes Scotland” campaign or the “Better Together” one.

The pro-independence leaders in Catalonia admired the attitude of the British PM David Cameron, who opposed the Scottish independence but allowed a referendum in the region, and are pushing Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy to do the same. The Catalan Parliament passed a proposal–with 87 votes in favour, 43 against and 3 abstentions–to send a petition to the national parliament to seek for the approval of the popular vote. Catalonia has its own history, culture, language and flag (that survived the many attempts of the Dictator Franco to suppress them) and still embrace these values proudly. Rajoy is firm on his decision to oppose this referendum with all available means: “There will be no referendum that calls into question the sovereignty of the Spanish people. There will be no independence of Spanish territory while I’m president [of the government]”, he said on Antena 3 on January 20, 2014. The Catalan leader Mas has that he will not stop infront of these intimidations and will keep fighting even when all legal means will be exhausted.

Photo credits: Reuters. A pro-independence protester sits in front of other demonstrators next to Catalonia's regional parliament as lawmakers vote inside, in Barcelona, January 16, 2014.
Photo credits: Reuters. A pro-independence protester sits in front of other demonstrators next to Catalonia’s regional parliament as lawmakers vote inside, in Barcelona, January 16, 2014.

Besides these well-known cases of regional uprisings and independence feelings, there is one that hasn’t been dealt with so much on the news: the referendum for the independence of Veneto from the Italian State. I personally didn’t know about this up until yesterday–although I am Italian, shame on me–when a friend of mine sent me the photos of a document on the voting procedure that she received at home, in Veneto (Italy).

Photo credits: Silvia Tasso
Photo credits: Silvia Tasso

I know only few of you can understand the paper, but in other words it displays a code that you have to scrap and use in order to vote for the referendum, which will take place from 16 to 21 March, 2014. The vote will be electronic, thus the citizen will be asked to make his choice by phone or online on the website inserting the personal code.

The question is very direct and simple, like in the case of Scotland: “Do you want Veneto to become an independent and sovereign Federal Republic ?”, and also here the citizens will reflect on their choice based on two main campaigns backed by two committees, “Veneto Sì” lead by the President Gianluca Busato, and….well, on the official website of the plebiscite, the campaign nor the reasons why NOT to vote were not ‘ready’ yet. However, a committee for the “no” does exist with Pietro Piccinetti as the President.

Photo credits: LaPadania.net
Photo credits: LaPadania.net

The committee of “Veneto Sì” wrote a document of 90 pages to convince the population to vote in favour, but frankly I didn’t want to initiate the tormented journey into the praise and pride of Veneto, the homeland of the racist (as it is strongly against pro-immigration policies) and anti-Southern–we would say in Italian “leghista”–political party, the Northern League. In simple terms, they want their own Parliament, which will then ensure their economic future, protect them from social injustice and will praise their language (which is a DIALECT, not an official language), their history and culture. One of the points they particularly stress and put even in bold, is to “give more freedom to individuals, families and communities, in a society based on common ethnic interests and values”, and by ethnic they mean the pure Italian race, or maybe the pure Venetian one, I don’t know.

In their fourth point of the document, they talk about autonomy and independence, affirming autonomy would not be enough, because Rome (and by Rome they mean the national parliament) would still maintain control on “crucial areas, namely economy, taxes, welfare, retirement, illegal and legal immigration, radio-television communication, defence and international affairs”. So basically they want their own seat at the UN and to have their own authority at international level. Among the reasons why to struggle for independence lies the possibility for a stronger economy, made and carried out by the Venetians and a ‘selection’ of people. Immigration policies are the hard core of their strategy, fuelling sentiments of xenophobia and racism that have strongly risen in this region. The goal would be to “implement a selective immigration policy in order to welcome exclusively high-skilled immigrants who might be useful for us” and, furthermore “to decrease or eliminate once for all the emigration of young Venetian brains”.

A recent survey in Veneto showed that 55% of Venetians believe it’s appropriate to organize a referendum, and that 73% would certainly go voting. But the question is whether that part of the population, the one who grew up in this globalized world and/or the one who still believes in the value of a united country, will be strong enough and numerous enough to put an end to this independent movement.

The Catalan separatism is not a new tantrum of a rich region that wants to “make its heart beat again” (as the Venetian campaign said), but it’s a movement that goes back to the 19th century and gained incredible popularity during the Spanish dictatorship. Scotland has wanted to detach from UK basically since the unification with England took place in 1701. The political and diplomatic schemes beyond the Crimean secession are more twisted, since the region was part of the Russian Federation half a century ago and needless to say, a possible annexation would have catastrophic consequences politically, diplomatically and especially economically, due to the huge sources of gas that Crimea holds and distributes to many European countries. But What about Veneto then? A region that in a moment of national crisis turns its back and takes the way of separatism.

This is just a preview, follow the Oyster and stay tuned for the updates!

 

Laura Zuffi

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