News / Europe

    Crimea Grab Spurs Mixed Feelings Among Europe's Separatists

    People hold placards to form a giant Catalan flag in front of Sant Feliu townhall, near Barcelona, Feb. 16, 2014.
    People hold placards to form a giant Catalan flag in front of Sant Feliu townhall, near Barcelona, Feb. 16, 2014.
    Reuters
    Russia's annexation of Crimea after a snap referendum staged under military occupation has whetted some appetites in the Balkans, but has done no favors to the Scots, Catalans, Flemish and others seeking independence in Europe.
     
    The leader of ethnic Serbs in Bosnia was quick to claim a precedent, asserting his autonomous Serb Republic's right to secede or at least turn the former Yugoslav republic into an even looser confederation.
     
    By contrast, Western Europe's nationalists have distanced themselves from Crimea, concerned that the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War may give separatism a bad name.
     
    “Catalonia is not Crimea,” the government of the northeastern Spanish region declared last week after the central authorities in Madrid tried to link the two.
     
    Catalan President Artur Mas wants to hold a referendum on November 9 on independence from Spain, but Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has opposed any such vote as illegal.
     
    “The Catalan situation could not be further from the Crimean one,” the regional government said in a position paper circulated to the Madrid embassies of the 27 other European Union members. The Crimean referendum presented a “false choice” since it was an attempt to legitimize the annexation of the Black Sea peninsula from Ukraine, it argued.
     
    Western governments, condemning Russian President Vladimir Putin's move to change borders in Europe by force as a violation of international law, have mostly rejected any linkage between Crimea and the independence movements on their continent.
     
    But European diplomats say several governments quietly hope voters will note the political and economic difficulties raised by the break-up of nation states and will want to avoid such uncertainty. Separatists may be hoping that Crimea is largely forgotten by the time they hold a vote.
     
    Nearly a century after U.S. President Woodrow Wilson introduced the right to self-determination into the lexicon of international governance after World War I, the implementation of that principle remains fraught with risk in Europe.
     
    Morally superior?
     
    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Britain had taken a morally superior path by agreeing a consensual process for a referendum on Scottish independence to be held on September 18.
     
    Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish National Party, tried to turn Kerry's statement against the British government. London has warned that an independent Scotland would have to reapply to join the EU and could not be sure of sharing the pound currency.
     
    “Of course you lose all of that moral superiority in the democratic process if you then say, 'of course Scots have the right under this consensual process to vote for independence but then we will set about flinging them out of the EU, refusing to share sterling.' The whole argument dissolves,” Salmond told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show.
     
    Spanish leaders, struggling to hold their country together and avoid any vote on Catalonia's future, have tried to harness public revulsion at Putin's action by drawing parallels between the two cases.
     
    Crimea's vote on splitting from Ukraine and the proposed Catalan referendum on secession shared one crucial feature, Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said last month. Both were unconstitutional.
     
    Spain is unwilling to give any ground on Catalonia, fearful that allowing a self-rule vote or granting the region greater autonomy would encourage similar demands from the Basque Country and other regions with historic nationalist movements.
     
    Catalan leader Mas has signaled he will not break the law and if blocked by the courts, he will turn the next Catalan election in 2016 into a de facto vote on independence instead.
     
    Opinion polls show that public support for Catalonia to go it alone is running at about 50 percent, while in Scotland, most polls put opponents of self-rule in the lead. A TNS poll on March 25 showed 42 percent of Scots would reject independence, with 28 percent voting “Yes” and 28 percent undecided.
     
    In Belgium, which holds a general election on the same day as EU-wide European Parliament elections on May 25, talk of prosperous Dutch-speaking Flanders breaking away from poorer French-speaking Wallonia has been muted for once.
     
    The main Flemish nationalist N-VA party's big campaign issue is tax reform. It is focused more on reducing the amount taxpayers in Flanders pay to the federal government than on further steps to pull the country apart.
     
    The extreme-right nationalist Vlaams Belang party, for its part, is more concerned with fighting Muslim immigration.
     
    Balkanization
     
    Putin's action in Crimea has had the biggest echo in other breakaway regions of former Soviet republics where there are “frozen conflicts.”
     
    The parliamentary speaker of Transdniestria - a Russian-backed sliver of territory that split from Moldova in 1990, went to war with it in 1992 but did not win international recognition - appealed to Moscow to annex his area too.
     
    In the Balkans, where most blood has been shed in Europe in the last quarter-century in the name of self-determination, the Crimean crisis has caused a new flurry of calls for a further “Balkanization” or fragmentation of the region.
     
    Kosovo's prime minister has rejected Russian leaders' comparisons of the situation in Crimea with his own country's separation from Serbia against Belgrade's wishes following NATO's military intervention in 1999.
     
    Hashim Thaci, once the leader of ethnic Albanian guerrillas who fought to drive former Yugoslav forces out of Kosovo in 1998-99, said: “Under no circumstances can the Kosovo case be compared with the case of Crimea.”
     
    “Kosovo is a unique case. The international community intervened after the genocide by Serbia took place,” he told Reuters in an interview. “We never demanded to leave one country and join another.”
     
    But Bosnia's Serbs see Crimea as an inspiration, and a vindication of their struggle for their own state or unification with Serbia.
     
    Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik immediately supported Crimea's referendum on joining Russia as “legitimate and democratic” and said the Serb Republic was watching closely the secessionist movements in Crimea, Catalonia and Scotland.
     
    “We are monitoring them closely and will apply the best world practices when the time comes,” Dodik told reporters during a late-March visit to Belgrade.
     
    Serbia's new leaders, whose top priority is their own bid to join the prosperous EU, did nothing to encourage him.

    You May Like

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Before burial at overflowing cemeteries, unidentified dead being swapped for DNA, in case some day relatives come to learn their fate

    Russian Opposition Leader Sues Putin for Conflict of Interest

    Alexei Navalny tells VOA in exclusive interview why transfer of $2 billion from country’s wealth fund to company with ties to President Putin’s son-in-law triggered lawsuit

    How Diversity Has Changed America

    Over the past four decades, the level of diversity in the United States has increased most in these four states

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Filli
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 11, 2016 8:01 PM
    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video US Co-ed Selective Service Plan Stirs Controversy

    Young women may soon be required to register with the U.S. Selective Service System, the U.S. government agency charged with implementing a draft in a national emergency. Top Army and Marine Corps commanders told the Senate Armed Services Committee recently that women should register, and a bill has been introduced in Congress requiring eligible women to sign up for the military draft. The issue is stirring some controversy, as VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports from New York.
    Video

    Video Lessons Learned From Ebola Might Help Fight Zika

    Now that the Ebola epidemic has ended in West Africa, Zika has the world's focus. And, as Carol Pearson reports, health experts and governments are applying some of the lessons learned during the Ebola crisis in Africa to fight the Zika virus in Latin America and the Caribbean.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Illinois Voters Have Mixed Emotions on Obama’s Return to Springfield

    On the ninth anniversary of the launch of his quest for national office, President Barack Obama returned to Springfield, Illinois, to speak to the Illinois General Assembly, where he once served as state senator. His visit was met with mixed emotions by those with a front-row seat on his journey to the White House. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Heated Immigration Debate Limits Britain’s Refugee Response

    Compared to many other European states, Britain has agreed to accept a relatively small number of Syrian refugees. Just over a thousand have arrived so far -- and some are being resettled in remote corners of the country. Henry Ridgwell reports on why Britain’s response has lagged behind its neighbors.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.