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 Indiana Controversy Points to Divergent Notions of Religious Freedom

Gay-marriage opponents are looking for ways to maintain their beliefs in face of changing culture, one writer says More

UNICEF Denies North Korean Measles Outbreak

Agency dismisses Russian media report after government, WHO assurances More

Turkey Seen Taking Harder Stance Against Militant Kurds

Stance comes as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is being seen as moving closer to generals More

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.
Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedomi
X
Jerome Socolovsky
April 01, 2015 1:41 AM
Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedom

Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Nigerians Welcome Buhari's Return to Power

Crowds of jubilant Nigerians nationwide have celebrated the return to power of former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari. The retired army general won this year's presidential election with more than 2 million votes more than incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan. Buhari's supporters hope he can strengthen the country's economy and security once he takes office in late May. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Report: State of Black America a 'Tale of Two Nations'

The National Urban League has described this year's "State of Black America" report as a "tale of two nations." The group's annual report, released earlier this month (March), found that under an equality index African Americans had only 72% parity compared to whites in areas such as education, economics, health, social justice and civic engagement. It’s a gap that educators and students at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College are looking to close. VOA's Daniela Schrier reports from the school.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Gamma Ray Observatory to Open Soon in Mexico

American and Mexican scientists have completed construction of the world's largest gamma ray observatory, situated high in central Mexico’s Sierra Negra Mountain. The observatory's huge array of water-based detectors will soon start discovering secrets about black holes and supernovas. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials Underway in West Africa

Ebola has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people in West Africa. Since last summer, researchers have rushed to get anti-Ebola vaccines into clinical trials. While it's too early to say that any of the potential vaccines work, some scientists say they are seeing strong results from some of the studies. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More