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 Analysts: Beijing Parade a 'Bazaar' of Stolen Technology

Show commemorating victory over Japan in World War II involved long, medium and short range missiles, a range of tanks and 200 fighter aircraft More

Bernie Sanders Surge Reflects US Shift on Socialism

Although most analysts say it is unlikely he will get the Democratic nomination, Sanders' campaign opens up questions and issues that are otherwise marginalized More

Video On IS Frontline, Kurdish Fighters Ready for Offensive

Peshmerga soldiers say although they need more heavy artillery, they are poised to take the fight to the Islamic State extremists on their turf 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.
Drowned Migrant Toddler Photo Triggers European Outragei
X
Henry Ridgwell
September 04, 2015 11:36 AM
The harrowing picture of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach appears to have galvanized Europe’s leaders into doing more to address the refugee crisis. France, Germany and Italy issued a joint call Thursday for compulsory quotas of refugees for all EU states. But there were chaotic scenes in Hungary as police tried to force migrants off a train heading for Austria. Henry Ridgwell has more. And a caution, some of the images in this report may be disturbing.
Video

Video Drowned Migrant Toddler Photo Triggers European Outrage

The harrowing picture of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach appears to have galvanized Europe’s leaders into doing more to address the refugee crisis. France, Germany and Italy issued a joint call Thursday for compulsory quotas of refugees for all EU states. But there were chaotic scenes in Hungary as police tried to force migrants off a train heading for Austria. Henry Ridgwell has more. And a caution, some of the images in this report may be disturbing.
Video

Video Russians Observe 11th Anniversary of Beslan School Attack

This week, Russians have been observing the 11th anniversary of the attack by Islamic militants on a school in Russia's North Caucasus region that killed more than 330 hostages, including 186 children. The three-day siege and massacre that started on September 1, 2004 took place in Beslan, a town in the republic of North Ossetia, and is one of the bloodiest terrorist acts ever in Russia. VOA's Mike Richman reports.
Video

Video Native Americans Debate: Father Serra, Saint or Sinner?

Pope Francis will canonize an 18th century missionary to Spanish California during a papal visit to the United States this month.  But some Native Americans have criticized the elevation to sainthood of the missionary priest, Junipero Serra. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan has more from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Kurdish Fighters on IS Frontline Ready for Offensive

Finger on the trigger, the Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stared across the dust at a village taken over by Islamic State extremists. The Kurdistan’s Khazir frontline, just 45 minutes from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And at this point, the militants were less than two kilometers away. VOA's Sharon Behn reports.
Video

Video China Announces Troop Cuts at WWII Parade

Chinese President Xi Jinping Thursday announced plans to cut the world’s largest military force by 300,000 troops. The announcement was made during a massive military parade to commemorate victory over Japan in World War II. The event was shunned by most Western leaders and for some is raising fresh concerns about China’s military ambitions. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video Russia-Japan Relations Cool as Putin Visits China for WWII Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of China's WWII victory over Japan. Putin is expected to visit Japan later this year, but tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over islands disputed since the war, and sanctions over Ukraine, could pour cold water on the plan. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Yemen ‘on Brink of Disaster’ as Medical Shortages Soar

Aid agencies warn Yemen is on the brink of humanitarian disaster – with up to half a million children facing severe malnutrition, and hospitals running out of basic medicines. There are fears Yemen's civil war could escalate as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia tries to drive back Houthi rebels, who seized control of much of the country earlier this year. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Apps Helping Kenyan Businesses Stay Ahead of Counterfeiters

Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But as Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.

VOA Blogs