The mounting hysteria over secessionist and sovereignty movements — whether in Catalonia, Scotland, Kurdistan, Turkey, West Papua, or Oromia — should cause political leaders to reflect on the causes of national schisms rather than merely to attempt to suppress them.
Catalonia’s overwhelming referendum endorsement on October 1, 2017, of independence1 for itself as a state — and Madrid’s incompetent, legalistic, and incendiary response to the event — exemplified the driver of the current global phenomenon of societal schism. It can be summarized in two words: Inclusion or Exclusion.
The third, unspoken option is seclusion. But that — perhaps a development of unresolved exclusion — is not a path which ensures long-term survival or vibrancy of a society.
The great question of “inclusion or exclusion” is the ancient driver within society; it is at the soul of demography, unrecognized by statisticians who focus primarily on numbers (although these, too, are telling). It is, in fact, the essence of the current great divide between the “urban globalists” and the “nationalists”. But,when reduced to basics,the survival of a society depends on whether it actually evolves as a society which remains unified by common interests.
With changes in demography — numbers of humans within a society, where they move, and how they change in their nature and logic in different environments — so there are changes in national requirements, national unity, national capability. And if unity fractures as a result of these demographic shifts and the resultant changes in identity, then it is logical that the future of nation-states comes into question.
The Catalonian separatist issue, however badly handled on both sides of the argument, is just one current reflection of how urbanization has moved power into the national capitals, which then dictate all policy, all political and social orthodoxy, leaving those outside the power centers feeling robbed of control over their own lives, destinies, and cultures.
Look beyond the headline causes stated by the winners of “domestic” geopolitical disputes and it becomes obvious that the question of “inclusion or exclusion” reflects the motivation for the civil war which the United States of America endured from 1861 to 1865 or the Jacobite rising of 1745-46 in Britain. Or why Libya came together in 1952 in a process of inclusion of the 140 tribes, or why it fell into despotism when one of the tribes, the al-Qadhadhfa, assumed control in 1969.2
The question of “inclusion or exclusion” certainly represented the realities behind the British referendum vote of 2016 to exit the European Union, the US vote of the regions against the cities in the 2016 elections, and the protests of the mainly rural red shirts against the urban political class in Thailand in 2006. But it also reflects the underlying driver which has been behind the seeming defiance of North Korea (the DPRK) against most of the rest of the world, essentially since the middle of the 20th Century.
No two instances are completely alike, but the “inclusion/exclusion” theory still applies to the attempt by Iraqi Kurds to create an independent Kurdistan, with the independence referendum there on September 25, 2017, which overwhelmingly favored the creation of a new state.3
The crowd and social theories of Elias Canetti4, Gustave Le Bon5, and Eric Hoffer6 apply as much to the behavior of entire societies — up to nation-state level, and including international alliance structures — as they do to individuals and localized social formations.
Thus, the behavior of the central Government of Spain, in Madrid, in response to the preparations, conduct, and aftermath of the October 1, 2017, Catalonian referendum further compounded the problem of divisions within the Spanish Kingdom. The comments by King Felipe VI on October 4, 2017, were meant to achieve inclusiveness and unity to the Spanish State, but served merely to reinforce the reality that Catalans, in what was already an autonomous community, no longer felt part of the Kingdom.
The King noted that the Catalan Government’s behavior had “eroded the harmony and co-existence within Catalan society itself, managing, unfortunately, to divide it”. He continued: “These authorities have scorned the attachments and feelings of solidarity that have united and will unite all Spaniards,” he said. “Their irresponsible conduct could even jeopardize the economic and social stability of Catalonia and all of Spain.”
But the pre-referendum panic by the Spanish Government, the attempted interference in the conduct of it by the national Guardia Civil, and the post-referendum attempts to deny and suppress its results all missed the point, and almost certainly inflamed the situation, possibly to the point of physical revolt.
In almost all instances of such separations the questions later asked focus on whether secession could have been prevented, or, in some cases, whether union was voluntary and desirable in the first place. In all instances there is forensic evidence available.
In the case of Catalonia’s involvement in the creation of modern Spain, there seems little doubt that the Catalans went fairly consensually, as a part of the Kingdom of Aragon, into the union with the Kingdom of Castile in 1469, on the proviso that the Catalan language and the rights of the Counts of Barcelona (and the Principality of Catalonia) were respected. But the rights of the Catalans were progressively eroded by Madrid, particularly in the 20th Century.
Ancient promises were forgotten, but only in the capital.7
We see the pattern repeated in different forms elsewhere. We see how the Acts of Union of 1706-07 to create the United Kingdom ultimately transformed as political and economic power increasingly moved to Westminster and London. The rights and identity of sovereign Scotland were ultimately forgotten during the late 20th Century.
English historian Simon Schama had said of the original Acts of Union: “What began as a hostile merger, would end in a full partnership in the most powerful going concern in the world … it was one of the most astonishing transformations in European history.” But it dissipated, largely as London turned toward Europe and forgot about the inclusiveness of Scotland (and other regions) into the United Kingdom, and about the inclusiveness of the former dominions into the Commonwealth.
Can the United Kingdom repair itself? Can Spain?8
The United Kingdom began to address Scottish grievances by the reestablishment of the Scottish Parliament on May 12, 1999, and then by allowing a referendum on Scottish secession from the United Kingdom on September 18, 2014.
Westminster (that is, the United Kingdom Parliament) had responded to Scottish dissatisfaction by allowing freedom of political expression. London — that is the public and the commercial sector — however, has done less to restore the balance between England and Scotland. And that cannot go unredressed, for memories of the time when Glasgow, for example, was “the second city of the Empire”, are within living memory. But barely.
Canada partially redressed the issue of Quebecois dissatisfaction (and the demand for secession) during the 1980-95 period by also allowing referenda, and legislating the use of French as a national language across Canada. That partially addressed the issue, but only at the cost of imposing considerable inefficiency on the broader Canadian economy.
Few things can compensate for the reality that demographic shifts in a national population can erase the rights and promises which arose historically. Even so, unless the culturally or societally dispossessed areas of a nation-state are continually considered within the context of governance, then dissent will simmer, ultimately to emerge.
This is the case now, particularly in countries which have seen the cities grow rich and the countryside, still contributing, become ignored.
These are the unconscious ramifications of demographic shift, particularly urbanization and the absorption of trans-national immigrants. But what of conscious attempts to demographically overwhelm societies? We saw this with the conscious Albanian movement to accelerate a century or more of illegal immigration of Albanians into the heartland of Serbia, known as Kosovo and Metohija. (Metohija, the Western part of the region, meant, originally, “church lands”.) It had absolute historical resonance for Serbian identity. It was the heartland of Serbia’s resurgence to expel occupying Ottoman Turks from the country.
Now it is overwhelmingly Albanian and Muslim. And the US Government forced international recognition of the Albanian entity as a sovereign state. By such reasoning, then, parts of the southern United States should be given the option, by a vote of the occupants, including the illegal occupants, of returning the land to Mexico or declaring independence.
But the conscious injection of external population groups into an area to create a new political reality — especially using “democracy” as a legitimizing tool — is not new. The creation of numerous “modern states”, such as the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and so on was achieved by this method. Similarly, surging US nationals as migrants into Hawaii allowed a “democratic vote” to overthrow the Kingdom of Hawaii and turn it into a US state. (And what is significant is that the Hawaii issue is not as resolved as Washington, and most mainland US citizens, would think.)
Indonesia when it seized the former Dutch colony of West Papua in 1963, began much the same process, injecting mainly Javanese Indonesians into the area to dominate the economics of the mineral-rich area.
What is significant in that instance is that, a half century later, the Javanese still cannot dominate or eradicate the ethnically Melanesian Papuans, nor their desire for dominance over their own affairs. Jakarta has been unwilling to tolerate even the slightest hint of a loosened relationship, thus compounding the drive for separation.
And, indeed, the entire island of Papua New Guinea is geographically and geologically separated from the Indonesian archipelago, as well as occupied by ethnically (and culturally, linguistically, etc.) different people.
The case for “secession” of the Western portion of Papua from Indonesia — or the rejection of Indonesia’s right even to have occupied the area — was made to the United Nations on September 26, 2017. The exiled West Papuan leader, Benny Wenda, presented the petition — banned by the Indonesian government, but smuggled across Papua and endorsed by 70 percent of the contested province’s population: 1.8-million people — to the UN’s decolonization committee, the C24.
The petition had asked the UN to appoint a special representative to investigate human rights abuses in the province and to “put West Papua back on the decolonization commit- tee agenda and ensure their right to self-determination … is respected by holding an internationally supervised vote”.
The UN’s C24 committee9, however, refused to accept the petition. The chair of the C24, Rafael Ramirez, said on September 27, 2017, that no petition on West Papua could be accepted because the committee’s mandate extended only to the 17 states identified by the UN as “non-self-governing territories”.
Benny Wenda had said “We hand over the bones of the people of West Papua to the United Nations and the world”, but to no avail. Ramirez, the Venezuelan representative to the UN, said: “I am the chair of the C24 and the issue of West Papua is not a matter for the C24. We are just working on the counties that are part of the list of non-self-governing territories. That list is issued by the General Assembly [of the UN].”
“One of the principles of our movement is to defend the sovereignty and the full integrity of the territory of our members. We are not going to do anything against Indonesia as a C24.”
West Papua had earlier been on the committee’s agenda — when the former Dutch colony was known as Netherlands New Guinea — but it was removed in 1963 when the province was annexed by Indonesia.10
In the case of the two Indonesian Papuan provinces (called West Papua and Papua provinces, but called, collectively West Papua by the Melanesian population there), the annexation of them by Indonesia in 1963 was clearly not consensual.
But had Indonesia wished to win the inclusion of West Papuans into the Indonesian framework, then it would have needed to have acted differently. It would, indeed, have needed to have created a sense of inclusion in the Indonesian framework, if that was possible.
Similarly, the civil society responses to feelings of exclusion by key geopolitical blocs in the UK, Thailand, the US, Nigeria, Spain, Ukraine, Italy, Germany, and so on, only heighten when the traditional rulers refuse to acknowledge, or address, that sense of rejection.
Sub-sovereign nationalist movements invariably cause either concern or a sense of opportunity in es- tablished national-level governments. But there is often ambiguity. The Government of Cyprus, for example, supports the irredentist claims of Armenians occupying the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, while opposing the occupation of the northern 37 percent of the island of Cyprus by Turkish troops, claiming to support the creation of an independent Turkish-Cypriot state which it calls the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.
The United States Government, as noted above, supported — indeed, enabled — the creation of Kosovo, carved out of Serbia, in 2008, as a home for illegally immigrating Albanians (into the historical heartland of Serbia), and yet rejected recognition of sovereignty for Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which seceded from Georgia, also in 2008.
Ambiguities abound, of necessity. Political leaders look to undertake policies which are believed to be in their nation’s interests. As a result, moral hypocrisy may sometimes equate to good strategic policy. But it has its risks, particularly in terms of national credibility. Never, however, should it blind its practitioners to the reality that the paths of “inclusion or exclusion” hold the key to whether a geopolitical entity will be able to attain or retain viability.
When capitals ignore provinces, revolts occur.
When capitals govern provinces by a process of “divide and rule”, risks are taken.
This is at the heart of the present unrest in Ethiopia, for example. Emperor Haile Selassie I, when he assumed the paramount leadership in 1930 of what was then (and, in reality, now still is) the Ethiopian Empire (of more than 60 different ethnic and linguistic groups), he saw it as his function to unite the Empire into a single entity. That did not take away from the traditions and languages of the regions, but he began to create an overarching sense of identity and inclusion.
This was consciously destroyed by the revolutionary Dergue (Committee) which seized power in the putsch of 1974. It destroyed any reference it could find to the three millennia of Ethiopian history, and, essentially, cast the various Ethiopian ethnic groups back into a defensive mode. The post-Dergue Governments which assumed power with the collapse of communism in 1990- 91, sought to create “modern” governance, but failed to rebuild the sense of inclusion in an overarching Ethiopian identity.
The resultant rise of, particularly, the Oromo independence move- ment was fueled not only by foreign weapons and funding, but by what appeared to be further repression of Oromia and its people and languages. The minority Tigrean political leadership, in many instances, retreated further into a defensive mode rather than building the overarching sense of inclusion.
Inclusion and exclusion are only partially physical manifestations of a society. They are predominantly psychological. But, then, very few drivers which determine history are not psychological. Those which origi- nate in the physical natural world — large-scale famine, seismic and atmospheric events — are either mitigated or addressed by the applica- tion of human will. Or they can destroy societies. Similarly, introduced varieties of disease can eliminate societies, as the European incursions into the American isthmus was to prove in the 16th Century.
Addressing human societal imbal- ances with the application of considered strategies to shape inclusion or exclusion seems, by comparison with the historical threats of nature, to be eminently within the grasp of human capabilities.
Why, then, does it seem so difficult for those who hold the high grounds of power?
About the author:
Greg Copley is the editor of Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy
This article was originally published in Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis, and reprinted with permission.
1. The unilateral Catalonian independence referendum held on October 1, 2017, and organized by the regional Government of Catalonia, and opposed by the national Government, which declared the event illegal, resulted in 91.96 percent of Catalan voters endorsing the referendum question “Do you want Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic?”. The “Yes” side won, with 2,020,144 voting for independence and 176,565 (8.04 percent) voting against, with a voter turnout of 42.58 percent. The law which the Catalan Government passed in June 2017, saying that a simple majority in Parliament would suffice for an independence call was, however, illegal according to the Catalan Statutes of Autonomy which require a two third majority in the Catalan Parliament for any change to Catalonia’s status. The European Commission on October 2, 2017, released an official statement, noting: “Under the Spanish Constitution, yesterday’s vote in Catalonia was not legal”, and that the European Commission “trust[ed] the leadership” of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.
2. Significantly, when Libyan coup leader Mu’amar al-Qadhafi was deposed and killed on October 20, 2011, members of the al-Qadhadhfa tribe were excluded from the new government(s) being formed, and most, now “excluded”, threw their support behind radical Islamist jihadist groups, such as DI’ISH (Islamic State), which they had previously fought bitterly against.
3. Voters in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq voted on September 25, 2017, in a region-wide referendum which asked “Do you want the Kurdistan region and the Kurdistani areas outside the region’s administration to become an independent state?”. The results of the referendum were decreed by the Kurdistan Region Parliament to be binding on the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). The Government of Iraq, however, in advance rejected the legality of the referendum and urged the Regional Government to refrain from holding it. The referendum resulted in 6.71 percent of the votes against independence, and 93.29 percent in favor, out of the 282,017 votes counted.
4. Canetti, Elias: Crowds & Power. New York, 1981: Continuum. Originally published 1960 by Claassen Verlag, Hamburg as Masse und Macht.
5. LeBon, Gustave: The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind. Viking, 1960. Our edition: New York, 1896: The Macmillan Co.
6. Hoffer, Eric: The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements. New York, 1951: Perennial Library, Harper & Row.
7. For a view on the incident which sparked the modern Catalonia “revolt” see, Calamur, Krishnadev: “The Spanish Court Decision That Sparked the Modern Catalan Independence Movement”, dated October 1, 2017, on the website of The Atlantic magazine, https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/10/catalonia-referendum/541611/. As journalist David Frum noted, also on The Atlantic website, on October 2, 2017, “Catalonia, with only 16 percent of the population but 19 percent of the economy, has long chafed at seeing its tax payments redirected to poorer regions.” Ancient rights denied were then spurred by modern grievances.
8. The significant focus by Madrid on the strictly legal (or, rather, illegal) aspects of the October 1, 2017, referendum while ignoring the motivation behind it clearly inflamed Catalan sensibilities, and further reinforced the widespread belief in Catalonia that Madrid was nterested only in the suppression of Catalan rights. King Felipe VI took the unusual step of intervening in the dispute, but he, too, merely reinforced the power of Madrid rather than acting as a unifying figure, attempting to resolve the growing state-regions schism which the Catalan protest vote signified. Thus the King abdicated his rôle of being the voice of the entire nation, and became partisan, not in the sense of supporting a political party, but in supporting one part of the country (Madrid) against a region.
9. The United Nations describes the C24 Committee as: “The Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples (also known as the Special Committee on decolonization or C-24), the United Nations entity exclusively devoted to the issue of decolonization, was established in 1961 by the General Assembly with the purpose of monitoring the implementation of the Declaration (General Assembly Resolution 1514 (XV) of 14 December 1960).”
10. See, Collison, Kerry: “The Question of West Papuan Independence”, in Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy, 9-2017.
Enjoy the article?
Did you find this article informative? Please consider contributing to Eurasia Review, as we are truly independent and do not receive financial support from any institution, corporation or organization.