Brexit and other active separatist movements around the world
In 2016, 51.9% of voters in the United Kingdom chose to withdraw from the European Union as part of a separatist movement based on sprawling issues such as sovereignty, immigration, national identity, and economic opportunity. Known as Brexit, the move caused political tremors around the world and is considered to be one of the most consequential events in recent European history. The issue remains in flux, and Brexit could still be reversed, but the fact that it happened at all sent shockwaves through governments trying to grapple with their own dissidents and gave a psychological boost to other separatist movements around the world.
Separatist, independence, or secessionist movements—which involve groups of people seeking to establish separate governments—are often the culmination of broad and sweeping issues. Sometimes, religious or ethnic minorities seek independent homelands in order to avoid oppression. Other times, wars or political upheaval result in seemingly arbitrary border drawings that isolate groups from what they perceive to be their lands. In other cases, wealthy regions feel they are disproportionately contributing resources to the state or poorer regions feel that they're being neglected or ignored. In other cases, groups or regions want to break away because they resent their government's policies or foreign allegiances.
Dozens of separatist movements are currently active across the world today on every continent except Antarctica. Some are political; some are violent. Some seek only greater autonomy, while others demand full independence and the recognition of statehood. Some are on the cusp of seeing their revolutions realized while others are fringe or fledgling movements with little hope of achieving their goals. No matter the situation, Brexit has proven that the world's separatist movements have the potential to change the world's political balance and therefore can not be ignored no matter how improbable their campaigns might seem.
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The polarizing Brexit referendum triggered a process that gave the United Kingdom two years to withdraw from the EU. Brexit was supposed to be complete by March 29, 2019, but U.K. and EU leaders voted to delay Brexit until October of this year.
While Brexit put the world's eyes on Europe, homegrown separatist movements are active right here in the United States. According to Newsday, a group called Yes California is advocating for a movement dubbed CalExit, which in 2018 shifted away from calling for complete secession in favor of a new focus on Native American separatism. The campaign calls for the federal government to turn over all federally owned California land—about half the state—to create an "autonomous Native American nation."
Kingdom of Hawaii
In June 2018, the Boston Globe reported on the Kingdom of Hawaii, a separatist movement that does not recognize the islands as a U.S. state. The only U.S. state that was once a kingdom, Hawaii was sovereign until the U.S. overthrew the royal family and annexed the land at the end of the 19th century. It became a state in 1950.
The Cascadia movement is a separatist campaign to create an entirely new country out of much of the Pacific Northwest. Although proposed borders vary within the movement, Cascadia would consist of all of Washington state and parts of California, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon, Alaska, and British Columbia. Most of the interest in the movement comes from the U.S. and appears far-fetched, according to a Canadian publication called CFJC Today.
Alberta independence movement
A long-simmering movement for the Canadian province of Alberta to break away from the rest of the country is generating momentum ahead of the country's April 16 elections, according to US News and World Report. Many in the energy-producing province are unhappy with federal policies, and separatist sentiment is the driving force behind the Alberta Independence Party, which in 2018 was awarded official status for the first time in 17 years after registering 63 candidates.
Made up mostly of rural, indigenous people, the Zapatista movement is a militant left-wing organization with both socialist and libertarian leanings. The organization is at war with the Mexican government and has both launched and fended off many violent attacks since the 1990s, when the paramilitary group was formed. The Zapatistas now control large portions of the poor but resource-rich southern state of Chiapas, which they hope to establish as their own autonomous region.
Catalonia independence movement
In Europe, Brexit dominates most headlines, but another serious and significant separatist movement is threatening to destabilize the continent. Catalonia is a distinct and semi-autonomous region and community in Spain, one of the wealthiest in the country that includes the city of Barcelona. Large percentages of Catalans feel their cherished autonomy is slipping away and that Catalonia contributes so much to and receives so little from greater Spain that Catalonia would be better off on its own, according to The Independent. A recent referendum on the issue was declared illegal and met with a harsh police crackdown, which is causing turmoil in both Spain and Europe as a whole.
Flanders independence movement
The crisis in Catalonia has created fissures all over Europe, but there are few countries where those divisions are more evident than in Belgium, a divided country that exists under a tenuous, power-sharing government. The former president of Catalonia is exiled in Flanders, the Dutch-speaking northern part of Belgium that identifies heavily with the Catalan cause. The Catalonian crisis has emboldened Flemish nationalists who have long supported a breakaway movement for Flanders.
Wallonia separatism movement
Wallonia, located in the French-speaking south of Belgium, is poorer than Flanders, and long-simmering resentment has created a movement that seeks greater autonomy for Wallonia and closer relations with France. Although the crisis in Catalonia has agitated tensions, the Wallonia separatist movement predates World War I.
Faroese independence movement
About 700 miles from Copenhagen are the Faroese Islands, a semi-autonomous archipelago that has been under Dutch rule for centuries. Old and bitter tensions have bred a breakaway movement among much of the islands' population, many of whom consider themselves to be Faroese, not Danes, and are campaigning for full independence, not autonomy.