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Separatism within and across national boundaries

Separatism within and/or across national boundaries

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Separatism within and/or across national boundaries
The nature of separatism.
Reasons for separatism.
Consequences of separatism.

No - 2014

No – 2014

What you need to know:

• The Nature of Separatism: When the people of a region feel alienated from central government, they often seek to gain more political control. Such groups may have a different language, culture of religion from the rest of the state and are often geographically peripheral. They feel remote from centralised government and feel that they do not receive adequate support, particularly with economic development (The Basque people of norther Spain and SW France).

• Reasons for Separatism:
– an area which is economically depressed compared with a wealthier one
– a minority language or culture with a different history
– a minority religious grouping
– the perception that exploitation of local resources by the national government produces little economic gain for the region
– peripheral location to the economic political core
– collapse of the state, weakening the political power that held the regions together ( e.g. the former USSR, Yugoslavia)
– the strengthening of supranational bodies such as the EU, which has led to many national groups to think they have a better chance of developing economically if they are independent

• Consequences of separatism: In increasing order of extremism, they include:
– The establishment of areas with a clear cultural identity within other countries e.g. the Bretons in France.
– The use of more than one official language; minority languages re-established and protected through the media and education e.g. Wales
– The growth of separate political parties that champion the cause of the devolved area within a greater nation state e.g. Plaid Cymru
– The growth of regional assemblies with some traditionally national powers devolved to them. E.g. the Scottish Assembly has the power to pass legislation on agriculture, fisheries and forestry, economic development, education, environment, food standards, health, home affairs, Scots law – courts, police and fire services, local government, sport and the arts, transport, training, tourism, research and statistics and social work. The Scottish Parliament also has the ability to alter income tax in Scotland by up to 3 pence in the pound.
– Civil disobedience (breaking the law in a generally non-violent way). E.g. In the Palestinian West Bank city of Nablus in 2002, thousands of people broke the enforced curfew that restricted people to their houses. Following five weeks of enforced house arrest ostensibly designed to prevent would-be suicide bombers from leaving the West Bank city, thousands of Palestinian residents have left their homes en masse. They’ve effectively declared the curfew over.
– Terrorism i.e. the use of fear to enforce the adoption of one’s political views by using violence. Terrorist groups include ETA (from the Basque country), the Tamil Tigers (from Sri Lanka). Another viewpoint is that terrorists are freedom fighters, people engaged in a resistance movement against what they believe to be an oppressive and illegitimate government.

Basque terrorist group ETA.

Basque terrorist group ETA.

– Civil war: a conflict between different groups within one national boundary that has significant casualties on both sides. E.g. The Sri Lankan civil war from 1983 to 2009.

Examples of Separatist Movements

• In north east Spain, the region of Catalonia now has the autonomy to decide many of its own affairs. The Catalan language for example, has been taught in all schools in the region since 1983 and has become the official language of education.

• The break-up of the former Soviet Union (USSR) into is 15 constituent republics including Russia, Moldova, Latvia, Ukraine, Georgia, etc

• Scottish nationalism. Before its union with England, Scotland was a separate kingdom and it still has its own national church (Presbyterian), separate education and legal systems and its own language (Scottish Gaelic) which is spoken in parts of the Highlands and Islands region. The Scottish National party (SNP) feels that the exploitation of North Sea oil and gas has done little to develop the economy of Scotland. The drive for independence was partly satisfied by the establishment in 1999 of a parliament with limited tax raising power. In 2007, the SNP became the largest party in Scottish Parliament.

This section does not strictly require a case study. Nevertheless an essay could be set on this topic. The generic mark scheme requires that you use well-developed examples throughout the essay and so you would be well-advised to have at least one well developed example, with a secondary, contrasting, case study. You must concentrate on the two main elements of the specification

• The specific reasons behind the desire for separatism.

• The specific consequences of the separatists’ actions.

• your case study must have enough detail in it so that it is distinguishable from all the other separatist causes.
• Reasons and consequences can be classified (i.e. put into groups) such as:
– Social – Cultural – Economic – Territorial – Ideological – Religious.

With reference to at least one case study, discuss the possible consequences of separatism. [10 marks]


Separatism is the splitting of people or groups from the larger majority on the basis of culture, ethnic, religious or political differences. It usually means that people of a region or a particular minority want more political control and influence.

Nations and separatism

What binds people to form a new nation. A nation is a cultural community with five dimensions:

Psychology – nation must exist in people’s minds.

Cultural – members must understand each other through their culture e.g. language, customs even humour.

Historical – this is critical explains that the nation existed before them. The nation is greater than the individual e.g. “I will die for my country / flag”.

Territory – nations are usually attached to a specific territory – people will fight for the land.

Political – people want autonomy to make their own decisions – not always totally independent but with some freedoms e.g. Scotland in the UK & Tibet seeking to be separate from China.


Ethnicity versus separatism

According to Max Weber an ethnic group is ‘a human group that entertains a belief in their common descent of similarities of physical type, or of customs, or because of colonisation and migration.’ Members see themselves and their community as part of a group with similar beliefs and experiences.

The strength of ethnicity and sense of belonging can vary. At its strongest it can involve political claims and fight for independent territories in the case of Scotland, the Irish conflict, Palestinian conflict and ETA’s Basque struggle in Spain. In its milder form it involves revival of cultural language and customs e.g. Cornish Nationalist Party.

The Basque separatist movement, Spain

Spain has a number of communities with strong nationalist movements based primarily on language differences. Distinctive languages are found in the regions of Galicia (Galician), Catalonia (Catalan) and Basque (Euskara). This case study will look at the later – The Basque separatist movement.


The Basque language, Euskara, is unique and distinctive, but the extent of the Basque country is subject to debate. There are four provinces in northern Spain and three in SW France.


Franco who led Spain until 1975, executed or imprisoned thousands of Basque nationalists. The use of Euskara language on buildings, road signs or in publications was banned, and the teaching of the language was declared illegal. The Basque culture and language was supressed for over 40 years.


In 1959 a national political organisation< ETA (Euskadi ta Askatasuna), was formed. In the 1960s it declared war on the Spanish state. ETA has operated a violent campaign, targeting police, security forces and political and government figures and buildings. It has stated that its armed struggle will continue until it has achieved an independent Basque country, comprising both Spanish and French provinces. In 1979, a government- held referendum in Spain resulted in massive support for autonomy of the Basque and a Basque parliament was created. However, continued attacks over the years alienated many Spanish. Hundreds of thousands marched in Madrid in January 2000 to show their disapproval of ETA’s violence.

ETA is considered by Spain, France, the wider European Union and the USA to be a terrorist organisation, with more than 800 killings attributed to the group. Its motto is Bietan jarrai (Keep up on both) refers to the two figures in the ETA symbol. The snake represents politics and secrecy, while the axe around which it is coiled represents the armed struggle.


ETA’s recent activities:

March 2006: ETA declare a permanent ceasefire, stating that it would commit to promote a democratic process in the Basque country in order to build a new framework within which our rights as a people are recognised, and guarantee the opportunity to develop all political options in the future.

December 2006: A bomb in a car parked at Madrid airport left two people dead, and prompted the government to call off peace talks. The Victims of Terrorism Association held a demonstration in Madrid demanding that there should be no further negotiation with the terrorist group.

2007: Thousands of Basque citizens participate in a rally in Bilbao to protest against the decision of a Spanish court to order the detention of 46 members convicted of aiding ETA through a network of ostensibly legitimate social and political organisations.

29 July 2009: A car bomb explodes in northern Spanish city of Burgos, injuring around 50 people – again, blamed on ETA.

16 October 2009: After the arrest by the Spanish government of several Basque politicians, a bus, several cars and three banks were attacked by petrol bombs in northern cities of Bilbao and Ondarroa. The attacks were blamed on ETA’s youth organisation kale borroka (translates as street fighting).

1 March 2010: Spanish judge Eloy Velasco accused Venezuelan government of assisting ETA and Colombian president Alvaro Uribe.

August 2010: Violence spreads through the Basque country after a series of coordinated kale borroka attacks. Dozens of waste containers were set alight in the towns. Petrol bombs and other explosives also featured in the attacks, believed to have been orchestrated by ETA.

5 September 2010: ETA declare a new ceasefire – will this one be permanent?


Reasons for Basque separatist pressures in Spain

Cultural – Basque culture is distinct from the rest of Spain (and France), and includes the Basque language of Euskara.

Economic – the Basque region, home to large fishing ports, industry and wealthy banks, is the richest in Spain.

State repression – General Franco suppressed Basque culture by banning their languages, confiscating property and imprisoning intellectuals.

Geographic concentration – the vast majority of the 2.5 million Basques live in four provinces in northern Spain with smaller numbers in three departments in south-west France.

Historical – the Basque had been granted a degree of autonomy by previous rulers before the mid-19th century.


Resolution of the conflict

  • Suppression of the Basques from 1939 by General Franco, involving imprisonment and execution of opponents
  • Assassinations carried out by ETA, to put pressure on the government to negotiate and meet Basque demands
  • Creation by Felipe Gonzalez in the 1980s of the counter-terrorist group, GAL, to assassinate ETA members
  • Granting of some autonomy to three Basque states, which were allowed their own parliament, police force and control over education
  • Dialogue between the two sides and ceasefires, such as those in 1989, 1996, 1998, 2006 & 2010
  • Arrests by the Spanish and French authorities of key members and leaders of ETA
  • ETA’s 2011 announcement of an end to its armed activities.


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