Catalan protestors gather at an independence rally in 2015. Courtesy of Josep Lago.
Orange County School of the Arts

The global trend towards independence

Waves of revolution tend to undulate over the course of history. In the late 1990’s to early 2000’s, the “Pink Tide” swept across Latin America. The Arab Spring developed across the Middle East and North Africa beginning in 2010.

In 2017, another current of change is frothing at the shores of multiple countries simultaneously facing emerging referendums for independence.

On Sept. 25, over 92% of voters in Iraqi Kurdistan voted in favor of independence, which was swiftly followed by a set of punitive measures put in place by the Iraqi central government, including a ban on international flights to and from the region, increased federal control over oil exports, and requests to Turkey and Iran to close their borders to northern Iraq.

Approximately one week later on Oct. 1, over two-million voters in Catalonia, a prosperous region of northeastern Spain that includes the city of Barcelona, experienced a divisive vote for independence, met with strong backlash from the Spanish government, who deemed the vote in betrayal of Spain’s Constitution. About 57% of voters abstained from participating in the vote, and several “Catalonia is Spain” unity rallies have occurred since the vote took place, indicating a sharp split in opinion among Catalonians.

Among other communities, the discussion of independence has been revived. In Åland, an autonomous cluster of islands in the Baltic Sea under the authority of Finland, the separatist party, Ålands Framtid, is now encouraging the introduction of an independence referendum if the document is approved by a majority of Åland’s 30-seat Parliament. The proposal comes on the centennial anniversary of the beginning of the Åland crisis, in which the islands attempted to petition for integration into Sweden.

Due to Finland’s unwillingness to lose control of the islands, the issue was passed on to be decided by the League of Nations in 1921, who ultimately ruled Åland be deemed an autonomous territory under the sovereignty of the Finnish government. In the midst of other global independence efforts, the issue has been rekindled.

Just as historical context exists for the situation in Åland, a historical struggle for impendence exists in both Catalonia and Iraqi Kurdistan. Time will only tell if the significance of these events will be recorded historically as being bound together by alike goals, ideologies, or outcomes.