THROUGHOUT history, maps have been redrawn as countries have been founded, empires have fallen, and borders have shifted. And this week, if two would-be nations have their way, we will be redrawing maps once again.
Catalonians plan to vote on their independence from Spain on Sunday. Remarkably, it will be the second independence vote in just one week: Iraqi Kurds held their referendum on independence on Monday, where secession from Iraq won 93 per cent approval.
However, cartographers may not be needed quite yet. Both Iraqi Kurds and Catalonians are facing widespread international opposition to their independence. There is no legal right to secession under international law, and, in many cases, the path to independence can be bloody and its results inconclusive.
Over the past quarter century, there have been only nine new countries created out of a little less than 200 total. And the experiences of these countries produce some mixed lessons for others hoping to follow their path:
South Sudan: South Sudan declared independence from Sudan on July 9, 2011, after a violent war with the ethnically Arab north that had lasted decades. Almost 99pc of voters had supported independence in a referendum, and the new country was swiftly recognised by the international community. The United States played a key role in South Sudan’s journey to statehood.
Kosovo: Kosovo declared independence from Serbia on Feb 17, 2008. The country had been administered by the United Nations since 1999, when Nato bombed Serbia and forced then-president Slobodan Milosevic to withdraw his troops from the ethnically divided province.
Montenegro and Serbia: The single nation of Serbia and Montenegro, formed after the collapse of Yugoslavia in 1991, changed into the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro in 2003, and finally into the two separate states of Serbia and Montenegro in 2006. It was Montenegro that ultimately ended the relationship, with a referendum on May 21, 2006, that found just over 55pc wanted to end its ties with Serbia. On June 3, Montenegro declared independence. A few days later, Serbia followed suit.
East Timor: East Timor, now also known as Timor-Leste, achieved independence on May 20, 2002, but the country had effectively voted for independence years before, when a referendum delivered a vote that clearly rejected the proposed “special autonomy” within Indonesia. After that referendum, there was brutal violence in the region with pro-Indonesian militias attacking citizens, and a special UN force had to be deployed to the country.
Palau: Geographically part of the larger Micronesia island group in the western Pacific Ocean, Palau is the least populated country on this list, with a little over 21,000 people living on about 250 islands. It became independent on Oct 1, 1994, 15 years after it had decided against becoming part of Micronesia due to cultural and linguistic differences.
Eritrea: The United Nations established Eritrea as an autonomous region within the Ethiopian federation in 1952. However, when Ethiopia, under emperor Haile Selassie, annexed the region in 1962, it sparked a civil war that lasted 30 years. In 1991, the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) ousted the Ethiopian forces, and on April 27, 1993, the country declared independence after a referendum.
The Czech Republic and Slovakia: On Jan 1, 1993, Czechoslovakia was dissolved by parliament into two countries: The Czech Republic and Slovakia. After the “Velvet Revolution” ended one-party Communist rule, it was the “Velvet Divorce”. Immediately after the split, there appeared to be some trepidation: The New York Times noted “wide regret” at the end of the nation that was formed after World War I. However, the contemporary view is that the split was a (relative) success: “The split was really smooth,” Slovakian journalist Pavol Mudry told the BBC in 2013.
What lessons can be learned?
There has been no easy path to independence in recent years. Of the nine nations above, four were formed as a direct result of civil war. Five were the result of the collapse of communism in Europe — a unique historical watershed and one that produced all sorts of upheaval. A number remain troubled states: Eritrea has been dubbed the “North Korea of Africa”.
Countries like South Sudan and Kosovo had major international backers like the United States in their bid for independence — something neither Catalonia nor Iraqi Kurdistan have. Even then, their paths to independence have been rocky. Kosovo still lacks recognition from a number of states and has not applied for UN membership, while its economy remains underdeveloped. South Sudan is still beset by ethnic violence and famine.
Even clearly successful independence bids have their drawbacks. Montenegro has joined Nato and hopes to join the European Union, but just last year, there was a coup attempt, and there have been long-standing corruption allegations. Over two decades after independence, the Czech Republic officially created a new name, Czechia, after a bitter internal debate about its lack of international recognition.
But it isn’t just Catalonians or Iraqi Kurds who should study history — Spanish leaders in Madrid or Iraqi leaders in Baghdad should pay attention, too. In many of the above cases, it takes decades for the demand for independence to reach a tipping point. And as the still-lingering hopes of Scottish independence after the failed 2015 referendum have shown London, once the genie is out of the bottle, it is very difficult to put it back in.
By arrangement with The Washington Post
Published in Dawn, October 1st, 2017
Source: Google News : https://www.dawn.com/news/1361066/what-nine-countries-founded-in-past-25-years-teach-catalonia