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Separatism involves setting oneself or others apart.


Political/Administrative separatism

Political separatism may involve attempts to obtain sovereignty and to split a territory or a group of people (usually a people with a distinctive national consciousness) from one another (or one nation from another. One type of example involves colonies gaining independence from a metropolis). Separatist groups themselves often reject the term separatism: they may consider it pejorative, and prefer more neutral terms such as self-determination.

Separatist movements often operate using strictly constitutional and peaceful methods. The province of Quebec in Canada has featured a generally peaceful separatist movement of varying intensity in since (say) 1960 (with a brief period of violence culminating in the October Crisis of 1970). Broadly peaceful movements ended in the break-up of Czechoslovakia and of the Soviet Union. Singapore also peacefully seceded from the Malaysian Federation. The formation of the Confederate States of America in 1861 occasioned major warfare only after a series of arguably constitutional and orderly seccessions.

Separatism can also often take the form of a violent response to a past military takeover. Around the world many terrorist groups espouse separatism as the "only" way to achieve their goal of national liberation. These include the Basque ETA in France and Spain, Sikh separatists in India during the 1980s, the IRA in Ireland and the Front de Libération du Québec in the 1960s, culminating in the October Crisis in 1970. These guerrilla campaigns can also lead to full-blown civil wars, as has happened in Chechnya.

Violence usually diminishes when there exist political means that would-be separatists can use to gain more political and economic autonomy within the current constitutional order. Free elections and referenda sometimes help to reduce tensions. Very few countries acknowledge their potential divisibility, however. The wars erupting with the break-up of Yugoslavia exemplify this, despite constitutional provisions in the former Yugoslavia that theoretically allowed division and referenda.

Motivations for separatism

Separatist movements often have a least a superficial basis in nationalism or in religious fervour. More often than not, however, feelings of inadequate political clout and perceived economic (dis)advantage play an important role. Economics proved a factor in the break-up of Czechoslovakia; a principal cause involved Slovakia's reluctance to abandon state-run industries, the core of its (regional) economy. Bohemia and Moravia -- the areas of the future Czech Republic -- had a greater willingness to experiment with the idea of a free market, and thus the countries parted.

Quebec also provides an example of how political marginalisation can lead to separatist ambitions. Throughout the first century of Canadian Confederation from 1867, a small minority of Anglophone Montrealers dominated the province politically and economically. Rejection of this status quo led to the growth of Quebec-first separatist groups in the 1960s and 1970s.

Spain's Basque areas, which have not had independence for millennia, developed violent separatist groups in reaction to the violent suppression of Francisco Franco's regime. A similar pattern emerged in Ethiopia, where Eritrean rebels expressed far more anger at despotism and corruption than passion about the nation of Eritrea, which had not previously had a long or distinctive history.

The nations of the northern Italian peninsula maintained political independence for centuries (for example Veneto had a separate identity from the 10th to 19th centuries as the Republic of Venice, Liguria acted independently for the best part of seven centuries -- see Republic of Genoa). The separatism of northern Italy has not only economic roots, but also linguistic (associated with the Gallo-romance language group) and cultural ones.

Degrees of separation

A wide spectrum of different intensities of separatist feeling and activity occurs in history:

  • Some separatist movements engage in armed struggle using conventional military forces. Many countries in the Americas gained their independence in this manner between (say) 1780 and circa 1830.
  • Many separatists, lacking pro tem the resources to fight openly, fall back on guerilla tactics (and thus run the risk of their opponents dismissing them as terrorists). Basque separatism falls into this category; Algeria built up its independence in this manner; Chechen separatism has moved in this direction since the diminishing of open warfare in the Caucasus.
  • In cases where an occupying power has rigid control and overwhelming capabilities, separatist movements have little choice but to go "deep underground". Tsarist authorities in Poland in the 19th century, for example, generally gave little scope to Polish irredentists to bear arms and sometimes suppressed the use of their language and the practice of their cultural activities in public. But Polish separatism on "Russian" soil did not die, it merely waited for more favorable times.
  • Where permitted, separatism can advance its aims through constitutional means, particularly via parliamentary representation. Irish separatism took this form for much of the 19th century.
  • India provides the classic case of the use of passive resistance to advocate separatism and political independence. The methodology and philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi proved important in this regard.
  • Separatism through cultural distinction can gnaw away at a super-national hegemony. Separatism in Cornwall has often operated in this manner, and it proved effective in the Baltic region prior to World War I.
  • Intellectually-based separatism has emerged in cases such as Cascadia. The idea of an independent Cascadia may or may not grow and take on some other intensity of separatist activity.
  • Temporary or intermittent dissatisfaction with a national or regional situation can provoke flickering feelings of separatism that rise and fall in popularity. The New England region of New South Wales provides a case in point.
  • The separatism of micronations can veer towards the non-serious. Areas such as the Hutt River Province or Sealand can declare independence and set up constitutions and institutions - issuing stamps, banknotes and passports - without necessarily greatly upsetting their metropolitan power or changing the balance in voting blocs at the United Nations. Such examples can serve as vehicles for political or economic protest without necessarily threatening existing nation-states. Jocular and short-lived entities such as the so-called Republic of Hawera come and go. In some cases separatism can almost become a farce - a far cry from the bloodshed that full-blown nationalism can occasion.

Fickle separatisms

Separatism can change in form, intensity and direction over time. Belgium fought a bloody war for nationhood in 1830, but in the late twentieth century became one of the vanguard countries in forming the multi-national European Union. Texan separatism became very real in 1836 and faded with the area's annexation to the United States in 1845, but the Republic of Texas group(s) maintain the tradition of an independent Texas to this day. Indians before 1947 agitated for their own Raj, only to experience Islamic separatism in the formation of Pakistan, which in turn fell victim to Bengali separatism in the setting up of an independent Bangladesh. Romantic notions of the constant inherent burning desire for a single national homeland do not always reflect the course of events.

Countries dismembered by separatist movements since (say) 1990

Entities which have proclaimed independence without gaining international recognition as independent countries

See also: List of unrecognized countries

Countries with separatist movements

See also: List of active autonomist and secessionist movements

Fictional separatist organisations

Ethnic/racial separatism

Ethnic separatism can refer to groups that attempt to separate themselves culturally and economically or racially, though not always seeking political autonomy. Note the history of apartheid.

Racially-based groups may seek to isolate themselves from other groups, for example groups supporting white separatism or black separatism. See identity politics and racial separatism

Religious separatism

Religious groups whose members believe they should not interact with anyone except co-religionists tend to break into plethoras of sects. Religious separatism has become a particular feature of those Protestant churches in which ecclesiatical government and theological authority resides at the local, congregational level. Compare the religious landscape of 15th-century Europe with that of 21st-century North America. And see shunning as a potential tool of separation.

Those who advocate a strict separation of church and state often term themselves "separationists" (with "accommodationists" as the converse).

Social separatism

Lesbian-feminist separatism refers to the use of sexual orientation as a particular for of separatist political statement. See for example Lesbian separatism.

A social class or caste system, as in India, can develop into well-defined separate social routines and strict boundaries within the same general geographical area. In such cases hegemonic groups may seek to perpetuate their privileges by preaching and enforcing rigid social separatism.

See also

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