New na­tions have lessons for Cat­alo­nia

Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend - - Nation&world - BY ADAM TAY­LOR The Wash­ing­ton Post

Through­out his­tory, maps have been re­drawn as coun­tries have been founded, em­pires have fallen, and bor­ders have shifted. And soon, 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 per­cent 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 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 war with the eth­ni­cally Arab north that had lasted decades.

♦ Kosovo: Kosovo de­clared in­de­pen­dence from Ser­bia on Feb. 17, 2008.

♦ 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 states of Ser­bia and Mon­tene­gro in 2006.

♦ East Ti­mor: East Ti­mor, now also known as Ti­morLeste, achieved in­de­pen­dence on May 20, 2002, but the coun­try had ef­fec­tively voted for in­de­pen­dence years be­fore. Af­ter that ref­er­en­dum, there was vi­o­lence in the re­gion with pro-In­done­sian mili­tias at­tack­ing cit­i­zens, and a spe­cial U.N. force had to be de­ployed to the coun­try.

♦ Palau: Palau 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.

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.”

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.

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