Catalonia to South Sudan: A world of separatist movements | World | Breaking news and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 04.10.2017

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Catalonia to South Sudan: A world of separatist movements

Catalonia is fighting to separate from Spain. It is just one of a number of regions around the globe to push for independence in recent years. DW looks at some of the world's more high-profile separatist movements.

Only roughly 40 percent of Catalans voted in their region's independence referendum on Sunday, but a whopping 90 percent of those who showed up at the polls were in favor of seceding from Spain. It remains unclear how things will proceed from here: Catalan leaders say they will declare independence in a "matter of days," while the Spanish government in Madrid continues to reject the referendum's result.

Though Catalonia is the most prominent example of the search for self-determination at the moment, many other regions across the world have pushed for independence in recent years. Some were successful, others weren't – but even for those who won the struggle, independence didn't necessarily lead to a happy ending.

The Czech Republic and Slovakia

Vaclav Klaus and Vladimir Meciar in 1992

Slovak leader Vladimir Meciar (left) and Czech leader Vaclav Klaus discuss the 'divorce' of their countries in 1992

Czechoslovakia peacefully dissolved into the Czech Republic and Slovakia on January 1, 1993. The split into two separate nations was referred to as the "Velvet Divorce" rather than a secession, in reference to the peaceful Velvet Revolution that occurred in Czechoslovakia in 1989 and led to the end of communist rule. Over the next three years, the chasm between the two regions widened and in November 1992, parliament voted to disband the federation. The divorce was a success: Today, the Czech Republic and Slovakia are countries with strong economies. The Czech Republic had the lowest unemployment rate in the EU earlier this year; Slovakia's economy is among the fastest growing in the eurozone.

East Timor

East Timor parade

East Timor was granted UN membership in 2002 after years of brutal Indonesian occupation

The island nation of East Timor had been a Portuguese colony for centuries until it declared independence in late 1975. But immediately afterwards, the Southeast Asian country was invaded by Indonesia. The ensuing 24-year-long occupation was brutal. Estimates on the number of people killed range from roughly 100,000 to more than 200,000. In 1999, East Timor voted overwhelmingly to end the occupation in a UN-backed referendum. In May 2002, the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, better known as East Timor, became Asia's youngest soveriegn state. Decades of violence left the country torn apart, however. The greatest challenges facing East Timor have involved instability and economic development, and it remains one of the world's poorest countries. About half of its 1.2 million people live in poverty, a result of years of protracted conflict, a lack of civil administrative structures and shortages of skilled workers.


People with flags celebrate Kosovo's independence in 2008

When Kosovo gained independence, thousands of people celebrated in the streets of the capital, Pristina

The mostly Albanian-populated Kosovo was for many years a province of Serbia, which was itself one of the states making up the multi-ethnic former country of Yugoslavia. As Yugoslavia broke apart in a series of bloody conflicts in the 1990s, Kosovo formed its own independence movement. Serbian forces responded with a violent effort to drive civilian population across the Albanian border. In 1999, as the fighting between Serbian troops and Albanian militants was escalating, NATO launched a US-led bombing campaign against Serbia. The months-long airstrikes forced Serbian forces to withdraw. Kosovo eventually declared independence in 2008, with the backing of the US and many EU nations. Serbia disputes its statehood and has used Russia's support to keep the young country from joining the UN. An EU-facilitated dialogue to "normalize relations between Serbia and Kosovo" has been ongoing in Brussels since 2013. Both governments have signed more than 30 agreements, but implementing them remains a challenge.


2014 Scottish independence referendum

Scottish voters rejected independence in a 2014 referendum

Scotland has been part of the United Kingdom for more than 300 years, and many Scots are less than happy about that. They already have their own parliament, and the Scottish National Party (SNP) has been pushing for full independence. A referendum in 2014 failed to achieve that, but independence sentiments were again stoked by the Brexit result in 2016. Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon (SNP) reasoned that her country, which largely voted to remain in the EU, should not be forced to automatically leave the bloc along with the rest of the UK. She has floated the possibility of another referendum for 2018, when the details of Brexit are clearer, but opinion polls show the result would likely be the same as in 2014.

South Sudan

South Sudan soldiers

The young nation of South Sudan has been embroiled in civil war since 2013

South Sudan split from Sudan on July 9, 2011, becoming the world's youngest nation. This step marked the end of a decades-long conflict that began even before Sudan gained its independence from the UK in 1956. Residents of the South – which is predominantly Christian and inhabited by various ethnic groups with close ties to other African countries – felt that they were discriminated against by the government in Khartoum, which was dominated by Arabs from Sudan's North. Various rebel groups, including the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, took up arms against the Sudanese government, which responded with brutal force. Both sides finally signed a peace deal in 2005 and in a 2011 referendum, 98.8 percent of voters supported an independent South. But the hopes and dreams of many South Sudanese were brutally shattered when a civil war between the South Sudanese government and a coalition of rebel groups broke out in 2013. Another peace deal was signed in 2015, but the conflict has still displaced more than four million people; tens of thousands have been killed.


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