The messages of two independence movements ring around the world

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In the last week, two very different independence movements reached a climax. In Iraq, the northern autonomous Kurdish region voted on Sept. 25 on whether it would secede from Iraq and form a separate Kurdish state. Similarly, in the last week, the Spanish government has taken harsh police action in an attempt to prevent a proposed independence referendum in the northern Spanish region of Catalonia. These two movements are in very different parts of the world. One has originated in a part of the world that is considered modern and westernized, while the other has taken root in a part of the world that has been a hubbub for chaos and extremist groups in recent history. The two movements have brought forth critiques and praises about nationalist ideals from both sides of the political spectrum, heralding the contrasting views of the left and the right. Those with left-leaning political ideals have argued that nationalism is becoming obsolete. In contrast, right-wingers are supportive of the nations’ more insular agendas. Both regions—Catalonia and Spain—are reaching for the same goals, but their paths to nationhood are divergent. Both movements are tied to a long history that shows how different paths have led the regions to a similar precipice. Since the nineteenth century, the Catalan region of Spain has been an industrial and economic powerhouse. It has always maintained a separate language and culture from the rest of Spain; this has lead to conflict with the Spanish state throughout history. In the early part of the twentieth century, a certain amount of self-government was achieved. However, this was taken away when the fascist Franco dictatorship came to power in 1939. Catalonia was one of the regions that suffered the most under the dictatorship due to its adherence to the republican government that Franco had overthrown as well as its separate language and culture. These factors led to its continual repression. Thus, when Spain emerged from the dictatorship in 1975, many who live in Catalonia felt that the region was deserving of new and greater autonomy. These plans were finally put into action in 2006. At this time, a series of legal reforms (which would have given the Catalonian regional government more powers) were passed in both Catalonia and by the national parliament. However, the conservative popular party took action. Their countermeasures ultimately led to the reforms being struck down by Spain’s courts in 2012. The failure of the passage of these laws created anger in Catalonia, which further fueled the independence movement. Eventually, the movement gained enough momentum for Catalonia to set date for a referendum to vote on its independence in the beginning of October. Spain has taken action to try to prevent this referendum from happening. They have sent in the civil police to seize the ballot papers and have arrested many regional government officials, leading to rising tensions between Spanish and Catalonian officials. The Kurdish movement is also tied to its regional history. The Kurds are much less numerous then their Arab countrymen, yet they have maintained a separate identity and culture. Like Spain under Franco, Iraq under Saddam Hussein brutally repressed the Kurds, and Kurdish minorities in Turkey and Iran have faced repression. There have always been those who have dreamed of an independent Kurdistan, which would include the Kurdish minorities living throughout the Middle East. This nationalist sentiment is deeply resented by the governments in countries where these minorities reside. There was some hope amongst the Kurds that the U.S. would assist in the creation of an independent Kurdish state after the military had overthrown Saddam Hussein. However, they only gained partial self-government up until recently. The Kurds have taken another step forward after holding a referendum on independence, which was held at the end of September. As a result, 92% of Kurds voted in favor of independence. The two referendums have sparked mixed reactions about nationalism, democracy and what justifies the creation of a new state in different parts of the world. So far, the referendums have both been met with backlash. The United States and Erdogan government in Turkey have taken a similar stance; both powers say that the vote in Iraqi Kurdistan is illegitimate. Similarly, the EU has sided with Spain against the Catalonians. Without being recognized as legitimate nations, these two regions will continue to have a long road to independence.

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