Why is separatism so popular?

Hundreds of thousands of Catalans want independence, in northern Italy citizens have voted for more autonomy and in Scotland many want to split off from the UK: regional nationalism is experiencing a renaissance. Commentators shed light on the hows and whys of these movements.

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The Daily Telegraph (GB) /

Naive faith in EU super-state

The Daily Telegraph explains how integration on the EU level can promote separatist tendencies:

“The more starry-eyed Europhiles have always wanted the Union to supplant nations. That was one purpose of Maastricht - to create a European identity and citizenship that would transcend statehood and accommodate every ethnicity and expression of cultural exceptionalism. That is what would-be breakaway nations such as Catalonia want. They don't seek its destruction. Perhaps the EU's destiny is to become an expanded version of the Holy Roman Empire, ruling over scores of nations, autonomous statelets and ethnic groupings.”

eldiario.es (ES) /

EU denying citizens freedom

Writing in eldiario.es journalist Ekaitz Cancela argues that the EU's shift to the right is fomenting movements like that in Catalonia:

“The third world war is about social divisions, [German sociologist] Wolfgang Streeck posited in a recent essay. ... But our politicians don't care about this dichotomy. The establishment - both the Spanish establishment which embraces nationalism and a statism that is incompatible with the expansion of freedoms, and the European, focused on economic reforms - is trying to blur the fundamental issue: the axis of Europe's political spectrum is moving further and further towards the right-wing pyromaniacs, and shutting out those who see the neoliberal and technocratic European system as an obstacle to all popular demands.”

Yeni Şafak (TR) /

Catalans bid to protect identity is justified

Yeni Şafak examines the struggle for independence in Catalonia and concludes that it is rooted in the long history of the Catalan people:

“This is a people that has had its own language and culture since the tenth century. In the 13th and 15th centuries the Catalans even had their own Mediterranean empire. ... The Catalan identity is not fictitious. For at least a thousand years Catalan society has been organised around its language, there has been territorial continuity and a tradition of regional political democracy and self-administration. Spain must now integrate these centuries of history, the unity of the language, the national consciousness and the experience of self-governance. ... The Catalans deserve this.”

La Repubblica (IT) /

Powerlessness pushing people towards regionalism

The referendums in northern Italy and the Catalan struggle for independence are the result of a contradictory stance towards Europe, political scientist Marc Lazar writes in La Repubblica:

“The regional movements are a sign of discontent with democracy. They take advantage of the general distrust vis-à-vis politicians, the sense of powerlessness that national politics conveys and the impression that Europe is very far away. Consequently they pick up on the people's desire to find a decision-making authority that is closer to them. All these movements have a contradictory relationship to Europe. On the one hand they declare themselves European in the name of an open economy. ... On the other they succumb to the temptation to withdraw into their local realities and particularities.”

Sega (BG) /

Uprising of the rich

Catalonia's independence movement shares some traits with the Bulgarian uprising against the Ottoman Empire at the end of the 19th century, columnist Boyko Lambovski writes in Sega:

“What is the driving force behind separatism? Is it slavery, injustice and the plundering of the local population by the state power? Or is it the 'egotism of the rich', who want to keep everything they've acquired to themselves instead of sharing it with the poorer or 'lazier' regions? ... According to historian Nikolai Genchev, the reason for the Bulgarian April Uprising of 1876 wasn't the repression of the Bulgarian population by the Ottomans but the increased self-confidence of the Bulgarians. It's no coincidence that the towns of Koprivshtitsa, Batak and Panagyurishte, which already had stronger economies, cultures and educational systems, were the loudest in calling for independence.”

Financial Times (GB) /

Don't neglect the economic centres

The cases of Lombardy and Veneto as well as Catalonia show that urban centres wanting to push ahead feel increasingly neglected by politicians, the Financial Times warns:

“There is every prospect of cities demanding more self-rule as relations deteriorate with nations that seem to need and resent them all at once. If conservatives cherish the nation state, they cannot become a one-sided lobby for the angriest provinces. That is an abusive relationship, not a country. The long-run threat to nationhood comes from productive, outward-facing regions that look at their domestic stragglers and feel - to steal a phrase - shackled to a corpse.”

Spiegel Online (DE) /

Regional patriotism is Europe's future

A wave of independence movements could sweep across Europe from Catalonia, columnist Jakob Augstein writes in Spiegel Online:

“It could be that a process is starting in Spain which will one day spread across all Europe: the end of the nation state, the renaissance of the region, the birth of a new Europe. And if that's the case, then so much the better! Nations should live on - but nation states are dying out. We don't need them any more. ... The fact is: the nation state was modern once but now it's old hat. There are hardly any important issues that can still be resolved on the national level. Sovereignty is an illusion for the vast majority of states, and for the states of Europe all the more so.”