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Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

States of mind

With Kosovo having just declared independence this weekend, it’s time for a look at some of Europe’s other wannabe countries.

Following Vladimir Putin’s largely fair comments about European double-standards over Kosovan independence, it’s certainly worth looking at other wannabe European countries that the EU could technically recognise, once the precedent’s been set. And if not the EU, why not Russia, just to piss Brussels off?

Some are more economically viable, some less; some are more uniform in their national identity, some more controversial; some are more of a joke. But all, really, have similar claims to independent status as Kosovo – and many are associated with the European Parliament’s European Free Alliance group. There’s a surprisingly large number of aspirant Utopias:

Utopia, the ultimate dream state

Abkhazia – one of the many parts of Georgia that seem to want to split off, this one based around the Abkhaz ethnic group. Already has de facto independence, but no one’s yet recognised this.

Aland – a Finnish archipelago in the Baltic, it’s an autonomous Swedish-speaking province that’s had an odd status ever since Finnish independence (following the Russian Revolution), and effectively already independent, just unrecognised.

Alsace-Lorraine – remember that one from First World War history lessons? It’s still got an odd Franco-German identity, but remains part of France despite calls for independence. (France, it should be noted, is the only member of the EU not to have signed the Council of Europe Framework Convention on National Minorities…)

Aosta Valley – a French and German-speaking part of northern Italy (bordering France and Switzerland) with some political autonomy (it’s one of five autonomous regions within Italy, along with the likes of Sicily) and intermittent calls for greater independence.

Aragon – an autonomous region of northern Spain and the last remnant of the once-powerful medieval kingdom, it has its own small secessionist party, with a slightly larger Aragonese nationalist party calling for greater autonomy that managed a grand 0.4% of the vote in the 2004 Spanish parliamentary elections.

Asturias – another former medieval kingdom and autonomous region within Spain, it has an intermittently active nationalist movement, with declarations of independence in 1808 and 1937. So far, though, not much joy.

Ausonia – otherwise known as Southern Italy. Culturally and economically somewhat distinct, there have been calls for independence. They haven’t got far, though…

The Azores – a tiny Portuguese archipelago in the middle of the Atlantic, they had their very own pro-Independence terrorist movement in the 70s (everywhere seemed to have terrorists in the 70s – today’s lot are useless). Since 1976 it’s been an autonomous region, so most independence calls have died down, but they do resurface occasionally.

The Bailiwick of Guernsey – effectively the Channel Islands (off the coast of Normandy in the English Channel), and effectively independent of the UK, with a similar status to the Isle of Man. The lack of control over foreign relations and defence has, however, led some Channel Islanders to propose full independence. This could also lead to the Bailiwick finally joining the EU.

The Basque Country – Somewhat well-known wannabe state straddling the Franco-Spanish border, based on one of the most tight-knit ethnic groups in Europe.

Bavaria – it may be a free state within Germany, but this one-time hugely influential medieval duchy (and later kingdom) that merged with Germany in 1871 after siding with Austria in the Austro-Prussian War still has residents who want it returned to its former independent glory. Sadly for them, they haven’t managed to get anyone elected since the early 60s…

Britanny – the north-western peninsula of France is a former duchy and kingdom, and one of the Celtic nations. There is an active Breton nationalist movement (that has engaged in some terrorist attacks), and some calls for independence despite the decline in the use of the Breton language post-WWII.

The Canary Islands – still part of Spain, and in constant sea border disputes with Morocco, this tiny archipelago in the Atlantic nonetheless has intermittent spurts of nationalism, and occasional calls for statehood.

Castile – some people in pretty much every part of Spain have had enough and want to break away, largely based on old medieval kingdoms. Castile has three political parties calling for either independence or greater autonomy.

Catalonia – like the Basque Country, Catalonia straddles the Franco-Spanish border. Like the Basque country, there are active calls for independence for this former principality, once a major part of the old kingdom of Aragon. After the Basque nationalists, Catalan nationalism must count as the most popular regional movement in Spain, though it has begun to splinter in recent years.

Cem Romengo – a tiny ethnic Roma state proclaimed in the heart of Romania. They aren’t really seeking independence, but have asked for land rights.

Cornwall – bring back the Stannary Parliament! It may sound a joke, but Cornwall’s constitutional position is decidedly unusual. The Cornish nationalists arguably have a better case than Scotland… (Declaration of interest: I’m a quarter Cornish, and a bit of a closet Cornish nationalist…)

Corsica – ruled by Carthage, Rome, the Vandals, the Byzantines, Arabs, Lombards, Pisans, Genoans and Aragon, the Mediterranean island was sold to France in 1768 (just in time for Napoleon), and briefly occupied by Italy under Mussolini. Despite this major identity crisis, in 2003 a referendum for greater autonomy from France was held, and only narrowly failed.

Crimea – that little Ukrainian peninsula sticking out into the Black Sea where Britain, France, Sardinia and the Ottoman Empire took on Russia back in the 19th century has been trying to recover ever since. Because the Crimean War caused untold disruption to the native Crimean Tatars, who then got even more screwed over by Stalin’s forced evictions and exterminations. What’s left of this ethnic group are now returning (they currently make up just 13% of the population) and are starting to ask for their land back.

The Croatian Republic of Herzog-Bosnia – sadly nothing to do with oddball director Werner Herzog, this is unsurprisingly yet another part of the former Yugoslavia that sometimes wants to go its own way, it’s a Croatian part of Bosnia and Herzegovina that briefly declared independence in the early 90s.

The Faroe Islands – located north of Scotland, and with a football team that often beats Scotland’s to boot, the Faroes have been an autonomous province of Denmark since 1948, but remain only semi-independent.

Flanders – Flemmish-speaking northern Belgium. Remember the long stalemate after the last Belgian elections? That was thanks to the very strong Flemmish/French political split. (Seriously, try asking for something in French while in a Flemmish shop in Brussels – they’ll normally get insulted and answer in English… It’s tense.)

Friuli-Venezia Guilia – another of Italy’s autonomous regions with special statute, this time in the north east, bordering Austria and Slovenia, again its special status has led to some of its 1.2 million inhabitants to dream of statehood.

Frisia – spanning the borders of Denmark and Germany, but mostly within the Netherlands, this one-time Scandinavian kingdom has had an active movement pursuing its independence since the 19th century. The Frisian National Party currently holds one seat (of 75) in the upper house of the Dutch parliament…

Freetown Christiana – effectively an 85-acre commune in the heart of Copenhagen, since 1971 it’s gained some autonomy, and seems to be actively pursuing independence.

Gagauzia – an ethnic Turkish semi-autonomous part of southern Moldova left over from the old Ottoman state of Bessarabia, and merged with what was then Moldavia following the Russo-Turkish war of 1806-12. Having gained greater independence following Moldovan independence from Russia in the 90s, in recent years relations with Transdniester have been causing tensions with the main Moldovan government. Resentment is rising…

Galizia – named after the old Celtic tribe that used to inhabit the area (and considered by some to be a seventh Celtic nation), this is another bit of Spain with a bunch of people who aren’t too chuffed, this time on the Atlantic coast, bordering Portugal – which is no doubt why the Galician language is so close to Portuguese. Since 2005, the Galician Nationalist Bloc has formed part of the ruling coalition in the Galacian Parliament, and also has two seats in the Spanish Congress of Deputies.

Greenland – does Greenland count as part of Europe? Geographically no; ethnically no; culturally yes. It remains a semi-autonomous province of Denmark, much like the Faroe Islands, granted home rule in 1979. It was, however, briefly independent during the Nazi occupation of Denmark and following World War Two, giving a taster. They’re holding a referendum for further independence in November this year.

Illyrida Republic – yet another fairly ethnically-distinct bit of the former Yugoslavia, this time in Macedonia, that wants autonomy. The more extreme Illyridans claim as much as two-thirds of Macedonia should be considered part of their republic – and some seem prepared to fight for it.

Isle of Man – effectively independent anyway, nonetheless the United Kingdom maintains control of Man’s foreign affairs and defence. There have been intermittent calls in this Celtic nation’s Tynwald parliament for a full declaration of independence, recently with some hoping that such a move might finally get Man into the EU.

Isle of Wight – yep, that little island off the coast of Hampshire in the English Channel. In the 70s there was a political party calling for independence, based on the claim that the island’s sale in 1293 (Normandy selling it to England) was illegal.

Istria – a semi-autnomous part of northern Croatia with a decent historical claim to be considered a separate country.

Jura – a French Catholic enclave in northern Switzerland, and former independent state within the Holy Roman Empire, it was granted Canton status in 1979 after two years of trial independence. Having been independent for 800 years, however, don’t be surprised if the 1970s experiment is the last of it.

Kraja – the Albanian name for a tiny region in south eastern Montenegro with a population that’s 98% ethnic Albanian, hence calls for independence. The fact that the area’s population only numbers a couple of thousand is apparently neither here nor there…

Lapland – home to Father Christmas and stretching across the north of Norway, Sweden and Finland, it’s also home to the Sami people, who have their own parliaments, and who have occasional border disputes over reindeer grazing rights that intermittently lead to calls for a proper Sami nation state.

Liguria – another Italian region with occasional dreams of glory, this one’s centred around the city of Genoa, one of the most powerful Renaissance city-states thanks to the wealth brought by its most famous son, Christopher Columbus.

Lombardy – yet another Italian region with hopes for something more, Lomobardy was one of the most powerful regions of the medieval period before becoming (via its capital, Milan) one of the centres of the Renaissance. It’s got a decent claim, in other words.

Maderia – a tiny Portugese island north of the Canaries in the Atlantic, like the Azores it too had its own pro-independence terrorist movement in the 70s, following the 1974 switch from dictatorship to democracy. Since being granted autonomy in 1976, calls for independence have died down, as it’s got de facto independence anyway. And still makes very nice eponymous fortified wine…

Moravia – a region within the Czech Republic that often claims to be ethnically distinct, and has from time to time made noises about going its own way.

Navarre – a former kingdom and current autonomous region of Spain, Navarre is part of the wider Basque Country, but Basque nationalists have occasionally suggested limiting their ambitions for sovereignty to this smaller area.

Northern Cyprus – declared independence in 1983, following the Turkish invasion (itself sparked by a Greek Cypriot coup attempt). So far only recognised by Turkey. Turkish Cypriots voted to reunite with the rest of the island in 2004, but the Greek half – part of the EU, lest we forget – refused, while still not recognising that, erm, Northern Cyprus is independent… Tricky…

Northern Epirius – the ethnic Greek part of Albania, with an active independence movement.

Northern Ireland – ahem… Best for anyone British to avoid this, really. Let’s just say it’s complex and has been going on for several hundred years. (Although I suspect most Brits would be glad to be shot of the place…)

Occitania – a linguistic region spreading across much of southern France, as well as northern Spain and Italy, with c.15 million inhabitants (though only 610,000 native speakers). The local independence movements may have little support, but have been going for a century.

Padania – otherwise known as northern Italy, this proposed state has gained increasing popularity since the 90s. Let’s face it, with the current state of the Italian economy and Italy’s apparent inability to form a stable government ever since the fall of Mussolini, who can blame them for wanting to cut ties with the less wealthy south? Italy’s only been unified since 1861, after all…

Pais Lliones – yet another part of northwestern Spain with delusions of grandeur, again largely based on the former glories of the region during the medieval period, when the kingdom of Leon was quite the regional bigwig.

Piedmont – after a while it looks like every part of Italy wants independence. Another northern Italian region, bordering France and with Turin as its capital, it has its own local language and some calls to break away from Italy, despite having been one of the main regions from which a united Italy came to exist in the first place.

The Republic of Serbian Krajina – yet another part of the Balkans that’s often tried to go its own way, this one’s an ethnic Serb region within Croatia that declared independence in 1991.

Republika Srpska – see The Croatian Republic of Herzog-Bosnia

Romandie – the French-speaking part of western Switzerland. There have been occasional calls for the region to break away – sometimes to join France, sometimes as an independent state. Not much success just yet, though…

Sandzak – straddling the border of Serbia and Montenegro, this is one of the few areas of the former Yugoslavia it seems no one wants, as the majority of its population is moving away. Nonetheless, there is (as in every part of the Balkans, it seems) a small group calling for this tiny, economically depressed region to become a state.

Sardinia – it’s a decent-sized island in the Med, with its own language, distinct culture, and even its own native ethnic group, so little wonder that some Sardinians aren’t happy with merely having autonomous status as part of Italy. Even so, its three pro-independence parties rarely manage to get much more than 2% of the vote.

Savoy – there are active calls for the revival of this former major medieval county (then duchy), which straddles the Franco-Italian border and retained much independence until 1714.

Scotland – with the Scottish National Party now in charge in Edinburgh’s devolve parliament, you can’t but think that they’re the closest they’ve been since the Act of Union in 1707…

Sicily – hardly a surprise, eh? Once one to the most powerful medieval kingdoms and still with a very distinct character, it has nine active political parties seeking either independence or even greater autonomy (though between them they only managed 15% of the vote in the 2006 Sicilian elections).

Silesia – one of the richest, most industrialised parts of Poland (with some parts still in Germany and the Czech Republic), this multilingual, multiethnic region has been fought over for centuries, before being siezed by the Red Army and given to Poland after the Second World War. Since the collapse of communism, there has been a small movement calling for greater autonomy/independence.

Skaneland – an historic land now part of both Sweden and Denmark, with active movements for greater regional autonomy and some minor calls for independence.

South Ossetia – another bit of Georgia that wants to go its own way, based on the Ossetian ethnic group. Has de facto independence since the creation of the Provisional Administrative Entity of South Ossetia in April last year – still not recognised by anyone though.

Szekler Land – slap-bang in the middle of Romania, this is a Hungarian-dominated region left over from the old Principality of Transylvania. As with most areas with a high level of ethnic coherence in eastern Europe, there have been calls for both greater autonomy and independence since the collapse of communism, but without much success.

Transdniester – a twisting sliver of land in a river valley wedged between Moldova and Ukraine seemingly frozen as part of the late 80s USSR, legally part of Moldova but de facto independent since the fall of the Soviet Union, it remains unrecognised by anyone (though Russia has hinted it may acknowledge it in the past).

Tyrol – now more often referred to as Trentino-Alto Adige yet another part of northern Italy with occasional seperatist thoughts, this bit used to be part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and maintains many ties with Austria – even to the level of the EU, where it is recognised as part of a cross-border Euroregion.

Venice – come on, the Republic of Venice was once one of the most powerful states in the world. Little wonder there’s a very strong pro-independence/autonomy movement, eh?

Vojvodina – another wannabe-breakaway part of Serbia, this time in the north, and an autonomous province since 1991. This autonomous status is due to be redrawn fairly shortly, so a fight could be on the cards…

Wales – it’s easy to laugh at Wales and Welsh nationalists (not least because until the English conquest Wales as a geographical entity didn’t exist, instead being just a collection of belligerent minor principalities), but they’ve now got their own parliament for the first time in their history. Who knows what might happen if Scotland goes its own way? Precedents are everything…

…and as this list has included 65 potential European states (and this is leaving out the various European parts of Russia, like Chechnya and Dagestan, that have been pursuing independence, not to mention the countless micronations scattered around the shop), the precedent of Kosovo could cause all kinds of fun.

11 Comments

  1. Don’t forget the Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire!

  2. I would imagine that Transdniester is the most credible candidate. But remember that Kosovo’s (possible weekend) independence has been a long time coming – since 1999. The question has been Serbia’s attitude.

  3. Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Isle of Man, Cornwall…but no England? The one constituent nation of the UK that apparently doesn’t merit its own devolved power?

    Mind you, at least all the separate city states, territories, margraviates etc of the Holy Roman Empire aren’t declaring independence. If that happened, the UN General Assembly would have to meet in Wembley Stadium.

  4. ED – no England largely because although there are various campaigns for an English parliament to allow England a similar degree of direct self-governance to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as far as I’m aware none of them are suggesting that England declare unilateral independence from the United Kingdom.

    If Scotland splits off (moderately likely) and Wales follows (less so), England will have had independence thrust upon her anyway – and this is by far the most likely scenario, I reckon – but I’m not sure independence because everyone else has left you on your own quite counts.

  5. Geoff — the most credible candidates are surely (1) Flanders (strong economy, very rich history, strong position politically, own language), (2) Catalonia (strong economy, own language, international recognition), and (3) Padania northern Italy (strong economy, stabler politics). If any of these three make the jump, the others are likely to follow soon after.

  6. Cantabria is not Basque and not part of the Basque country. It has its own romance language and contributed heavily to the development of Castilian.

  7. Hektor – you’re right, of course. Not sure where I got that from… The dangers of long posts, I guess… Edited out now. Ta!

  8. Do the Jersey-ites not want to join their Guernsey-ite neighbours in independence?

  9. That’s what I thought at first. But then I remembered that during the Nazi occupation of the Channel Islands, though most of the others at least evacuated their children when invasion looked certain (Alderney evacuating the entire population), Jersey’s entire population was quite happy to stay. Perhaps they just like having someone else in charge?

    (Before I get swamped by irate Jerseyites: yes, I know that there was a Jersey resistance, and that 300 islanders ended up in the concentration camps for defying the occupation. I’m being facetious.)

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