Mon, Sep 15, 2014 - Page 9 News List

Separatists draw inspiration from Scottish vote

If Scotland succeeds in negotiating its own membership of the EU, it would suddenly make the prospect of independence seem safer and more attractive elsewhere in Europe

By Katrin Bennhold  /  NY Times News Service, STEENOKKERZEEL, Belgium

Illustration: Yusha

For Kurt Ryon, the mayor of Steenokkerzeel, a Flemish village 16km northeast of Brussels, watching the Scottish independence campaign in the final days before the referendum is like watching a good game of soccer.

“They were losing for the first half and most of the second half, but now we’re in the 85th minute and they could be winning,” Ryon said.

Ryon, who wants his native Flanders to split from Belgium, is rooting for Scotland to do the same from the UK and like a faithful soccer fan he has all the gear — a T-shirt from the Scottish pro-independence “yes” campaign, a collection of “yes” pins on his denim jacket and copious amounts of a beer specially brewed by Flemish nationalists to express their solidarity. The label says “Ja!” next to a Scottish flag, Flemish for yes.

From Catalonia to Kurdistan to Quebec, nationalist and separatist movements in Europe and beyond are watching the Scottish independence referendum closely — sometimes more so than Britons themselves, who seem to have only just woken up to the possibility that Scotland might vote on Thursday to bring to an end a 307-year union.

A curious collection of left and right, rich and poor, marginal and mainstream, these movements are united in the hope that their shared ambition for more self-determination will get a lift from an independent Scotland.

In the separatist-minded Basque Country, an autonomous community in northern Spain, the leader of the governing nationalist party has been known to dress up in a Scottish kilt and jokes that Basques would rather be part of an independent Scotland than remain part of Spain, which has ruled out any kind of vote.

In Veneto, a region of northern Italy, nationalists have held a Scottish-inspired online referendum and now claim that nine in 10 inhabitants want autonomy.

Busloads of Catalans, South Tiroleans, Corsicans, Bretons, Frisians and “Finland-Swedes” are headed for Scotland to witness the vote. Even Bavaria (which calls itself “Europe’s seventh-largest economy”) is sending a delegation.

“It would create a very important precedent,” said Naif Bezwan of Mardin Artuklu University in the Kurdish part of Turkey.

Across the Iraqi border (“the Kurdish-Kurdish border,” as Bezwan puts it), where a confluence of war, oil disputes and political turmoil has renewed the debate about secession, Kurds pine for the opportunity of a Scottish-style breakup.

“Everyone here is watching,” said Hemin Lihony, the Web manager at Rudaw, Kurdistan’s largest news organization, based in Erbil, Iraq.

History offers few examples of nations splitting up in a consensual way. The velvet divorce between the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993 is one, the Norwegian referendum on independence from Sweden in 1905 another, but mostly, nation states go to war over their borders.

The US fought a civil war to preserve the union. Turkey fought Kurdish nationalists for decades and still denies them the right to Kurdish-language education. Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia — a status still not recognized by some countries — only after a war in the 1990s.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who annexed Crimea in March after a stealth invasion and a referendum there, and who has been accused of aggressively aiding separatists in eastern Ukraine, has happily supported Scotland’s independence bid, but his attachment to self-determination is highly selective — in the Russian republics of Chechnya and Dagestan he has deployed savage force to crush Muslim separatists seeking to break from Russia.

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