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Two recent independence referendums — one held in the Iraqi Kurdistan region on September 25 and the other in Spain’s Catalonia on October 1 — resulted in overwhelming victories for “yes” voters calling for secession.
Their future, however, remains in limbo. Both the Iraqi and Spanish governments have strongly opposed moves for independence and refuse to recognize the legitimacy of the Catalan and Kurdish people’s votes.
As Spain and Iraq brace for the coming legal battles over their respective referendums, other independence, or “separatist” movements, continue to unfold around the world.
In fact, dozens of regions are currently calling for greater autonomy or complete independence in Europe alone. Here are some of the world’s biggest (and longest) active independence movements:
Scott Heppell/Associated Press
In 2014, Scots took to the polls to vote in a referendum for independence that would allow Scotland to break away from the United Kingdom.
Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland and leader of the pro-independence Scottish National Party, had proposed a new referendum to be held in 2018 or 2019, but later delayed her plans to introduce legislation calling for a referendum instead.
After the independence referendum in Catalonia on October 1, Sturgeon said the “international community cannot ignore the strength of feeling that was expressed” among the people.
Biafra State in Nigeria
The Biafran secessionist movement in southeastern Nigeria began after leaders in the nation’s south declared Biafra an independent state in the late 1960s.
In 1967, a civil war ensued between pro-independence fighters and the Nigerian government, which refused to recognize an independent Biafra. Separatist leaders withdrew their calls for secession and surrendered three years later.
The movement is not consolidated under one entity, instead driven by the region’s ethnic majority group, the Igbo.
Support for the movement has continued to threaten the central government’s sovereignty in Nigeria’s southeast over the years. Recently, calls for independence have increased.
On October 1, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari spoke out against separatist groups, calling them “highly irresponsible.” “We cannot and we will not allow such advocacy,” he added.
Independence backers allege that the Nigerian army raided the homes of separatist leaders of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), killing around 20 members, Reuters reported.
Nnamdi Kanu, the IPOB leader, has been missing since the alleged raid, threatening “to ignite separatist unrest capable of destabilizing southeastern Nigeria,” according to Reuters.
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After Belgium gained independence from the Netherlands in 1830, tensions grew between the nation’s Dutch-speaking and French-speaking populations. Today’s Flemish independence movement advocates for greater autonomy for Flanders, a Dutch-speaking region in the north.
Differences in language and culture define Belgium’s divisions, but “economic inequality in recent years has widened the divide,” according to Eurasia Group president and geopolitical analyst Ian Bremmer.
Bremmer notes that the per capita GDP of Wallonia, a mainly French-speaking region in southern Belgium, is “only 88% of the EU average” while “Flanders’ GDP per capita is 120% above.”
The region hasn’t held an independence referendum yet.