“It would create a very important precedent,” said Naif Bezwan of Mardin Artuklu University in the Kurdish part of Turkey
From Kurdistan to Texas, Scots Spur Separatists
STEENOKKERZEEL, Belgium – For Kurt Ryon, the mayor of Steenokkerzeel, a Flemish village 10 miles northeast of Brussels, watching the Scottish independence campaign in the final days before the referendum is like watching a good soccer match. “They were losing for the first half and most of the second half,” he said, “but now we’re in the 85th minute and they could be winning.”
Mr. Ryon, who wants his native Flanders to split from Belgium, is rooting for Scotland to do the same from Britain, 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.
A sign in Selkirk, Scotland, advocates voting against independence. David Cameron, prime minister of Britain, said such a break would leave him “heartbroken.”Rival British Leaders Campaign in Unity Against Independence for ScotlandSEPT. 10, 2014
Hundreds of thousands of people crowded into central Barcelona on Thursday at a rally on Catalonia’s National Day.With Eye on Scotland, Catalonia Hails Its Secession BidSEPT. 11, 2014
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 next 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 Basque Country, an autonomous community in northern Spain, the leader of the governing nationalist party has been known to dress up in a 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 Mr. 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 Czechs and the Slovaks 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 United States 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 only after a war in the 1990s.
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President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, who annexed Crimea 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 selective: In the Russian republics of Chechnya and Dagestan, he has deployed savage force to crush Muslim separatists.
In some cases, the referendum in Scotland is fueling new hopes, however improbable, among separatist fringe groups. When the president of the Texas Nationalist Movement, Daniel Miller, was invited to the University of Stirling in Scotland this year, he said the Scots were paving the way for an independent Texas. In others, the vote is re-energizing debates with considerable geopolitical importance.
In Taiwan, which China claims as part of its territory even though Taiwan is effectively independent with its own currency, military and democratically elected government, some hope a Scottish “yes” vote could prompt a more careful deliberation over the island’s future.
Wang Dan, a student leader in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, wrote in a recent column for Taiwan’s Apple Daily, “If the Scottish vote succeeds, it will be worth considering by those who advocate deciding Taiwan’s status through a referendum.”
But it is in Europe that a Scottish “yes” vote would probably create the largest ripples.
It would be the first time that a member of the European Union faces secession by a region eager to become a member in its own right. If Scotland succeeds in negotiating its own membership in the bloc, it would suddenly make the prospect of independence seem safer and more attractive elsewhere in Europe, said George Robertson, a former secretary general of NATO.
“There is a serious risk of a domino effect,” said Mr. Robertson, himself a Scot and an opponent of independence. A “yes” vote, he warned, could trigger “the Balkanization of Europe.”
Nationalists, however, say that a bit of Balkanization may be just what Europe needs.
In the slightly dilapidated Brussels office of the European Free Alliance, which groups together 40 parties representing Europe’s “stateless nations,” a busy map shows what Europe would look like if they all became independent. François Alfonsi, the president of the alliance and a proud Corsican, admits that it would be messy, but “democracy is messy and democracy is what Europe needs.”
National self-determination, he said, “is about bringing policies closer to the people.”
Across town, Mark Demesmaeker, a Flemish member of the European Parliament who has decorated his office with a Scottish flag and keeps a copy of the Scottish white paper on independence on his desk, speaks of “failed nation states.”
In his view, Britain has failed to give the Scots and Welsh proper representation in Parliament, and Spain has failed to deliver democracy to Catalans and Basques eager to have their own independence vote. Other nations, like France and Italy, have been mired in political and economic stagnation. Mr. Demesmaeker’s own country, Belgium, cannot even form a government. (Belgium had elections in May and is still deep in coalition talks; the last time it took 541 days.)
Pro-European national movements like his own, the New Flemish Alliance – now the biggest party not just in Flanders but in all of Belgium – are the best antidote to the far-right, anti-European and anti-immigrant nationalist movements that did so well in European elections earlier this year, he said.
“If Scotland votes ‘yes,’ it will be an eye-opener for many people on the street,” Mr. Demesmaeker said. “Most people think it’s our fate to be part of Belgium. But Flanders could be a prosperous nation. It’s a democratic evolution that is going on in different states of the European Union. Eventually we want Flanders to take its place in the E.U.”
If plenty of nationalists have pledged their solidarity with Scotland, the reverse has been less true. The Scottish referendum takes place just days before the regional government of Catalonia is expected to confirm that it will hold an independence vote of its own on Nov. 9, which would override legal and political objections from Madrid.
Alfred Bosch, a Catalan lawmaker, said his counterparts in Scotland had shown little interest in being associated with events in Catalonia.
The Scots “probably want to distance themselves from anything that they see as not as ripe and as mature as their own process,” Mr. Bosch said. “They don’t want to create any hostility from Spain or other countries that might also have pro-independence movements,” not least because those governments will have to recognize an independent Scotland and consider whether to allow it into the European Union.
Whatever the outcome of the referendum, many nationalists say Scotland has already won.
“They have the opportunity to decide their own future,” said Andoni Ortuzar, the president of the governing Basque Nationalist Party, who wore a kilt in the 2012 carnival to celebrate the announcement of a Scottish referendum that year. “That’s what national self-determination is,” he said. “That’s all we ask.”
Azam Ahmed contributed reporting from Erbil, Iraq; Raphael Minder from Madrid; and Austin Ramzy from Taipei, Taiwan
Mark Demesmaeker, a Flemish member of the European Parliament, has decorated his office with a Scottish flag and keeps a copy of the Scottish white paper on independence on his desk. Credit Colin Delfosse for The New York Times