Face Off: Let Them Be Free!

This article is part of a Face Off series. The opposing article, “When You Try Your Best But You Don’t Secede,” can be found here.

We must internationally recognize the legitimacy of secession movements.

Wake up and smell the independence: it’s secession season. The most notable open secession referendums involve Catalonia, currently a part of Spain; Kurdistan, currently part of Iraq; and Scotland, currently part of the United Kingdom. Palestine has vied for freedom since 1988. The New York Times reports that other regions, including areas surrounding Milan and Venice, Italy, are considering referendums that would give their regions greater autonomy.

As ethnic and economic groups worldwide seek internationally recognized, independent states, it is incumbent upon us to revisit our own history of secession and to support the economic and social interests of these fledgling nations.

Secession from a larger country has long been a part of global history. If the names Republic of Cascadia, Balochistan, or Karen & Shan don’t ring a bell, try these: Norway, Kosovo, Belgium, Panama, and South Sudan. Secessions and independence bids made the latter countries possible, and the names you probably didn’t know come from failed secession attempts. Imagine a world without these countries!

Our existence as a country is predicated on the idea that government exists for the people, and that any government blatantly destructive of the desires of a people should be altered or abolished by them. For the sake of word count, I won’t quote large swaths of the Declaration of Independence here, but please, read paragraph two. It is nothing less than blatant hypocrisy to suggest that secession, for compelling reasons, was not a fundamental right in the eyes of our founders. Should you be inclined to protest something to the effect of “that’s just the U.S., and it’s been messy,” I would direct you to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states in Article 21, Section 3: “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government.” Same idea, hundreds of years later, global application.

Most bids for independence fall under one of two categories, and they’re often intertwined. The first is economic. Although the Catalans are an ethnic group, Al Jazeera reports economists view the Catalan independence referendum as a primarily economic endeavor. Catalonia accounts for about one fifth of the Spanish economy, and holds a significantly lower portion of the country’s national debt than other regions in Spain. Were Catalonia to secede, Spain’s economy might well crumble under the weight of its own debt, which is currently supported by Catalonia. The region, rightly, feels it bears the undue burden of the less-prosperous regions of Spain, with little recompense.

The other category of secession is an ethnic, religious, or social minority seeking freedom from an oppressive majority. Kurdistan, Karen & Shan (in Myanmar), and Palestine primarily fall under this category of secession. Former U.S. President Woodrow Wilson stated, “No people must be forced under sovereignty under which it does not wish to live,” and frankly, it should be as simple as that. Many borders, especially in developing countries, were arbitrarily drawn after the withdrawal of colonial powers, or determined by governments who did not understand the makeup of their people. Historical evaluation shows us that this forced intermingling can be one factor that leads to genocides and ethnic cleansing, as evidenced in Myanmar with the Rohingya, and in Rwanda between the Hutus and Tutsis.

An analysis of the C.I.A. World Fact Book shows that relatively few secession attempts have resulted in fully autonomous states. Independence bids often don’t succeed precisely because we as an international community refuse to recognize the legitimate claims of groups that are socially or economically exploited. We must reconsider our global political stance on independence referendums. Is it better for us to hypocritically stand by in the face of oppression, or speak out in favor of the little guys, the echoes of our own past?

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Sage Smiley

Writer at BYU Political Review
Sage Smiley is an earthy gal from Portland, Oregon. Sage is a double major in journalism and Arabic and minoring in chemistry. She feels passionately about refugees, feminism, and the fact that orcas are still kept in tiny tanks. Sage enjoys long walks through Savers, tea, odd socks, sushi, and witty banter.

Sage Smiley

Sage Smiley is an earthy gal from Portland, Oregon. Sage is a double major in journalism and Arabic and minoring in chemistry. She feels passionately about refugees, feminism, and the fact that orcas are still kept in tiny tanks. Sage enjoys long walks through Savers, tea, odd socks, sushi, and witty banter.

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