Given Europe's complicated history and cultural diversity, the existence of independence-minded groups and regions is understandable. Even so, the sheer number of separatist movements in Europe may surprise you.
Some of these groups have transformed their desire for separation into successful political movements; others are operating at a far lower level. Some are more violent (even building their own tanks, as was the case in Northern Italy) than others (as in Bavaria, where beer seems to be the only weapon which is used).
Despite the differences in methods and goals, here are some of the European regions that may best admire the Scottish bid for independence.
In March, 89 percent of Venetians voted for independence in an online petition which led to the foundation of a party called ‘Veneto Si’. Its aim is to conduct a formal and binding referendum. Earlier this year, more than two dozen people were arrested for attempting to violently split the region from Italy (they had transformed a bulldozer into a makeshift tank).
While other independence movements draw on cultural differences, Venetians cite economic reasons: The north of Italy produces two thirds of Italy’s GDP. Its old-established competitor, the 'Lega Nord,' has voiced similar demands since the 1980s but recently started focusing on more federalism instead of full independence.
The region in the northeast of Spain gained limited autonomy in 1977, following the death of dictator Francisco Franco. But it has dreamed of acquiring full independence ever since, with the movement gathering steam in 2009. Catalonia is Spain’s economic powerhouse and contributes billions of euros to the country’s national revenues annually, much more than the amount it receives from the central government. The region also has its own language and identity.
This November, the Catalonian government plans to hold a referendum on independence, but Madrid has already announced that such a step would violate the Spanish constitution.
Denmark: Faroe Islands
The islands which are about 550 square miles large (land area), belong to Denmark and are self-governed in many respects. The idea of separating completely from Denmark is still popular among the inhabitants of the islands.
This island in the Mediterranean Sea has belonged to France since 1769. Despite separatist tendencies, a referendum on more autonomy failed in 2003. The unsuccessful campaign largely silenced the terror group “Corsican National Liberation Front” which had been active in the previous decades.
Italy: South Tyrol
Before the First World War, South Tyrol belonged to neighboring Austria, but became part of Italy after the conflict's end. "No one seems to have told most of the half-million inhabitants," the Guardian said when describing the region in 2012.
Seventy percent of those living in South Tyrol speak German and feel closer to the Austrian (which speaks German, as well), than the Italian culture. The region is autonomous and has done well economically because of its large agricultural sector and swarms of tourists thanks to its location in the Alps. Voices calling for independence have always existed throughout South Tyrol’s history as an Italian region, but local parties have so far failed to transform this wish into a powerful political movement.
Spain: The Basque region
The autonomous Basque region is mainly located in Spain, but extends into France. While it is hard to define its actual borders, the dream of independence has been particularly prominent within the Spanish part of the region. The Basques face similar challenges as Catalonia in organizing a referendum and are still dealing with their past: The terror group Eta violently fought the central government in Madrid for half a century, but said, in 2011, it would refrain from terror attacks.
Belgium is divided between the Walloons and the Flemish, two communities that do not share a common language. While the Flemish in the northern part of the country speak a local version of Dutch, the southern Walloons speak French (Belgium borders France). The northern part is richer which partially explains the divide within the country and the Flemish demands for independence.
It is hard to imagine Germany without Bavaria (think sauerkraut and lederhosen), but some Bavarians wish for greater autonomy. The federal state already has a special standing by being the only one with a regional party in the German national parliament. Bavaria’s Christian Social Union (CSU) party forms a union with Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union in the German Bundestag, and acts as one voice on a national stage.
The CSU party is not advocating for independence and it is very unlikely that this will change, but surveys show that a minority of Bavarians (more than 20 percent) thought their state would be better off being independent in 2009 – an opinion which was significantly less pronounced among younger Bavarians.
Frankly, we've just scratched the surface. Here are some of the other independence movements in Europe:
Wales, Cornwall, Northern Ireland (The United Kingdom), Galicia, Aragon (Spain), Silesia (Poland), Frisia (Netherlands, Germany), Sardinia (Italy), Brittany, Occitania, Alsace, Savoy (France), and Aaland (Finland)