Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Independence Movements

Independence is in the news again with Palestine's determination to ask the UN for their own country. Recently, a few new countries have gained independence, including East Timor and South Sudan. And many years ago, but in the British Empire, the present day USA fought for its independence and won, Haiti gained its independence from France, India and Ireland from Britain, and Northern Ireland from Ireland.

The fact is, all over the world there are groups seeking independence from their governments. In Canada, you have a movement in Quebec and maybe Alberta. In the USA, Texans, in Spain, the Basques, In Turkey, the Kurds.

Back in 1948, the Jews gained their independence from Palestine with an act of the United Nations. This was not officially called "independence" since most of the Jews (at that time) did not live in Palestine in the first place, but migrated to the new independent Jewish part of Palestine (called Israel) from other parts of the world.

In 1990, the black people of South Africa, while they did not gain independence, they did gain control of the country in a mostly peaceful takeover. This is one possible the result of an independence movement where the geographic area is not clearly known, and the subject population is an overwhelming majority anyway.

Palestine is now also seeking its independence, after having been conquered by Israel back in 1967.

Why do some independence movements eventually succeed in one way or another, while others fizzle out or just simmer for decades or centuries?

I think one of the long standing simmering independence movements is that of the French in Canada, (now the province of Quebec) going on since the seventeen hundreds. That is an example of not gaining independence (so far anyway), as opposed to East Timor or South Sudan as an example of achieving independence.

The major impetus behind independence is basically the will of the people, and so it sort of comes down to how well the people who want independence are treated by the national government. But there are some other contributing factors.

1. The number of people has to be significant although I can't give a fixed minimum number. Obviously the more the better.
2. The geographic area should be fairly easy to identify.
3. The people who want independence have significant cultural, racial, religious, or linguistic differences to the majority in the country. And this results in some forms of mistreatment at the hands of the existing governing authorities.

Some of the symptoms to look for include violent suppression of a distinct ethnic group by the government using the full force of the military. Another sign of trouble brewing is any overt racial discrimination against the minority, especially disallowing the right to vote or representation in the government, or preventing the free movement of the target group within the country, or to leave or enter the country.

Finally, the resulting new country needs to have some chance of succeeding economically after independence. This generally means that the fight for independence should not destroy the country entirely, and the boundaries of the new country need to be reasonable - not entirely inside the old country, and not too fragmented.

If you take South Sudan, many signs of a struggle for independence were present. The government had a policy of bombing villages in the south to displace the natives. The Southern Sudanese were a difference race, language, and religion from the northern government. There was a fairly overwhelming will of the southern people to separate from the North. In addition, there was oil in the south, and after independence those oil revenues would theoretically stay in South Sudan to help the country become a viable entity.

On the other hand, in Canada and Quebec, the French speaking people are generally well accepted in the rest of the country. They have representation in the federal government. They also have representation in the armed forces and the police. And they have considerable independence already inside the federal system, where they are a province with their own local government. As a result the desire for independence has been reduced over the years to the point where its likely that under half the population of Quebec would support it.

On the other hand, Palestinians have had a rough time with their Israeli masters. They are denied travel permits, they can't vote in Israel's elections, can't import or export goods, can't fish in the ocean. Their homes are demolished and their land has been taken by the Israeli government. They have been bombed and invaded several times. They cannot serve in the military or even buy land most of the time. But until recently they have not been thinking of independence, they have been thinking of taking over Israel. Now it seems like an ever larger number of Palestinians have given up on this goal and would be satisfied with having their own country.

The final step, independence, usually results in a lot of violence and wanton destruction as the occupying forces leave. This happened in East Timor and South Sudan. By comparison, the British left America quite peacefully. But Israel has threatened retaliation in various forms if the Palestinians present a formal request for independence at the United Nations.

Picture: I photoshopped the flag to represent any country wanting independence, not just the USA.

1 comment:

  1. Long past time for Palestine to be recognized as an independent state - and on the basis of the 1967 borders.

    This prospect, of course, does not sit well with Israeli decision-makers (and, especially, with the settlement factions). However, it is now clear that Israel has bargined in bad faith over the decades.