So: who are the hottest separatists, living or dead? Today I’ll offer my list of the twenty-one (21) sexiest separatists, secessionists, and anti-colonial rebels, both male and female (including one transgender person)—and no, none of them are from the Philippines’ Moro Islamic Liberation Front (a.k.a. MILF).
[Related article: “The Babes of the New Russian Empire: Putin Serves Up Neo-Soviet Imperialism with a Slathering of Cheesecake”]
It’s so hard to choose one—or even the top five—sexiest separatist, so don’t take this list as a firm—ahem—ranking. But I have attempted to cluster the very hottest of them near the bottom (low-numbered) part of the list. And I do think my choice for no. 1 is probably the hottest.
And why 21? Because I already had a list of 20, and then remembered la Tigresa, that’s why ...
Tell me which of these you think is the hottest. I’ll follow up with the results—and maybe even narrow it down to twelve for a published calendar (with maps and flags, of course).
Here we go with the list:
21. Queen Zenobia of Palmyra (Syria, Egypt)
Don’t worry: we’ll get to more recent ones, with photos of the actual people, but first let’s start in antiquity. Xena the Warrior Princess, eat your heart out. Zenobia—a direct descendant of Cleopatra and of Dido (of Aeneid fame)—was Queen of Palmyra (today’s Syria) in the third century A.D., taking over from her assassinated husband and son. She almost single-handedly chased the Roman Empire out of Syria and of Egypt as well and was a major force in returning the Levant to local rule during this period. She is the subject of five different operas (hence the image above), and even makes an appearance in Chaucer’s Monk’s Tale. And if that isn’t sexy, I don’t know what is.
20. Queen Nzingha of Ndongo and Matamba (Angola)
Also known by her Portuguese name Ana de Sousa Nzingha Mbande after her conversion to Christianity, Anne Zingha, as she was known to Europeans, was a seventeenth-century African queen of the Mbundu nation in what is now Angola. She was instrumental in resisting colonialism and slavery by the Kingdom of Portugal, partly by allying herself with the Dutch. She has become famous in the West through the writings of the Marquis de Sade, who spins probably apocryphal stories about her in Philosophy in the Bedroom. The good Marquis reports that she amassed a large harem and used to pit her captive catamites—some of them in drag—against each other in battle-royals in order to see who would spend the night with her. Then, after a night of vigorous screwing, each lover was, in the morning, put to death. Now that’s using your imagination. By contrast, all Imelda Marcos could think of with her unlimited wealth and power was buying up a big pile of shoes.
19. Sean Connery (Scotland)
Who’s that Scotsman with the bedroom eyes? Why, it’s actor Sean Connery, one of the most outspoken celebrity supporters of Scotland’s separatist Scottish National Party (S.N.P.)—though United Kingdom law prevents him from donating funds to the S.N.P. while living abroad. He currently lives in self-imposed exile in the Bahamas and says he will not return to the U.K. until Scotland is its own country. Yeah, sure, Connery played the heroic über-English secret agent James Bond—but, wait, or did he? Actually, Bond was English, until Connery gave a distinctly Scottish demeanor and accent to the character in Dr. No, inspiring Ian Fleming to adjust subsequent novels to flesh out 007’s Scots–Swiss ancestry. And good thing too: it was a way for the mostly-English Fleming to honor his Scottish grandfather. Take that, Your Majesty!
18. Belle Boyd (Confederate States of America)
This Southern belle knew how to use sex as a weapon! Born in a part of Virginia now (ironically) part of West Virginia, Belle Boyd was only 17 in 1861 when Union soldiers tore down the Confederate flag flying at her family’s estate, and when one of them spoke rudely to her protesting mother, she shot him. She used her feminine charms to escape a death sentence—a reliable strategy over the many times she was brought before the law in her life. When Union soldiers were posted around her house, she offered herself to one of them, extracted military strategy from him during pillow talk, then sent her slave to a Confederate commander with the information stuffed into a hollowed-out watch case. Soon Robert E. Lee employed her as a full-blown secret agent, and the “honey trap”—seducing information out of enemy soldiers—was her specialty. I know, she looks kinda horsey—okay, okay, really horsey. But you have to admit: girl knew how to work it!
16. María Lapiedra (Catalonia)
The movement for independence in Spain’s coastal region of Catalonia has always been good-natured, with an appetite for the absurd. After all, this is the part of the world that gave us Salvador Dalí. So no one should have been surprised when, in 2010, Joan Laporta i Estruch, the former head of Barcelona’s football club (a very emotional symbol for Catalan separatists) repurposed himself as a leader in Catalan’s struggle for independence and hired the famous porn-star María Lapiedra as spokeswoman and activist for the cause. Lapiedra has added color to Catalan separatist rallies by stripping down while painted in the colors of the Catalan flag.
15. Björk (Faroes, Greenland, Tibet, etc.)
Yes, Björk, the international singing sensation, is Icelandic, and yes, Iceland has been independent for, oh, about a thousand years now. But that’s not enough for this Arctic pixie! She has become an activist for granting independence to Greenland and the Faroe Islands, and has raised the profile of Faroese nationalism with her 2008 hit song “Declare Independence.” But her activism extends well below the Arctic Circle as well. She caused a political ruckus when she shouted, “Tibet! Tibet!” after performing that song in China, and the government of Serbia, knowing her support for Kosovo’s independence, barred her from performing.
14. Emilia Plater (Poland, Lithuania)
Emilia Plater, a Polish countess, spent her childhood was spent, after her parents’ divorce, with well-heeled relatives in Vilnius during the period when the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth was being dismembered (“partitioned”) and devoured by the Hapsburgs, the Prussians, and, mostly, the Russian Empire. In 1829, while still in her twenties, Emilia cut her hair short, dressed in a cadet’s outfit—you can see why she is called the Polish Joan of Arc—and organized volunteers into a small standing army of hundreds of infantrymen and cavalry from the countryside in what is now Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland to take on the Czar almost single-handedly. Not only did she make no apologies for wearing a man’s uniform, but she famously said she would never take it off until Poland was fully liberated. She did indeed die before liberating her people from Russian rule, perishing from illness at the age of 25, but she remains one of the most enduring heroes of the Polish people. Plus, that uniform she wouldn’t take off? It looked totally hot on her.
13. Akhmed Zakayev (Chechnya)
We tend to think of Muslim separatist militants as swivel-eyed, foam-flecked roustabouts with bad breath and five-o’clock shadows, but don’t tell that to Akhmed Zakayev, president of the government-in-exile of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. A veteran of the First Chechen War against Russia and a religious moderate—far more moderate than the Moscow-appointed autocrat actually running the Chechen Republic today, Ramzan Kadyrov—Zakayev got his start as an actor, and some call him the Chechen Laurence Olivier (it being unclear how much competition there ever was for that distinction). He certainly cuts the figure. He runs his government-in-exile from London, wears elegantly tailored suits, and is often seen attending gala events as consort to stars like Vanessa Redgrave. Recently (as reported in this blog), MI-5 has warned Zakayev of a Russian plot to assassinate him. For those who like their dapper Dans in a bit of a Svengali mode, let’s hope handsome Akhmed checks the underside of his car before heading out for an evening on the town. Vanessa needs him for arm candy, and London night life wouldn’t be the same without him.
12. Laskarina Bouboulina (Greece)
If Helen of Troy had the face that launched a thousand ships, then saucy little Laskarina Bouboulina did her one better: she piloted them!—and helped make Greece the independent country it is today. A member of Greece’s Arvanite (Albanian-speaking) minority, Laskarina was born in 1771 in a prison in Constantinople, where her whole family was jailed for her father’s role in an uprising against the Ottoman Empire. Later, Laskarina married a wealthy ship owner, Dimitrios Bouboulis, who was shortly after killed by Algerian pirates. Ottoman authorities attempted to confiscate her late husband’s wealth, including a shipping fleet featuring the warship Agamemnon. So she put herself under the protection of the Russians—at the time waging the Turko-Russian War—who whisked her away to the Crimea to train her in naval tactics. After Russia’s victory, Laskarina joined the Greek underground and led the Agamemnon into several battles, helping Greece win its independence in 1822—when she was 50 years old. She was killed in a family blood feud a few years later in her native Aegean Islands, and after death the Russian Empire made her an honorary admiral. Whatever her rank, I’d swab her decks any old time!
11. Northstar (Quebec)
Born in Quebec as Jean-Paul Beaubier, this hunky Canuck was orphaned in a car wreck at an early age and, being a mutant, began soon after to manifest superpowers such as flight, super-speed, and “light manipulation.” As an idealistic young man in the late 1960s, he used those powers on behalf of the Front de libération de Québec, which waged battle to separate Quebec from Canada, but he soon grew disenchanted with their violent tactics. As an adult, he joined the Canadian super-team Alpha Flight with the codename Northstar, and later the X-Men. Now, if some of you ladies out there are thinking you’d like to take a bite from some of this north-of-the-border beefcake, I hope you’re sitting down because Jean-Paul likes boys a lot more than girls. And if some of you guys are now interested, sorry to disappoint again, but come June he will tie the knot with his boyfriend Kyle in Astonishing X-Men #51—Marvel Comics’ first gay marriage. Homo superior indeed!
10. Renzo Bossi (Padania)
At only 23 years old, sexy Italian Renzo Bossi looks if anything even younger. One of the four sons of the dashing and flamboyant Umberto Bossi, who founded the Lega Nord (Northern League) to try to hive off northern Italy as its own country called Padania, young Renzo has followed in his father’s footsteps as a nepotistically privileged politico. Most recently, he had the Lega Nord’s shadow government’s “minister for sport”–type portfolio. Sure, he can be a bit of a rascal sometimes—he got in hot water for publishing an online game that involved using a long pole to push rafts of emaciated African refugees away from the Italian coastline—but, be honest: when you have your fantasies of backpacking through Lombardy, meeting a tousle-haired teen at the youth hostel, and having a summer fling—he looks a lot like Renzo, doesn’t he? I thought so.
9. Comandante Ramona (Chiapas)
One of the key figures in the Zapatista indigenous uprising in Chiapas, southern Mexico, in the 1990s, little is known about Comandante Ramona other than that she was Mayan and that she died of cancer in January 2006. But we know a few other things, because a ski mask and a form-fitting Pancho Villa–style bandolier can’t hide a smokin’-hot chassis. Since she was never publicly unmasked, we can only fantasize. On the other hand, depending on what your fantasies tend to be like, the mask might fit right in.
8. Richard Gere (Tibet)
Those of you who swooned over Hollywood hunk Richard Gere in films like An Officer and a Gentleman, Pretty Woman, and Chicago may not realize he has a second life as an activist for Tibetan independence. Chairman of the board of directors for the International Campaign for Tibet and co-founder of Tibet House, Gere has even met and meditated with the Dalai Lama. He also gained notoriety in 2007 when, at an AIDS-awareness rally in India, he gave Bollywood bombshell Shilpa Shetty a hug and a peck on the cheek, resulting in him being almost banned from India, a puritanical country where P.D.A. is apparently a B.F.D. In public or in private, there are plenty of gals who wouldn’t mind spinning his prayer wheel!
7. Idoia López Riaño, a.k.a. La Tigresa (Basque Country)
Idoia López Riaño is better known in Spain as “la Tigresa.” This “green-eyed femme fatale,” as the press tends to call her, was in the 1980s one of the most notorious members of Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (E.T.A., or “Basque Homeland and Freedom”), the rebel militia seeking independence of the Basque Country from Spain (and, less optimistically, from France), which formally laid down its arms last year. Nicknamed la Tigresa (“the Tigress”) for her unearthly beauty, she used that beauty as a weapon. Her favored tactic was seducing policemen—even including, opportunistically enough, one who helped her change a genuinely flat tire—and then extracting from them information that could be used in later terrorist attacks. Some of her handiwork included a 1986 bombing in a public square in Madrid that killed 12 Civil Guardsmen, as well as numerous other shootings and bombings of police and the attempted assassination of a judge. She was arrested in 1994 and ultimately, in 2003, sentenced to 1,500 years in prison (though her defense attorneys are optimistic that she can get the sentence cut in half for good behavior). Now 49 years old, she has been cut from the membership rolls of the (still militant) command of E.T.A. after formally renouncing violence. For the rest of us, we’re counting the days till the spring of 3503 A.D., when we hope we can help la Tigresa change the tires on her levitation pod. Rowr!
6. Véronique Renard (Tibet)
Is Véronique a man, a woman, or an eye-popping tulpa who materialized on this plane of existence to charm our socks off? She may be (or has been) all three! Born as a boy in 1965 in the Netherlands to Dutch parents, Renard underwent gender-assignment surgery at the age of 17 and changed her name to Véronique Françoise Caroline Renard, though she also uses the name given her in Tibet, Pantau. She has written several books on Tibetan Buddhism, her travels in India, and her gender transition. She is a prominent supporter of human rights and of Tibetan independence and founded the Pantau Foundation, which helps Tibetan refugee children in India. You go, girl!
5. Dashni Murad (Kurdistan)
At the tender age of 25, Dashni Murad is sometimes called “the Kurdish Shakira.” Born in northern Iraq, she is the most popular pop singer that Kurdistan has yet produced. Her family moved to the Netherlands when she was a child, but she has mostly made her fame in her home region, not just among her dispersed and disenfranchised people, of whom she is a fierce advocate, but in the Arab world as well—though some folks are a little put off by her suggestive dance moves. She even once hosted a Middle Eastern talk-show. Her most famous album, recorded in 2010, is called Hom Shika Wawa. Our sentiments exactly!
4. Aline Sitoe Diatta (Senegal)
Often called the Joan of Arc of Senegal, Aline Sitoe Diatta was a member of the Jola (a.k.a. Diola) royal family in southern Senegal’s Casamance region in the 1940s, when she led a boycott against the French colonists, who were overtaxing Senegalese farmers to help their own war effort. The French imprisoned her—focusing on her mainly because she was popularly believed to have magical powers—and then exiled her to Timbuktu, Mali, where she died. (Ironically, both Casamance and Timbuktu are regions experiencing their own separatist uprisings today.) Not only was she hot but serious style points for the bare breasts and the pipe. It works. That’s a look that needs to come back in fashion. I know, right?
3. Salvatore Giuliano (Sicily)
Mama mía! That’s-a some Italiana beefcake-a! Salvatore Giuliano is one of the icons of Sicily’s separatist movement, and also had a legendary reputation as a sort of Robin-Hood-type bandit in the spirit of i Beati Paoli, the vigilantes on behalf of the poor who are thought to have been the rather more benevolent precursors to the Mafia. Sicily became the first part of Italy to break free of Benito Mussolini when the Americans liberated it on their way to Rome during the Second World War, and those G.I.s were greeted not just as liberators but practically as demi-gods, partly because of the positive image (as Sicilians saw it) of their beloved Mafia in American gangster movies. These cultural affinities helped make Giuliano—who once also proposed making Sicily the 49th state of the United States—a folk hero in America. Sicilian independence became a popular cause among many Italian-Americans (including our own Mafia), and Time magazine ran a piece on Giuliano in 1950, featuring this mouth-watering photo. Rumble, rumble—I think Etna is erupting!
2. Eva Wahlström (Valtio)
Number two now ... Eva Wahlström is the most famous female boxer in Finland, perhaps the most famous female boxer in all of Scandinavia, and also a star of Finnish reality T.V. But did you also know that this muscle-bound femme fatale is the Minister of Defense for the Kingdom of Valtio, a two-square-mile patch of remote Finland’s remote Lapland region which seceded from the Republic of Finland in 2006? Not only that, but she actually constitutes the entire armed forces of the minuscule monarchy. Valtio has applied unsuccessfully for membership in the European Union and, more crucially, the right to send talent to the Eurovision Song Contest, without success. We’ve got half a mind to invade Valtio ourselves, just so we can meet its armed forces head-on—hubba hubba!
1. Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam, a.k.a. “M.I.A.” (Tamil Eelam)
And now here’s number one—the Sexiest Separatist in the World. Her name is Maya Arulpragasam, but this Sri Lankan sex kitten goes by the name M.I.A. in her career as a pop singer, electronic-dance-music producer, painter, filmmaker, and conceptual artist—and as advocate for her homeland, the Tamil region of northern Sri Lanka. She was born in Hounslow, Middlesex, England, but her Sri Lankan father, Arul Pragasam, had been a founding member of the Eelam Revolutionary Organization of Students, a radical group fighting, like the Tamil Tigers, for an independent state, to be called Tamil Eelam, in the north of Sri Lanka. Her albums are very political, covering themes such as what she calls the Sri Lankan genocide of the Tamil people, the Palestinian cause, and police brutality against African-Americans—one such instance of which she happened to videotape from a Brooklyn window while on tour, posting it on YouTube and causing a public outcry. The incendiary lyrics in her first album put her on a United States immigration watch list, though she now divides her time between London and Los Angeles. The Village Voice calls her political activism on behalf of Sri Lanka’s Tamils “the most admirable thing going on in pop music today.” But not all her songs are political. Her hit tune “Let Me Hump You” features the lyrics, “Let me hump you, let me hump you, baby, from the back—and I’ma bang it like this.” If you insist, Maya, if you insist!
So, do you agree with my rankings? Or do you have other suggestions? I realize I could have included William Butler Yeats’s Irish revolutionary muse Maude Gonne ...
... or the secessionist Republic of South Sudan’s charismatic president, Salva Kiir, whose cowboy hat makes him one of the most distinctively stylish heads of state today (and he looks nice and tall even when he’s not standing next to Hu Jintao!) ...
Let me know what you think.
[You can read more about these and many other separatist and new-nation movements, both famous and obscure, in my new book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas just published by Litwin Books under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements and Aspirant Nations, from Abkhazia to Zanzibar. The book, which contains 46 maps and 554 flags (or, more accurately, 554 flag images), is available for order now on Amazon. Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even if you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook and see this interview for more information on the book.]