Thursday, August 22, 2013

Ban Ki-Moon, in Andorra, Breaks U.N. Silence on Catalonia, Scotland; Says Processes Must Respect People’s Will

Andorra’s prime minister, Antoni Martí, appearing in Andorra this week with the U.N. secretary general, Ban Ki-Moon, and their respective flags.
Ban Ki-Moon, secretary general of the United Nations (U.N.), broke his silence on Europe’s two looming independence referenda—in Spain’s Catalonia region and in Scotland—stating that any secessions must be peacefully negotiated.  But he also added that the will of the people should be respected.  The United Kingdom is committed to allowing Scotland to form a new state if its referendum next year shows a majority want it, but Ban’s comments can be interpreted as a rebuke to the Spanish government, which has repeatedly said that Catalonia is forbidden from holding a referendum and that its results, if held, would have no legal force.  The Catalan government is also planning an independence referendum for 2014.

Ban’s comments came during an official state visit to the Principality of Andorra, a mountainous city-state along the border between Spain and France.  The official language of Andorra is Catalan, though it is only spoken by 39% of its 85,000 or so residents.  Another 35% speak (other) varieties of Spanish. The heartland of the Catalan nation is the Autonomous Community of Catalonia, Spain’s northeasternmost region, where Catalan is a co-official language, but a minority also speaks it in southeastern France, where the central government refuses to grant any minority languages any kind of official status.  Andorra joined the U.N. only in 1993, becoming the world body’s third-smallest member-state, behind Liechtenstein and San Marino, though since 1971 its official anthem has been the “Hymn of the United Nations,” composed by the legendary Catalan violincellist Pablo Casals—who gave a fiery speech on Catalan identity on the occasion of the anthem’s adoption.

The Catalan-speaking lands
Usually, the U.N. speaks of the rights of nations and states, but tends to stay out of separatist conflicts—even in cases such as those of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, whose occupation by the Soviet Union the U.N. never recognized, but never did anything about.  Ban’s remarks this week are unusual because they imply a principle of a right to secession—which is anathema to two veto-wielding member-states on the U.N. Security Council, the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China, both of which are plagued violent internal struggles by separatist minorities.

Ban Ki-Moon at a Real Madrid soccer match earlier this year
It is unclear whether Ban feels strongly enough about the right of peoples to self-determination to remove Gibraltar, a U.K. possession on the Iberian Peninsula, from the U.N.’s list of “Non-Self-Governing Territories”—since it is self-governing (under U.K. suzerainty) and since in a 2002 referendum Gibraltarians voted overwhelmingly to stay British.  (See my recent article on this blog for more on the parallels between Catalonia and Gibraltar.)

Separatism, as we can already see, is a can of worms, and Ban may regret opening it.  But for now, Catalans are applauding him.

[You can read more about Catalonia and many other sovereignty and independence 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.]

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