Saturday, August 31, 2013

51st-State Fever! 9—Make That 11—Colorado Counties Put Split on Ballot, Maryland Panhandle Throws Hat in Ring

The eight core secessionist counties in Colorado in red, and two that are thinking about it in yellow
Last year, in the wake of Barack Obama’s reelection, politically conservative Americans were showing their outrage by flooding the White House’s “We the People” petition web-page with demands for each of the 50 states to secede from the United States (as reported at the time in this blog (and in a follow-up)).  (There was a racial component to this: the vast majority of secession demands came from the Old Confederacy.)  This year’s Tea Party symbolic-protest theme is 51st-state movements.  In addition to the existing pushes for statehood for an Orange County–based South California and a Chicago-less and largely-white Rest-of-Illinois, and in addition to a Democratic statehood push in District of Columbia and a mostly-nonpartisan one in Puerto Rico, 2013 has seen: a revival of the State of Jefferson idea in far-northern California and, most notably, a high-profile push for a State of Northern Colorado.  Now, the sparsely-populated western, Appalachian counties of Maryland want statehood too.

State of Jefferson supporters in northern California
But, wait—is it really just symbolic politics?  In Colorado at least, maybe not: the question of getting out from under the yoke of the liberal oppressors in Denver and Boulder is now going to be on the ballot in nine counties [actually, 11; see below] this November.

Nice logo—too bad nearly all the actual grizzlies in the area referred to have been killed.
In northeastern Colorado, the question of whether to form a State of North Colorado (or Northern Colorado, or New Colorado) will be put to voters in Cheyenne, Kit Carson, Logan, Phillips, Sedgwick, Washington, Weld, and Yuma counties, forming the rectangular state’s northeastern corner.  The slightly discontiguous Elbert County slipped in under the deadline, and it will be on the ballot there too.  (Morgan County decided to keep the question off the ballot, while Lincoln and Cheyenne counties also decided to sit this one out, after toying with the idea.  [Since this article was written, Lincoln County has reversed course and joined the other nine counties, and Moffatt County, in the northwest of the state, has joined as well.])  There has even been interest in a merger coming out of adjoining rural disaffected areas in Wyoming, Nebraska, and Kansas.

The insurgency started in Weld County, which includes the University of Northern Colorado, in Greeley, but also includes rural voters fed up with environmental regulation, gun control, and now legal marijuana in an increasingly urban and liberal state that used to be a swing state.  The eight core secessionist states had been getting support from other rural counties, not all of them in the northeast, but on August 27th commissioners of the separatist counties met with their counterparts in Las Animas and Herfano counties, in the south of the state, along the border with New Mexico.

One proposal for a North Colorado flag
Mack Louden, commissioner of Las Animas County, told media, “There’s a lot of frustration in rural Colorado—east to west, north to south—about how we’re being treated. We own 90% of the land mass, but we represent a very small part of the population.  All the votes are in Denver.  They’ve figured that out and don’t worry too much about rural Colorado.”

Tom Gilley, president of the Weld County–based organization 51st State Initiative, said that commissioners in Las Animas and Herfano might bring the question to voters too.  It wouldn’t be in time for the November 5th ballot, but it raises longer-term questions of just how, geographically, “New Colorado” (as they would now have to finally settle on calling it) would look.

As you might imagine, the parking lots at Boulder’s University of Colorado
have very few pick-up trucks with gun racks and fetus bumper stickers.
Louden added, “Right now, [secession] looks very appealing on the surface.  But once you start picking that scab down, you can get into some flesh that you don’t want to see.”  Perhaps one of the things he means is that any new admissions to the Union need to be cleared not only by the state legislature in Denver but by Capitol Hill in Washington.  And, with both houses of Congress being as evenly divided as they are, any new “red state” (i.e., one with two new Republican senators) would need to be balanced out by a blue (Democratic) one.  This is an old tradition in American expansion.  The Missouri Compromise of 1820 allowed Maine, a free state, and Missouri, a slave one, to balance each other out, while Republican Alaska and Democratic Hawaii had to be let in pretty much in tandem in 1959.  And even if someone could craft, say, a D.C.-statehood bill to balance a “New Colorado” one, that still doesn’t mean that doesn’t mean it would be a sure thing.

... and now Maryland

A possible proposal for a State of Western Maryland.
The current movement also includes Carroll County,
even though parts of it are almost suburban Baltimore.
Such considerations may not be dampening enthusiasm in western Maryland’s mountainous conservative far-west, where the idea of statehood has recently caught on as well.  Some residents in the Appalachian “panhandle” along the Pennsylvania border, are interested in seceding from the rest of the very-blue State of Maryland.  Scott Strzelczyk, who lives in New Windsor, in Maryland’s Carroll County, has founded an organization called Western Maryland: A New State Initiative.  Strzelczyk is host of a local AM radio show with a dissident, “constitutionalist” bent called The Forgotten Men.  He envisions Western Maryland to consist of Garrett, Allegany, Washington, Frederick, and Carroll counties—all of them Republican counties with tiny populations forming a geographically eccentric protrusion westward from a coastal stated that has two Democratic senators in Washington, includes heavily African-American Baltimore and the liberal northern suburbs of D.C., and voted for Obama by almost 62% in both 2008 and 2012.

Maryland’s counties, shown in shades of red or blue
based on their respective vote shares for Mitt Romney or Barack Obama, respectively, in 2012
Though far less organized and far less popular than the North Colorado movement, the idea of partitioning Maryland is not new.  Its sprawling eastern leg is just as geographically anomalous as its western one, and just as divorced from the concerns of the bulk of the population in Baltimore, Annapolis, and the D.C. suburbs.  This Eastern Shore region, along Chesapeake Bay, with its more Southern-style plantation culture and economy, used to be Maryland’s demographic and political anchor, until the rise of Baltimore in the 19th century.  In 1998, the nine easternmost counties proposed seceding as a new state to be called either Chesapeake, Eastshore, or—getting poetic now—Atlantis or Arcadia.  Others have wanted those nine counties to join Delaware, along with Virginia’s disconnected Accomack and Northampton counties, to form a State of Delmarva, though that makes no political sense: why would the Democrats who run Delaware with little opposition want to dilute their power in a more purplish state?

One vision of a partition of Maryland (and D.C.),
from a recent article in Michael Trinklein’s excellent and highly recommended Lost States blog
Names from the 1998 Eastern Shore movement like Chesapeake and Arcadia point up a singular failing of some of today’s 51st-state movements: unimaginative names.  The idea of Western Maryland would be much more likely to stir passions if it were called something like Allegania or Cumberland, while northeastern Colorado, though it has few remotely colorful county or town names, would benefit from being renamed something along the lines of Northern Front Range, which is what locals call the region.  The Platte River runs through the area, so maybe that could be used to form a name.  Anything but New Colorado or North Colorado, though—if only because North Carolina has already squatted on the postal abbreviation NC.

It seems unlikely Western Maryland would come up with a flag more impressive
than Maryland’s current one, based on the coat-of-arms of Lord Baltimore.
[Also, for those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with a forthcoming book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas to be published by Auslander and Fox under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements, Independence Struggles, Breakaway Republics, Rebel Provinces, Pseudostates, Puppet States, Tribal Fiefdoms, Micronations, and Do-It-Yourself Countries, from Chiapas to Chechnya and Tibet to Texas.  Look for it some time in 2013.  I will be keeping readers posted of further publication news.]

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Putin Wants to Revive Stalin’s Old “Jewish Region” in Siberia; Israel Not Amused

Shalom! and welcome to remotest Siberia!
Vladimir Putin has had some crazy ideas in his time.  Shooting Siberian tigers.  Supporting the dictatorship in Syria.  Hang-gliding with migrating cranes.  Putting the Olympics on the site of a Russian genocide of Muslims just as he is trying to tamp down Islamist terrorism in that very region (discussed extensively last year in this blog (also in this article)).  And, um, you know, stuff like systematically dismantling Russia’s fragile democratic structures and its civil society to replace it with a corrupt and intolerant oligarchy.  But at least he’s put the Stalin era behind him.  Well, not quite.

The conveniently located Jewish Autonomous Oblast
The Russian Federation surprised the world this month with an announcement that it would like to revive the Jewish Autonomous Oblast (J.A.O.), a remote scrap of Siberian tundra on the border with China which Josef Stalin had used as a dumping ground for Jews in the 1930s.  Actually, it wasn’t quite as bad as that sounds.  The creation of the region was not at first punitive in the same way as, say, the removal of Chechens, Crimean Tatars, and other peoples eastward later on after the Second World War.  It was part of a Bolshevik plan to keep various internal nationalisms in check by granting autonomous regions for some minorities while also discouraging them from ideologically incorrect ideas such as ethnic chauvinism and religion—and, in the case of the J.A.O., Zionism.  Some of the territorial entities created in this era survive today, such as the Republic of Tatarstan.  Others, like the Volga German Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic just west of Kazakhstan, or various Cossack autonomous districts, have gone the way of happy-Proletariat posters and scratchy toilet paper.

Downtown Birobidzhan, J.A.O.
The J.A.O. was, by Stalinist standards, an enlightened project.  Yiddish was the official language and throve there, as did other aspects of Jewish culture (except for the Judaism part).  Later, Stalin eyed the oblast as a place to put troublesome dissidents, especially Jewish ones, but after Nikita Khrushchev took power in 1953 he eased up a tad on minorities and dissidents and brought home many of the groups Stalin had exiled eastward (without, however, creating a more conveniently located J.A.O. farther west).  When Leonid Brezhnev opened the floodgates of Jewish emigration in the 1970s, the J.A.O.’s remaining Jewish population was depleted, most leaving for Israel.  Today, the Oblast still has Jewish newspapers and radio stations but by the time the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 only 2% of the population was Jewish, and by 2010 it had dropped below 1%.  It is a Jewish homeland mostly without Jews.

Jewish culture in the Jewish Autonomous Oblast is not exactly thriving.
The new plan, as enunciated by Dmitry Medvedev, Putin’s prime minister, is to offer financial incentives—the equivalent of $8,000 U.S.—for about 2,000 Russian Jews living elsewhere in the Federation, or even in the rest of the former Soviet Union and farther abroad, to settle in the J.A.O.  The problem is that while many Russians might consider the Jews who fled Russia in the 1970s as Russian emigrants whose departure constituted a regrettable brain drain, many of those emigrants today consider themselves more Jewish and Israeli (or American or whatever, depending on where they settled) than Russian.  It remains to be seen how many Jews in non-Siberian parts of Russia would relish relocating.

Monsoon season in the J.A.O.
And, to be honest, the name Siberia does not focus-group all that well for descendants of Soviet Jews.  The J.A.O. is a little bit bigger than Belgium, but with only 175,000 people—mostly Eastern Orthodox ethnic Russians.  It is one of the fartheast east of the Russian Federation’s constituent units, it is landlocked, and its climate is deathly cold and windswept in winter, while in summer it is rocked by monsoons, which this season caused the worst flooding in a century.  Its economy is agricultural but increasingly dominated by mining operations run by Chinese corporations.

Whose numbers are dwindling faster?  Siberian tigers or Siberian Jews?
Alexander Levin, president of the World Forum of Russian-Speaking Jewry, probably spoke for many when he said, in response to the Medvedev plan, “We do not think that today, for the Jews, this initiative is relevant or realistic, as the Jews in Russia and Ukraine and other post-Soviet countries live in big cities and are economically successful for the most part. ... Jews have a strong and developed State of Israel and it is specifically there that they should to go to in order to express their Jewish national identity.”

The unlikely founder of the first modern Jewish homeland
Well said.  But here’s another reason Putin might want to just leave the Jewish Autonomous Oblast idea be.  Right now, a wave of bigoted anti-gay legislation in Russia is making the country into even more of a pariah state.  There are calls for a boycott of next year’s Winter Olympics in the Russian city of Sochi, on the Black Sea, and fears in Moscow that the Olympics will become a staging ground for gay-rights protests that will embarrass the regime.  Putin doesn’t want a whole bunch of Olympic athletes pulling out flags like this—

—but if they do, they can get around the laws by saying they’re just flying the flag of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast, which, I swear to God, looks like this:

[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.]

Friday, August 23, 2013

Cameroon Takes Over Bakassi, Dashing Ambazonian and Efik Nationalist Hopes

Up went the Cameroonian flag over the Bakassi Peninsula on Wednesday, to the dismay of separatists and irredentists.
After decades of controversy and conflict, the Republic of Cameroon on August 21st formally took control of the disputed Bakassi Peninsula on its border with the Federal Republic of Nigeria.  This closes the door on the hopes of Nigerian nationalist irredentists, separatists in the peninsula and in the wider “Southern Cameroons” region, and members of the Efik ethnic group whose communities are riven by the international border.

Nigeria had been administering the peninsula since independence when, in 2002, the United NationsInternational Court of Justice (I.C.J.) ruled that the territory would belong to Cameroon.  Both sides had agreed to abide by the I.C.J. decision, whatever it might be, and in 2006 Nigeria ceded the peninsula, angering nationalists.  The issue lay dormant until last year, when a 10-year period during which Nigeria could contest the decision came was nearing its close (developments which were covered extensively in this blog).  Nationalist critics of Nigeria’s president, Goodluck Jonathan, cried “capitulation,” members of the Efik ethnic group, which straddles the border, demanded that displaced Efiks in Nigeria be allowed to resettle in the peninsula, and Efik nationalists on both sides of the border called for an independent state which would revive the Efiks’ precolonial Calabar Kingdom.

The Calabar Kingdom is still a functioning ceremonial monarchy,
though the Nigerian–Cameroonian border bisects its traditional lands
On the Cameroonian side, this southwestern region of the country had for decades been home to a separatist movement in formerly British-ruled areas.  The original German colony of Kamerun had been divided between the United Kingdom and France after Germany lost the First World War.  At the time of decolonization, the southern part of the British chunk (“Southern Cameroons”) voted to join the newly independent French portion as the Republic of Cameroon, while the predominantly-Muslim chunk of the British sliver voted to join Nigeria.  But Southern Cameroonians, culturally distinct and used to using English rather than French as their lingua franca, chafed under a new 1972 constitution under which the Cameroonian dictatorship erased all regional autonomy.  Separatists declared an independent Republic of Ambazonia in the former Southern Cameroons in 1999 and in 2006 declared a Republic of Ambazania (note slight difference in spelling) which was to include the Bakassi Peninsula as well.  This declaration had the support of displaced Efik and other Bakassians on the Nigerian side, but it had little effect on the ground.  (To complicate matters, the areas on the Nigerian side of the border are part of a possibly future independent state envisioned by Igbo separatists—whose disastrously brief-lived Republic of Biafra in the 1960s included a restive Efik minority.)

But a 2012 declaration of independence by the Republic of Bakassi, though it involved only a radio-station tower on a tiny island off the peninsula’s coast, invited brutal reprisals by the Cameroonian military—not only against the Bakassian separatists but against Ambazonian/Ambazanian separatists more generally.

Separatists in Cameroon wave the flag of Ambazonia
But, declarations of independence aside, this is a time of reckoning for the estimated 90% of the peninsula’s 40,000-some residents who hold only Nigerian passports.  Instead of offering dual citizenship, as Bakassians demand, they are being told they must apply for foreign-resident permits, as though they were immigrants.  This is hardly a sporting attitude on the part of the Cameroonian victors in the dispute, and it is likely to inflame tensions.  While the rest of Nigeria is riven by separatism as well, many fear that the transition to Cameroonian rule might be the beginning, rather than the end, of the dispute over the Bakassi Peninsula.

[You can read more about Bakassi, Ambazonia, 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.]

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.]

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Nigeria’s Boko Haram Warlord Abubakar Shekau Reported Dead from Gun Battle

The shadowy leader of what is perhaps the world’s busiest and deadliest terrorist army was reported killed this week.  Abubakar Shekau was—or, possibly, still is, since his death is not confirmed—the founder as well as the tactical and spiritual leader of Boko Haram, the Islamist terrorist group which has killed many hundreds of civilians, mostly Christians, in a reign of terror in northern Nigeria over the past few years.

A spokesman for the Nigerian military’s anti-terrorist Joint Task Force (J.T.F.) said August 19th that Shekau—whose full name is Imam Abu Muhammad Ibn Muhammad Abubakar Ash Shekawi—was wounded in a battle with soldiers on June 30th in the Sambisa Forest.  This area is in the Boko Haram stronghold of Nigeria’s arid northeast near where Lake Chad forms the point at which Cameroon, Chad, Nigeria, and Niger border one another.  According to the J.T.F. statement, he was spirited across the border into the Muslim-dominated far north of the otherwise-predominantly-Christian Republic of Cameroon, where he was given medical treatment but died of his wounds probably between July 25th and August 3rd.  None of this could be confirmed.

Boko Haram is a phrase in northern Nigeria’s Hausa language meaning “Western education is sinful”—it could even be translated as “literacy is sinful.”  The name reflects the fervent fundamentalist anti-intellectual Islamism of the group, which not only rejects the doctrine of evolution but also condemns “theories” such as rainfall being the result of clouds formed from evaporating water, since this contradicts wording in the Qur’an.  (This puts Boko Haram on the same level, intellectually, as most Republican lawmakers in the southern United States.)  The group’s full name is Jamā’a Ahl al-Sunnah li-Da’wa wa al-Jihād, which means, in Arabic, “Congregation and People of Tradition for Proselytism and Jihad.”  From their founding in 2001, but mostly over the years since 2009, they are responsible for the deaths of perhaps as many as 10,000 civilians.  Most have been Christians, with methods including truck-bombings of churches and government buildings and organized massacres of schoolchildren.  Recently moderate Muslims have been targeted as well.

Boko Haram’s ostensible aim is the imposition of shari’a (Islamic law) over all of Nigeria.  (It is already in force in Nigeria’s northern states, as the map above shows.)  Since Nigeria’s population is about evenly divided between a Christian south and a Muslim north, this is in terms of practical politics virtually impossible.  Some argue that Boko Haram’s real goal—or at least their most likely effect—is the partition of the country.  Ethnolinguistic and sectarian tensions have plagued Nigeria since its independence from the United Kingdom in 1960.  The departing British placed a northern, Muslim leader in charge of the new nation, which set off a tit-for-tat of coups d’état and counter-coups between Muslims and Christians, setting the stage for the devastating Biafra War of 1967-1970, in which more than a million died.  Southeastern Nigeria’s Igbos, whose nationalist ambitions were the immediate cause of that war, claim today that their people are still bearing the brunt of Muslim pogroms, especially in the religiously mixed “Middle Belt” region which Boko Haram finds so rich in targets.

Little is known about Shekau.  He may be in his thirties or forties.  He may be a native of Niger or of northeastern Nigeria, though he seems to be of the Kanuri ethnic group.  (The Kanuri declared an independent republic of Greater Kanowra on the site of the precolonial Bornu Kingdom in the four-way border region of the Lake Chad basin, but that movement was largely secular in orientation.)  He reportedly had, or has, a photographic memory.

Equally unclear is whether he is still alive.  If he is, then his quasi-supernatural talent for survival will increase his prestige among Boko Haram’s rank and file.  If he is not, then the movement now has a martyr.  There seems to be no good path forward, no best-case scenario.  The future looks bleak for Nigerians, and for Nigeria.

Expect many, many more scenes like this one.
[For those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with 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.]

Monday, August 19, 2013

Hutt River’s Princess Shirley Had Irish Noble Blood, Mourners Learn

Her Royal Highness Princess Shirley of Hutt, who passed away at the age of 84 on July 7th, may not have enjoyed international recognition as consort to the monarch of a 75-square-mile independent state in the Western Australia outback, but residents of Kilkenny, in the Republic of Ireland, have identified her as one of their own and as a descendant of the Earls of Ormonde.

The Prince and (late) Princess of Hutt
The late princess, who was born in Fremantle, near Perth, and whose commoner name had been Shirley Casley, even had the maiden name Butler.  Avocational genealogists in Kilkenny, who spotted her obituary in an Australian newspaper, are linking her to James Butler, 1st Earl of Ormonde, who died in County Kilkenny in 1338—shortly after an invasion of Ireland by Scotland’s Edward of Bruce and an ensuing famine, and 10 years before the arrival of the “Black Death” (bubonic plague) to the Emerald Isle.

The 1st Earl of Ormonde
The Principality of Hutt River formally seceded from Australia in 1970, as a glorified wheat farm with the name Province of Hutt River.  Its founder, Leonard Casley, eventually styled himself Prince Leonard I and pledged loyalty to Queen Elizabeth II, invoking Australian legislation which puts sovereigns beyond the reach of the law.  The government in Canberra has never acknowledged Hutt River’s sovereignty but has never contested it either.  The approximately 220 residents—almost all of them, other than the Casley family, Aboriginal people of the Noongar ethnic group—are allowed to avoid taxes, exempt themselves from Australian laws, and issue their own postage stamps and currency.

In addition to Princess of Hutt, the late Shirley also held the titles Dame of the Rose of Sharon, Patron and Chair of the Red Cross of Hutt, and Colonel-in-Chief of the Royal Hutt River Legion.  The prince and princess’s nine children include Crown Prince Ian (who is also Prime Minister); Wayne, 1st Duke of Nain; Richard, 1st Duke of Carmel; and Graeme, Duke of Gilboa.

No Hapsburg nose is visible on hubby, however ...

[For those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with my forthcoming book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas to be published by Auslander and Fox under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements, Independence Struggles, Breakaway Republics, Rebel Provinces, Pseudostates, Puppet States, Tribal Fiefdoms, Micronations, and Do-It-Yourself Countries, from Chiapas to Chechnya and Tibet to Texas.  The book, which contains dozens of maps and over 500 flags, is now in the layout phase and should be on shelves, and available on Amazon, by early fall 2014.  I will be keeping readers posted of further publication news.  Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even though you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook.]

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Catalan Nationalists Side with Britain on Gibraltar Question, Shocking Spaniards

Border delays are part of the new cold war over Gibraltar, and Catalan nationalists are siding with London.
Once again in the “strange bedfellows” department: the main leftist separatist party in Catalonia seems to be siding with the United Kingdom in the dispute with the Kingdom of Spain over Gibraltar, a tiny British colony abutting the Spanish mainland which the Spanish crown ceded to the British in 1713 after a nasty war.  The Chief Minister of Gibraltar, Fabian Picardo, received a letter August 12th from the Republican Left of Catalonia (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, or E.R.C.) party, written in English and Catalan (Spanish translation not enclosed).  It read, in part, “We most sincerely regret the improper bullying and harassment that the Spanish government is applying on the citizens you represent.”

The Esquerra Republicana leader, Oriol Junqueras i Vies,
drapes himself in the E.U. and Catalan flags.
(Union Jack not pictured.)
The “bullying and harassment” refers to Spain’s recent escalation of its quixotic saber-rattling over “the Rock,” as the colony is known, including naval cat-and-mouse games in Gibraltarian waters, a renewal of the diplomatic war of words, and a punitive slowdown of the border-crossing procedure.  (Though both Spain and the U.K. are in the European Union (E.U.), the U.K. is not part of the passport-free “Schengen Area,” and Gibraltar implements laws in many ways as though it were a separate E.U. member-state.)

Ongoing territorial claims on Gibraltar are popular in Spain, despite the fact that they violate the Treaty of Utrecht and despite the fact that in two referenda, in 1967 and 2002, Gibraltarians voted nearly unanimously (98.6% and 98.97%, respectively) to remain British.  And of the minuscule number of dissenters, most were opting only for some sort of shared condominium with Spain, not annexation.  But Spain’s political mainstream and even the royal family are adamant.  Queen Sofía even gave Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee a miss last year in anger over Gibraltar (as reported at the time in this blog).

Gibraltar’s flag
The dispute over Gibraltar is somewhat analogous to that over the Falkland Islands, which are claimed by the Argentine Republic even though Falklanders have let it be known in a referendum this year that they overwhelmingly want to be part of the U.K.  (Only three people voted against the status quo—and they, too, were probably preferring independence to conquest by Argentina.)  Though the claims of the Argentine and Spanish governments have no legal basis and use geographical proximity as their only argument, they have nonetheless become pet causes of anti-establishment leftists in Britain, the United States, and elsewhere—extending to these situations familiar, and far better grounded, complaints about Anglophone meddling in the Spanish-speaking world during the colonial and Cold War periods.  The left-wing Guardian newspaper in England recently said that the continuing British rule in Gibraltar and the Falklands (which are, in fact, self-governing) “den[ies] the logic of history and geography.”  The Guardian seems to feel that history and geography carry their own logic which trumps democracy every time.  (For all its faults, the U.K. has a very clear policy that it will not attempt to hang onto territories where the majority reject British rule.)  Even the newly enthroned Pope Francis, an Argentine, calls the Falklands part of Argentina.  Then again, he also believes all that stuff about the virgin birth and turning water into wine, so his critical-thinking skills are not necessarily top-notch.

Pope Francis would like to dislodge Protestant infidels from Argentina’s near abroad.
The United Nations, though it is not taking sides, still keeps Gibraltar on its finger-wagging list of “non-self-governing territories,” even though Gibraltar is self-governing—one of many fictitious delusions on the U.N. list.  (This list was critiqued in detail in an article on this blog.)

Catalonia’s ruling nationalist party, the Convergence and Union (Convergència i Unió, or CiU) coalition, is also wisely staying out of the Gibraltar dispute while it heats up.  The E.R.C., keep in mind, is a far-left party.  It has only 21 of the Catalan parliament’s 135 seats.  It is also the one Catalan nationalist party which pushes for reunification with traditionally Catalan lands that lie within France (the so-called Northern Catalonia, in the Pyrenées-Orientales département).

The Catalan-speaking areas (shown in grey) extend into France.
But there is a history to these events.  The same Treaty of Utrecht that made Gibraltar British also abolished the autonomy of Catalonia and Valencia.  In fact, 350 Catalan troops participated in the 1704 conquest of Gibraltar by Britain, during the War of Spanish Succession.  Remembering this, one Catalan nationalist group has asked the autonomous region’s president, Artur Mas i Gavarró, to invite Picardo to a 2014 event marking the 300th anniversary of the Treaty of Utrecht.

Catalans also involved themselves in the first Anglo-Spanish tussle over the Rock, in 1704.
But there is also a modern political logic to the E.R.C.’s cozying to London, and it is a logic which may emerge into the political mainstream in Barcelona in the following months as Catalans prepare for a referendum on independence from Spain in 2014.  As reported at the time in this blog, the Spanish government said last year that it might veto any vote on Scotland becoming a member of the E.U., in case Scotland should secede from the U.K. following its own 2014 referendum (and once the question of whether it would need to reapply for membership is settled).  This raises the prospect of the governments in Madrid and London entering a mutual veto pact as a way of stoking Scottish and Catalan fears of ejection from the E.U., thus influencing their referenda.  Catalonia would be motivated to prevent that.  U.K.–Catalan trade is considerable, and there are cultural exchanges as well, if you can classify as cultural exchange the fact that there are whole resort towns in Catalonia full of fish-and-chips shops, English pubs, Daily Mail vending machines, and hamlets of vacation homes where only English can be heard—a new Mediterranean quasi-nation of sorts which it would be tempting to call Chavalonia.  Britain doesn’t really want Catalonia out of the E.U. any more than it wants Scotland out of it, so it makes sense for Catalan nationalists to emphasize and strengthen their ties to London, just as it makes sense for Scots to improve relations with Madrid.

Relations between England and Catalonia have not always been warm,
but they may be improving.
The question of Gibraltar will not be settled soon.  Most Spaniards still feel that it should be made part of Spain against the wishes of its residents, and mainstream Spanish politicians are always eager to cater to jingoistic bluster; hating the English is a national pastime.  But Catalans, starting with the fringe leftists, may be starting to realize that if they want Madrid to respect and recognize their people’s wishes, it would be hypocritical not to treat the wishes of Gibraltarians the same way.

[Also, for those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with a forthcoming book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas to be published by Auslander and Fox under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements, Independence Struggles, Breakaway Republics, Rebel Provinces, Pseudostates, Puppet States, Tribal Fiefdoms, Micronations, and Do-It-Yourself Countries, from Chiapas to Chechnya and Tibet to Texas.  Look for it some time in 2013.  I will be keeping readers posted of further publication news.]

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