The recent Scottish independence referendum ended with a defeat for the nationalists, but this wasn’t about winning; the fact is that European secession movements have come to be on everyone’s minds in recent years. Even while the European Union has promoted greater integration across the continent, a wide variety of regions and ethnic minorities have begun to press their claims for independence.
Just think about would-be states like Catalonia, Flanders, and Scotland; I’m sure you’ve heard of them. However, Europe boasts a bewildering array of wannabe countries, and we want to tell you about 10 of them.
Galicia is an autonomous region in northwest Spain, on the border with Portugal. Galicians consider themselves to be a distinct ethnic and cultural group, and the Spanish government recognizes them as a historical nationality within Spain. However, it seems that the dream of Galician independence is unlikely to become a reality within the next few years—but it certainly isn’t dead either.
9. The Aland Islands
An archipelago of tiny islands in the Baltic Sea, Aland has already obtained a surprising amount of autonomy while officially remaining part of Finland. Although the islands only have around 28,000 inhabitants, approximately 0.5 percent of the total Finnish population, they have their own parliament, which has extensive powers—including the right to veto any attempt to limit those powers by the central Finnish government. Regional citizenship is required to own land or vote in local elections. Aland is also the only region of Finland to have a single official language—Swedish.
8. The Faroe Islands
The Faroe Islands are an archipelago of 18 beautiful islands in the North Atlantic. Located roughly halfway between Scotland and Iceland, they’re majestically isolated from all of their neighbors. Ruled by Denmark since the 14th century, the islands are currently a self-governing nation under the Danish crown.
Corsicans proudly claim that they’ve been ruled many times, but never conquered. Although the island has been a region of France for hundreds of years, its people still don’t consider themselves French, Italian, or anything else. The island first proclaimed its independence back in the 18th century, forming a republic which lasted for 14 years before it was annexed by France in 1769. In recent decades, the French government has granted more autonomy to the island and backed programs to protect the Corsican language, undermining local support for the nationalists.
Unlike their Corsican neighbors, the nationalist movement on the Italian island of Sardinia has sought independence through non-violent means. This model has huge support from the Sardinian people. According to a 2014 poll conducted by the universities of Cagliari and Edinburgh, a whopping 87 percent of Sardinians want further powers for the island’s local government, while around 41 percent are in favor of full independence immediately.
Located between Romania and Ukraine, Moldova is a tiny state about the size of Maryland. Since 1990, around 10 percent of its territory has formed an even tinier breakaway state known as Transdniestria, or Transnistria, or the Pridnestrovskaya Moldavskaya Respublika. Transdniestria has never been recognized by a single member state of the United Nations, and is thus officially still considered part of Moldova. Transdniestria has attempted to shore up its position with continued independence referendums, the last being held in 2006. A massive 97 percent of voters supported independence, with the possibility of free association with Russia, but even the referendum hasn’t been recognized by other countries yet.
4. South Tyrol
A mountainous geographical region based on a former province of the Austrian Empire, Tyrol is currently split between Austria and Italy, with South Tyrol as an autonomous province of Italy with a large German-speaking population. Under Benito Mussolini, the fascist government tried to Italianize South Tyrol by banning the use of the German language, but such policies actually increased local identity, culminating in a series of bombings carried out by the South Tyrolean Liberation Committee in the 1960s.
During a weekend when the eyes of the world were focused on the Russian-backed referendum in Crimea, a referendum for independence from Italy went almost unnoticed. An estimated two million residents of the Italian region Veneto, whose capital is Venice, voted overwhelmingly to declare independence and reform the ancient Venetian Republic. The referendum was conducted online, using digital ID numbers to identify eligible voters. A massive 89 percent voted in favor of secession, surprising pollsters, who had previously estimated only around 65 percent were in favor.
2. North Cyprus
A large island in the Eastern Mediterranean, Cyprus has long been split between a Greek majority and a Turkish minority. When the country became a member of the European Union back in 2004, they made it without the Turkish north, which has effectively long been an independent country. The issue dates back to 1974, when the Cypriot National Guard, with support from the Greek Junta, attempted a putsch with the goal of making Cyprus part of Greece. In response, Turkey launched an invasion, claiming the coup violated a treaty signed between the United Kingdom, Cyprus, Greece, and Turkey.
1. Republika Srpska
In English, Republika Srpska means “Serbian Republic,” but is not to be confused with the Republic of Serbia, since it is actually one of two entities comprising Bosnia and Herzegovina. Since the 1990s, the tiny Balkan country has been split between the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republika Srpska. Bosniaks and Croats make up the majority in the former, while Serbs are dominant in the latter. Republika Srpska was founded during the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, right after the referendum on independence in Bosnia and Herzegovina. While most of the Bosnian parliament proclaimed the new republic, ethnic Serbian deputies refused to support the secession and held their own assembly in the city of Banja Luka, forming their own state in response. The infamous Bosnian War quickly followed.