Tuesday, 23 September 2014

What Is Separatism?

With the recent referendum on Scottish independence and the current conflict in Ukraine, it seemed like a good time for a quick guide to what separatism is all about

What is Separatism?

Separatism is when a group of people want more political control over the area in which they live.
They want to be ‘separate’ from the rest of their country either by becoming a totally new independent country (e.g. when part of Sudan broke away to become South Sudan) or they may want to remain a part of the same country but have some of their own laws (they want more autonomy), for example, Scotland is part of the United Kingdom but some of their laws are different to the laws in England.

Why Do People Want Independence/Autonomy?

There are lots of reasons why people might feel like this but the bottom line is they want more rights, they want better lives, and they want to be happier.

Imagine living in a country where the official language is different to the one you speak at home. Imagine having to read road signs, do your school work, watch TV, do everything outside your home in that foreign language. It might get pretty annoying after a while.

Maybe your family has a religion that celebrates days of the year where you have to go to school, for example imagine having to work on Christmas day because it’s not considered important enough by the government to make it a holiday.

You might live in an area in a remote location and the government doesn’t give your area much money to improve your area. You see new shopping centres and sports facilities and transport links being built in other areas of the country but your community always seems to miss out. Maybe there are some important mineral resources in your area such as coal, which the government mines and sells to other countries, yet your community doesn’t get any of that money invested in their area. It goes into improving the more central areas of the country such as the capital.

You might experience all of these things or just one or two, but after a while some people in your community might decide that you’d be better off if you had your own laws, if you could study in your own language, you could mine your own coal and use the money to build new facilities, you could have holidays to fit in with your religion and culture. These people might decide to form a political group and challenge the government. They will probably start reminding you all the time about how different you are to the rest of the people in the country and how they don’t really care about you.
This psychological aspect is very important in separatism. Wei (2002) talks about the manipulation of the ‘minority collective consciousness’ and the ‘we-they dichotomy’ that emerges as people are encouraged to identify themselves as either superior (which would give the ruling power an excuse to mistreat minority group on their country) or inferior (giving that minority group a reason to become separatists). The manipulation of these feelings by political elites can provide the ‘underlying fuel for the separatist fire’ and hence start or sustain separatist conflicts.

Separatism might also occur if the national government of a country collapses leaving individual regions to try to gain control. It can also be related to supranational groups

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