What does it mean to be an independent person or an independent state or independent country? At its most basic root it means that you are free from outside control; not subject to another’s authority. It means that you are not depending on another for livelihood or subsistence.
There are countless examples of secessions in history. People wanting to break away from being surpressed by governments and states in order to become independent and govern themselves. Unfortunately, the desire to avoid the relinquishment of power is as strong as the initial desire to gain power. For this reason, the fight for independence is often only accomplished through battle. Here are a few examples:
- Austria successfully seceded from Nazi Germany on April 27, 1945. This took place after seven years of Austria’s being part of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich due to the Anschluss annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany in March 1938.
- On August 25, 1830, during the reign of William I, the Belgian Revolt occurred, which resulted in the Belgian secession from the Netherlands.
- In 1825, soon after the Empire of Brazil managed to defeat the Cortes-Gerais and Portugal in an Independence War, the platinean nationalists in Cisplatina declared independence.
- In 1960 the State of Katanga declared independence from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. United Nations troops crushed it in Operation Grand Slam.
- In 1847, seven disaffected Catholic cantons formed a separate alliance because of moves to change the cantons of Switzerland from a confederation to a more centralized government federation. This effort was crushed in the Sonderbund War and a new Swiss Federal Constitution was created.
The greatest example in history of secession is that of the United States. On July 4th, 1776, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, which proclaimed the independence of a new United States of America from Great Britain and its king. The declaration came 442 days after the first shots of the American Revolution were fired at Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts and marked an ideological expansion of the conflict that would eventually involve France’s intervention on behalf of the Americans.
The first major American opposition to British policy came in 1765 after Parliament passed the Stamp Act, a taxation measure designed to raise revenues for a standing British army in America. Although this was eventually repealed there would be other issues finally leading to the colony to secede from Great Britain. The fact that a war was required in order for the colonist to gain their independence meant that the act was most likely an illegal one.
Yet, ironically, in that same country which is now the United States, the question has been raised, can a state legally secede from the Union? Many, including Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia, suggested no. In a 2006 letter Scalia argued that a the question was not in the realm of legal possibility because 1) the United States would not be party to a lawsuit on the issue 2) the “constitutional” basis of secession had been “resolved by the Civil War,” and 3) there is no right to secede, as the Pledge of Allegiance clearly illustrates through the line “one nation, indivisible.”
Today the issue comes to the centre stage by way of Catalonia. Spain (known officially as “the Kingdom of Spain”) was assembled in the 15th and 16th centuries from various component kingdoms, some having lost their secession wars. Today, we are seeing a resurgence with the secessionist movement of Catalonia. Catalonia has a long history of trying to break away from Spain. The Spain we know now was born after the defeat of Valencia in 1707, of Catalonia in 1714, and finally with the last of the islands in 1715, during the War of the Spanish Succession. Since then, Catalonia, which has its own language, laws, and customs, has regularly struggled over autonomy with the central government in Madrid.
For hundreds of years, various Spanish leaders tried to outlaw the Catalan language and play down other aspects of the region’s culture. Official autonomy within Spain was granted to the Catalan government, known as the Generalitat, in the early 20th century, interrupted by a brutal crackdown under dictator Francisco Franco, and then restored a few years after his death in 1975. The financial crisis of 2008 has since reinvigorated the Catalonia desire for independence.
Not surprisingly, as we have seen countless times in history, the way in which the Spanish government and the sitting King, have decided to deal with it has been to attempt to surpress the Catalonian right to vote. They sent in armed forces in order to strong arm the citizens and block them from achieving their goal. However, as we have seen in history, the more you try and surpress the people the stronger their desire becomes. Yes, according to the Spanish constitution, the secession vote is illegal, as they normally are because no governments enjoy relinquishing control. Catalonia is a crucial part of the Spanish economy. Its 7.5 million residents represent 16% of Spain’s population, but the region accounts for 19% of Spain’s GDP and 25% of Spain’s exports.
The question of an individual’s right to independence is not as clear cut as it would seem. Human rights are the basic rights and freedoms that belong to every person in the world, from birth until death. They apply regardless of where you are from, what you believe or how you choose to live your life. They can never be taken away, although they can sometimes be restricted – for example if a person breaks the law, or in the interests of national security. These basic rights are based on values like dignity, fairness, equality, respect and independence.
So, if one has the right to be independent yet a governement has the right to uphold their laws by restricting that right, even to the point of using unecessary force, who is left with the most freedom?
It is no wonder why we see in so many circumstances that in order to gain true independence you have to fight for it.