People often identify themselves with their home regions, but not with the whole country. In most cases, because historically they used to be their own nation. More over, the economical situation often differs in the various regions of a country. The consequence: independence movements. We went out to investigate these tendencies in Catalonia, the Basque Country and Belgium. Our aim: trying to find out if there is a generation separation and if so, why.
The idea of autonomy is no invention of the 21st century. It gains a new meaning, when leading politicians like Angela Merkel repeatedly stress the cohesion of Europe. But does Europe’s youth want this standardized political construct? Of course, the topic of Europe itself isn’t considered as being very interesting to young people but still not all of them resign from the political development in their states. Especially the topic of autonomy or in fact independence as the achievement of a new nationhood, activates the youth or even gets them on the streets in some parts of Europe. As they are the generation who will be affected the most by today’s financial crisis, the lack of employment and missing perspectives, we asked ourselves: What are their solutions for the future of Europe?
To answer this question, we travelled to the hot spots of independence movements. In the Basque Country, it was a terror organization, the ETA, which fought until 2011 for a separation from Spain and France. How are things today? The Basques are proud of their language, their blooming economy and their high living standard. The times of brutal fights for independence are over. The nationalistic party PNV is the strongest one in the Spanish part of the Basque Country and stands for separation, but here it lacks determination and the support of young people. “That’s the general situation in Europe. Young people are not very much interested in politics”, says Xabier Ezaizabarrena, a professor at the local university and also a politician of the PNV. Still, he believes in reactivating young people and in the development towards gaining independence.
Although it seems that the Basques in general don’t see a referendum coming soon, everywhere in the Basque Country you can feel this strong pride of being Basque. This feeling of identification with their region, not with Spain as their country, motivates people like Ezaizabarrena to go on and don’t give up their ambitions just yet. Even if the Basques will not step forward that much in the near future, they observe interestedly Catalonia, where independence is fought for really hard.
Oriol, Joana and Magalí from the pro-independence organization ANC in Barcelona fighting for their dream of a Catalan state
Xabier de la Maza, Basque entrepreneur and political expert from San Sebastian, is against an independent Basque Country
Sam Van Rooy from the radical Flemish party Vlaams Belang wants a complete separation of Flanders from Belgium
Demonstrations, a big consultation, nationalistic parties and organisations – the Catalans make a strong effort to mobilize the citizens in different ways. The youth is extremely passionate about Catalonia and looks hopefully at the upcoming elections. “Catalans are very resilient. If they call elections, people like me and so many others will be there”, says Joana Verdana (32). She’ s a member of the non-governmental pro-independence organization Assemblea Nacional Catalana (ANC). “We will vote for independence and we will be in the streets, when it’s needed.”
Both in the Basque Country and Catalonia, separatists name language, culture and their self-image as the main reasons for the independence movements. “We want to build a new country, we want to be able to emancipate as the people. All we have to do is really fight for it”, explains Joana.
A major factor, that links these movements with the one in Belgium, is the economy. Belgium’s two big regions are Flanders and Wallonia. The Flemish are financially very strong. Their unemployment rate is low in comparison to the rest of the country. So they strive to do their own thing. The problem is, that the rest of the country depends on its strong economic regions, that are also often the flagships of the country. Being forced to provide financially for Wallonia leads to frustration among the Flemish and increases their wish to separate from the rest of the country.
While the independence movements in Catalonia and the Basque Country name the financial situation in their countries as just one of their reasons behind the wish to separate, Belgian separatists put it on top of their campaign. “Every year, there’s a lot of money, billions of Euros transferred from Flanders to Wallonia, and it’s actually just theft. I can’t describe it in another way”, complains Sam van Rooy, member of the radical party Vlaams Belang. “It’s costing us our economy, it’s costing us jobs, and we don’t want that anymore. It’s just not fair.”
In the land of Europe’s capital Brussels, the cultural differences seem the biggest. But it is exactly this mix of different cultures and people from all over the world living there, that gives the city a spirit of a melting pot in the best sense. This also demonstrates why especially the inhabitants of Brussels don’t see a separation coming. However, a separation of Belgium in general seems unrealistic. A few years ago, the radical party Vlaams Belang, that is against immigration and even stands for leaving the EU, gained 25% of the people’s votes at the Belgian federal election. Seven years later, in 2014, they gained less than four percent of the votes. The Belgians don’t like how torn their country is, but they don’t seem to completely trust the idea of separation.
At first glance, the EU seems to have no reason to panic, since most of the independence movements don’t fight for a separation from Europe. Furthermore, those movements all try to reach their goal by using democratic means.
However, Europe has to take these movements seriously. There is a generation separation, sometimes more, sometimes less noticeable. But it has the potential to grow in times of continuous crisis and lack of identification with the respective mother nation.