January 28, 2023
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Sovereignty vs. self-determination

Independence has always been potentially destabilizing. The tension between national sovereignty and self-determination has always been at the heart of democratic principles, but both cannot be found within the same borders. Every tension has a breaking point, and that breaking point has usually resulted in revolutionary wars ones that were eventually welcomed and accepted after they “destabilized the region.”

Today, people want to vote for their independence, but governments too scared to lose their hold do not want to allow the essence of the democratic process to take place, and the same governments that condemn separation are destabilizing their own sovereignty.

This past week, ethnic Kurds in Iraqi Kurdistan were finally granted a non-binding vote of independence in a referendum. It’s estimated that over 90 percent voted “Yes” to becoming an independent state. When polls closed, the Iraqi defense ministry and the Turkish army began military exercises along the Kurdish border, heightening fears and threatening violent outbreaks in the region. Kurds are the largest ethnic minority in Iraq. With no state of their own, they have been marginalized by the Iraqi government, among others, but the Kurdish region is rich in oil, a commodity that the Iraqi government does not want to let go of. Like a child about to lose their toy, Iraq refused to talk to Kurds about the election results.

In Spain, Catalans prepare to vote on Oct. 1 for their independence, and passed a law that would regulate the transition to independence if the vote is a “Yes.” The Spanish government has reacted by threatening to imprison Carles Puigdemont, president of the Generalitat of Catalonia, arresting other Catalan officials related to the referendum and taking over the Catalan police.

The primarily socialist state has always had tensions with Spain; they were heightened by Francisco Franco’s dictatorship, and have made their way into 2017, where the promised budget to the region has been sliced by 10 percent — regardless of the fact that the region contributes €17 billion a year in taxes —  and where cultural differences are becoming more evident. Catalonia is also one of the wealthiest regions in Spain. Losing the region could be a devastating blow to the Spanish economy.

This is not to say that Kurdistan and Catalonia do not pose a risk to themselves when becoming independent states, but the “cons” of independence are more in line with regional powers concerned over a more competitive political landscape.

Isabella Grullón Paz can be reached at igrullon@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @isagp23