What Scotland Means for Catalonia. And Flanders and Transylvania ...

Today I interviewed George Friedman about secession movements in Europe. Friedman was born in Hungary in 1949 to Holocaust survivors. His family fled Hungary’s Communist regime. Friedman made it to New York and eventually earned a Ph.D. in government at Cornell University, became a professor, and in 1996 founded Stratfor, which is a geopolitical intelligence firm based in Austin, Texas. He’s a noted author and speaker on international affairs. I called Friedman after reading an article he posted on Stratfor’s website this week, “The Origins and Implications of the Scottish Referendum.” Here’s what he said, along with a table of secessionist hot spots across Europe.

On the Scottish referendum:

“Scottish independence was a low-grade movement of cranks and nobody took it seriously. We thought about Britain as a nation. Now it might no longer be a nation. We’re returning to maps we haven’t seen in centuries.”

On the history of European secession:

“Since 1914 we’ve seen the constant breakup of entities and creation of independent states. The last major wave was 1991-92 when the Soviet Union broke up. Then Yugoslavia broke up. Now you’re seeing long-term stable powers like the United Kingdom starting to take seriously the possibility.”

Why Europe is different:

“What you have going on is the devolution of Europe. It’s all over the world but it’s really a European phenomenon. The Europeans believe fundamentally in the Enlightenment idea of the right to national self-determination. This is part of the liberal democratic concept.”

“Smaller and smaller entities that have distinct languages and histories and cultures want to declare independence. There’s no intellectual way for the Europeans to object to this. In Africa it’s much more chaotic. You don’t really have nation-states. You have multinational states. You don’t see this in Asia very much because you have a pretty stable idea of nations that go way back. Also not much in North America and Latin America.”

How good or bad secession can be:

“We don’t really know what separation means. Money? Defense? In many cases what appears to be a separation kind of isn’t. The real issue here is some of these things won’t happen. Others will rip the guts out of the countries. You had the Velvet divorce of Czechs and Slovaks. That went extremely well. In the breakup of Yugoslavia perhaps 100,000 died.”

On secessionist cranks:

“Some of these secession movements, like the one in northern Italy, are crackpot movements. If Scotland wins, these are the ones that suddenly turn from cranks to serious.”

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