Secession (derived from the Latin term secessio) is the act of withdrawing from an organization, union, or especially a political entity. Threats of secession also can be a strategy for achieving more limited goals.
Mainstream political theory largely ignored theories of secession until the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia in the early 1990s through secession. Theories of secession address a fundamental problem of political philosophy: the legitimacy and moral basis of the state’s authority, be it based on “God’s will,” consent of the people, the morality of goals, or usefulness to obtaining goals.
In his 1991 book Secession: The Morality of Political Divorce From Fort Sumter to Lithuania and Quebec, philosophy professor Allen Buchanan outlined limited rights to secession under certain circumstances, mostly related to oppression by people of other ethnic or racial groups, and especially those previously conquered by other peoples.
In the fall of 1994 the Journal of Libertarian Studies published Robert W. McGee’s article ”Secession Reconsidered.” He writes from a libertarian perspective, but holds that secession is justified only if secessionists can create a viable, if minimal, state on contiguous territory.
In April 1995 the Ludwig Von Mises Institute sponsored a secession conference. Papers from the conference were later published in the book Secession, State and Liberty by David Gordon. Among articles included were: “The Secession Tradition in America” by Donald Livingston; “When is Political Divorce Justified?” by Steven Yates; “The Ethics of Secession” by Scott Boykin; “Nations by Consent: Decomposing the Nation-State” by Murray Rothbard; “Yankee Confederates: New England Secession Movements Prior to the War Between the States” by Thomas DiLorenzo; “Was the Union Army's Invasion of the Confederate States a Lawful Act?" by James Ostrowski.
In July 1998 the Rutgers University journal “Society” published papers from a “Symposium on Secession and Nationalism at the Millennium” including the articles “The Western State as Paradigm” by Hans-Herman Hoppe, “Profit Motives in Secession” by Sabrina P. Ramet, “Rights of Secession” by Daniel Kofman, “The Very Idea of Secession” by Donald Livingston and “Secession, Autonomy, & Modernity” by Edward A. Tiryakian. In 2007 the University of South Carolina sponsored a conference called “Secession As an International Phenomenon” which produced a number of papers on the topic.
Some theories of secession emphasize a general right of secession for any reason (“Choice Theory") while others emphasize that secession should be considered only to rectify grave injustices (“Just Cause Theory”). Some theories do both. A list of justifications may be presented supporting the right to secede, as described by Allen Buchanan, Robert McGee, Anthony Birch, Walter Williams, Jane Jacobs, Frances Kendall and Leon Louw, Leopold Kohr, Kirkpatrick Sale, and various authors in David Gordon’s “Secession, State and Liberty,” includes:
Aleksandar Pavkovic, associate professor at the Department of Politics and International Studies at Macquarie University in Australia and the author of several books on secession describes five justifications for a general right of secession within liberal political theory:
Allen Buchanan, who supports secession under limited circumstances, lists arguments that might be used against secession:
Movements that work towards political secession may describe themselves as being autonomy, separatist, independence, self-determination, partition, devolution decentralization, sovereignty, self-governance or decolonization movements instead of, or in addition to, being secession movements.
The Platine War (1853-1854) was triggered by the efforts of Paraguay, Uruguay and Corrientes Province, with the support of the Empire of Brazil, to secede from the Argentine Confederation which sought to recreate the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata.
During the 19th century, the single British colony in eastern mainland Australia, New South Wales (NSW) was progressively divided up by the British government as new settlements were formed and spread. Victoria (Vic) in 1851 and Queensland (Qld) in 1859.
However, settlers agitated to divide the colonies throughout the later part of the century; particularly in central Queensland (centred in Rockhampton) in the 1860s and 1890s, and in North Queensland (with Bowen as a potential colonial capital) in the 1870s. Other secession (or territorial separation) movements arose and these advocated the secession of New England in northern central New South Wales, Deniliquin in the Riverina district also in NSW, and Mount Gambier in the eastern part of South Australia.
Secession movements have surfaced several times in Western Australia (WA), where a 1933 referendum for secession from the Federation of Australia passed with a two-thirds majority. The referendum had to be ratified by the British Parliament, which declined to act, on the grounds that it would contravene the Australian Constitution.
Austria successfully seceded from Nazi Germany on April 27, 1945. This took place after seven years of Austria 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 nationalistic opera La muette de Portici was performed in Brussels. Soon after, the Belgian Revolt occurred, which resulted in the Belgian secession from the Netherlands.
Two southern republican states seceded from Brazil in 1835. Defeated in the War of the Farrapos, they returned in 1845. The slightly earlier cabanagem struggle of Grão-Pará was in part a northern secessionist movement.
Throughout Canada's history, there has been tension between English-speaking and French-speaking Canadians. Under the Constitutional Act of 1791, the Quebec colony (including parts of what is today Quebec, Ontario and Newfoundland and Labrador) was divided in two: Lower Canada (which retained French law and institutions and is now divided between the provinces of Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador) and Upper Canada (a new colony intended to accommodate the many English-speaking settlers, including the United Empire Loyalists, and now part of Ontario). The intent was to provide each group with its own colony. In 1841, the two Canadas were merged into the Province of Canada. The union proved contentious, however, resulting in a legislative deadlock between English and French legislators. The difficulties of the union led to the adoption of a federal system in Canada, and the Canadian Confederation in 1867. The federal framework did not eliminate all tensions, however, leading to the Quebec sovereignty movement in the latter half of the 20th century.
Other occasional secessionist movements have included anti-Confederation movements in 19th century Atlantic Canada (see Anti-Confederation Party), the North-West Rebellion of 1885, and various small separatism movements in Alberta particularly (see Alberta separatism) and Western Canada generally (see, for example, Western Canada Concept).
After the 1823 collapse of the First Mexican Empire, the former Captaincy-General of Guatemala was organized into a new Federal Republic of Central America. In 1838 Nicaragua seceded. The Federal Republic was formally dissolved in 1840, all but one of the states having seceded amidst general disorder.
In 1974 the Turkish Army invaded northern Cyprus to protect the interests of the ethnic Turkish minority, who in the following year formed the Turkish Federative State of Cyprus and in 1983 declared independence as the Republic of Northern Cyprus, recognized only by Turkey.
The Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste (also known as East Timor) has been described as having "seceded" from Indonesia. After Portuguese sovereignty was terminated in 1978, Indonesia forcefully assimilated East Timor. However the United Nations and the International Court of Justice refused to recognize this incorporation. Therefore the resulting civil war and eventual 2002 Timorese vote for complete separation are better described as an independence movement.
Following the 1993 victory of counterrevolutionary forces in an Ethiopian civil war, Eritrea, which had been united to that country by conquest by Italy, seceded in a United Nations referendum. Secessionist forces in Tigre and elsewhere agreed to continue Ethiopia as a federation.
After a decade of tumultuous federalism, Ecuador and Venezuela seceded from Gran Colombia in 1830, leaving the similarly tumultuous United States of Colombia, now the Republic of Colombia which also lost Panama in 1903.
The Constitution of India does not allow Indian states to secede from the Union. Secessionist movements in Nagaland and Sikkim have been suppressed by the military, and separatist sentiment still runs strong in those states. Secessionists were also active in Mizoram, Punjab as Khalistan, Assam, Manipur, Tripura and Tamil Nadu although these separatist sentiment has died down in those states. This has been due to a mixture of military action and political agreements. See for example, Mizo Accord and Assam Accord. However Nationalist political parties, such as the Hurriyat Conference although active, face several restrictions by India since it was given a special status within the Union of India.There are at least 9 states in India where hundreds of separation movements are carried out.
The Movement for the Independence of Sicily (Movimento Indipendentista Siciliano, MIS) has its roots in the Sicilian Independentist Movement of the late 1940s. They have been around for 60 years and is the oldest movement in Italy. Lega Nord sees the independence of Padania which includes lands along the Po Valley in northern Italy.
Active secession movements include: Assyrian independence movement, Iranian Kurdistan; Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI), Khūzestān Province (Arab nationalist); Al-Ahwaz Arab People's Democratic Popular Front, Democratic Solidarity Party of Al-Ahwaz (See Politics of Khūzestān Province: Arab politics and separatism), and Balochistan People's Party (BPP) supporting Baloch Separatism.
When racial and partisan strife erupted, Singapore left the Malaysian federation in 1965. Agitation for secession has since been sporadic on the culturally distinct large island of Borneo in the states of Sabah and Sarawak.
Secession movements have surfaced several times in the South Island of New Zealand. A Premier of New Zealand, Sir Julius Vogel, was amongst the first people to make this call, which was voted on by the Parliament of New Zealand as early as 1865. The desire for South Island independence was one of the main factors in moving the capital of New Zealand from Auckland to Wellington that year.
The South Island Party with a pro-South agenda, fielded candidates in the 1999 General Election and a new South Island Party was formed before the 2008 General Election. Today, the question of South Island Independence remains a matter of public debate rather than a political issue.
Between 1967 and 1970, the unrecognised state of Biafra (The Republic of Biafra) seceded from Nigeria, resulting in a civil war that ended with the state returning to Nigeria. Later in 1999 at the beginning of a new democratic regime, other secessionist movements emerged, the movement for the Actualization of a Sovereign state of Biafra was formed as a military wing of the Republic of Biafra.
Sweden, having left the Kalmar Union with Denmark and Norway in the 16th century, entered into a loose personal union with Norway in 1814. Following a constitutional crisis, in 1905 the Norwegian Parliament declared that King Oscar II had failed to fulfill his constitutional duties on June 7. He was therefore no longer King of Norway and because the union depended on the two countries sharing a king, it was thus dissolved. After negotiations Sweden agreed to this on October 26.
After the Awami League won the 1970 national elections, negotiations to form a new government foundered, resulting in the Bangladesh Liberation War by which the eastern wing of Pakistan seceded. The Balochistan Liberation Army (also Baloch Liberation Army or Boluchistan Liberation army) (BLA) is a Baloch nationalist militant secessionist organization. The stated goals of the organization include the establishment of an independent state of Balochistan free of Pakistani and Iranian Federations. The name Baloch Liberation Army first became public in summer 2000, after the organization claimed credit for a series of bomb attacks in markets and railways lines.
Somaliland is an autonomous region, which is part of the Somali republic. Those who call the area the Republic of Somaliland consider it to be the successor state of the former British Somaliland protectorate. Having established its own local government in Somalia in 1991, the region's self-declared independence remains unrecognized by any country or international organization.
In 1910, following the British Empire's defeat of the Afrikaner in the Boer Wars, four self-governing colonies in the south of Africa were merged into the Union of South Africa. The six regions were the Cape Colony, Orange Free State, Natal and Transvaal. The two regions later became the nations of Lesotho and Swaziland in the 1920s. Following the election of the Nationalist government in 1948, some English-speaking whites in Natal advocated either secession or a loose federation. In 1993, leading into South Africa's first elections of universal suffrage and the end of Apartheid, the Natal and Cape regions called for their secession from South Africa. Pressure from the National Party government and the ANC (African National Congress) managed to suppress the two movements. In 2008, a political movement calling for the return to independence of the Cape resurged in the shape of the political organisation, the Cape Party. The Cape Party contested their first elections on 22 April 2009.
Spain (known officially as "the Kingdom of Spain") was assembled in the 15th century from various component kingdoms, of which Portugal seceded in the Portuguese Restoration War while other component kingdoms lost their secession wars. Spain has several secessionist movements, the most notable being in Catalonia and the Basque Country.
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 Republic of Ireland is the only territory that has withdrawn from the United Kingdom proper. It declared independence in 1919 and, as the Irish Free State, gained independence in 1922. Currently the United Kingdom has a number of secession movements:
Discussions and threats of secession have often surfaced in American politics, but only in the case of the Confederate States of America was secession actually declared. A 2008 Zogby International poll revealed that 22% of Americans believe that "any state or region has the right to peaceably secede and become an independent republic." The United States Supreme Court ruled in Texas v. White, 74 U.S. 700 (1869), that while the union was "perpetual" and that secession ordinances were "absolutely null," membership nevertheless could be revoked "through revolution, or through consent of the States."
On June 25, 1991, Croatia and Slovenia seceded from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Others followed, the federation collapsed, and the remaining country, was renamed to Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Several wars ensued between Serbia and seceding entitites and among other ethnic groups in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and later, Kosovo.
Kosovo declared independence on February 17, 2008 and was recognized by several dozen countries, but remained under United Nations administration for several months prior to succession. Montenegro peacefully separated from its union with Serbia in 2006.
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