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If your region is part of a state and has been for an extensive amount of time, what circumstances would cause you to want to deviate? This process of diverging from a state and in order to gain political strength and /or autonomy from that state is referred to as devolution (de Blij & Muller, 2010, p. 61). Devolution can come in the form of full of limited autonomy based upon the desires of the separating region. Europe has been experiencing this devolution phenomenon for centuries in one form or another, but within the last several years it has become more recurrent.
Among the many factors that may cause a region to devolve from a state, I will discuss the main separating reasons, if there are cultural/ethnical differences, and the common characteristics between the separatist movements.
Centrifugal forces or, forces that pull people apart, are the root cause of devolution. Typically, there is a core, nationally acknowledged idea of what a country stands for and it binds that people of that country together.
Those binding forces are referred to as centripetal forces. When that centripetal force deteriorates, countries decide either through rebellion or negotiations to attempt to increase their political strength and/or autonomy. There are a variety of different centrifugal forces that can cause a separatist movement. These include, but are not limited to, economic disagreements, spatial factors, nationalism, political upheavals, and ethnic or cultural divides. While these may be the reasons to begin devolving, there are positive reasons to devolve as well.
Consequently, devolution has the potential to make smaller and more effective governments. These governments have a stronger partnership with the communities they effect most, and local areas will be able to make decisions that suits the local community best and make stronger bonds within that community. If decisions are being made by officials that are detached from the region they represent, are those decisions the best choices. All in all, reasons for devolution are as diverse as the populations that reside within them.
Catalonia is a region of Spain known for its great wealth and productivity. Before the Spanish Civil War, Catalonia experienced expansive autonomy, but it was unfortunately suppressed when General Franco, the former dictator of Spain, came to power (BBC News, 2018). When General Franco died in 1978, Spain became democratic and Catalonia resumed their autonomy. A financial crisis in 2008, caused Catalans to resent the central government and encourage a separatist movement. Catalonia contributes a great deal to the Spanish economy, and independence would cost Spain 20 percent of its economy. Catalans began to seek independence from Spain through negotiations and rallies with over 80 percent of Catalans in favor of independence.
With a population of over seven million, distinct traditions, and its own language, Catalans also fear loss of identity. Immigrants from other parts of Spain seek employment from the wealthy region. This immigration brings poorer people, with different languages and ways of life. Catalans feel the erosion of their nationality encroaching and the process of devolution would help remedy this problem by allowing Catalonia to set its own laws and governing system. Catalonia presents two main reasons for devolution: economic and ethnocultural reasons.
Corsica is an island off western Italy that is a part of France. Corsica’s devolution is a prime example of spatial factors influencing a separation. While a majority of the islands 260,000 inhabitants still wish to remain part of France (BBC News, 2001), a certain vocal minority called the National Liberation Front of Corsica, or FLNC, do not. Corsica is an island and some of its inhabitants wonder why they are a part of France at all. This spatiality prompted a separatist movement. While the nationalists are not seeking full autonomy from France, they are wanting certain recognitions such as the Corsican language and financial independence (BBC News, 2018). The FLNC is responsible for many attacks in France and their anger was set in motion due to its drive for autonomy Corsican nationalism.
When thinking about devolution from a religious aspect, Bosnia and Yugoslavia come to mind. Bosnia and Herzegovina, a former republic of Yugoslavia, had three distinct groups including the Serbs (Christianity), the Croats (Catholic), and Bosnian Muslims (Islam). This mixture of cultures and religions cause great tensions and in 1992, Bosnia claimed its independence from Yugoslavia due to a series of economic crises and political problems. Many Serbs who still lived there wanted to remain with Yugoslavia and began removing Muslims from their homes (BBC News, 2006). While religious aspects did not cause the original motivation for devolution, the ultimate divide was obvious with the partition of the religions.
Another separation was that of the Czech Republic and Slovakia, once known as Czechoslovakia. Czechoslovakia peacefully decided to separate in 1993 and became known as the velvet divorce (de Blij & Muller, 2010, p. 61). The Czechs were more communists and the Slovaks favored a parliamentary democracy. A divided media and separate views by political leaders, led to the ultimate dissolve on the nation in 1992.
When assessing each devolution and the motivations that drove each state to attempt autonomy and political independence, you find commonalities. While each separation was prompted by a unique set of circumstances, you find that nationalism is a key characteristic. The Catalans may have been prompted by economic reasons, but they were ultimately frustrated with the loss of their nationality. Corsica experienced the same loss of nationalism and presented their displeasure in violent acts. Bosnia was prompted by economic and political issues, but the overwhelming mixture of the three diabolically different religions, caused tensions and fighting for what the nationality of Bosnia represents. Czechoslovakia had two very different ideas on how the government should progress and government is a principle factor of how a country views themselves based on governmental style.
Each state/region wants to be recognized independently and obtain ethno-regional identity. This independence can be in the form of economic, cultural, ethnic, and/or political, but all these attributes are regions seeking fairness and accurate representations of how they see themselves. Populations of people want to be able to identify with each other and show a form of national pride. When there is a differing in what national pride means, you’ll inevitably find devolution.
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