Referendums

Maybe it’s the Canadian in me but referendums get me excited. Two hopeful nation-states have voted, two have voted yes, and both are considered illegal.

When I hear about the legality of an independence referendum I can’t help but roll my eyes. Iraqi and Spanish politicians have decried the results of the referendums because their constitutions do not allow for secession. Off the top of my head I can’t think of a single constitution that does allow for the breakup of a country, that’s the whole indivisible thing. Nobody want’s to write into the DNA of a state a self destruct button, that would be foolish. Facetiousness aside, it is an intriguing issue.

Kurdistan

The Kurds without a doubt (and all politics aside) should have a state. They are a nation with a defined self, a region with borders, and are the authoritative military power within these borders. Unfortunately for them, all the chips are laid against them. Kirkuk has vast oil wealth that Iraq depends on, and the Kurds are spread over four countries, two of which are quite powerful, and they have no great power backer.

That last one is the real kicker. Greece needed Great Britain, France, and Russia to intervene militarily to ensure its independence from the Ottoman Empire. Kurdistan has Canada, reluctantly and fading fast.

In the mire of the Middle East Canada attached itself to the Kurds to defeat Daesh, not at a glance a bad thing. Canada has a small army, but our special forces are quietly renowned and we sent the Peshmerga our special forces. On training mission to be sure (Another phrase that has me rolling my eyes). Canadian forces are doing hands on training, as in side by side on the front lines. I was continually surprised no one called this out, until somehow one of our “trainers” broke a sniper record and there was a collective “oh.” That is all beside the point now. Canada is responsible for creating a highly trained and effective militia among a people that have a long standing desire for independence.

One particularly awkward aspect of this is that our ally Turkey does not get along with the Kurds. Another is that it could create (continue?) a civil war in Iraq at a point when Daesh is weakening. This could be one of  those actions that in a decade we look back and go “oops.”

I think no matter what the international community says the Kurds will push forward with their independence. This could be their best chance at brokering independence. The region is stabilizing a bit, but not enough that the Peshmerga aren’t needed to fight. They have not unilaterally declared independence, instead they want to barter with Iraq. This would probably need to involve a sharing of the oil fields for Iraq to even remotely agree, but who knows what could make Iran or Turkey agree.

Everyone knows that the Kurds want independence. This referendum creates a bit of legitimacy and could be an appeal to Western populations who are not concerned with the geopolitics of the Middle East and simply see people who want to control their destiny.

Catalonia

Unlike the Kurds, Catalans at one point were independent. It’s been nine hundred odd years but still. I know relatively little about this movement except that it has a long history. I don’t even know if there is a strategic reason for Spain to have Catalonia. I think it is simply to stop Spain from losing bits and pieces. Aragon, Basque, Valencia, and Galicia are autonomous from the central government and Catalonia could set a precedent that Spain does not want.

The referendum here is more of a problem than the Kurdish one. For one, only about 40% of people voted, I don’t care that 90% percent of these voted for independence, 40% is too small a number to break up a country (Ahh my Canada is coming out, show me a clear majority).  This number without a doubt is affected by the negative actions of the Spanish police forces at polling stations.

While I understand not wanting your country to break up (we love you Quebec), it isn’t good for anyone to hold the territory of unwilling citizens, that is a path to violence and bitterness. I think the UK did it right with the Scottish referendum, set the date and let the campaigning begin. At least there is an understanding then. You can bet if the Catalan vote came back in the negative the government would want to stand by it.

Instead of forcing the state on people a government should convince people why it is good for them to be part of something greater. When the ballots are counted we know the will of the people and should stand by it.