Nationalism and secession – University of Copenhagen

Nationalism and secession

As clarified in the foundational text of CSN, this theme will deal with the multiple attempts to pursue dreams of autonomy and independent national status among groups recognized as 'ethnic nations', but currently included in one or more state structures, which some or all members of these nations do not recognize as 'theirs':  so-called peripheral nationalisms, as represented by e.g. secessionist attempts in Catalonia and the Basque country in Spain, Kurds in Turkey, Syria and Iraq, Tibetan movements in China, various ethnicities in the former USSR, or Palestinian liberation movements in Israel:. They are all ethnic groups pursuing dreams about their own authentic state and trying to secede from their current political structures. Interesting and thus far unanswered questions are: what are the legitimate rights of these secessionist/peripheral groups, what are their arguments and discourses, do they have/need international backing for their project, how come these and not other cultural or linguistic groups develop a political sense of their own significance and potential standing, and what does this kind of struggle reveal in terms of nationalism, sovereignty and the change that is happening to world cultures and world politics right now?  

In the first instance we will try to answer some of these questions by focusing on the two 'Spanish' cases in the form of the following project:

Constitutionalism and Peripheral Nationalism in the 21st Century

The project examines two of the most debated revisions of the Spanish Constitution, namely the 2004 unilateral Basque proposal for a new Basque Statute, formally submitted to the Spanish Parliament, who refused to ratify its "secessionist" articles, and the more moderate 2006 revision of the Catalan Statute, which nevertheless contained important concessions to Catalonia - including the mentioning of the Catalan "nation". The proposed Catalan statute was actually approved by both parliament and popular referendum, yet it was overthrown by the Constitutional Court in 2010. In the Catalan case, the failure to see the new statute through is often presented as one of the main reasons for the subsequent secessionist upsurge in Catalonia. Yet, much more research needs to be done to ascertain that this was actually the case. Importantly, little attention has been drawn to the Basque parallel, i.e. that the failed revision of the Basque Statute seems to have had few if any political consequences. In fact, the following years saw an unprecedented effort of both Basque and Central Government forces to dismantle ETA, and Basque nationalism - in contrast to the situation in Catalonia - is now in significant decline. How do we then explain the differences between the Basque and the Catalan cases?

This pioneer study offers a historical as well as a political-juridical analysis of the most recent constitutional developments in Spain and their possible impact on the peripheral nationalisms in Catalonia and the Basque Country. Whereas Morten Heiberg will study the Catalan case, a PhD-student will examine the so-called "Ibarretxe"-plan, approved by the Basque Parliament in 2004.

Responsible researcher 

Professor Morten Heiberg is responsible for this theme. He has done extensive research on historical, legal and political aspects of Spain and Italy and has a number of significant and internationally recognized publications to his name. He recently received Queen Margaret II's prize for excellent research.