First and foremost, let us define separatism. This word is commonly used in order to refer to regions and movements claiming independence, but actually this term is much broader. A separatist movement is any movement that claims not only independence, but generally speaking a (more) autonomous status or special rights, be it broader usage of the local language in public life, religious rights, or more self-governance for a defined ethnic, linguistic, or religious group or territorial entity. So “separatism” is a continuum. The intensity of separatism can vary from very moderate demands voiced, for example, in the form of newspaper articles and speeches by politicians, up to an outright independence movement with a militant wing that launches terroristic attacks or forges a guerrilla war. It is also important to keep in mind that a separatist movement is almost never a unitary actor – there are different organizations, popular movements, the press, politicians, and, most importantly – individuals, supporting a stronger or weaker claim on the continuum from total loyalty to the host state up to complete independence. Moreover, some separatist movements have a military wing, while others do not.
I would group contemporary separatists movements we should we watching into four categories:
- parts of failed and failing states, using the miserable condition of their home states in order to claim independence;
- de facto states that already gained independence, but are not internationally recognized;
- movements claiming independence, be it by peaceful or violent means (secessionist movements);
- movements that sometimes use independence claims in their rhetoric, but that most probably would be satisfied with just more autonomy.
Bearing this in mind, I recommend to keep an eye on the following groups and territories in the next couple of months and years:
- Failed and failing states: all parts of Somalia and individual groups in Syria and Iraq, especially the Alavits and the Kurds.
- De facto states: Donbass region will most probably not be pacified any time soon. As last months have shown, the risks of Nagorno-Karabakh flaming up again should not be underestimated. Palestine might get further recognition, same goes for Western Sahara. Some experts give an independent Taiwan no more than 10 years, after that it most probably will be in one way or another taken over by China. The semi-independence of Hong Kong is also being gradually reduced as a pro-Beijing candidate has won the recent elections.
- Secessionist movements: Kayin state in Myanmar. Scotland might conduct a second independence referendum in order to be able to stay in the EU after Brexit. Some experts estimate the prospects of an independent Quebec as high, but it will not happen any time soon.
- Separatist movements: this category is the biggest one. I will name just a few examples. Tibet and Xinjiang in China: according to Freedom House, religious freedoms have suffered a dramatic backlash since the enthronization of Xi Jinping, which means, that the separatist claims from Tibetans and Uighurs might also intensify.
Catalonia has reduced its claims from independence to a broader autonomy and especially recognition for its distinctive language and culture, but cannot be expected to give up on them any time soon.
Tanzania’s Zanzibar already enjoys a very high degree of independence, but might claim more rights in the realm of economy as more oil reserves are being discovered on its shelf.
Aceh in Indonesia has gained an autonomous status in 2004, but as its rights are still violated by the central government, the GAM rebels are still opposing the government. Also, the idea of independence is still popular among the population.