The modern international system is built, in part, on two ideas that turned out to be in tension: Borders are sacrosanct and people determine their own political status.
The former was meant to put an end to war by discouraging invasion or separatist rebellion. The latter was meant to protect citizens from dictators or occupiers. But when a subset of a population decides to break off, those two principles collide.
This has opened a vacuum in the international system when it comes to declaring independence. Neither norms nor the law are particularly clear on how or when it’s permissible.
– Max Fisher and Amanda Taub for The New York Times
One of the more perplexing arguments against independence movements is the notion of stability, that we simply can’t be doing with all this map-altering border-scribbling changes for no good reason. After all, the nations we know today have persisted for decade, even centuries: why fix what isn’t broken? Such comments are usually cast with the unspoken belief that secession is inherently bad – it’s a “problem,” a “threat to the European Order,” “economically costly,” and “incredibly dangerous to the stability of nations.” It’s more of the same story, of states protecting their power and privilege in fear of the people making decisions that might jeopardise those things.
Perhaps if the appearance of newly-independent states was a rare thing, they would have a point. But in the last 30 years or so, just as many nations have gained their independence, formed and broken unions, redrawn their borders, and even disappeared entirely. Maps had to be redrawn; globes of the world replaced; dictionaries and encyclopedias and gazetteers republished.
Today is my 34th birthday. As an experiment, I thought I’d have a look at Europe from 1984 to the present day, with images taken from a popular video that’s been doing the rounds. No doubt it will be very basic, & one’s definition of international recognition or even of “nation” will vary, but I think it’s an interesting exercise.