10 European Countries You Might Not Have Heard Of but would want to visit

December 30, 2014 11:44 am

The recent Scottish independence referendum ended with a defeat
for the nationalists, but the mere fact that it was held at all shows
how far European secession movements have come in recent years. Even
while the European Union has promoted greater integration across the
continent, a wide variety of regions and ethnic minorities have begun to
press their claims for independence. While would-be states like
Catalonia, Flanders, and Scotland are well-known, Europe boasts a
bewildering array of wannabe countries—the European Free Alliance links over 40 nationalist movements, and there are many more outside of it.

10 Galicia

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Galicia is an autonomous region in northwest Spain, on the border
with Portugal. Galicians consider themselves to be a distinct ethnic and
cultural group, and the Spanish government recognizes them as a historical nationality
within Spain. But for many in Galicia, that’s just not enough and there
are plenty of nationalist and separatist parties on the regional
political scene. Most of them act jointly as part of the Bloque Nacionalista Galego
(BNG), which works for further devolution of power from the central
government to the regional assembly. Many BNG members also seek eventual
complete independence from Spain, hoping to form a new republic within
the European Union. Following a split within the BNG, independence is
also espoused by the rising left-wing radical Alternativa Galega de Esquerda (AGE).
Despite the strong cultural identity of the Galician people, the
electoral performance of the BNG has typically been relatively modest.
Meanwhile, AGE has made impressive gains, winning 14 percent
of the vote in the 2012 regional elections, but remains something of a
fringe party. With this in mind, it seems that the dream of Galician
independence is unlikely to become a reality within the next few
years—but it certainly isn’t dead either.

9 The Aland Islands

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An archipelago of tiny islands in the Baltic Sea, Aland
has already obtained a surprising amount of autonomy while officially
remaining part of Finland. Although the islands only have around 28,000
inhabitants, approximately 0.5 percent of the total Finnish population,
they have their own parliament, which has extensive powers—including
the right to veto any attempt to limit those powers by the central
Finnish government. Regional citizenship is required to own land or vote
in local elections. Aland is also the only region of Finland to have a
single official language—Swedish.
Under the Act on the Autonomy of Aland, the islands are also
completely demilitarized, have their own police force and postage
stamps, and can issue their own passports. The islands were able to
obtain this level of autonomy after Finland declared independence in
1917. At the time, Aland islanders voted overwhelmingly to leave and join Sweden.
Finland refused to give up sovereignty and the League of Nations ruled
that Helsinki could keep the islands as long as they were granted
significant rights and protections.
The subsequent compromise has lasted for almost a century and it
seems hard to believe that Aland will ever separate from Finland.
However, some islanders complain that the Finnish government has not
kept its promises and that it has become increasingly hard to do
business in Swedish. Alands Framtid (Future of Aland), a local political party which seeks full independence for the islands as a sovereign microstate, reached almost 10 percent of the vote in the most recent regional elections.

8 The Faroe Islands

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The Faroe Islands
are an archipelago of 18 beautiful islands in the North Atlantic.
Located roughly halfway between Scotland and Iceland, they’re
majestically isolated from all of their neighbors. Ruled by Denmark
since the 14th century, the islands are currently a self-governing nation under the Danish crown.
National sentiment has a long history in the Faroes—they first tried
to hold an independence referendum in the chaos following the end of
World War II. Although the secessionists won by a small margin (48.7
percent of the vote, compared to 47.2 percent against), the Danish
parliament opposed independence, arguing that a majority had not voted
for it. Further confusing matters, the Danish prime minister supported
the secessionists and announced that the islands would be granted
independence. Two days of confusion followed, until the King of Denmark annulled the referendum
and dissolved the Faroese parliament. New elections were held, but this
time the parties that favored association with Denmark managed a narrow
win and negotiated home rule for the islands.
The independence question subsided until 2011, when a proposed
Faroese constitution proved controversial. The Danish government claimed
the document, which would have put even more powers in Faroese hands,
was “incompatible” with Denmark’s own constitution, telling the islands to chose between withdrawing the document or immediate independence.
For fairly practical reasons, the Faroese government chose to
withdraw the draft. According to a prominent local politician, the
islands are still too dependent on Danish subsidies
to consider full independence. In the meantime, pro-independence
parties have a majority in the local parliament and are doubtless
waiting for the moment when they can afford to govern without outside
financial support.

7 Corsica

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Corsicans proudly claim that they’ve been ruled many times, but never
conquered. Although the island has been a region of France for hundreds
of years, its people still don’t consider themselves French, Italian,
or anything else. They’re simply Corsicans.
The island first proclaimed its independence back in the 18th
century, forming a republic which lasted for 14 years before it was
annexed by France in 1769. Often neglected by the French state, the
island saw an upsurge of nationalism
in the second half of the 20th century, when several separatist
movements were founded. Perhaps the most infamous is the National
Liberation Front of Corsica (FLNC), a militant group which has carried
out bombings, bank robberies, extortion, and arson in the name of
independence. A separate nationalist group was responsible for the 1998 assassination of the top-ranking French official on the island.
In recent decades, the French government has granted more autonomy to
the island and backed programs to protect the Corsican language,
undermining local support for the nationalists. Nevertheless, the fight
for Corsican independence continues, with the FLNC claiming
responsibility for sporadic bombings over the past decade.

6 Sardinia

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Unlike their Corsican neighbors, the nationalist movement on the
Italian island of Sardinia has sought independence through non-violent
means. This model has huge support from the Sardinian people. According
to a 2014 poll
conducted by the universities of Cagliari and Edinburgh, a whopping 87
percent of Sardinians want further powers for the island’s local
government, while around 41 percent are in favor of full independence
immediately.
However, so far this support has failed to translate into electoral
success for pro-independence parties. In the 2014 elections,
pro-sovereignty parties only took around 18 percent
of the total vote, while the pro-independence candidate for regional
President came third with only 10.8 percent of the votes. In fact, one
of the largest pro-independence blocs was left without any seats in the
local parliament at all, due to a law which requires coalitions to
secure at least 10 percent of the total vote in order to be eligible for
candidates to be elected.
However, the independence movement is far from dead, with supporters claiming an online referendum should be held. One newly founded group is even suggesting the island should secede from Italy and join Switzerland instead.

5 Transdniestria

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Located between Romania and Ukraine, Moldova is a tiny state about
the size of Maryland. Since 1990, around 10 percent of its territory has
formed an even tinier breakaway state known as Transdniestria, or
Transnistria, or the Pridnestrovskaya Moldavskaya Respublika.
Moldova was part of the Soviet Union, gaining independence as the
USSR began to split up in the early 1990s. But the Russian-speakers of
Transdniestria didn’t want to be a minority in a Romanian-speaking
country and refused to join the new state. Tensions simmered until 1992,
when an armed conflict
broke out. Russian military support for the secessionists meant that
Moldova was unable to impose its authority on Transdniestria, and the
region has been a de facto state ever since.
Nowadays, Transdniestria has its own constitution, flag, national
anthem, coat of arms, government, parliament, currency, and military—the
only thing it lacks is international recognition.
In fact, Transdniestria has never been recognized by a single member
state of the United Nations, and is thus officially still considered
part of Moldova. Transdniestria has attempted to shore up its position
with continued independence referendums, the last being held in 2006. A
massive 97 percent of voters supported independence, with the
possibility of free association with Russia, but even the referendum hasn’t been recognized by other countries yet.

4 South Tyrol

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A mountainous geographical region based on a former province of the
Austrian Empire, Tyrol is currently split between Austria and Italy,
with South Tyrol as an autonomous province of Italy with a large
German-speaking population. Under Benito Mussolini, the fascist
government tried to Italianize South Tyrol by banning
the use of the German language, but such policies actually increased
local identity, culminating in a series of bombings carried out by the
South Tyrolean Liberation Committee in the 1960s (the organization no
longer exists and the current secessionist movement espouses
non-violence).
These days, the province is autonomous enough that only 10 percent of taxes raised there go to the central government. Despite this, there is widespread support for political parties advocating reunification
with Austria. Until this can be organized, they believe that the
province should secede and form an interim Free State of South Tyrol.
Such parties usually control around a third of the South Tyrolean Provincial Council, although their popularity varies depending on the political climate.

3 Venice

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During a weekend when the eyes of the world were focused on the
Russian-backed referendum in Crimea, a referendum for independence from
Italy went almost unnoticed. An estimated two million residents
of the Italian region Veneto, whose capital is Venice, voted
overwhelmingly to declare independence and reform the ancient Venetian
Republic. The referendum was conducted online, using digital ID numbers
to identify eligible voters. A massive 89 percent voted in favor of
secession, surprising pollsters, who had previously estimated only
around 65 percent were in favor.
The Italian government refused to recognize the referendum, saying
that it was not organized by any official body and consequently open to
manipulation, but it’s undeniable that nationalist movements have strong support
within the region. Veneto is one of Italy’s richest regions, and locals
feel that they don’t get much as they give from the government,
complaining that most of their taxes go to subsidize poorer regions of
Southern Italy. The referendum won’t result in immediate independence,
but it’s hard to believe the issue will simply go away either.

2 North Cyprus

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A large island in the Eastern Mediterranean, Cyprus has long been
split between a Greek majority and a Turkish minority. When the country
became a member of the European Union back in 2004, they made it without
the Turkish north, which has effectively long been an independent country.
The issue dates back to 1974, when the Cypriot National Guard, with
support from the Greek Junta, attempted a putsch with the goal of making
Cyprus part of Greece. In response, Turkey launched an invasion,
claiming the coup violated a treaty signed between the United Kingdom,
Cyprus, Greece, and Turkey.
The Turkish invasion eventually resulted in the island being split in
two, with the dividing line passing right through the capital of
Nicosia. The northern third became the Turkish Republic of Northern
Cyprus in 1983. The new republic has never been widely recognized or
accepted into the UN and remains heavily economically dependent on
Turkey. This dependence, as well as the possibility of a Cypriot
entrance into the EU, sparked hopes for reunification. In 2004, a
referendum was held proposing to merge the island into a federated
state. In the north, the Turks approved of the plan, while the vast
majority of Greeks rejected the proposal. As a result, Cyprus remains
split to this day.

1 Republika Srpska

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In English, Republika Srpska means “Serbian Republic,” but is not to
be confused with the Republic of Serbia, since it is actually one of two entities
comprising Bosnia and Herzegovina. Since the 1990s, the tiny Balkan
country has been split between the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina
and Republika Srpska. Bosniaks and Croats make up the majority in the
former, while Serbs are dominant in the latter.

Republika Srpska
was founded
during the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, right after the referendum
on independence in Bosnia and Herzegovina. While most of the Bosnian
parliament proclaimed the new republic, ethnic Serbian deputies refused
to support the secession and held their own assembly in the city of
Banja Luka, forming their own state in response. The infamous Bosnian
War quickly followed.
After the war, Republika Srpska became an autonomous entity within
Bosnia, but many Bosnian Serbs still hoped to form an independent state,
which would eventually merge with Serbia. The success of Kosovo’s
independence movement fueled these dreams, with Serbian leaders claiming
that if Kosovo had the right to separate from Serbia, then they had the
right to separate from Bosnia and Herzegovina as well. Although still
part of Bosnia, Republika Srpska has recently sent their own representative
to Brussels, the seat of the European Union. Nobody from the EU
attended the ceremony marking the event, but it created even more
tension with Bosniak officials and sent yet another hint that the Serbs
see their future as lying outside of Bosnia.

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