Within days of one another voters in Iraqi Kurdistan and Catalonia went to the polls, or attempted to go to the polls, to vote in secession referenda. Nearly 92% of voters in Iraqi Kurdistan voted in favor of leaving Iraq, and Antiwar.com reports, “the accuracy of the numbers aren’t in question.”
This however hasn’t prevented Secretary of State Rex Tillerson from stating “The United States does not recognize the… unilateral referendum” while claiming, “The vote and the results lack legitimacy.”
This statement begs the question: What is required for an independence referendum to be considered legitimate?
First we must explain what such a referendum actually is. An independence referendum is an attempt to exercise the right of self-determination (i.e. the right of “determination by the people of a territorial unit of their own future political status”) or as Ada Colau, the mayor of Barcelona told reporters, “[we’re] talking about… a breakup between [Spanish Prime Minister] Mariano Rajoy and his government with Catalonia.”
Much like the Seinfeld episode where George attempts to end a relationship with a woman named Maura who tells him, “I refuse to give up on this relationship. It’s like… launching missiles from a submarine. Both of us have to turn our keys” – secession is a breakup between two groups of people that requires cooperation from all parties involved. In the case of both Catalonia & Iraqi Kurdistan the larger central governments have declared the referenda to be illegal. In the case of Catalonia, the Spanish central government seized ballots and other election related materials and sent in riot police to try preventing voters from accessing the polls. Enric Millo, Madrid’s representative in Catalonia, said that “the rule of law has dismantled the illegal referendum,” even though voters turned out en mass to cast ballots in support of a divorce from Spain.
Antiwar.com reports, Turkey’s Foreign Minister – fearing that Turkish Kurds may vote to leave Turkey – warned “that every option is on the table for dealing with Iraqi Kurdistan’s independence bid,” adding that Turkey is “considering a joint military operation with the Iraqi central government against the Kurds.”
Similar in nature to the manner in which an abusive spouse will attempt to prevent the abused from leaving; Simon Jenkins writes in The Guardian, “When sovereign states see their power eroding, they act irrationally.”
Jenkins adds, “The only sensible conclusion is to acknowledge the right of territorial groups to some form of self-rule. The liberty of a democratic state to impede its own break-up is qualified by the right of its provinces to decide for themselves how they want to be governed and by whom.”
Thus it’s obvious that the Spanish and Iraqi central governments should recognize and respect the will of the people attempting to leave the (abusive) relationship they find themselves in, and turn the key; because the right to self-determination either exists for everyone, or it doesn’t exist at all!