The quest of some in Catalonia, so far in Spain, to gain independence, this week caused more turmoil than usual.
Violent protests broke out in major Catalan cities, particularly Barcelona following this week’s verdict by the Spanish Supreme Court that sentenced nine Catalan politicians and activists to jail terms ranging between nine and 13 years for that independence bid (three others were fined).
Catalonia is a semi-autonomous region in north-east Spain and makes up 16% of Spain’s population. It is a wealthy region enjoying wide-ranging autonomous powers apart from its own language, parliament, flag and anthem.
Prior to the Spanish Civil War -1936-39 -the region was given broad autonomy, but this was rolled back under the dictatorship of Francisco Franco.
It regained autonomy after General Franco’s death in 1975.
A long simmering issue that doesn’t seem to disappear any time soon.
The issue of Catalonia is not the only territorial dispute simmering in Europe.
In another corner in Spain, for many years there was the violent campaign for Basque independence. Whilst the violent campaign by the militant separatist movement of ETA dissipated, thanks mainly to the strong-willed political determination of various Spanish governments, the deep-rooted political drive is still present.
But unlike in Catalonia, most residents in Basque region oppose fully fledged independence.
Further north, thanks to Brexit, the issue of Northern Ireland has once more raised its head and revived memories that were never far from what was known as the Troubles in the late 20th century.
Always in the European Union, there is the division of Cyprus which reverberates, sometimes with dire consequences, in the relations between Turkey and Greece. In these last weeks, there was hope that both sides in Cyprus were on the cusp of a diplomatic breakthrough. But simmering hostilities and tough rhetoric on oil and gas exploration around the island seems to have scuppered all hope.
On a somewhat positive note, though not all would agree, there was the resolution of the issue between North Macedonia and Greece as well as that of Kosovo.
One can argue that every country in Europe has a simmering territorial dispute. Some more pressing than others, some resolved, some others that won’t go away like the one in the heart of the European Union between the regions Flanders and Wallonia in Belgium.
Away from the borders of the European Union but still close to home there are the various territorial disputes in what was once the Soviet Union. Most pressing of them all is the situation in the Ukraine, involving most of the East of the country, which is in the hands of pro-Russian rebels, We cannot forget Crimea, now effectively part of Russia.
Russia also virtually controls Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two regions that were once considered part of Georgia. The list is rather long even if one had to eliminate all the territorial upheaval in the former USSR.
Few subjects are more politically sensitive than territorial disputes, the root of many wars in Europe and elsewhere. Disputes stem from borders that rarely took into respect national identity and aspirations and have thus remained a constant source of argument and conflict, as the Balkan wars of the 1990s bear grim testament to. Disputes are rarely forgotten, but often lie dormant for many years only to be awakened when the circumstances are right and it takes hardship for them to be subdued or, hopefully, solved.