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The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

As world remembers Berlin, others still fight for freedom

Nov. 9, 1989, marked the beginning of the end for the Soviet Union.

On that day, the government of East Germany began allowing people to travel between the communist eastern and the democratic western halves of Germany. The Berlin Wall, which divided the two for almost 40 years, became pointless.

“The Soviet Union was so strapped financially and politically that (Gorbachev) told the world that no longer would the Soviet Army be used to keep these countries in line,” said Robert Duncan, assistant professor of political science. “So, they took off.”

Since then, many separatist movements have established themselves in Eastern Europe and beyond. Despite their differences, these movements share common threads in their causes.

“What drives them, of course, is the same thing that has been the fuel in the tank of the development of nations since the French Revolution,” said Philip Slaby, associate professor of history. “There is this notion that each people, however that’s defined, deserves (their) own nation-state.”

Recently in Ukraine, ethnic Russian regions in the east have declared independence from the government. They formed their own countries: the People’s Republic of Donetsk and the Luhansk People’s Republic. The separatists, reportedly supported by Russia, claim the Ukrainian majority suppressed their Russian culture.

“I actually think it was true; they were suppressed,” said Natalya Shelkova, assistant professor of economics. “I (went) there, and I was speaking Russian. Half of the population speaks Russian, but people would actually refuse to speak to me in Russian.”

The collapse of the Soviet Union and other communist states after the fall of the Berlin Wall set the stage for future separatist movements as well.

“(The Soviet Union and Yugoslavia) were states that had multiple nations within them,” said anthropologist and author Chris Roth to The Guilfordian. “That really could only be accomplished by suppressing nationalist feelings within those states and making the expression of ethnic nationalism something that was ironically unpatriotic. The result is this bottled up feeling that burst out in the form of ethnic conflict and desires for independence.”

Much like how economic difficulties led to the breakup of the Soviet Union, economic problems have also influenced many separatist movements.

Residents of Catalonia, a region of northern Spain with its own unique language, have repeatedly called for independence in recent years. Catalonia is one of the most economically productive regions of Spain.

“They are a major taxpayer to Spain,” said Shelkova. “There is a cultural question too. (They claim) the south of Spain is lazy and we are the hardworking north of Spain. Catalonia’s argument is definitely an economic argument; they are the stronger region.”

Twenty-five years ago, people celebrated a triumph of self-determination and nationalism. Today, that spirit lives on in a variety of movements, not only in Ukraine or Catalonia, but as far flung as Uyhghurs in Western China and the Scots in the U.K.

“It’s just human nature to want as a country, as a people, to decide things for yourself and be your own boss,” said Duncan.

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