by Rick Moran
Despite a thousand years of history, the nation-states of Europe contain within them ethnic groups and nationalities who yearn for their own country.
In some cases, the national and ethnic character of these minorities have been deliberately stifled. There has also been organized movements that have sprung up to fight for the national aspirations of the minorities.
Next year, votes for independence will occur in Scotland and Spain's rich Catalonia region. Some analysts believe that success in either case may lead to other minorities to seek their own path to independence.
Some suspect the two campaigns will feed off each other in the months to come. Each cause is marshalling a similar range of emotional, practical and cold-blooded economic arguments as well as trading off widespread frustration with those in power in the traditional national capital.
Alfred Bosch, leader of the Republican Left, or ERC, bloc in Spanish parliament that has long lobbied for independence, said separatist politicians in Spain do keep an eye on what's happening in Scotland.
In both countries "there are the underlying emotional arguments for independence, then there are the more rational economic ones. What we are seeing is that they are coming together."
Polls vary, but at least one survey has suggested more than half of Catalonian voters would vote for a separate state if given the chance. That compares to figures of just over a third in Scotland - although those on both sides of the argument in that country say it is entirely possible numbers could change between now and the final vote.
Pro-independence activists in both countries are quick to stress they see themselves as part of a wider trend. The number of countries of the world has almost trebled since 1945 as African and Asian states broke free of colonial masters and with the fall of the Soviet Union creating a plethora of new nations across Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
In Brussels, Scottish and Catalan parties are already forging something of an alliance with Belgian Flemish parties.
"The global trend has been moving in this direction for some time," Fiona Hyslop, cabinet secretary for external affairs for the pro-independence Scottish government, told Reuters recently.
"Many countries which were not independent 20 years ago have gained their independence and are now full members of the European Union."The Flemish have plenty of autonomy in multi-ethnic Belgium and are so thoroughly integrated into society that they are unlikely to win their independence. But worries in Russia about ethnic breakaways are nothing new and China also has minorities with their own culture and language.
There are many regions in European countries that have special claim to ethnic rights and privileges. The effect on them of a successful referendum in Scotland or Catalonia is unknown, but given the debt problems across Europe, anything is possible if the dominoes begin to fall and a crisis throws the EU into chaos.
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