The matter of sovereignty is as contentious today as it has ever been. If the 21st century is moving toward globalism, the 20th century was the era of decolonization, as dozens of Asian, European, and African nations broke away from empires to declare independence. In many ways, the world has the U.S.A. to thank for this trend toward national self-governance, as it was the first country to break away from the British Empire and make its own way, and in a rather dramatic fashion.
As Americans celebrate their own independence this July Fourth, let’s take a look some of the other nations that took inspiration and decided to go their own way.
The homeland of First Lady Melania Trump has had a rocky past. Slovenia has a history of nationalist movements dating back to the 1800s, but didn’t achieve independence until 1991. The country was assimilated into Yugoslavia, before (and after) parts of it were annexed by Nazi Germany and fascist Italy during WWII. It was later part of socialist Yugoslavia, a region that enjoyed greater freedoms than many other communist countries during the Cold War era, as it was not aligned with Stalin’s U.S.S.R.
Slovenia became a parliamentary democracy in 1989. In 1990, the public voted for independence and in 1991, after a brief war of independence that lasted for ten days, it was declared a sovereign state – although the Ten Day War marked the beginning of violence in the other Yugoslavian countries, including the Croatian War of Independence. It joined the European Union in 2004.
The World’s Newest Country
The world’s most recently created country, South Sudan peacefully declared independence from Sudan in 2011 – after the independence movement won 98.83% of the vote in a national referendum. The divide was largely due to ethnic and religious differences; the South Sudanese are mostly Christians and animists, who felt marginalized by their largely Muslim-Arab counterparts in Sudan.
Self-determination doesn’t necessarily solve all your problems, and so South Sudan has been ravaged by civil war since 2013. Sadly, time has taught us again and again that independence doesn’t necessarily lead to a fairy tale ending, and there are often harsh growing pains when a new nation is formed.
The Philippines and America
As the poster child of self-determination, it would be unfair for the U.S. to deny independence to its own colonies and territories. The U.S. won the Philippines in exchange for $20 million, as part of the settlement that ended the Spanish-American war in 1898. When the U.S. refused to give up control of the country, nationalists rose up in what is now known as the Philippine-American war; eventually preparations were made to hand over governance to the locals, only to be disrupted by Japanese invasion during WWII. The United States finally granted the Philippines independence in 1946, shortly after the end of the war. In a somewhat cheeky move, Philippine Independence Day was initially on July Fourth, but that date is now celebrated as “Republic Day” or “Philippine-American Friendship Day” and the day for celebrating independence is on June 12, the day the Philippines separated from Spain.
These days, U.S. overseas territories such as Puerto Rico are pushing for statehood and further integration with the mainland, while others like Guam have their own independence movements. Even California and Texas have their own independence movements. Will the America of the future look like the U.S.A. we know today?
Sovereignty Still a Priority
European provinces watched as Catalonia recently attempted to declare independence from Spain, only to be swiftly put in its place by Madrid. Scottish independence continues to be a hot topic after a 2014 popular vote narrowly saw the country remain part of the U.K.
European nations that were subject to rule by the Russian Federation and the U.S.S.R. watch Russia nervously, looking to the European Union to protect them in case Putin has expansionist ambitions, while other countries see the EU as little better than a modern-day empire, with Brexit being the first move back toward self-rule. Dozens of Asian, African and Latin American countries still house their own active separatist groups.
As America celebrates the Fourth of July, citizens can be thankful to past generations that refused to be dominated by tyranny. Today, there are many more countries than have ever existed in the past, but freedom from overlords continues to motivate and inspire millions of people across the world.