Separatist movement

"Separatists" redirects here. For other uses, see Separatists (disambiguation).
For World Heritage Encyclopedia's meaning of separatism, see Separatism.


Separatism is the advocacy of a state of cultural, ethnic, tribal, religious, racial, governmental or gender separation from the larger group. While it often refers to full political secession,[1] separatist groups may seek nothing more than greater autonomy.[2] Some groups refer to their organizing as independence, self-determination, partition or decolonization movements instead of, or in addition to, autonomist, separatist or secession movements. While some critics may equate separatism and religious segregation, racial segregation or sexual segregation, separatists argue that separation by choice is not the same as government-enforced segregation and may serve useful purposes.[3][4][5][6][7]

Motivations for separatism

Groups may have one or more motivations for separation, including:[8]

  • emotional resentment of rival communities.
  • protection from ethnic cleansing and genocide.
  • justified resistance by victims of oppression, including denigration of their language, culture or religion.
  • propaganda by those who hope to gain politically from intergroup conflict and hatred.
  • the economic and political dominance of one group that does not share power and privilege in an egalitarian fashion.
  • economic motivations: seeking to end economic exploitation by more powerful group or, conversely, to escape economic redistribution from a richer to a poorer group.
  • preservation of threatened religious, language or other cultural tradition.
  • destabilization from one separatist movement giving rise to others.
  • geopolitical power vacuum from breakup of larger states or empires.
  • continuing fragmentation as more and more states break up.
  • feeling that the perceived nation was added to the larger state by illegitimate means.
  • the perception that the state can no longer support one's own group or has betrayed their interests.
  • opposition to political decisions
  • wish to have a more practical political structure and not rely on people who are located far away to govern them or otherwise impractical solutions

Governmental responses

How far separatist demands will go toward full independence, and whether groups pursue constitutional and nonviolent or armed violence, depend on a variety of economic, political, social and cultural factors, including movement leadership[9] and the government's response.[10] Governments may respond in a number of ways, some of which are mutually exclusive. Some include:[11]

  • accede to separatist demands
  • improve the circumstances of disadvantaged minorities, be they religious, linguistic, territorial, economic or political
  • adopt "asymmetric federalism" where different states have different relations to the central government depending on separatist demands or considerations
  • allow minorities to win in political disputes about which they feel strongly, through parliamentary voting, referendum, etc.
  • settle for a confederation or a commonwealth relationship where there are only limited ties among states.

Some governments suppress any separatist movement in their own country, but support separatism in other countries.

Types of separatist groups

Separatist groups practice a form of identity politics - "political activity and theorizing founded in the shared experiences of injustice of members of certain social groups." Such groups believe attempts at integration with dominant groups compromise their identity and ability to pursue greater self-determination.[12] However, economic and political factors usually are critical in creating strong separatist movements as opposed to less ambitious identity movements.[10]

See more complete lists of historical and active autonomist and secessionist movements, as well as a list of unrecognized countries.


Religious separatist groups and sects want to withdraw from some larger religious groups and/or believe they should interact primarily with co-religionists.

  • English Christians in the 16th and 17th centuries who wished to separate from the Church of England and form independent local churches were influential politically under Oliver Cromwell, who was himself a separatist. They were eventually called Congregationalists.[13] The Pilgrims who established the first successful colony in New England were separatists.[14]
  • Christian separatist groups in Indonesia,[15][16] India[17] and South Carolina (United States).[18][19]
  • Zionism sought the creation of the state of Israel as a Jewish homeland. This resulted in religious separatism between the Jewish Israelis, and Muslim and Christian Palestinians following the Balfour Declaration. Simon Dubnow, who was ambivalent toward Zionism, formulated Jewish Autonomism which was adopted in eastern Europe by Jewish political parties such as the Bund and his own Folkspartei before World War II.[20]
  • The Partition of India and (later Pakistan and Bangladesh) arose as a result of separatism on the part of both Hindus and Muslims, as well as strong national identities on both sides.
  • Russia, China, India, Thailand and the Philippines have Muslim-separatist groups.
  • Sikhs in India sought an independent nation of Khalistan during the 1970s and 1980s. The Khalistan movement inside India that even involved the assassination of the then Prime Minister of India Indira Gandhi as a retaliation of an Indian military operation Operation Blue Star directed against Sikh militants in the Sikhs' holiest shrine, the Golden Temple, in which many innocent Sikh civilians too lost their lives. The murder of Mrs. Indira Gandhi evoked a backlash in the form of mass murders of Sikhs in 1984, which only further strengthened the Khalistan Movement, but it largely subsided owing to the efforts of the police in Punjab, led by a Sikh police officer KPS Gill. However, some in the Sikh diaspora in the West and elsewhere, and even Sikhs in India, still support the idea of Khalistan, and there have been sporadic instances of violence for this cause, or attempts at the same, which have been foiled by India's intelligence agencies and security personnel.[21]
  • Tibetan Buddhists in China.


Ethnic separatism is based more on cultural and linguistic differences than religious or racial differences, which also may exist. Notable ethnic separatist movements include:


Some groups seek to separate from others along racialist lines. They oppose inter-marriage with other races and seek separate schools, businesses, churches and other institutions or even separate societies, territories and governments.


Separatist feminism is women's choosing to separate from ostensibly male-defined, male-dominated institutions, relationships, roles and activities.[39] Lesbian separatism advocates lesbianism as the logical result of feminism. Some separatist feminists and lesbian separatists have chosen to live apart in intentional community, cooperatives, and on land trusts.[40] "Gay" separatism including both lesbians and gay men holds they should form a community distinct and separate from other groups.[41][42]

See also

Political science portal


External links

  • Graham K. Brown, "Horizontal Inequalities, Ethnic Separatism and Violent Conflict: The Case of Aceh, Indonesia", United Nations Human Development Report 2005 (PDF).
  • Center for Strategic and International Studies, October 9, 2007 (PDF).
  • James Millard, [2], 2004 (PDF).
  • Michelle Ann Miller (2004). "The Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam law: a serious response to Acehnese separatism?". Asian Ethnicity 5 (3): 333–351.
  • Michelle Ann Miller, ed. (2012). Autonomy and Armed Separatism in South and Southeast Asia (Singapore: ISEAS).
  • Ryan Griffiths, "Globalization, Development and Separatism: The Influence of External and Internal Economic Factors on the Strategy of Separatism" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the ISA's 49th AAnnual Convention, Bridging Multiple Divides, Hilton San Francisco, San Francisco, USA, March 26, 2008 (PDF).
  • Pascal Boniface, Le Monde Diplomatique, January 1999.

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