Apr 1, 2021 in Political

book What are the differences between Catalonia and South Ossetia referendums?


The problem of the political independence movements in different countries had become the relevant issue for the modern world. Countries with different levels of economic and political development face the same issue of separatism and secession of the regions. The purpose of the study is to present the main factors and causes that can lead to the secession movements on the example of two regions Catalonia and South Ossetia. The Most Different Systems Design (MDSD) method had been used to form the general assessment of the secession processes in these regions. The results of the study show that both regions had completely different independent variables that affected the development of the secession processes. The main conclusion of the research is that the complex approach to the study of the secession processes should be performed. The researchers should discuss the economic, social, political factors, and the role of the foreign states in this process.



The political confrontation between different ethnic groups inside the separate country can usually lead to the situation when one ethnic group wishes to declare political independence and take a part of the states territory. It is possible to highlight the set of different causes and factors that can lead to such result. Here, it is important to discuss not only the processes inside the country but also the influence of the external players on the situation inside the state. Here, the purpose of the research is to study the differences in the processes that led to the occurrence of the independence referendums in two different regions Catalonia and South Ossetia. The choice of these regions is explained by the differences in causes for the development of the conflict that could be observed there.

The research question is: What are the differences between Catalonia and South Ossetia referendums?

The Most Different Systems Design (MDSD) method had been used for the aims of the presented research. The results of the study presented that Catalonia and South Ossetia had completely different causes for the performance of referendum, which were also connected with the influence of the external political players. The main conclusion of the research is that it is useful to present the complex approach to the study of the political independence processes, which should include the analysis of the internal and the external factors influence.


In this section, it is important to discuss several key questions that will allow the researchers to define the main differences between the independence referendums that took place in South Ossetia and Catalonia. There are three key questions that require resolution in this sphere the question about the source of nationalism among the population in the country that required political independence, the main reasons for the proclamation of political independence, and the factors that led to the eventual performance of the referendums. The discussion of these questions will provide the researchers with the necessary information about the main causes, factors, and desired results of the considered referendums. From this point, the presented questions are considered as the main criteria for the comparison and the differentiation of the phenomena under study.

The Sources of Nationalism in Catalonia and South Ossetia

For Catalonia, the question of national identity was relevant on all stages of the regions being in Spain. The occupation of Catalonian territories during the conflict between Spain and Austria in the eighteenth century and further assimilation of its territories led to the occurrence of the region in Spain that had serious nationalist ideas. The further historical development process, which included the periods of political repressions against Catalonians, also contributed to the development of the nationalist trends in Catalonia. Here, the granting of the autonomy status did not allow Spain to resolve the issue in general. Opposite to this, the failure in legislating the new Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia in 2003 became the reason for the escalation of the conflict in Catalonia and in the Spanish society in general. It is possible to say that the lack of political power to reach the consensus with the Catalonian government during the Spanish history was the main factor of the separatism and nationalism thoughts development.

For Ossetia, the ethnical situation that led to the development of nationalism was quite different. According to Nalbandov, the ethnic mobilization of Ossetians in Georgia started in 1980s and was later encouraged by the growth of Georgian nationalism in 1990s. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Georgian government had developed a position of aggressive nationalism, oriented on the promotion of the main nation in the country. All other ethnic groups, including Ossetians, had faced political tension and reduction of their political and public rights. In this way, it is possible to say that while the population of Catalonia considered low level of autonomy as the main reason for the development of nationalism, the growing political discrimination was the main trigger for the occurrence of the Ossetians national movement.

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The Main Reasons for the Occurrence of the Independence Movement

It is important to notice that the difference in the organization of the political and economic processes in Georgia and Spain was the main reason for the escalation of conflict in both states. Here, while the situation for Catalonia is mainly connected with the economic factors, the referendum in South Ossetia was a result of the unwise political position of the Georgian government.

Catalonia is the region that had experienced the high level of benefits from the economic development of Spain in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Here, the main idea of the Spanish economic policy was that the economic development of Catalonia will serve as the main argument for the Catalonian government and nationalist organizations to abandon the ideas of political independence. Catalonia presented an effective hegemonic nationalism policy that was oriented on the attraction of foreign immigrants for the development of the region. At the same time, the set of political factors had influenced the development of the secessionism in Catalonia. Among them were the set of non-binding referendums on secession in 2009-2011, the limitations to the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia that was legislated by the Constitutional Court, and the economic deterioration that took place in Spain in 2010s. In general, it is possible to say that the confidence in the fact that Spain exploits the Catalonian region, and the observation of the facts that Spain will definitely reduce the political autonomy rights of Catalonia in the future were the main causes for the final referendum organization.

As for the situation in South Ossetia that led to the referendum, Jentzsch had distinguished three main causes that had motivated the Ossetian political leaders to declare independence from Georgia. The first reason was the requirement of political, economic, and social security of Ossetia from Georgia. Opposite to Catalonia, the process of obtaining political independence by South Ossetia was connected with a military confrontation between the region and Georgia. At the same time, Russia served as a military protector of South Ossetia. Here, the aggressive nationalist movement in Georgia forced Ossetians to declare independence to protect their ethnic group. Also, the second cause was the requirement for political autonomy in the situation when only ethnic Georgians could build a political career in the country. The third reason was the requirement to obtain deep cooperation with the North Ossetia territory that is a part of Russian Federation. In this way, it is important to highlight the role of the Russian Federation in the escalation and the resolution of the conflict in South Ossetia.

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The Factors that Affected the Performance of Referendum

In this literature review, it is important to distinguish the definitions of factors and causes that led to the referendum in the discussed countries. The definition of causes is used to describe the core reasons in the spheres of politics and economy that affected the decision of some ethnic group to reach political independence. And the factors definition is integrated to describe the environmental conditions that stimulated the occurrence of referendums, like the role of third parties or countries in the escalation of the conflict. In this way, the referendum could never take place without the effect of certain factors; even in the role of causes was significant.

For Catalonia, the main factors that affected the decision to perform the referendum was the decision of the Madrid government to cut certain freedoms and rights of the Catalonian autonomy, and the confidence in the positive prospects of Catalonia's independence. In this way, the population of Catalonia was sure that the independence will serve as a basis for social freedom and economic development of the region.

In South Ossetia, the main factors that encouraged the organization of referendum were the significant growth of aggressive Georgian nationalism, and the positive role of Russia as a political and military protector. Here, Russia aimed to restore control over the post-Soviet territories. The confidence in the Russian support served as an additional factor for the development of the secession movements in South Ossetia. As a result, the decision about the referendum was caused not only by the internal factors but also the influence of the foreign state that had its own interests in the region.


Research Design

The research will be performed on the basis of the literature review of most relevant researches connected with the presented theme and research question. Here, the dependent variable will be the fact that the discussed regions have held a referendum in their quest for self-determination. The independent variables list will include the status of the regions before the referendum, the role of nationalism factor, the reasons for a referendum, different factors that encouraged the referendum process, and military confrontation.


The Most Different Systems Design (MDSD) method had been used to analyze the case. This method can be effectively used for the analysis of different events and cases that have the same independent variable. For the discussed question, the problem of the secession movements in Catalonia and South Ossetia can be considered as a common independent variable. At the same time, the method does not limit the researchers opportunities for adoption of different dependent variables to the study of the cases. It is useful for the comparison and analysis of the completely different cases.

Sample and Procedure

The sample for the research will include 10 reviewed articles as the literature sources for the research. The authors will provide the complex analysis and discussion of the main findings from the articles to form the general assessment of the connections between the dependent and the independent variables for the selected regions.


The results of the study allowed the researchers to identify the main differences in the factors that caused the development of the nationalist movements in Catalonia and South Ossetia and finally led to the organization of the independence referendum. For Catalonia, the main causes of this process included the lack of the effectiveness in the decisions of the Spanish government on the question of the political autonomy of the region. Despite Catalonia did not present significant efforts for independence in the beginning of the twenty-first century, the exclusion of certain political freedoms from the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia caused the growth of interest to independence among the population. At the same time, the ineffective economic policy of Spain in 2010s led to the economic stagnation in the country, which was defined by the population in Catalonia as an exploitation of the regions wealth by the government in Madrid.

For South Ossetia, the decision about the political independence was rather connected with the inadequate ethnic policy of the Georgian government, the nationalist ideas among the Ossetian society, and the role of the Russian Federation in this process. Opposite to Catalonia, the decision about the referendum in South Ossetia was not connected with the economic factors. Here, the nationalist policy of Georgia did not leave the opportunities for the realization of Ossetians interests in the country. And Russia had used this situation for its own benefit, providing political and military support to independent South Ossetia.

These findings can be used for the analysis of the same political processes in other countries. Here, the presented method of research can be used for the analysis of other secessionism processes, including the Brexit process or the referendum in Scotland. It is also possible to provide the further research of the discussed question through a closer examination of cultural differences between ethnic groups, and the role of this factor in deciding on political independence.


The analysis of the two cases of the independence referendum in Catalonia and South Ossetia made it possible to say that the variety of causes and factors can be applied to the definition of the independence processes. Here, the researcher should discuss the political, economic, social and cultural factors of differences between different ethnic groups inside the country that could lead to the decision about the independence referendum. At the same time, it is important to include the discussion of the foreign states role in the process of the referendum.


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