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Separatism is the advocacy of a state of cultural, ethnic, tribal, religious, racial, governmental or gender separation from the larger group, often with demands for greater political autonomy and even for full political secession and the formation of a new state. Depending on their political situation and views, groups may 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 serves useful purposes.

Motivations for separatism

Groups may have one or more motivations for separation, including:
  • 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.

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 and social factors, including movement leadership and the government’s response. Governments may respond in a number of ways, some of which are mutually exclusive. These may have little effect, satisfy separatist demands or even increase them.
  • 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 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. However, economic and political factors usually are critical in creating strong separatist movements as opposed to less ambitious identity movements.

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.


{{double image|right|RAŚ w Warszawie.jpg|200|3 Marsz Autonomii 012.jpg|200|Annual manifestation of separation of Silesia in Warsaw, capital of Polandmarker and local manifestation in Katowicemarker, capital of Upper Silesia (environs of the former Silesian Parliament).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 male-defined, male-dominated institutions, relationships, roles and activities. 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. "Gay" separatism including both lesbians and gay men holds they should form a community distinct and separate from other groups.


See also


  1. Free Dictionary; Merriam Webster dictionary; The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English 2008.
  2. Metta Spencer, Separatism: Democracy and Disintegration, Rowan & Littlefield, 1998, 4,5.
  3. Identity Politics, Stanford University Encyclopedia of Philosophy, November 2, 2007.
  4. John Leo, “Let the Segregation Commence, Separatist graduations proliferate at UCLA”, City Journal, June 13, 2007
  5. Nancy Levit, Embracing Segregation: The Jurisprudence of Choice and Diversity in Race and Sex Separatism in Schools (PDF), University of Illinois Law Review, August 29, 2005, 455.
  6. Karen W. Arenson, CUNY Program to Help Black Men Is Called Discriminatory, New York Times, April 19, 2006.
  7. Betty A. Dobratz, Stephanie L. Shanks-Meile, Strategy of White Separatism, Journal of Political and Military Sociology, Summer 2006.
  8. Nancy B. Howell, Radical Relatedness and Feminist Separatism.
  9. Link to: Chima, Jugdep. "Effects of Political Leadership on Ethnic Separatist Movements in India" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, Palmer House Hotel, Chicago, IL, Apr 12, 2007 (PDF); Chima, Jugdep. "How Does Political Leadership Affect the Trajectories of Ethnic Separatist Insurgencies?: Comparative Evidence from Movements in India" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Marriott Wardman Park, Omni Shoreham, Washington Hilton, Washington, DC, Sep 01, 2005 (PDF).
  10. See D.L. Horowitz's “Patterns of Ethnic Separatism,” originally published in Comparative Studies in Society and History, 1981, vol 23, 165-95. Republished in John A. Hall, The State: Critical Concepts, Routledge, 1994.
  11. Metta Spencer, 5-6.
  12. Encyclopædia Britannica on religious separatists.
  13. John Abbot Goodwin, The Pilgrim republic: an historical review of the colony of New Plymouth..., Houghton Mifflin Company, 1888, separatists&f=false p. 1
  14. Christian separatist on trial in Indonesia, BBC, August 19, 2002.
  15. Chris Brummitt, Christian separatist leader threatens to raise independence flags in Maluku, Associated Press, April 5, 2002.
  16. Syed Zarir Hussain, Christian separatist group in Tripura target tribal Hindus, Indo-Asian News Service, December 31, 2002/
  17. Christian separatist ready for new home, Ventura County Star, June 9, 2007.
  18. Colorado Rep. disavows ties to SC Christian separatist group, Associated Press, October 9, 2005.
  19. Koppel S. Pinson, Simon Dubnow, p. 13-69, 1958.
  20. Patrick Hennessy and Melissa Kite, Poll reveals 40pc of Muslims want sharia law in UK, The Daily Telegraph, February 20, 2006; this is supported by the Archbishop of Canterbury.( Archbishop of Canterbury argues for Islamic law in Britain)
  21. Indonesian deputy steps into Moluccas row, BBC, May 13, 2002.
  22. Saberi Roy, An Analysis of Conflicts Around The World, June 1, 2007.
  23. Blbir Punj, The Ghost of Khalistan,, June 16, 2006.
  24. Niger, hit by Tuareg revolt, adopts anti-terror law . Reuters. April 20, 2008.
  25. Harold E. Glass, Ethnic Diversity, Elite Accommodation and Federalism in Switzerland, Publius, Vol. 7, No. 4, Federalism and Ethnicity (Autumn, 1977), 31-48. Oxford University Press.
  26. African Ethnicities University of Florida online library.
  27. Excerpt from book Ethnic Conflicts in Africa, Okwudiba Nnoli, Distributed by African Books Collective, 1998, 417, University of Florida online library.
  28. Emmy Godwin Irobi, Ethnic Conflict Management in Africa: A Comparative Case Study of Nigeria and South Africa, May, 2005, Conflict Research Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder.
  29. Reviews of Katharine Adeney Federalism and Ethnic Conflict Regulation in India and Pakistan, Palgrame MacMillan, 2007.
  30. S.D. Muini, Ethnic conflict, federalism, and democracy in India, Chapter 10 of Ethnicity and power in the contemporary world, Edited by Kumar Rupesinghe and Valery A. Tishkov, United Nations University Press, 1996.
  31. Ethnic Boundaries, China, Country Studies program of United States Library of Congress.
  32. Franklin Foer, Racial Integration, Slate, November 23, 1997.
  33. Rich Barlow, Topic turns to Wright case, Boston Globe, April 26, 2008.
  34. Professor Predicts 'Hispanic Homeland', Associated Press, 2000
  35. Betty A. Dobratz, Stephanie L. Shanks-Meile, The White Separatist Movement in the United States: "White Power, White Pride!", The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000, 1-3, 10.
  36. Marilyn Frye, "Some Reflections on Separatism and Power" in Feminist Social Thought: A Reader, Diana Tietjens Meyers (ed.) Routledge, 1997, 406-414.
  37. Joyce Cheney, Lesbian Land, Word Weavers Press, 1976.
  38. Mark K. Bloodsworth-Lugo, In-Between Bodies: Sexual Difference, Race, and Sexuality, SUNY Press, 2007, ISBN 0791472213
  39. Richard D. Mohr, Gays/Justice: A Study of Ethics, Society, and Law, Columbia University Press, 1988, ISBN 0231067356

External links

  • Michelle Ann Miller (2004). "The Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam law: a serious response to Acehnese separatism?". Asian Ethnicity 5 (3): 333–351. doi:10.1080/1463136042000259789.

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