Further step taken for Bougainville independence referendum in 2019 as Catalonia vows to hold its own vote in 2017

20 to 26 January

Puigdemont speaks at the European Parliament.
Puigdemont speaks at the European Parliament. Author: Govern de Catalunya
WEEKLY ROUNDUP. President of Catalonia Carles Puigdemont, vicepresident Oriol Junqueras and Foreign minister Raül Romeva explained in Brussels the Catalan government's initiative to hold a referendum on independence from Spain in September 2017. Speaking to a packed conference room at the European Parliament, Puigdemont urged the EU to "be part of the solution" to Catalan demands. The Spanish government says it will never allow a secession vote to be held. Some 30 MEPs from all groups represented in Parliament attended the speech. The European Free Alliance backed Catalan demands. Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy despised the Catalan initiative in Brussels. Meanwhile, Catalan Unity party and the Committee for Self-determination unveiled a draft statute proposal to grant Northern Catalonia —in France— the status of territorial collectivity.

Another country on its way to hold a referendum on independence is Bougainville, a semi-autonomous island currently belonging to Papua New Guinea (PNG). Bougainville and PNG governments this week agreed to establish a Referendum Commission which will be in charge of preparing and conducting the vote. The provisional date for the referendum is set for June 2019. The whole process is being backed by the UN. There are two preconditions for the referendum to be actually held: the strengthening of the island's self-government institutions, and the disposal of weapons that were used in an armed conflict that lasted until 2001 and are still in circulation in Bougainville.

Sortu, the largest party of the Basque pro-independence left, held its party conference in which Arnaldo Otegi was re-elected secretary general. The party renewed its commitment to achieve a Basque Republic after a social majority becomes convinced of the need for independence, "because a revolution cannot be made from above or from the institutions," Otegi said.

Bordering the Basque Country, about half of Occitania is set to have a framework convention for the teaching of Occitan. The new agreement, designed by the Public Office of the Occitan Language, is expected to enable an increase in students who learn Occitan, and the readiness of improved teaching materials. It will be the first time that such a convention brings the signature of the Education minister —the document, which also includes similar measures for the teaching of Catalan in Northern Catalonia, has been signed by Najat Vallaud-Belkacem. The agreement will only apply to the regions of Nouvelle-Aquitaine and Occitania (roughly comprising the western half of the whole territory of Occitania), while it will not be implemented in the regions of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes and Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur.

The UK Supreme Court ruled that PM Theresa May's government approval from Parliament to trigger the process for leaving the European Union. At the same time, the ruling says that no consent is needed from devolved assemblies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. According to Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, the ruling shows that Scotland needs to decide to take "its future into its own hands."

In Macedonia, five weeks after the legislative election (11 December 2016), government formation talks are not bearing any fruits. Three Albanian parties that hold the key to government unveiled on January 7 a political platform including several demands. The parties are demanding that Albanian be declared an official language throughout the Macedonian territory, and the official recognition that a genocide against the Albanian population was perpetrated from 1912 to 1956. The largest Macedonian party in Parliament (the VMRO) refuses to accept those conditions. As talks are stalled, a snap election cannot be ruled out.

The Turkish Parliament passed a constitutional amendment that seeks to turn the country into a presidential republic. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's AKP (Islamist conservative) and opposition MHP (right-wing ultranationalist) supported the move. Centre-left, kemalist CHP MPs voted against, while left-wing, pro-Kurdish HDP lawmakers boycotted the vote. 12 of HDP MPs remain imprisoned since 2016. A referendum to ratify the amendment will be held later this year. HDP honorary chairman says the vote will be neither impartial nor free. The Turkish Police this week arrested another four HDP MPs, but they were released afterwards.

Another country that will be voting this year on constitutional changes is Nagorno-Karabakh. The Armenian-majority republic, which declared itself independent from Azerbaijan more than 25 years ago, is set to vote on February 20 whether to accept a proposal to adopt a presidential system. The Central Election Commission, January 20, officially launched the campaign allowing some 101,000 citizens to vote on the new constitutional text.

Pro-independence Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) group reported that 11 people were killed at the hands of the Nigerian Police during a demonstration in support of new US President Donald Trump. The Police denied this. Protesters were asking Trump to help them achieve Biafran independence from Nigeria.

An Amnesty International articleagain denounced the criminalization of the Mapuche movement in Argentina and the lack of legal recognition of their land ownership. This follows three separate violent incidents, 10 and 11 January, in which several Mapuche protesters were injured —two of them heavily— by the Argentinian Gendarmerie, which according to local Indigenous sources also beat several residents and destroyed some houses. Province of Chubut governor, however, argues that Mapuche activists attacked them with firearms and rocks in the first place. The incidents were caused as a result of a conflict on the La Trochita railway, which has been blocked by Mapuche activists for one month as a means to claim ownership of ancestral lands now in the hands of multinational company Benetton. Mapuche communities have for years been denouncing that CTSA, a Benetton-owned company, is illegally expelling them from their ancestral lands with the acquiescence of the Argentinian authorities.