Kurds reject “cultural autonomy” in Syria, Donetsk flares up, UK government says “no” to post-Brexit Scottish referendum

27 January to 2 February

Theresa May.
Theresa May. Author: Number10 @ Flickr
WEEKLY ROUNDUP. In the context of Russia's recent diplomacy moves in Syria, reports have emerged that Moscow has proposed to grant Kurdistan a semi-autonomous status in a draft new Constitution for Syria. Russian government-linked Sputnik News leaked parts of the text, which talks of "Kurdish cultural self-ruling systems." Main Syrian Kurdish party, PKK-linked PYD rejected the cultural autonomy proposal because, it argues, the Kurdish movement seeks federalism instead, a PYD representative explained after a meeting in Moscow with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on 27 January. Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova denied that Russia had made such a proposal, and added that in any case the choice is up to "the Syrian people." In a similar vein, the Bashar al-Assad government maintains its anti-federalism and anti-autonomy stance.

On a different Russian-related front, an escalation in fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian secessionist forces of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) has been witnessed over this week, particularly in Avdiyivka. The Ukrainian government regretted the death of 13 of its soldiers starting from 27 January, while the DPR said Ukrainian artillery killed at least 6 people. Both sides blame each other for the escalation. The UN Security Council called on the belligerents to "return" to the ceasefire. NATO called on Russia to use its "considerable influence" on DPR authorities to stop the violence. The Red Cross warned that "thousands of people" are in danger, without heating systems or water supply.

In Catalonia, anti-capitalist CUP party decided to support the Catalan government's 2017 budget. The party believes the decision "brings the break up [with Spain] and the start of the constituent process closer." Thus, CUP paves the way for an independence referendum the Catalan government expects to hold in September, although Catalan Vice President Oriol Junqueras said it could be held before summer. This week, Nationalia has published an article on the matter. Meanwhile, and according to news reports, the Spanish government is preparing a package of measures to forcibly block the referendum.

Still on independence issues, Herald Scotland wrote that the UK government will not give permission to Scotland to hold a second referendum before 2020. The vote is one of the scenarios that Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon suggested in the case Scotland found itself being left outside the European single market as a result of Brexit. The bill allowing Theresa May's government to trigger the process of leaving the EU was passed this week by the House of Commons, with votes for from the Conservative Party and most of Labour Party MPs. The SNP, Plaid Cymru, SDLP, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens, as well as 47 Labour MPs, voted against. The bill needs to go through the House of Lords and again through the House of Commons before it becomes law.

Minister for Culture and Language Policy of the Basque government wants 75% of those under 25 to be able to speak Basque by 2020. Bingen Zupiria explained that the goal is set at 4 percentage points higher than the current situation (71%). In order to be able to do so, the Basque government will seek to strengthen bilingual and Basque-only models in vocational training, and to offer free Basque courses for adults, up to B2 level.

Still in relation to languages, the 20th edition of the Dictada Occitana ("Occitan Dictation") has been held. The event has been organized in some 40 cities and towns, mostly in Occitania, which some of them in the Catalan Countries and Paris.

The Corsican Assembly discussed the possibility of implementing a universal basic income for all citizens. A report foreseeing the establishment of a commission to examine how the idea could be implemented in the island was approved with votes for from Corsican pro-autonomy and pro-independence parties, some French left-wing parties and the National Front.

In Paris, four Amazigh activists held a 3 day-long hunger strike to protest Kamel Eddine Fekhar's imprisonment. Fekhar, a leader of the Mzab autonomy movement, has been held under provisional detention in Algeria for one year and a half, accused of violating national security and inciting hatred. Fekhar is now hospitalized after having held a hunger strike for one month. Fekhar says he is either released or maintains his protest to death.

Still in North Africa, the African Union re-admitted Morocco as a full member after 33 years of absence. Morocco left the bloc in 1984, after the organization had admitted the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. This time, Morocco has not set the expulsion of the Sahrawi state as a pre-condition, but analysts agree that Rabat aims to expel the SADR from within the bloc.

The governments of Canada and the Heiltsuk Nation (British Columbia) signed a reconciliation agreement that provides for the contribution by the federal authorities of 2.5 million Canadian dollars towards the construction of a new political and cultural centre. The agreement provides for future negotiations between both governments.

In another Indigenous-related development, the Tohono O'odham Nation announced that it will seek to prevent the construction of the wall along the Mexico-United States border. The wall will divide the native people's traditional lands, which straddle the border. Verlon Jose, Vice Chairman of the Tohono O'odham Nation, was clear to say: "Over my dead body will a wall be built."

Further south and still in relation to Indigenous peoples, Global Witness human rights group released a research that links "top Honduran politicians and business elites" with violence undergone by environmental activists in the Central American country. Last year, murders of Lenca Indigenous organization COPINH's activists Berta Cáceres and Lesbia Yaneth Urquía attracted worldwide attention.