Breakaway Regions of Countries

Oct 10, 2017

Catalonia and Kurdistan
Catalonia (left) and Kurdistan (right) are two regions with active separatist movements.

> Play a map quiz on disputed areas, countries with limited recognition and breakaway regions.

Although countries and their borders are mostly stable and do not change very often, there are times when world maps need to be updated. The most obvious examples from recent history are when Yugoslavia and the USSR collapsed. Newly independent countries emerged, each with their own flags, governments, and laws.

Before that, many countries in Africa received independence from European colonial governments. While those situations do not occur frequently in the 21st century, there are still many regions and nations within countries that would like to become independent.


In Europe, there are many groups currently living in recognized states that are trying to become independent. Catalonia recently held a disputed referendum about separating from Spain. The region’s most recognizable city is Barcelona, and it has long held a distinct linguistic identity from the rest of Spain.


Scotland also recently rejected a referendum to break away from the United Kingdom. Although Scotland enjoys a great deal of autonomy within the union, there is a proportion of the population who feels that London has too much influence over the affairs of Scotland and its people. For now, Scotland will remain a part of the United Kingdom, although the recent Brexit vote may reopen the question of Scottish independence in the near future.


In eastern Ukraine, separatist groups who would like to form an independent state have been engaged in a violent war with opposition forces. Ethnic Russians who dominate the eastern part of the country have objected to the direction of the ethnic Ukrainian government in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital city.


Vojvodina, a region in northern Serbia, has a vocal separatist group, as does the disputed territory of Kosovo in the south of the country. In Vojvodina, the cultural connection to Hungary and the Austro-Hungarian Empire has left a distinct set of cultural and linguistic traits that some in the region feel should be separate from Serbia.


Kosovo, for its part, already operates as an independent state and has received official recognition from various countries, but not from the United Nations. The neighboring Presovo Valley is still part of Serbia, but also has designs on joining Kosovo. Although Serbia still considers it an official province, Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia and with the help of NATO forces pushed out the Serbian military in 1999.


Tranistria in Moldova has been operating as an autonomous entity since Moldova broke away from the USSR in the early 1990s. While Moldova has close ties to Romania, Tranistria wants to maintain close ties to Russia. Many of the people in that region speak Russian and consider themselves ethnic Russians, and the regional flag still bears the hammer and sickle from the old USSR flag.

South Ossetia and Abkhazia

Two regions in Georgia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, have functioned as partially-recognized independent states for the last few years, although they remain a de facto part of Georgia. Although they have received official recognition from Russia, Georgia and its allies still consider those regions as official parts of its territory that are under Russian occupation.


Chechnya in Russia remains divided over independence. It currently operates as a majority Muslim state in the Russian Federation, but there are many in the region would prefer to break away completely and form their own ethnic state based on Islam and the Chechen cultural identity.


The proposed existence of Kurdistan is another example, except that it would require separating from four current countries if it were to achieve independence. The Kurdish people currently reside in Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran, but some would like to combine their nation from parts of those four countries to create a newly independent country.

Xinjiang and Tibet

In China, there are two large provinces that seek independence from Beijing to varying degrees. Both Xinjiang and Tibet are located in the far western extreme of the country, and both provinces have active separatist movements that would like to form their own states. In addition, both places are relatively recent official additions to China and have distinct ethnic groups with their own language, culture, and religions.


Somaliland, which is effectively part of Somalia, declared its independence from Somalia, but the international community recognizes it as an autonomous region within Somalia. Nonetheless, the entity does have diplomatic relations with some countries and maintains a trade relationship with others.


Darfur is a region of Sudan that has been the focus of violent conflicts for many years. The region still operates under the authority of the Sudanese government, although it did have regional autonomy until as recently as 2016. The region remains in a state of humanitarian emergency as there are still tensions with separatist forces.


In South Africa, there have been calls for an Afrikaner state of Volkstaat in the western part of the country that is dominated by the descendants of Dutch settlers. They maintain a distinct language and cultural heritage from the rest of South Africa, and have a long-held rivalry with the British-descendant portions of the country further to the East.


The US state of Alaska has a small but active independence movement that advocates for separation from the United States. The political arm of the movement is called AKIP, for the Alaska Independence Party, is the third largest political party in the state, behind the established Democratic and Republican parties.


Quebec, the French-speaking province of Canada, has held multiple independence votes and has come close to achieving a split from Canada. The French-speaking province has maintained an uneasy relationship with the rest of Canada for many decades, and some pro-separatist forces have managed to gain political influence. Thus far, the votes for independence have failed, but the question remains on the table.


Bougainville is currently an autonomous region in Papua New Guinea. In November 2019, Bougainvilleans will vote in a referendum to decide whether they wish to stay part of Papua New Guinea or become an independent nation.