Current Affairs Debate

The Rise and Fall of Referendums in Europe (and Beyond): The Law and Politics of Secession and Self-determination

On the 16th of November 2017 the Law and Development research Group, under the impulse of professor Qerim Qeirmi, organized a current affairs debate that welcomed students, researchers and an interested audience from outside the university.

This debate presented a discussion about the recent and rising propensity of seeking to solve state and territorial arrangements through popular referendums, both in Europe and outside. The Catalan independence referendum of 1 October 2017 and ensuing declaration of independence is the last such attempt. It succeeds the previously unofficial referendum on independence held in Catalonia in 2014.

A series of other referendums have exhibited a persistent symbolic and over-symbolic feature of the most contemporaneous state of international affairs to both manifest internal discontent and serve larger political goals linked to either expansionist or isolationist ideals.

The Crimean (2014), Scottish (2014), Brexit (2015), Kurdish (2017), Catalan (2017), as well as greater autonomy referendums in Italy’s northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto (2017) represents the sequence of events that portray the larger trend of a populist scheme that is both a symptom of, and formidable challenge to, manage diversity and internal economic disparity.

  • How do nation states and international system address calls for self-determination and secession in the 21st Century?
  • What does international law have to say?
  •  Is there a role for comparative constitutional law?
  • What lessons could be drawn from pertinent past practice (e.g., former Yugoslavia / State Union of Serbia and Montenegro, former Soviet Union, former Czechoslovakia, Bangladesh, East Timor, and South Sudan)?
  • What were the International Court of Justice’s findings about unilateral declarations of independence in its 2010 Kosovo Advisory Opinion and what are its implications?


  • Moderation and introduction on self-determination by prof. Koen De Feyter (UA International Law)
  • Prof. dr. Vincent Scheltiens on the Catalan case (UA Political history)
  • Prof. dr. Qerim Qerimi on the Kosovo and wider Balkan case (UA Law Faculty, Pristina Law School, Harvard Law School)
  • Gamze Erdem Türkelli on the Turkish – Kurdish case (UA Law Faculty)