Conference summary: Exercising the right to self-determination and the right to decide in 21st century democracy

In regards to the 70th year anniversary for Tjóðveldi, the Faroese Republican Party, the party hosted a conference on the Faroe Islands on the subject of exercising the right to self-determination and the right to decide in the 21st century democracy on 12. October 2018.

The principle of self-determination and the right to decide was introduced by the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which state that: “All peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of this right can freely determine their political status and can freely pursuit the economic, social and cultural development.” This principle has been referred to in questions regarding independence in nations and societies that do not have sovereignty, including the Faroe Islands. In this regard, Tjóðveldi invited speakers from countries all over the world where the principle is relevant in their ongoing struggle for independence.

Magni Arge, Faroese member of the Danish Parliament, began the conference by welcoming the speakers and the audience. The speakers on the conference were Høgni Hoydal from the Faroe Islands, Kenneth Gibson from Scotland, Daniel Goa from New Caledonia, and Carles Puigdemont from Catalonia.


Magni Arge, Faroese Member of the Danish Parliament for the Republican Party, Tjóðveldi

Magni Arge started out by welcoming the speakers and the audience with a short introduction on the principle of the right to national self-determination.

Arge defined the concept as the right for nations to decide if and how they want to organize as sovereign states, make agreements with other states or in other ways collaborate with other sovereign states.

Arge went on to walk the audience though the history of the concept of the right to self-determination and points out that the concept especially after the Second World War had been a symbol of fundamental democratic and human rights.

“Unfortunately in the 21st Century it seems that the tendency is shifting towards a culture where the established sovereign states do not care to recognize other nations right to self-determination and to organize themselves as sovereign states. This is clear in Europe and the European Union.”

Arge referred to a conference in Bruxelles, where the spokesperson for minorities and nations that have not been recognized stated, that the established sovereign states interpret international treaties on national self-determination narrow and to their own advantages and interests. 

“This has been the case in Catalonia. The Catalan trusted that Europe would object when Spain treated and imprisoned democratically elected Catalan politicians, but there was not one word from the European Union regarding the matter. In Denmark the Minister of Foreign Affairs repeats over and over that this is an internal Spanish affair and therefore they don’t have an opinion on the matter.”

Arge pointed out the necessity of respecting democratic values and human rights and to work to maintain them at all times.  

“Before we know it the Faroe Islands could be in the same situation as Catalonia after a referendum to secede from Denmark where the States across Europe would turn their backs with the argument that “it is an internal Danish matter”.”


Høgni Hoydal, Member of the Faroese Parliament, Minister of Fisheries and leader of the Republican Party, Tjóðveldi

Høgni Hoydal shared with us some thought about the Faroese case of self-determination throughout history and the importance of national self-determination in the 12st century.

Hoydal explained, that the national movement was initiated first and formally on the cultural basis that we would have our own language but also a question of building a modern Faroese nation in Faroese with Faroese culture and political institutions.

Hoydal pointed out that a very important historic event was after the Second World War where during the German occupation of Denmark, the Faroe Island had practically been independent, which resulted in a referendum of independence in 1946.

”This was a very special referendum where you should either choose to accept a Danish offer to be some kind of Home Rule or full independence. Most people thought that this would scare people into voting the first, the integration of Denmark. […] There was a small majority pro-independence. I think that was very crucial for the future of the Faroe Islands. With this, we maintained the right to self-determination. If we had voted in favour of the Danish offer, we would have integrated into the Danish state.”

 “In my opinion, the power of self-determination is huge. Not only in the Faroe Islands, but also for all parts of the world. In my opinion, the process towards self-determination and independence has been the basis of modernisation and development on the Faroe Islands both cultural, socially, economically and political. I also believe it has been the basis for responsibility, democracy and slowly to build our international relations.”

Hoydal continued to talk about the development of the Faroese independence-process in the 21st Century, first by talking about the independence negotiations, which did not result in independence but laid groundwork for the time to come.

“In my opinion, the way forward is for the Faroese people to apply a Faroese constitution where we state the right to self-determination and the right of the citizens and stating the process of establishing the Faroese state by referendum. […] Then the Faroese people can decide to have a referendum on full independence when we have first applied the Faroese constitution.”

Hoydal stated that we should focus on the importance of that the principle of self-determination and the development of our nation in the 21st century is all about democracy, and that we have to address and go against the narrative of secession, instability, and isolation from the old nation states when we debate independence.

“We have to focus on that the democracy and responsibility in the globalized world is the foundation of all the debates and decisions on this matter. […] I firmly believe that when we go forward with self-determination in the 21st century, it will be the basis for peace, prosperity and international development.”

Hoydal concluded by stating, that “We should reverse the narrative and not always be in a defence position where we explain why we want to be independent to instead ask: “Why not? Why shouldn’t we be independent if we are able to do this take part of the world and responsibility?”


Kenneth Gibson, Member of the Scottish Parliament for SNP

Kenneth Gibson is member of the Scottish Parliament for the Scottish National Party. Gibson was sharing some thoughts with us regarding the question if Scotland is heading for a new independence referendum and what Brexit means for Scotland.

Gibson explained that the arguments, which the results of the Scottish independence referendum rested on, were no longer reliable because one main point of the unionists had been that Scotland, if independent, would be forced to leave the European Union and it would result in businesses leaving Scotland and thus fewer working places, which ultimately would hit the economy hard. After Brexit, this might now be the reality.

“ [...]the exact opposite of what the Scottish voters were promised from the government in 2014 where they were told that unless they voted no, Scotland would be thrown out of the European Union during an independence referendum. Of course, we in Scotland didn’t vote [...] for the referendum leaving the European Union, and we didn’t vote for Brexit. In that referendum 62% of Scottish voters determined to stay within the European Union and we certainly did not vote to crash out of the European Union with no deal.”

Gibson told us that a delta pole survey in October 2018 found that Brexit would tip the public opinion in Scotland towards independence, with 47% of the Scottish voters in favour of independence, 43% against and 10% undecided.

When asked about what happens if Scotland votes independency from UK and whether Scotland, if independent, would join the European Union, Gibson explained that first it would be necessary to decide on the circumstances.

“The economical short would be initial, but after that perhaps we could thrive outside of the European Union. Independence is not a medical cure. […] it is about the policies to take forward but at the end of the day, any decision that you make yourself is got to be better than someone else making it.”

At the end, Gibson told us the national party’s vision: “We do not want to separate, we want to participate. We want Scotland to be part of the world’s institutions. We want to work with people, share things. We are not talking about isolation. We are talking about partnership, but a partnership where we take the main decisions that affect our own people.”


Daniel Goa, leader of FLNKS, the New Caledonian independence party

Daniel Kiloe presented the statement on behalf of Goa and FLNKS. Kiloe shared his thoughts regarding what role the UN and France have played in the implementation of the Noumea Accord, and what the hope is regarding the referendum on independence, which was set to be on 4. November 2018.

Kiloe explained that the UN’s framework on the subject of self-determination is clear, and that “All peoples have the right to self-determination and by virtue of this right can freely determine their political status and can freely pursuit the economic, social and cultural development.”

Kiloe pointed out that New Caledonia had been subject to colonization for a long time. After the Second World War, the UN started the decolonization process and this lead to a new political status and dynamics for colonial people to participate in the world and to put the people in the position of progress.

“The winds of freedom that blew across Melanesia in the pacific in the 1970’s and 1980’s following the independence of most of countries in Melanesia gave a new impetus to New Caledonians struggle. It was in this context that the struggle of influence began with France to get the kanaki people to admit and to exercise the right to self-determination.”

Kiloe explainted that the Noumea accord from 1998 is an agreement signed between kanaki movement and administration of France that sets out the process of decolonization of New Caledonia. This agreement sets the kanaki on the centre of the system and irreversible transfer of competences until obtaining full sovereignty.

"We are now coming to the end of this modern and innovating process of decolonization with the referendum that will be held on 4. November 2018. The population will answer to the question on the referendum: Do you want New Caledonia to obtain full sovereignty and become independent?”


Carles Puigdemont, former president of Catalonia

Carles Puigdemont shared his thoughts regarding the events following the referendum in Catalonia on the 1. October 2017 and the jailing of Catalan politicians and what impact this has had in Catalonia.

“The self-determination referendum on 1. October 2017 and the subsequent political declaration voted by the Government of Catalonia on 27. October, were the combination of the first phase of the so-called Catalan process. The Catalan voted to become a sovereign state, but the democratic implementation of the new republic was prevented by the force and physical violence of the Spanish state.”

According to Puigdemont the Catalan independence movement has been demonstrating massively but always in a peaceful way for seven year and with millions of people.

Puigdemont continued by stating that there are high stakes in the political conflict between Catalonia and the Spanish State, which the Catalan society wants to solve respecting two principles: “First there must be political dialog on how Catalonia can exercise the sovereignty, and secondly the declaration must be agreed by the Catalan people through a referendum.”

 “I insist that the only way to peacefully solve this conflict is dialog, to start with no red lines and a climate of respect for both sides. I would like to see the Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez doing to same thing. It is sad to see how he continues to reject to talk about the right to self-determination of Catalonia.  I do not know if he realizes that he will not be able for much longer to defend the old order of Spain. Catalan people cannot be tied to a state against their own will in the 21. Century.”

Puigdemont pointed out that instead of dialogue and a democratic solution the leaders of the demonstrations have been imprisoned accused of charges, which can lead to 15-30 years in prison. Some of the leaders have been in preventive prison for a year without verdict. Other pro-independence politicians are in exile all over Europe.

“Organizing a democratic referendum can and should not be labelled as a crime. Treating a vote as an act of war seems to me like a thing that a dictatorship would do, not a consolidated, Western Democracy.”   

Puigdemont pointed out that as long as there is instability and repression in Catalonia it will be difficult for Spain to remain politically stable. His advice to Prime Minister Sanchez is to talk with the Catalan Government about a political solution and about self-determination as soon as possible. The political persecution has caused a real trauma in Catalan society because Catalonia is a modern, technological society that never could have imagined this level of violence exercised in a modern European whose fundamental values are freedom and democracy.


According to Puigdemont the small nations are the positive change of Europe that defend their right to self-determination, democracy and the people to decide their own future, and this effort will lead to a better and stronger Europe. “There is not stronger border than the one that has been ratified in the ballot boxes. Spain needs to set aside its obsession with sacred unity and must let Catalonia become an independent and friendly neighbour state.”

“I have friends in prison. I have friends in exile. […] Catalonia is the only country I know in the European Union where so many politicians are ready to pay the price for their ideas and convictions. We need to be proud of it and to keep up our peaceful right of independence and self-determination.”

At the end, Puigdemont expressed “I expect and I wish that there will be a massive mobilization in defence of our rights and in support of our colleagues in jail. […] Always peaceful. Always non-violent. But with a clear goal in our minds and our hearts: Self-determination and – if it is the will of the people - the establishment of the new Catalan republic.