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Please, Please, Set Me Free -- Would-Be Independent States
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My earlier geeklist, Get Your Filthy Hands Off My Desert, looked at land claimed by one or more state (country). This one is a logical successor - a look at places on Earth that claim to be independent of some political entity, but are not (widely) recognized as such, or at least there is a significant dispute over whether they are or should be recognized independent states.

Again, much of this interest for me was spurred by my love for maps. I remember as a child looking at the atlas for the old Encyclopedia Britannica (kids, that's like a multi-volume Google search without hyperlinks) and seeing exotic names and places, and a whole section on disputed lands... And this week, with the independence day celebration coming up for a country whose independence was once vigorously contested (that would be the United States...), seemed a good time to look at this topic.

So without further delay, a list of would-be independent states.

The first ten are all more or less de facto independent now, in the sense that they partially or entirely control the territory they claim, and they are recognized by at least some independent states. The rest may claim independence, but don't control their territory and are not formally recognized by any independent state. Presented in no particular order.

Disclaimer: I take no personal view on most of these. Inclusion or exclusion from this list is neither an endorsement nor rejection of any political claim, status, or objective. A simple definition for inclusion on this list is "a place that claims independence, or that is de facto independent, that isn't in the UN."

NOTE: If an entity is a member of the United Nations, it is independent enough to be EXCLUDED from this geeklist. If anyone adds an entry for a country that is a member of the United Nations, I will delete it, without warning.

Comments of course are welcome. Be nice!

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1. Board Game: China [Average Rating:7.06 Overall Rank:409]
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Would-be independent political entity: Taiwan (Republic of China)

State claiming sovereignty: People's Republic of China

This is the 800-pound gorilla of would-be independent states. Taiwan has been effectively independent of China since 1949, when Chang Kai-Sheck and the KMT fled the mainland in defeat; indeed up until the 1970s, Taiwan held China's seat in the United Nations. In basically every sense except the legal one, Taiwan IS independent of the People's Republic. It has its own government and armed forces, clearly exerts control over its territory, and is even a member of some international organizations, like the World Trade Organization and APEC.

Taiwan is diplomatically recognized by (as of this moment, by my calculation) 22 states. With the notable exception of Vatican City, those 22 are small and very poor countries that benefit from foreign assistance from Taiwan. In fact, some countries have gone back and forth between recognizing Taipei and Beijing, a bidding war for their foreign assistance cash in exchange for diplomatic recognition. And of course, there is also the issue that some on Taiwan still aspire to actually rule all of China, in other words don't want independence for Taiwan but want the Republic of China to extend its sovereignty again to the mainland.

Prospects for Fully Recognized Independence: Murky, and fraught with peril...
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2. Board Game: Mid-East Peace [Average Rating:5.05 Overall Rank:10345]
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Would-be independent political entity: State of Palestine

State claiming sovereignty: State of Israel

This is a bit awkward. Israel recognizes the Palestine National Authority, which administers various areas in the West Bank. But Israel does not recognize an independent, fully sovereign Palestinian state. So it qualifies for this list. The PLO declared the State of Palestine in November 1988. So far, over 100 UN member states recognize the State of Palestine, including some important states like China, Russia (in fact, as far as I can tell the entire Communist Bloc as it existed in 1988 recognized the State of Palestine), India, and Brazil, as well as most states with Muslim majorities. The United States and most West European countries have not formally recognized the State of Palestine, though they do recognize the Palestine National Authority and do business with it.

Prospects for Fully Recognized Independence: Quite possible, though not right away.
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3. Board Game: The Battle for Cyprus: 1941 [Average Rating:7.00 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.00 Unranked]
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Would-be independent political entity: Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus

State claiming sovereignty: Republic of Cyprus

The de facto current political division of Cyprus has existed since summer of 1974. To grossly oversimplify, Greece's ruling military junta supported a military coup in Cyprus in July 1974. Turkey claimed this violated a 1960 agreement which divided political power among the Greek and Turkish communities (and ruled out political union of Cyprus with Greece), and on July 20, 1974, sent troops into northern Cyprus to protect Cyprus' Turkish population. A population exchange followed, with many Turkish Cypriots going north and many Greek Cypriots headed south. Political negotiation followed and failed, and in November 1983 the north declared independence under the name Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Only Turkey has recognized the TRNC.

Prospects for Fully Recognized Independence: Slim, and complicated by many things such as Turkish relations with Greece, and Cyprus' membership in the European Union.
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4. Board Game: Sahara [Average Rating:5.73 Overall Rank:7958]
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Would-be independent political entity: Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) ("Western Sahara")

State claiming sovereignty: Kingdom of Morocco

This is the area once known as Spanish Sahara. Spain's control over this territory was crumbling in the early 1970s and in 1975, it pulled out. As Spanish power waned, Morocco and Mauritania struck a deal to divide Spanish Sahara among the two of them, though their claims have not been recognized broadly. Certainly, the Polisario Front, an independence movement in Spanish/Western Sahara, did not, and war broke out. The Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic was proclaimed in February 1976. Mauritania withdrew in 1979 and recognized SADR in 1984. Morocco occupies about 80% of Western Sahara.

SADR, which has its headquarters in Algeria, is recognized by around 50 countries, mostly in Africa but also by others such as Mexico and North Korea. SADR is in fact a member of the African Union, and because of this, Morocco is the only (fully recognized independent) country on the African continent NOT to belong to the AU.

Prospects for Fully Recognized Independence: Mixed. Arguably, SADR is independent! But Morocco shows no sign of quitting the 80% of Western Sahara (the best bits, arguably) that it claims and occupies...
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5. Board Game: The Desert Game [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
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Would-be independent political entity: Republic of Somaliland

State claiming sovereignty: Somali Republic (Somalia)

Somaliland is the northern chunk of Somalia - the portion that was British Somaliland before Somalia achieved independence, the rest of Somalia having been an Italian colony and later, a UN Trust Territory administered still by Italy. Somaliland declared independence from Somalia in 1991, after several years of civil war and the final collapse of the Somali Republic's central government. In fact, this area was independent for a few days in 1960, between its independence from Britain and before its (peaceful, willing) incorporation with the Trust Territory of Somalia into the Somali Republic.

Somaliland by most accounts is a reasonably well-run little country, certainly better run than the rest of Somalia. It is not recognized by any UN member state, although it has unofficial diplomatic relations with most of its neighbors (perhaps most significantly, Ethiopia), and maintains informal liaison offices in several countries, including the Ethiopia, Djibouti, United States, Britain, Italy, France, and South Africa.

Incidentally, Puntland which is due east of Somaliland at the very northern corner of Somalia, is essentially independent but does not claim independence. Rather, it claims autonomy within Somalia, though that has not been recognized in Mogadishu.

Prospects for Fully Recognized Independence: Better than most, I'd say. African states have always been shy about recognizing independence movements or border changes, many of them unsure about their OWN borders. But Somaliland has the advantages of being well run and well behaved, seeking formal independence from a failed state, and perhaps the support of Ethiopia.
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6. Board Game: Balkan Wars [Average Rating:6.50 Overall Rank:5543]
 
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Would-be independent political entity: Republic of Kosovo

State claiming sovereignty: Republic of Serbia

Another messy one. During the Yugoslav period, Kosovo was a province within the Republic of Serbia, with an ethnic Albanian majority. After much bloodshed and unpleasantness that I am glossing over, the six component republics of the former Yugoslavia have all recognized one another. Kosovo of course did not have republic status within Yugoslavia, but with Vojdovina, was an autonomous province within the Socialist Republic of Serbia. During the wars in Yugoslavia, there was a "Republic of Kosova" declared (1991-2000), recognized only by Albania.

War in Kosovo between the Serbian central government and Kosovars (which eventually enjoyed air support from NATO) ended in June 1999. But unrest continued and no political deal was concluded concerning Kosovo's status within Yugoslavia/Serbia. Finally in February 2008 the Republic of Kosovo declared its independence. It is recognized by 76 UN member states (out of 192) including the United States, most European Union (but not all - Cyprus, Greece, Slovakia, and Spain don't recognize Kosovo) member states, Taiwan, and other countries across the globe. Serbia of course still claims Kosovo (and occupies a portion in the north), and Russia and Bosnia among many others do not recognize its independence.

Prospects for Fully Recognized Independence: Given the patronage of the United States and most EU members, perhaps better than many. Not to say that gaining Serbian recognition would ever be easy.
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7. Board Game: South Mountain [Average Rating:7.56 Overall Rank:4245]
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Would-be independent political entity: Nagorno-Karabakh Republic

State claiming sovereignty: Republic of Azerbaijan

(Game choice - it is a mountainous place in the south of what was once the Soviet Union...)

Nagorno-Karabakh is an area in the western part of Azerbaijan with an Armenian-majority population. Inter-ethnic fighting in the region began in 1988, even before the Soviet Union had collapsed. A full-on war began in late 1992 (after the dissolution of the USSR) with the government of the Republic of Armenia supporting the Armenians of N-K against the Azerbaijani government's forces. The Armenians in N-K declared independence in 1991, and the war ended in 1994 with them in control of N-K and some adjacent areas within Azerbaijan. No UN member state has recognized NKR, not even Armenia.

It is now de facto independent and closely linked to Armenia, even using Armenia's currency. There have been various diplomatic attempts to resolve N-K's status but no solution has been reached.

Prospects for Fully Recognized Independence: Uncertain, and not likely to be resolved peacefully in the near term.
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8. Board Game: Black Sea Fleet 1914-1918 [Average Rating:5.80 Unranked]
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Would-be independent political entity: Republic of Abkhazia

State claiming sovereignty: Georgia

(Game: it is on the Black Sea...)

Abkhazia is in the north-western portion of Georgia, along the Black Sea, bordering Russia, and inhabited by a Caucasus people, the Abkhaz. Georgia and the Abkhaz fought a war in 1992-93, following Georgia's independence from the collapsing Soviet Union. The Georgian government was defeated, the Abkhaz enjoying support from Russia, and many ethnic Georgian residents fled Abkhazia, which proclaimed its independence effective September 1993. Russia maintains "peacekeepers" in Abkhazia, and recognized its independence in 2008; Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Nauru (!) also recognize Abkhazia's independence (Vanuatu appeared to be confused earlier in 2011 about whether or not they recognize Abkhazia!), as do some other generally unrecognized states like South Ossetia. Georgia maintains Abkhazia is part of its territory under Russian occupation.

Prospects for Fully Recognized Independence: Mixed. Abkhazia has little support globally. On the other hand, it has RUSSIA's support, and a border with Russia...
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9. Board Game: The Mountain [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
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Would-be independent political entity: Republic of South Ossetia

State claiming sovereignty: Georgia

South Ossetia is in north-central Georgia, bordering Russia, and inhabited by a Caucasus people, the Ossetians (who also inhabit the portion of Russia north of the border). South Ossetians declared independence from the Georgian SSR in 1990 (but didn't declare independence from the Soviet Union), and Georgia and the Ossetians fought a war in 1991-92, following Georgia's independence from the collapsing Soviet Union, and again in 2004 and 2008. Following the 2008 Russo-Georgian War, begun when Georgia tried to re-establish control over the region, the South Ossetians and their Russian helpers were full control. Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Nauru (!) also recognize South Ossetia's independence. Georgia maintains South Ossetia is part of its territory under Russian occupation.

Prospects for Fully Recognized Independence: Mixed. Like Abkhazia, South Ossetia has little support globally. On the other hand, it has RUSSIA's support, and a border with Russia...
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10. Board Game: Where is Moldova? [Average Rating:5.92 Unranked]
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Would-be independent political entity: Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (Transnistria)

State claiming sovereignty: Republic of Moldova

Another mess from the collapsing Soviet Union. During Gorbachev's period, the Soviet republics were allowed more local control (good news). The Moldovan SSR enacted laws making Moldovan (which is basically Romanian) the only official language of the Republic, and this and other actions made the Russian majority on the eastern side of the Dniestr River increasingly unhappy. Eventually, in September 1990 they proclaimed the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic. A relatively limited war ensued, with Russians and Ukrainians described as volunteers aiding Transnistria. A cease-fire was signed in 1992, and Transnistria has been de facto independent of Moldova since. Only South Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and Abkhazia recognize Transnistrian independence, though Russia maintains about 1200 troops in Transnistria.

Prospects for Fully Recognized Independence: Slim.
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11. Board Game: Angola [Average Rating:8.02 Overall Rank:1324]
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Would-be independent political entity: Republic of Cabinda

State claiming sovereignty: Republic of Angola

Cabinda is the small bit of Angola separated from the rest of Angola by the Congo River and a sliver of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It was a colony - Portuguese Congo - separate from Angola. It declared independence in 1975, but the Portuguese government and the three independence movements in Angola did not recognize it, and People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola troops (with some Cuban help) invaded Cabinda in late 1975 and incorporated it into Angola. There was a guerrilla campaign until a cease-fire in 2006, but some violence continues. Buses carrying Togo's national soccer team were shot up when Cabindans attacked the Angolan security leading them through Cabinda in 2010. A Cabindan government-in-exile operates in Paris.

Prospects for Fully Recognized Independence: Seems unlikely.
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12. Board Game: Game of Arabian Nights [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
 
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Would-be independent political entity: South Yemen

State claiming sovereignty: Republic of Yemen

South Yemen (People's Democratic Republic of Yemen) was an independent state from 1967 (achieving independence from Britain) until it unified with the Yemen Arab Republic (North Yemen) in 1990 to form the Republic of Yemen. A civil war erupted in 1994 largely along North-South lines, and leaders in the south declared a Democratic Republic of Yemen. It was not recognized, and even after the war ended, there is still a South Yemen movement which wants to regain independence from Aden.

Prospects for Fully Recognized Independence: With the troubles in Yemen today, who knows? The former North and South Yemen don't even have the same international telephone calling code.
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13. Board Game: Papillons [Average Rating:5.94 Overall Rank:7749]
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Would-be independent political entity: French Guiana

State claiming sovereignty: French Republic

French Guiana is an overseas region of France. There is a minor political party, Mouvement de décolonisation et d'émancipation sociale, which advocates independence for French Guiana.

Prospects for Fully Recognized Independence: Not exactly imminent.

Spoiler (click to reveal)
Geekgold prize for first person who explains why I chose this game for this entry.

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14. Board Game: Spice Islands [Average Rating:6.31 Unranked]
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Would-be independent political entity: Republic of Maluku Seletan (South Moluccas)

State claiming sovereignty: Republic of Indonesia

In 1950, not long after Indonesia attained independence from the Netherlands, the Republic of Maluku Seletan was proclaimed. However, Indonesian forces re-established control over the island of Ambon by the end of 1950; low-level guerrilla activity continued on Ceram until 1962. Since 1951, the RMS has maintained a government-in-exile in the Netherlands.

Prospects for Fully Recognized Independence: Slim.
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15. Board Game: Cameroon [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
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Would-be independent political entity: Ambazonia

State claiming sovereignty: Republic of Cameroon

This area, in west Cameroon next to Nigeria, was the British Southern Cameroons during the colonial era. The South Cameroons National Council declared independence in 1999. And then, in 2006, the Southern Cameroon People's Organization declared independence for this region and the Bakassi Peninsula. Despite these multiple declarations of independence, Cameroon remains in control of the region.

Prospects for Fully Recognized Independence: Pretty poor.
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16. Board Game: Puerto Rico [Average Rating:8.15 Overall Rank:5]
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Would-be independent political entity: Puerto Rico

State claiming sovereignty: United States of America

Puerto Rico has long had a somewhat unusual political status. It is a commonwealth of the United States, and people born in Puerto Rico are American citizens, who can freely live in any part of the US and vote there. However, Puerto Rico has no voting representation in Congress and no votes in the Electoral College. Puerto Rican politics over the years has steered a course between those advocating independence (like the nationalists who shot five members of Congress in the Capitol in Washington in 1954, though most independence activists have not advocated violence), and those who would like statehood.

Prospects for Fully Recognized Independence: Unlikely, although stranger things have happened.
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17. Board Game: Hong Kong [Average Rating:5.80 Overall Rank:7771]
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Would-be independent political entity: Republic of Hong Kong

State claiming sovereignty: People's Republic of China

There is apparently a Hong Konger Front that advocates independence. It isn't clear how real its existence is, beyond a series of websites.

Prospects for Fully Recognized Independence: Damn close to zero.
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18. Board Game: Himalaya [Average Rating:7.06 Overall Rank:575]
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Would-be independent political entity: Tibet

State claiming sovereignty: People's Republic of China

Tibet was once of course an independent state. The PRC has occupied Tibet since 1950. No nation recognizes Tibet as independent. There is a pro-independence movement, in exile. Note that the Dalai Lama no longer demands independence, but rather advocates greater autonomy for Tibet within the PRC.

Prospects for Fully Recognized Independence: Barring some sort of political collapse in China, very unlikely.
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19. Board Game: The Baltic Wars [Average Rating:6.00 Unranked]
 
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Would-be independent political entity: Åland Islands

State claiming sovereignty: Republic of Finland

There is a political movement on the Åland Islands in the Baltic for independence from Finland. Finland's rule doesn't seem terribly repressive, and the movement doesn't seem to get a lot of votes.

Prospects for Fully Recognized Independence: Slim.
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20. Board Game: Lords of Scotland [Average Rating:6.85 Overall Rank:1274]
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Would-be independent political entity: Scotland

State claiming sovereignty: United Kingdom

Over recent years, Scotland has gained greater autonomy within the UK. A significant Scottish independence movement exists - though they want Scotland to remain within the European Union. The existence of the European Union, for Scotland and others, makes independence more alluring because the risk of economic dislocation is reduced.

Prospects for Fully Recognized Independence: Plausible.
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21. Board Game: In Flanders Fields [Average Rating:6.80 Overall Rank:6521]
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Would-be independent political entity: Flanders/Flemish Region

State claiming sovereignty: Kingdom of Belgium

If you hadn't noticed, things in Belgium are a bit unsettled, between Flanders (Dutch-speaking) in the north, Wallonia (French-speaking in the south), and Brussels (French-speaking but surrounded by Dutch-speaking Flanders) in the center. There are political movements, largely on the political right, advocating full independence for Flanders (there are others looking for greater autonomy for Flanders within Belgium).

Prospects for Fully Recognized Independence: Who knows? But right now, I wouldn't bet the mortgage on Belgium's continued existence in its current form.
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22. Board Game: Papua [Average Rating:6.04 Overall Rank:6791]
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Would-be independent political entity: West Papua

State claiming sovereignty: Republic of Indonesia

There is an active Free Papua Movement (Organisasi Papua Merdeka, OPM) which wants independence for that part of the island of New Guinea under Indonesian rule. Unlike the rest of Indonesia, West Papua (including the current provinces of Papua and West Papua, and not to be confused with Papua New Guinea, which is independent) was not part of the Netherlands East Indies (it was Netherlands New Guinea), and did not become independent in 1945 as the Republic of Indonesia did. It remained under Dutch control until 1963, when it was incorporated into Indonesia. There were problems of repression by Indonesian troops, and in 1971 OPM declared independence for West Papua.

Prospects for Fully Recognized Independence: Not without a fight. Remember how Indonesia sought to keep control over East Timor.
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23. Board Game: Pacific Islands Campaign: Guam [Average Rating:8.25 Unranked]
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Would-be independent political entity: Guam

State claiming sovereignty: United States of America

Apparently, the Governor of Guam is organizing a referendum for June 2012 with three options: US statehood (fat chance), independence, or "free association" with the US.

Prospects for Fully Recognized Independence: Slim.
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24. Board Game: The Lonely Mountain [Average Rating:6.53 Overall Rank:5125]
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Would-be independent political entity: Chechnya

State claiming sovereignty: Russian Federation

You may recall the bloody wars fought in Chechnya in 1994-95 and again in 1999. Even before the end of the Soviet Union, there had been violence and instability in Chechnya and Ingushetia, and Chechens declared independence from Russia in late 1993. Russia has, to put it mildly, not supported this independence movement, which at the moment appears to be quashed.

Prospects for Fully Recognized Independence: Slim.
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25. Board Game: Catalunya Feudal [Average Rating:5.50 Unranked]
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Would-be independent political entity: Catalonia

State claiming sovereignty: Kingdom of Spain

Modern Catalonian independence movements date back to the 1930s. Franco's regime repressed such calls. There are several Catalan political parties that advocate independence.

Prospects for Fully Recognized Independence: Slim.
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