In 1763, France ceded Quebec to Britain. As a British territory, and then a province of Canada, Quebec nevertheless retained its French-language identity.

In May 1980, it held a referendum on the creation of a new, loose relationship with Canada that would essentially be based on independence – but with certain shared functions, such as a currency.

Although this plan was defeated by 59.6% to 40.4%, calls for change continued to grow. 15 years later, in 1995, another referendum was held. This time, the proposal was for full independence.

On this occasion, the proposal was defeated by the narrowest of margins: 50.6% to 49.4%. Since then, however, support for independence appears to have dropped.

Polls now show that around 30 percent of the roughly 8.5 million Quebecois are in favor of breaking away. Instead, priorities seem to be focused on retaining a French identity within Canada and pursuing greater cultural and economic autonomy – rather than outright independence.

Nevertheless, despite its apparently subdued state, there is undoubtedly the possibility that the pro-independence campaign may see a resurgence again in the future.

Meanwhile, it remains a very familiar independence campaign and without a doubt the most significant movement for sovereign statehood in the Americas.

The Isle of Man

The Isle of Man is a self-governing British Crown Dependency in the Irish Sea, with a population of 85,000, its own tricameral parliament, the Tynwald (the world’s oldest continuously operating democratic assembly), its own language and legislation. 

The state only fairly recently legalized same-sex relationships, made seat-belts compulsory for motorists, and outlawed birching as punishment, but still has not introduced speed limits on the roads outside its capital, Douglas. 

Once a major maritime power, the island governs its own domestic affairs and raises its own revenue, but makes a financial contribution to the UK for its defense and international representation.

Apart from having a well-functioning financial system and being, like most offshore British dependencies, a tax haven, the Isle of Man has a rapidly expanding manufacturing sector, with a number of precision-engineering, aerospace, IT, and other companies, largely responsible for the microstate’s 25 years of uninterrupted economic growth and the fact that it’s per capita income is almost twice as high as in the UK. 

The island’s motto, represented by the three-legged Manx symbol, or Triskeles, is Quocunque Jeceris Stabit, which, translated from Latin, means ‘whichever way you throw me I stand’, or – in a somewhat looser version – ‘Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down’. 

There is no consensus as to the origins of the island’s name, but all connections with the human male are irrelevant. ‘Man’ in this case originates either from Mannanin Beg Mchir, the legendary wizard-king of the Vikings or from Mona, the name given to the island by Julius Caesar. 


In medieval times, the Romanian Principality of Moldova was an Ottoman vassal state. However, in 1812 the eastern part was handed over to Russia. In 1918, following the Russian Revolution, Moldova declared independence and united with neighboring Romania.

This led to the establishment of an alternative Soviet Moldovan administration on the east bank of the Dniester River. When Moldova was conquered by Russian forces during the Second World War, these two parts were united to form the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic – one of the 15 constituent republics of the USSR.

As the Soviet Union weakened, the eastern part of the republic, Transnistria, sought to become a separate republic within the USSR. When this option became obsolete with the collapse of the Soviet Union, it instead proclaimed independence.

In March 1992, the government of the newly independent Republic of Moldova attempted to take back Transnistria. However, this was thwarted by Russian forces in the territory.

Today, Transnistria exists as a de facto state. But, unlike other cases where Russia has intervened, it remains wholly unrecognized on the world stage. Indeed, even Moscow hasn’t recognized it.

Looking ahead, given that peace talks are focused clearly on reunification, most observers believe that it will eventually be reunited with Moldova. Indeed, in many ways, it’s perhaps the most likely of all the de facto states to be eventually resolved by the territory’s reintegration into the parent state.

Northern Cyprus

After the Republic of Cyprus became independent, in 1960, following 80 years of British colonial rule, relations between the island’s Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities, representing 78 and 18 percent of the population respectively, quickly broke down.

Following the outbreak of fighting between the communities in December 1963, a UN peacekeeping and peacemaking mission was established. In 1974, the military government in Greece tried to annex the island, prompting Turkey to invade and occupy the northern third of Cyprus.

In 1977, the Greek and Turkish Cypriots agreed that reunification should be based on a federal solution. Despite this, in November 1983, the Turkish Cypriots unilaterally declared independence.

While the Turkish Cypriot state was immediately recognized by Turkey, the move was condemned by the UN Security Council, which passed Resolution 541 calling on countries not to recognize the so-called ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’.

Despite this, UN efforts to reunite the island have continued. In 2004, a settlement plan was rejected by the Greek Cypriots. Meanwhile, another major UN-led settlement effort collapsed in 2017.

Although both sides officially remain committed to reunification, the prospects of this actually happening appear to diminish with every passing year.

South Yemen

Having effectively been a British colonial holding from the mid-19th century, the territory became independent in 1967 as the People’s Republic of Southern Yemen.

From the start, it was expected that it would eventually unite with the neighboring Yemen Arab Republic, which had been an independent state since 1918.

However, the unification process proved difficult; not least of all because the South fell to communist forces in 1969. Despite efforts to broker unification, no progress was made until the late 1980s, when a series of factors, including the gradual weakening of the Soviet Union, which supported South Yemen, and economic problems, made a merger desirable for the leaders of both countries.

On 22 May 1990, North and South Yemen, as they had become more generally known, formally ceased to exist and the new Republic of Yemen was created.

However, from the start, it was an unhappy union; not least of all because the two parts of the country had had very different histories. In 1994, the South unilaterally declared independence.

However, this went unrecognized by the international community and the country’s central government managed to reimpose its rule quickly. In 2015, Yemen was again plunged into conflict.

Although this wasn’t directly related to the South’s claim to statehood, the pro-independence Southern Transitional Council has managed to take control of parts of the south.

Looking ahead, it will hope to be able to use this as a basis to press for a return to independent sovereign statehood on the international stage at some point in the future.


The region became part of the Russian Empire at the start of the 19th century. However, following the Russian Revolution in October 1917, it was awarded to the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic as an autonomous region – a decision opposed by the neighboring Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic and by the Armenian inhabitants of Nagorno-Karabakh.

In September 1991, as the Soviet Union collapsed, Nagorno-Karabakh provisionally declared independence. In response, the Azerbaijani Government rescinded its autonomy and launched a military assault to end the rebellion.

In January 1992, following a referendum, it formally declared independence as the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. Stepping up its military offensive, Azerbaijan recaptured much of the region.

However, the following year, Armenian and Nagorno-Karabakh forces not only retook the land that was lost, but they also captured a large swathe of territory around Nagorno-Karabakh, which still remains occupied by Armenia to this day.

Despite this, Armenia and Azerbaijan have agreed on a set of principles to resolve the conflict. These include returning territory to Azerbaijani control, opening a land corridor between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia, and determining the final legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh through a legally binding expression of will.

To date, however, the conflict remains unresolved. More to the point Nagorno-Karabakh remains wholly unrecognized on the world stage. Indeed, it isn’t even formally recognized by Armenia; not least of all because Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity has repeatedly been reaffirmed by the UN Security Council.

In the meantime, there’s a genuine worry internationally that the dispute may well lead to war, not least of all because Armenia and Azerbaijan have been caught up in an arms race and have also occasionally engaged in serious fighting, most recently in October 2020.