The partition of Ireland was caused by the Irish debate over whether to remain a part of the United Kingdom. In 1920, in response to Irish violence against Britain, the British Government divided Ireland into two parts- the Irish Free State (with a mainly Roman Catholic population) and Northern Ireland (Protestant). Northern Ireland remained a part of the United Kingdom, while the Irish Free State was given independence. However, this independence was partial, as British soldiers continued to operate in the Irish Free State until 1922, and the British monarchy still claimed sovereignty over it. Because of disagreement over whether this compromise treaty should have been signed, a civil war broke out in the Irish Free State, which lasted from 1922-1923.
When the treaty was signed in 1921, Lloyd George promised that a Boundaries Commission would convene to decide the permanent boundaries between the two parts of Ireland. The commission’s decision in 1925 was suppressed due to unfavorable public opinion, and the temporary borders became permanent.
When Ireland declared a republic in 1949, the British Government allowed Northern Ireland to remain a part of the United Kingdom. Violence erupted in Northern Ireland between those campaigning for a united Ireland and those wishing to stay in the United Kingdom.
Relations between England and Ireland have improved since the Good Friday Agreement on the future of Northern Ireland in 1998.
The Partition of Germany
The Potsdam Conference of 1945 was convened to decide how to administer Nazi Germany after its defeat in World War II. The Soviet Union, United States and United Kingdom participated in this conference, and divided Germany into four occupation zones – French, British, American and Soviet. In 1946, the first three zones were unified. By 1955, West Germany was declared a sovereign state. The Soviet zone was also given sovereignty and was known as East Germany.
Although East and West Germany were sovereign states, the four powers retained troops in the countries. Germany became a focal point of the Cold War tensions between the Allies and the Soviet Union.
At the beginning of the occupation, the Soviets seized large amounts of industrial equipment from East Germany as war reparations. This greatly damaged the economy of East Germany and led many citizens to flee to West Germany, where the economy flourished. The high rate of emigration further crippled the economy. In 1961, the Berlin Wall was built to prevent emigration.
In 1989, demonstrations against the East German government caused its leaders to resign. The Berlin Wall was opened and thousands of East Germans poured into West Germany. Instead of forming a democratic East Germany, it was decided that East Germany would merge with West Germany. Germany was officially reunified on Oct. 3, 1990.
The Partition of Korea
Korea was occupied by the Japanese during the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95, and remained a Japanese colony until the end of World War II.
North and South Korea were created in 1945, towards the end of World War II, when the United States and its allies partitioned Korea. The Korean peninsula was divided into a Communist northern portion and a pro-Western southern portion. The boundary between the two states was drawn randomly, without regard for political or geographic factors.
Both Russia and the United States viewed Korea as an important part of the ideological debate which raged between them. Each denied the legitimacy of the other half of Korea, and each hoped to reunify Korea under its leadership and political ideology. Thus Korea became a pawn in the Cold War between Russia and the U.S.
In 1950, North Korea attacked South Korea. The United Nations, led by the United States, joined the war to defend South Korea, while China fought alongside the North Koreans. The war ended in a stalemate in 1953. No peace treaty was signed, technically leaving North and South Korea still at war. From the end of the Korean War until very recently, private citizens in North and South Korea have lived in isolation from each other. Relations between the two states have slightly thawed in recent years.
The Partition of India
Starting in the sixteenth century, traders from Europe began to arrive in India. Taking advantage of the weak government, they established colonies in the country. By 1856, the British East India Company controlled most of India. British rule in India caused discontent amongst the Indian population. The Indians felt that the British didn’t respect their traditions and culture. They formed several nationalist movements.
From the beginning, the British had ruled the Moslems and the Hindus separately. Therefore, when they left India on August 14, 1947, they divided it into two states, India and Pakistan. Pakistan was created as an Islamic state and India as a secular one. Although Ghandi opposed the partition, he was unable to prevent it.
The decision to partition India was made hurriedly by the British government, which realized that it could not afford to hold on to its vast empire. The boundaries between the two states were drawn up by a British lawyer named Cyril Radcliffe, who had little knowledge of Indian conditions, and used out-of-date maps and census materials.
Once the British left India, millions of citizens left their homes to travel either to India or to Pakistan. A million were killed in religious rioting. Both countries started off with ruined economies and devastated lands. They had no established governments, and they lost many of their leaders soon after partition, including Ghandi.
The British left some boundaries undecided, and as a result, boundary issues have been the cause of two wars between Pakistan and India and are still unresolved. The territory of Kashmir is still under dispute.
The Partition of Vietnam
In the late nineteenth century, Vietnam was colonized by the French. In World War II, Japan expelled the French from Vietnam. The French attempted to gain back their territory in the First Indochina War, which began in 1946, in the aftermath of World War II. The French were supported by the Vietnamese National Army, but opposed by the army of the Viet Minh (a communist national liberation movement). The Viet Minh defeated the French in 1954.
At the end of the war, the Geneva Conference partitioned Vietnam temporarily, pending elections to be held in 1956. The elections were never held. Instead, North Vietnam became a communist regime, while South Vietnam changed its governmental system numerous times during its short lifespan.
Shortly after the partition of Vietnam, about a million North Vietnamese – mainly Catholics – fled to South Vietnam for fear of persecution. This fear turned out to be well-founded, as 50,000 Catholics were executed and another half million were starved to death.
Conflicts between North and South Vietnam led to the Vietnam War in 1959. The Soviet Union and China fought with the North, while the United States joined forces with the South. When the war finally ended in 1975, Vietnam was reunited as a communist state.
The Partition of Cyprus
In 1878, the Ottoman Empire gave Cyprus to the British as an assembly base so that the British could help prevent further Russian penetration into the Ottoman Empire. Although Cyprus was never used for this purpose, the British Empire retained administrative control over the island. The population of Cyprus consisted of 80% Greeks and fewer than 19% Turks. The Greek population harbored hopes that the British would return Cyprus to Greece.
In 1914, during World War I, the British annexed Cyprus, and as part of the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, Turkey renounced all claims to it. In 1950, the population of Cyprus began to object to British colonial rule and demanded independence. However, the two populations could not agree whether Cyprus was a Greek or a Turkish nation. Violence erupted between the two groups.
Cyprus was granted its independence by Great Britain in 1960 and became a member of the Commonwealth in 1961, but the clashes between the Greeks and the Turks continued. In 1974, Turkey occupied over one third of the island of Cyprus, bringing about a de facto partition of Cyprus. As a result of the invasion, over 160,000 Greek Cypriots were forced to leave their homes and become refugees.
Immediately after the occupation, talks were held in an attempt to settle the crisis diplomatically, but they failed. Since then, numerous attempts have been made to reconcile the two sides, including the 2004 UN referendum, but so far the country has remained divided, with half of the island under Turkish rule and the other half an independent state. The two halves are divided by a “Green Line.”