Should Catalonia be allowed independence?
Submitted by George Callaghan…
In 2017 the people of Catalonia voted to break away from the Kingdom of Spain. This was the second such referendum in which a majority of the people there voted for separation. There was also an election in which the separatist parties commanded a clear majority. The mandate is indisputable.
I have only been to Catalonia twice. I have no ancestry in Catalonia or any other part of Spain. I am not actuated by a strong feeling on the issue. I tend to favour centripetal over centrifugal forces. However, I can perceive no reasonable objection to Catalonia leaving the Spanish Realm.
Catalonia is a nation by any definition you choose. It is true that the Catalans share much with the other peoples of Spain.
The Catalan independence movement contains people from all walks of life. It has left wingers and a few right wingers. The most broad minded, humane and tolerant people are to be found among its ranks.
Not everyone in Catalonia is Catalan by any means. There are people who have shifted there from other Spanish regions such as Andalucia. There are people who have moved to Catalonia from other EU member states such as Romania and the United Kingdom. There are people resident in Catalonia who hail from other parts of the world such as Pakistan, China and Nigeria. Some of these immigrants from Europe and indeed further afield have taken up the cause of Catalan independence.
There is a minority in Catalonia that I suppose one might term unionists. These people wish to maintain the unity of Spain. These are mostly Spaniards who have come in from other areas of the Spanish Realm such as Extremadura, Galicia or the Canaries. However, there are indigenous Catalans who also oppose separation.
Many Catalans retain bitter memories of the Franco regime. Since the late 19th century Catalonia was a hotbed of radicalism. Anarchism and communism were popular in the industrial cities. It was the most prosperous part of the Spanish Kingdom and had to subsidise the rest. Catalonia has more in common with France than Spain. Catalonia has a proud history of independence. It is linked to Sardinia and other places. They did not become part of Spain by choice. By the late 19th century most of them loathed Spanish imperialism. Conscription into the Spanish Army was hated by many. The Catalans largely opposed the the Rif Wars. Why should Catalans be sent to die in Morocco? The Moroccans had little in common with the Spanish. The Moroccans did not want to be ruled by an alien nation. Why get so many youths killed in an utterly unwinnable and unjust war of repression in North Africa?
Most Catalans despised the Spanish monarchy. When the monarchy fell and the Spanish Republic was proclaimed there was dancing in the streets of Barcelona. When the Spanish Civil War broke out the Catalans rallied to the Republican side almost without exception. Even centrists took this side. Barcelona was the last city to fall to the Nationalists. Tens of thousands of Catalans were executed by the Nationalists. Many Catalans perceive this as a war of Castilian aggression. The Catalans had comrades from other parts of Spain. But the Catalans regarded their war as one of self-defence.
Feminism and secularism were common beliefs in Catalonia. These were very different from the male chauvinist and confessional attitudes that prevailed in other Spanish regions.
Franco wanted Spain to be a unitary state. Catalan identity was downgraded. Showing the flag was a crime as was singing certain songs. Barcelona Football Club became perhaps the only expression of Catalan identity that was allowed. Real Madrid was the Francoist team. A game between Barca and Real Madrid is a real grudge match.
Many a brave Catalan dissident was flung into prison. There he was fettered in a fetid dungeon for many a long year. Entirely peaceable opposition to Madrid rule was found to be utterly intolerable by Falange. The Catalan identity was mostly smothered. Small wonder that many Catalans shifted abroad in search of liberty. Therefore, when El Caudillo was summoned to the great big parade in the ether in 1975 the Catalans cracked open the champagne.
In October 2017 the Catalans declared independence. The Spanish Government responded with a clunking fist to the wishes of the Catalans. People were arrested for the heinous crime of voting. Arrest warrants were issued for popular politicians. People are in prison for holding a vote. Why on earth is letting people vote suddenly considered a felony?
Madrid’s ill grace extended to the King of Spain’s response. His Majesty King Felipe was deaf to Catalan feeling. His sulky and sneering speech went down very badly in Catalonia. The region was already deeply disaffected. He did not utter one word on Catalan. He was unapologetic and harsh. His scathing comments mortally offended the Catalans. The king is now widely regarded with disdain in Catalonia. He long ago utterly lost the respect of his subjects there.
The European Union professes to hold democracy sacred. It often scolds other countries for not adhering to democratic norms. It sends election observers abroad. But in an EU country people are imprisoned for holding a poll! Do the Spanish Police not have higher priorities? Why not catch a few murders. Spain is the major entry point for hard drugs into the EU. There is large scale illegal immigration into Spain. People trafficking is a huge problem. But forget all that. It is far more urgent to arrest people for organizing a referendum.
The EU’s concept of democracy is elastic to put is mildly. The amount of representation per capita varies wildly from one member state to the next. The United Kingdom is severely discriminated against. Malta has 12 times the per head representation. When the EU loses referenda the EU disregards them.
On one issue the Catalan independence movement is united. Almost all shades of Catalan separatism wish for Catalonia to remain within the EU. The idea is that Catalonia would become and EU member state like Portugal, Austria, Lithuania or any of the others. Therefore, the demand for independence is nonsensical. Independence in the EU is a contradiction in terms. Independence for Catalonia might be desirable. EU membership might be desirable. But they cannot both be desirable. The separatists should say that they want Catalonia to be a separate EU member state – as in not part of Spain.
Notwithstanding the doglike devotion of Catalan separatists to the European Union they have received cold comfort from Brussels and Strasbourg. The EU top brass has closed ranks against Catalan separatism. The European Union said that they would not recognize Catalonia as being separate from Spain.
Canine loyalty to the EU gets you no gratitude and no benefits. Why be so subservient to the EU when the EU dismisses the Catalans out of hand?
Strasbourg said it feared setting off a chain reaction. If Catalonia were permitted to break away from Spain then what next? Who would follow? Next North Britain might attempt secession from the United Kingdom. Brittany might split from France. Bavaria might seek to leave Germany and Lombardia might strive to divorce herself from Italy.
So often we are told that we are all Europeans now. As for Northern Ireland – what does it matter if the Irish Tricolour or the Union Flag floats aloft Belfast City Hall? After all we are all Europeans. So long as the twelve gold stars on a field of midnight blue sails in the sky above Ulster then all is right with the world. The idea is that we can sublimate our national identities into a European one. We should set aside our petty parochial squabbles and rejoice in our common European future.
Why then does Strasbourg refuse to acknowledge the settled will of the people of Catalonia? It makes a mockery of the EU’s proud boast to believe in democracy. The EU incessantly and gratingly proclaims its moral superiority. Yet so often the EU brazenly and arrantly violates its own core principles.
Almost no one in Catalonia flies the Spanish Flag. For most people there it is a foreign emblem. What unites the Spanish? The monarchy? The House of Bourbon and Bourbon is despised by a clear majority of Catalans.
Supposing the Catalans got their way and they became an EU member state – what then? Presumably little would change. Most laws come from the EU anyway. Spaniards would still be allowed to reside there. Trade and jobs would continue unimpeded. The Catalans might make Spanish a second official language. There could be concord and amity between Catalonia and the Kingdom of Spain. They could remain allies. It would be straightforward to resolve the situation.
If Madrid grasped the nettle then all would be sorted out in short order. The Spanish Government could bow to the inevitable and announce that it accepted the ballot box decision of the Catalan Nation. Madrid would then grant independence to Catalonia. This would be done in co-ordination with the EU. The EU would vote to immediately accept Catalonia as an EU member state. The transition would be seamless. All anguish would be avoided.
If Catalonia became a republic within the EU then Spaniards domiciled in Catalonia would have nowt to fear. Their rights and liberties would be guaranteed to them. They would be entitled to give voice to their Spanish identity, to swear allegiance to Felipe and to fly la sangre y oro. These people ought to be assured that they need not dread a separate from Spain.
Catalan independence would not be the end of the world. Countless nations have become independent before. Why not just one more? Catalonia is affluent, democratic, stable and cosmopolitan. There is every reason to think it would continue to make a magnificent contribution to the EU.
Is Spain a nation at all? That is questionable. The Spanish Constitution speaks of the ‘nations’ of Spain. Spain is, if you will, a collection of nations. The word ‘nation’ is one for which there is no adequate universal definition. In fairness to the Kingdom of Spain it afforded Catalonia a very extensive degree of autonomy. One might have thought this would have satiated the Catalan desire for self-governance. But it did not. It is akin to George Robertson’s much mocked statement about devolution for Scotland – ‘it will kill nationalism stone dead.’ Instead Caledonia is within a whisker of voting to split from the United Kingdom.
Spain is comprised of regions with a very strong identity as well as what are arguably nations such as Galicia and the Basque Country. There are several languages in Spain. The Spanish language is really Castilian – the language of Central Spain. It is possible that Spain could fracture into several separate countries. I do not want to see that come to pass.
There is a striking dissonance between what the EU does to its member states and what it does elsewhere in the world. The European Union is also adamantly opposed to Scotland leaving the UK.
Yet the EU recognized Montenegro as independent. The same goes for Kosovo. In both cases the EU had vowed not to do so. The European Union recognized the independence of South Sudan. Many in the EU would like to recognize the independence of Somaliland. The people of South Sudan suffered genocide so I am unsurprised that they do not trust Khartoum. You might approve of all these declarations of independence. All well and good. But why not in the EU too? Why is it that the EU always strives to break up sovereign states outside the EU? Why is there one rule for EU states and another rule for everyone else? It smacks of a staggering arrogance, a total lack of logic and brazen hypocrisy.
If self-determination is to be afforded to Montenegro, Kosovo and suchlike then why not for Donbass, Luhansk, South Ossetia, Transdnistria, Crimea or anywhere most people yearn for a closer relationship with the Russian Federation? In some parts of the world the EU and NATO seeks to sunder nations states. The aim is perhaps to enfeeble other countries. The EU was keen on the Velvet Divorce. That was when Czechoslovakia dissolved. Slovakia and the Czech Republic became separate countries. Presumably the objective was to break Czechoslovakia up into bit sized chunks. All the better to be devoured by the EU. The EU’s motto ought to be drang nach Osten. Is there no end to the EU’s megalomania? Ever deeper east! The EU overtly harbours ambitions to absorb Ukraine, Moldova, Turkey and Albania. The EU was once in talks about Moroccan accession. Such rash and vainglorious overexpansion killed so many empires. The EU is not an empire but perhaps better limned as a mega state. Rather than address the EU’s many existential problems the bureaucrats of Brussels would rather plan to take in more and more nations. Any wish to join the EU by any section of public opinion in any country meets with a Pavlovian zeal in Brussels. The EU’s expansionist enthusiasms ought to be curbed.
I am not sure what the right way forward is for Catalonia. I am sure of this – the EU is not helping.