Ripples from Catalan referendum could extend beyond Spain

Simon Tisdall writes: The Spanish government’s attempted suppression of Catalonia’s independence referendum by brute force has raised urgent questions for fellow EU members about Spain’s adherence to democratic norms, 42 years after the death of the fascist dictator, Francisco Franco. Charles Michel, Belgium’s prime minister, spoke for many in Europe when he tweeted: “Violence can never be the answer!”

Madrid’s pugnacious stance, while widely condemned as a gross and shameful over-reaction, has nevertheless sent a problematic message to would-be secessionists everywhere. It is that peaceful campaigns in line with the UN charter’s universal right to self-determination, campaigns that eschew violence and rely on conventional political means, are ultimately doomed to fail. In other words, violence is the only answer. Sorry, Charles.

Spain’s prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, did everything he could to derail a referendum that the courts had deemed illegal, but his pleas and threats were not persuasive. That is democracy. Rajoy’s subsequent choice to employ physical force to impose his will on civilians exercising a basic democratic right carried a chill echo of Spain’s past and a dire warning for the future. That is dictatorship.

Surely no one believes the cause of Catalan independence will fade away after Sunday’s bloody confrontations that left hundreds injured. Rajoy’s actions may have ensured, on the contrary, that the campaign enters a new, more radical phase, potentially giving rise to ongoing clashes, reciprocal violence, and copycat protests elsewhere, for example among the left-behind population of economically deprived Galicia. [Continue reading…]

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  1. Internationalist says:

    The article says: “Looked at in this broader context, the upheavals in Catalonia are part of a chaotic, Europe-wide, multifaceted fracturing of the authority and legitimacy of the traditional, all-powerful, uniform nation state…”

    The author has it exactly backwards. Catalan nationalists do strive to create a “traditional, all-powerful, uniform nation state”. A Catalan one.

    The Spanish government has, with its ham-fisted, authoritarian response, handed a propaganda victory to the separatists. One that is *thoroughly undeserved*.

    What the article doesn’t mention is that Catalan civil society has been taken over by nationalists. This has three main pillars:

    -The educational system (which is in the hands of the local authorities) cultivates a perpetual feeling of grievance, the central thesis being that all problems throughout Catalan history can be ascribed to Spanish influence. *All* problems, literally. This includes an emphasis on arcane historical minutia (such as e.g. things like the “Compromise of Caspe”; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compromise_of_Caspe) presented as ruinous milestones on a long path towards subjugation. More sinister is the intimation that the sixty-odd percent of the Catalan population that speak Spanish (Castilian) as their first language are somehow part of a foreign body on Catalan soil, whose members can only attain redemption through the display of separatist zeal.

    It goes without saying that I speak from first-hand experience.

    -The local media are dependent on the subsidies of the so-called “autonomous” government or “Generalitat”, and toe the party line accordingly. More specifically, they decline and conjugate the party line in all possible variations, covering the entirety of the conventional ideological spectrum (i.e. slathering their nationalism all over it). Think of an ice cream parlour where you can’t buy “pure” vanilla, but all the other flavourings must come with a scoop of vanilla thrown in.

    [When our author writes: “The attempt by Rajoy and his ministers to depict the Catalan independence movement as belonging to the wider, recent phenomenon of rightwing European nationalism, xenophobia and populism was an obvious smear”, think of the taste of vanilla with an extra scoop of progressive chocolate.]

    -The local administration (the aforementioned “Generalitat”, municipalities and cities) is a tool of political patronage for separatists, providing preferential employment to true believers and copycats alike.

    The Lega Nord, which is mentioned in the article, has the exact same comtempt for Southern Italy which Catalan nationalists reserve for Spain/the rest of Spain and the very same simplistic economical message (“Roma ladrona, la Lega non perdona” VS “Espanya ens roba”) which presents the neoliberal notion of “taxation as spoliation” in its most mind-numbing form. The Lega Nord is honest about the fact that it is a far-right movement, at least. Our author, feeling the vanilla on the tongue, hedges his bets when he says that the Spanish government “levies unfair taxes and allegedly gives back less than it takes.” Allegedly.

    After forty years of neoliberalism, the cult of selfishness is turning into a cargo-cult of selfishness.

    Under these conditions, a referendum is not merely illegal, it’s illegitimate, because a genuine civil society (that is, one whose institutional makeup represents the population’s true diversity) does not exist in Catalonia.

    The Spanish government should have allowed the farce to take place, and then proceeded to ignore the result. For a binding referendum on independence to be held, Catalonia would need a “detoxication cure” first, i.e. an extended moratorium on governmental interference in the local media and indoctrination in the education system, enforced and supervised by the EU.

    I define myself as a “bad Spaniard, and an even worse Catalan”, because I have little to no attachment to notions of Spanish “patriotism”, while rejecting Catalan separatism in the most emphatic terms. To Catalan nationalists, I’m a traitor (their words) at worst, a categorical impossibility at best.

    I no longer live in that madhouse.