Catalonia’s Fight for Independence from Spain
Tags: Catalonia, Spain, Catalan independence, Carles Puigdemont, Mariano Rajoy, Referendum Law, Constitutional Court
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Before I begin my report on what’s going on in Catalan, let me preface this report by saying, “Do you want to radicalize and grow the Catalan Secessionist movement? Because THIS is how you radicalize and grow the Catalan Secessionist movement.”
And now, let the reporting begin.
For those of you following the whole Catalan fight for independence, you know this is a story that goes back centuries. It is a tale tangled with a complexity that would rival the bureaucratic entanglements you might find in Kafka’s “The Castle.” To wit, this quote from the book seems very apropos to the events of today, “One of the operating principles of authorities is that the possibility of error is simply not taken into account. This principle is justified by the excellence of the entire organization and is also necessary if matters are to be discharged with the utmost rapidity.”
This report is not so much about the specifics of the Catalan fight for independence as it is about the actions taken recently by the Spanish government to cut the process off right here and right now, to nip it in the proverbial bud.
One key point to take into consideration is this, the Catalan region is responsible for nearly 20 percent of the Spanish economy and contains 7.5 million people. Catalan is a valuable jewel in the Spanish State. The Spanish State simply cannot allow Catalonia to secede.
The Catalans are calling for a referendum on whether to leave Spain and declare themselves sovereign. The referendum is scheduled to happen on October 1st of this year, 2017. The Spanish High Court, called the Constitutional Court, struck down the Catalan law that made the referendum possible. That ruling came on September 7th, 2017.
This followed a statement by the Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, a couple of days earlier that made it clear the Spanish National government was in no mood to “allow” the Catalans to disassociate from their State.
In part of his statement, the Prime Minister said that the Catalan Parliament’s vote to allow the referendum to go forward was an “intolerable act of disobedience.”
He continued, “The consultation is not going to happen in any case. We are defending national sovereignty, the principle of legality and the institutions. We are defending the rights of all citizens, above all of the Catalans.”
That’s right, he’s arguing that the Catalans having a choice to decide whether they stay in the Spanish State or not is a violation of the rights of the Catalans. That is some high-class, top-knotched doublespeak right there, it sure is.
The Prime Minister’s statement followed the statement made by the Catalan President, Carles Puigdemont, where he referred to the just-passed referendum law as an act that stood up “for liberty and democracy.”
After the court ruling, the regional government of Catalonia responded by declaring it would still push forward with the referendum, in direct defiance of the Constitutional Court’s order. One of the work-arounds was to now consider the straw poll to be an informal poll rather than a legally binding referendum, a move that was made by Ras in response to the court ruling.
However, even that move was not acceptable by the Spanish government. The “legality” of the Catalan government to conduct even an informal poll was questioned, so now the poll will be run by civic groups rather than government agents and agencies. But even that measure was not enough to placate the central power of Spain.
Can Spain stop the Catalans from gathering to voice their opinion on being part of their Union? Francesco Homs, Catalan’s government spokesperson, declared in a news conference that “if what the Constitutional Court is seeking is to restrict the freedom of expression of citizens, it’s clear that it won’t be able to achieve that.”
Now that Spain has managed to reduce the referendum to an informal poll conducted by non-governmental entities (free associations, if you will), one would think the Spanish government would be happy. After all, the informal poll would have no legal binding. Even the results of the poll would be somewhat in doubt because it goes without saying that a higher proportion of ‘secessionists’ would take the time to participate in a non-binding opinion poll than would the Catalan loyalists who like things just the way they are, thank you very much.
While anyone with a modicum of common sense would see the advantage for Spain to just let these secessionists have their playtime referendum date, that’s not what’s happening today. Of course, I proffer the caveat that common sense, even a modicum of it, a tincture of it, was a prerequisite. Such a condition of course leaves out most politicians, so this next bit might be explained by that unfortunate factor.
First of all, let me point out that support for the secessionists is about 50/50. Any referendum vote, if it were fully legally binding, would be a nail-biter of an election. That point is essential when you consider the heavy-handed response of the Spanish government.
Today, September 20th, Spanish authorities have arrested 12 people in raids. Among those arrested include one of the secessionist leaders, Joseph Maria Jove, the Secretary General of Economic Affairs for the Catalan government. Europa Press, Spain’s news outlet, reported that those arrested were mostly from the economic and foreign departments of the Catalan government. Details of the raids are clouded in secrecy on the order of an unnamed judge.
There have been demonstrates ongoing all day today in the streets of Barcelona in support of Catalan independence.
After the raids, the Finance Ministry of the Spanish government has imposed financial restrictions on the Catalan government in an effort to ensure the Catalan government is not able to use these funds to pay for the October 1st referendum. The order, signed yesterday, September 19th, was revealed today. It essentially places all control of spending by the Catalan government in the hands of officials in Madrid, the Spanish capital.
Let us pause for a moment and take in the high quality derpage (technical term) just demonstrated by the National government. Remember, support for independence in Catalonia is about 50 percent, perhaps a bit less. You’ve essentially managed to knock down a legally binding referendum to the level of a public opinion poll that will have built in biases to it, biases that will pretty much discredit its results. You’ve won. And your response is to essentially remove ALL of the sovereignty of the region of Catalonia.
You see, the old saying goes something like this, “he who has the gold, has the power.” Madrid took all the gold from Barcelona. Now, what do you think a move like this will do to the Catalans? Will it tilt the needle of support towards favoring the national government, or will it create more Catalan secessionists?
“You see, we decided that, in the interest of preserving the rights of the Catalan citizens, we would strip them of their right to self-determination. In order for a people to truly be free, they must first be in bondage to higher, arbitrary powers.”
Yes, that’s what the Spanish national government is essentially saying to the so-called citizens of Catalonia. You can’t have your pudding if you don’t eat your meat, or, you can’t have your right to self-determination if you don’t eat your boot-to-the-face sandwich.
Carles Puigdemont appeared with the Catalan cabinet today to denounce the arrests, as well as the ham-fisted reaction by Spain’s Finance Minister to seize the gold, so to speak. Puigdemont accused the Spanish government of essentially ending Catalonia’s self-rule. He called it a de facto reality, but I call it a plain reality. If you cannot dictate how your own resources are used, then you have no self-rule.
And now reports have come out that some pro-independence activists have gotten into physical altercations with Spanish Civil Guard officers. A number of protesters (reports range from tens to hundreds) attempted to block officers from taking Xavier Puig into custody. Puig is the IT Manager in the Department of External affairs of Catalonia, the department that was originally coordinating the October 1st referendum.
It makes sense that the Spanish government would wish to seize the IT manager of the department that was coordinating the October 1st referendum. It goes without saying that the raid most assuredly seized computer hard drives from the offices. These hard drives will help the national government as it attempts to discover the network of secessionists for future targeting.
Following this event, the unsuccessful attempt to block the arrest of Xavier Puig, the Interior Ministry of Spain has announced that all scheduled time off and vacation times would be suspended for the Civil Guard and National Police Officers. The move telegraphs Spain’s expected continued escalation with the Catalan government which, thus far, does not seem willing to back down from its plans to run the referendum this October 1st.
The Interior Ministry followed up this move with announcement that they have seized 10 million ballot papers which had been printed out by the Catalan regional government for the October 1st referendum. They also confiscated polling station signs, documents for voting officials, and other material that was intended to be used for the October 1st referendum.
This last bit of news may not seem significant to you, but take into account that next to the Catholic Church, and possibly bull fighting, the most sacred institution in Spain, including in Catalan, is football, or what we Americans call Soccer.
With that in mind, I give you this latest update to this story. The Barcelona Football Club made a highly political statement, one they probably had to make to continue to be supported by Catalans, who overwhelmingly favor the referendum, even if the support for secession is only about half. The club announced that it condemns “anyone” interfering with Catalonia’s ability to conduct the referendum this October 1st.
The club’s statement read, in part, that it “condemns any act that may impede the free exercise of these rights.” The club also stated that it “will continue to support the will of the majority of Catalan people, and will do so in a civil, peaceful, and exemplary way.”
I do not pretend to be an expert on Spanish politics, certainly not Catalan politics. I do not pretend to understand the machinations behind the factions within Catalonia that support or do not support secession, or the level of determination by any of these factions. However, I do understand basic human nature. I understand the power of tribes.
Given the fact that a vast majority of Catalans support the referendum, even if many of the Catalan members of parliament against secession were quick to support the Spanish Constitutional Court’s judgment, I believe I can fairly assume that Catalans, for the most part, support a high level of self-rule, even if they don’t support secession.
What happens, though, when one tribe you belong to, the Spanish tribe, begins to put its lead-weighted boot on the neck of another tribe you belong to, the Catalan tribe, and that tribe is actually more essential to your identity than the Spanish tribe is? I am betting that the net effect of these moves is that it will drive these Catalans inward. It will create an existential threat on an identity that is far more important to you than the one now threatening that more core identity.
Not only do these moves threaten that Catalan identity, they threaten a key component of that Catalan identity, their tendency to favor self-determination. That aspect of the Catalan identity is most likely very strong even among the Catalan “loyalists.”
To a certain degree, this is what happened in the American civil war. The moment Lincoln chose military action to force the first Southern States back into the Union, he galvanized many Southerners, including Lee, to be forced to make a hard choice that, I surmise, many were not willing to make.
And so it goes with the Spanish government, as their heavy-handed moves are sure to create more secessionists, as well as radicalize those that are already secessionists. Even the most radical of secessionists will most likely swim deeper into the waters of radicalization.
Rather than nipping this thing in the bud, the Spanish government is assuring that the issue of independence for Catalan will receive yet another round of myth-building tales of sacrifice, martyrdom, heroism, tales that are sure to be powerful perpetuators of the Catalan story of independence, tales that are sure to be embellished and writ large on a stage that spans the constellations themselves.
At the end of the day, this is yet another story among many stories that illustrates a cold, hard reality, a reality few people are willing to face, a reality the Spanish government is not only unwilling to face, but is one that it would want to hide from Catalonia’s citizens. What is that cold hard reality? There is no rule of law, there is only rule of power.
The judgment by the Constitutional Court had the power of words, words that, by their very nature, create opportunities for obfuscation, differing interpretations. The ruling by the court was not a reflection of rule of law so much as it was a reflection of the recognition by the Spanish coercive enterprise that the loss of the claim of ownership of the region of Catalonia would be a critical fail for that coercive enterprise.
What I do not know is the reality of power on the ground in Catalonia. How much are the Catalans willing to pay, willing to risk to remove themselves from the responsibilities, obligations of the Spanish coercive enterprise? How much is the Spanish coercive enterprise willing to pay, willing to risk to ensure that the region remains firmly under their control?
Clearly, the recent moves by the Spanish coercive enterprise have done at least one thing, they have galvanized the secessionists. They have also most likely helped create even more secessionists. They have, by their actions, raised the cost of coercion for their enterprise in its efforts to hold on to the region known as Catalonia.
I cannot make any specific predictions about what will happen in the near or mid future as I don’t have enough data to support such a prediction. I can safely predict this, the Catalan issue is not going away anytime soon, and the Spanish government just made it a much, much bigger problem than it was before the moves made today.
Let me end this report by how I began, with this warning to the coercive enterprise of Spain, “Do you want to radicalize and grow the Catalan Secessionist movement? Because THIS is how you radicalize and grow the Catalan Secessionist movement.”