Tri­fling with po­lit­i­cal de­tails no con­cern in Cat­alo­nia

The Woolwich Observer - - COMMENT - WORLD AF­FAIRS

CATA­LAN NA­TION­AL­IST LEADER CAR­LES Puigde­mont got most of what he wanted out of the chaotic pseudo-ref­er­en­dum on Sun­day: 761 peo­ple in­jured by the Span­ish po­lice try­ing to block it.

One or two mar­tyrs dead for the cause of Cata­lan in­de­pen­dence would have been even bet­ter, and no doubt the 761 in­jured in­clude a fair num­ber of sprained an­kles and bro­ken nails, but the pic­tures will do the job. Even the for­eign me­dia cov­er­age bought the story that the bru­tal Span­ish po­lice were sup­press­ing the pop­u­lar will – so now Puigde­mont will have an ex­cuse for mak­ing a uni­lat­eral dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence.

Puigde­mont, the pres­i­dent of the Cata­lan re­gional gov­ern­ment, is no stranger to histri­on­ics. In the past he has com­pared Cata­lan sep­a­ratists’ non­vi­o­lent cam­paign for in­de­pen­dence to the Span­ish Civil War of 1936-39 and even to the Viet­nam War.

“Ev­ery day is a Viet­nam,” Puigde­mont said in a TV in­ter­view last year, which seems a bit over the top as Amer­i­can B-52s hardly ever bomb Barcelona. But that’s the sort of stuff that ral­lies the troops, and there is a mi­nor­ity of peo­ple in Cat­alo­nia who re­ally want in­de­pen­dence. There al­ways has been, be­cause Cat­alo­nia has had a hard time from some Span­ish gov­ern­ments in the past.

It fought on the los­ing (Repub­li­can/Com­mu­nist) side in the Span­ish Civil War, and tens of thou­sands of Cata­lans died when Gen­eral Fran­cisco Franco’s fas­cists won the war. Franco pun­ished Cat­alo­nia by ban­ning the use of the Cata­lan lan­guage (which is quite close to Castil­ian Span­ish, but dif­fer­ent enough for peo­ple to care about the dif­fer­ence).

But to­day Cat­alo­nia is the rich­est re­gion of Spain. The Cata­lan lan­guage en­joys equal sta­tus with Span­ish and is used in the schools. The re­gion’s wealth has at­tracted so many peo­ple from other parts of Spain over the years that 46 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion now speaks mostly Span­ish (37 per cent use mainly Cata­lan, and 12 per cent say they use both equally).

So why do so many Cata­lans want to break from Spain? His­tor­i­cal grievances dat­ing from the Civil War and even be­fore; re­sent­ment that so many Span­ish­s­peak­ers have im­mi­grated to Cat­alo­nia; re­sent­ment that they have to share some of their wealth with poorer parts of Spain (but this is Europe, where that is per­fectly nor­mal); and most of all what Sig­mund Freud called “the nar­cis­sism of mi­nor dif­fer­ences.”

Equally mi­nor dif­fer­ences saw Nor­way break away from Swe­den non­vi­o­lently in 1904, and Slo­vakia peace­fully se­cede from for­mer Cze­choslo­vakia in 1993, so pet­ti­ness in it­self is no ob­sta­cle. Cata­lan sep­a­ratists, how­ever, faced two ma­jor ob­sta­cles: an in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum is il­le­gal un­der the Span­ish con­sti­tu­tion – and if they did hold a proper ref­er­en­dum, they’d al­most cer­tainly lose.

The prob­lem is all those Span­ish-speak­ing peo­ple who don’t share the ro­man­tic na­tion­al­ist dreams of many (but not all) Cata­lans. A poll in March showed 48.5 per cent op­pos­ing in­de­pen­dence and 44.3 per cent in favour; by July it was 49.4 per cent against in­de­pen­dence, and only 41.1 per cent for it. It’s not easy to dis­en­fran­chise all those “Spa­niards” (most of whom were ac­tu­ally born in Cat­alo­nia), so a sim­ple ref­er­en­dum won’t de­liver the goods.

Puigde­mont’s big idea prob­a­bly oc­curred to him af­ter a sym­bolic ref­er­en­dum in 2014 pro­duced an 80 per cent ma­jor­ity for in­de­pen­dence – be­cause it was il­le­gal, and there­fore only a third of the pop­u­la­tion (al­most all Cata­lans) voted in it. What if he held an­other il­le­gal ref­er­en­dum, but this time have the Cata­lan par­lia­ment, where his coali­tion has a nar­row ma­jor­ity, de­clare it “le­gal and bind­ing.”

Once again, most Span­ish-speak­ers wouldn’t vote – but this time, he said, there will be no re­quire­ment of a min­i­mum turnout, and the re­gional par­lia­ment can de­clare

in­de­pen­dence “within 48 hours” if the vote goes in favour. Or, if the Span­ish gov­ern­ment in­ter­venes to stop the vote, as is its right un­der the con­sti­tu­tion, he could use that as a pre­text for a uni­lat­eral dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence.

It was win-win for Puigde­mont, and lose-lose for the Span­ish gov­ern­ment. If Madrid didn’t in­ter­vene, Cat­alo­nia would de­clare in­de­pen­dence on the strength of a ref­er­en­dum in which only a mi­nor­ity of the pop­u­la­tion, al­most all Cata­lan-speak­ers, voted. If it did in­ter­vene to stop the ref­er­en­dum, it would be guilty of “thwart­ing democ­racy”, and the im­ages of Cata­lan pro­test­ers be­ing dragged away from polling booths would prove to the world how evil the Span­ish gov­ern­ment is.

Madrid went with the lat­ter op­tion, and now is seen across the world as an op­pres­sor. Puigde­mont, in a tele­vised ad­dress Sun­day evening, said: “With this day of hope and suf­fer­ing, the ci­ti­zens of Cat­alo­nia have won the right to an in­de­pen­dent state in the form of a repub­lic.” He also hinted that a uni­lat­eral dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence was on the way.

Nice strat­egy. Shame about the mess.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.