In Spain, Catalonian Defiance Challenges Europe

In Spain, Catalonia is now in open rebellion against Madrid. While most Americans are unaware of what is going on, this crisis has a lot to tell us about Europe, and about ourselves.

[At] the National Theatre in Barcelona ... on July 4th, the president of Catalonia’s government, Carles Puigdemont, announced plans to hold a unilateral referendum on independence from Spain on October 1st. The draft law he unveiled says that, whatever the turnout, if those voting in favour outnumber those against, within 48 hours the Catalan parliament will declare independence.  - The Economist

The Spanish courts have been clear. Their judiciary have forbidden these referenda to go ahead. The Catalans will not submit. This announcement was open defiance.

Indeed, under Article 155 of the Spanish constitution Madrid can force the regional government in Barcelona to drop the vote, but Catalan officials have said they will not do so under any circumstances. - The New European

In the past, the Spanish government has reacted strongly against Catalan politicians who defy them.

The former Catalan president Artur Mas has been banned from holding public office for two years after being found guilty of disobeying the Spanish constitutional court by holding a symbolic independence referendum three years ago.

On Monday, the Catalan high court convicted Mas, former vice-president Joana Ortega and former education minister Irene Rigau of defying the constitutional court by pressing ahead with the non-binding vote in November 2014. - The Guardian

Yet, the new president of the region of Catalonia has thrown down the gauntlet. He will not be intimidated.

Spain, or rather the Madrid central government, will probably have to resort to force at some level. It has to be remembered that there is an old guard in the Spanish government which still reveres Francisco Franco, and which could be called in to quash any Catalan upstarts. They do not even have to be a large part of the Spanish electorate. Right-wing parties and influence draw on Franco's centralism.

Drawing on a residual Francoist centralism, the Popular Party has fomented hostility to Catalonia in particular for electoral gain. The consequent divisiveness, at times bordering on mutual hatred, is one of the most damaging legacies of Francoism. - BBC

A heavy-handed response cannot be ruled out.

For at least some independence activists, a heavy-handed reaction from Madrid could translate into a political victory as well. They hope that a sharp escalation of the conflict in the months ahead will prompt greater interest — and possibly even intervention — from Spain’s European partners, which have so far shown little sympathy for the Catalan campaign.  - The Financial Times

I do not expect violence from the Catalans. They are too smart for that, but if Madrid acts heavy-handedly, I do expect to see debilitating passive resistance. Roads blocked. Massive public protests. Appeals to the United Nations.

This is really a disaster for the Spanish state. Catalonia is Spain's most productive region overall (The Basque region's high production is per capita). One does not want to kill the goose that laid the golden egg, but neither does one want to let the goose get away.

We in America tend to think of Spain as a unified whole which once ran a worldwide empire. Actually, Spain is a disjointed mess; and one reason it was so good at running an empire abroad was because it had practice running an empire internally. Galicia, Catalonia, the Basque Country. They all want out of Spain; all have had to be repressed. Nor should one think this is uniquely Spanish. The United Kingdom was never as united as it claimed to be. Scotland may be the next to leave the UK.

The European Union bureaucrats tend to frown on separatism. It messes up their plans for a united Europe. If one lets one region go, then everybody will go. So the EU will probably support Madrid. Oddly, the EU has toyed favorably with Scottish separatism, but that was only a gesture to counter the ultimate separation: the Brexit.

What is clear is that all the bureaucrats in Europe cannot undo tribalism. Catalonia is as much problem to them as it is to Madrid. The European Union likes to maintain the status quo, except concerning the Brexit. A independent Catalonia upsets that cart, even if it petitions to join the EU.

Jean-Claude Piris, the former director general of the EU Council’s legal service, poured cold water on Catalonia’s plot to hold an independence referendum.

The Frenchman warned the EU would not welcome an independent Catalonia as a member state and called on Brussels to speak out.  - Express

The bureaucrats really do stick up for each other. That this slap in the face to Catalan independence comes from a Frenchman is no accident. It is an outgrowth of the French Revolution, and Gaullist centralism.

France was once heavily divided, too. The Catalans on the French side of the Pyrenees, the Occitan/Provençals, the Celtic Bretons, the Italic Corsicans, the Germanic Alsace-Lorrainers, and the French Basque were all quite noticeably distinct well up until the mid 20th century. However, the French Revolution imposed a linguistic uniformity on the whole country. French centralism worked because it did offer a large degree of liberté, egalité, fraternité,  under a democratic regime in return. However, generations of French schoolkids had their dialects ruthlessly eradicated. It is this French concept of uniformitarianism which undermines the European Union, and it is a Gaullist legacy. France refuses to genuinely support bilingualism, though it may give lip service to the idea. Any serious reforms are shot down.

"[T]here is no place for minority languages in a France destined to make its mark on Europe. - President Pompidou

The Senate has rejected on Tuesday the bill of ratification of the European Charter for Regional Languages, thus removing the hypothesis of a Congress for the adoption of this constitutional reform. - France TV Info (Google translated)

France has to support Madrid. The last thing France wants is a resurgence of local separatism. They will not even entertain discussions of autonomy within France.

Brittany, Corsica, Flanders, Scotland, and the temporarily quiet, for the time being, Basque region. Catalonia will not only be facing Spain, but a European Union which will close ranks. Europe for all its pretensions of democracy is a rather centralist authoritarian structure, again, a legacy from de Gaulle.

Whatever the outcome, Spain is doomed.  In the Basque country, over half the students are taught all their subjects in Basque, with Spanish taught as an essentially foreign language. Another 23% are taught heavily in Basque. Another 26% are taught Basque as a secondary language. In Catalonia, the subjects are taught in Catalan.

For 30 years, public schools in Spain's Catalonia region have taught most subjects in Catalan, not the national Castilian Spanish language. - Reuter

With language policies like these, the Basques and Catalans have seized the future. If they do not win today, they will win tomorrow. The Basque have already won a massive number of concessions from Madrid, even more concessions than are conceded to Catalonia; and there is talk that if Madrid made the same concessions to Catalonia, Spain might buy some time.

The Basque Country, for its part, enjoys a high level of autonomy in many areas including taxation, a sector that Catalonia and other regions would like to get more control over. - The Local

However, the Basque Country enjoys financial privileges, while Catalonia follows the general system used by most regions. As a result, public expenditure in the Basque Country per capita in 2013 was over €4,000 and just under €2,000 in Catalonia, according to a 2016 report by the central government. The Spanish average was slightly over €2,000. - Politico

What should be obvious to all but bureaucrats, who seem invincibly ignorant to the obvious, is that governments cannot define people. It violates human nature. Rather people must be allowed to define their own government. This is a lesson for all governments to learn.

Mike Konrad is the pen name of an American who wishes he had availed himself more fully of the opportunity to learn Spanish in high school, lo those many decades ago. He writes on the Arabs of South America at http://latinarabia.com. He also just started a website about small computers at http://minireplacement.com.

In Spain, Catalonia is now in open rebellion against Madrid. While most Americans are unaware of what is going on, this crisis has a lot to tell us about Europe, and about ourselves.

[At] the National Theatre in Barcelona ... on July 4th, the president of Catalonia’s government, Carles Puigdemont, announced plans to hold a unilateral referendum on independence from Spain on October 1st. The draft law he unveiled says that, whatever the turnout, if those voting in favour outnumber those against, within 48 hours the Catalan parliament will declare independence.  - The Economist

The Spanish courts have been clear. Their judiciary have forbidden these referenda to go ahead. The Catalans will not submit. This announcement was open defiance.

Indeed, under Article 155 of the Spanish constitution Madrid can force the regional government in Barcelona to drop the vote, but Catalan officials have said they will not do so under any circumstances. - The New European

In the past, the Spanish government has reacted strongly against Catalan politicians who defy them.

The former Catalan president Artur Mas has been banned from holding public office for two years after being found guilty of disobeying the Spanish constitutional court by holding a symbolic independence referendum three years ago.

On Monday, the Catalan high court convicted Mas, former vice-president Joana Ortega and former education minister Irene Rigau of defying the constitutional court by pressing ahead with the non-binding vote in November 2014. - The Guardian

Yet, the new president of the region of Catalonia has thrown down the gauntlet. He will not be intimidated.

Spain, or rather the Madrid central government, will probably have to resort to force at some level. It has to be remembered that there is an old guard in the Spanish government which still reveres Francisco Franco, and which could be called in to quash any Catalan upstarts. They do not even have to be a large part of the Spanish electorate. Right-wing parties and influence draw on Franco's centralism.

Drawing on a residual Francoist centralism, the Popular Party has fomented hostility to Catalonia in particular for electoral gain. The consequent divisiveness, at times bordering on mutual hatred, is one of the most damaging legacies of Francoism. - BBC

A heavy-handed response cannot be ruled out.

For at least some independence activists, a heavy-handed reaction from Madrid could translate into a political victory as well. They hope that a sharp escalation of the conflict in the months ahead will prompt greater interest — and possibly even intervention — from Spain’s European partners, which have so far shown little sympathy for the Catalan campaign.  - The Financial Times

I do not expect violence from the Catalans. They are too smart for that, but if Madrid acts heavy-handedly, I do expect to see debilitating passive resistance. Roads blocked. Massive public protests. Appeals to the United Nations.

This is really a disaster for the Spanish state. Catalonia is Spain's most productive region overall (The Basque region's high production is per capita). One does not want to kill the goose that laid the golden egg, but neither does one want to let the goose get away.

We in America tend to think of Spain as a unified whole which once ran a worldwide empire. Actually, Spain is a disjointed mess; and one reason it was so good at running an empire abroad was because it had practice running an empire internally. Galicia, Catalonia, the Basque Country. They all want out of Spain; all have had to be repressed. Nor should one think this is uniquely Spanish. The United Kingdom was never as united as it claimed to be. Scotland may be the next to leave the UK.

The European Union bureaucrats tend to frown on separatism. It messes up their plans for a united Europe. If one lets one region go, then everybody will go. So the EU will probably support Madrid. Oddly, the EU has toyed favorably with Scottish separatism, but that was only a gesture to counter the ultimate separation: the Brexit.

What is clear is that all the bureaucrats in Europe cannot undo tribalism. Catalonia is as much problem to them as it is to Madrid. The European Union likes to maintain the status quo, except concerning the Brexit. A independent Catalonia upsets that cart, even if it petitions to join the EU.

Jean-Claude Piris, the former director general of the EU Council’s legal service, poured cold water on Catalonia’s plot to hold an independence referendum.

The Frenchman warned the EU would not welcome an independent Catalonia as a member state and called on Brussels to speak out.  - Express

The bureaucrats really do stick up for each other. That this slap in the face to Catalan independence comes from a Frenchman is no accident. It is an outgrowth of the French Revolution, and Gaullist centralism.

France was once heavily divided, too. The Catalans on the French side of the Pyrenees, the Occitan/Provençals, the Celtic Bretons, the Italic Corsicans, the Germanic Alsace-Lorrainers, and the French Basque were all quite noticeably distinct well up until the mid 20th century. However, the French Revolution imposed a linguistic uniformity on the whole country. French centralism worked because it did offer a large degree of liberté, egalité, fraternité,  under a democratic regime in return. However, generations of French schoolkids had their dialects ruthlessly eradicated. It is this French concept of uniformitarianism which undermines the European Union, and it is a Gaullist legacy. France refuses to genuinely support bilingualism, though it may give lip service to the idea. Any serious reforms are shot down.

"[T]here is no place for minority languages in a France destined to make its mark on Europe. - President Pompidou

The Senate has rejected on Tuesday the bill of ratification of the European Charter for Regional Languages, thus removing the hypothesis of a Congress for the adoption of this constitutional reform. - France TV Info (Google translated)

France has to support Madrid. The last thing France wants is a resurgence of local separatism. They will not even entertain discussions of autonomy within France.

Brittany, Corsica, Flanders, Scotland, and the temporarily quiet, for the time being, Basque region. Catalonia will not only be facing Spain, but a European Union which will close ranks. Europe for all its pretensions of democracy is a rather centralist authoritarian structure, again, a legacy from de Gaulle.

Whatever the outcome, Spain is doomed.  In the Basque country, over half the students are taught all their subjects in Basque, with Spanish taught as an essentially foreign language. Another 23% are taught heavily in Basque. Another 26% are taught Basque as a secondary language. In Catalonia, the subjects are taught in Catalan.

For 30 years, public schools in Spain's Catalonia region have taught most subjects in Catalan, not the national Castilian Spanish language. - Reuter

With language policies like these, the Basques and Catalans have seized the future. If they do not win today, they will win tomorrow. The Basque have already won a massive number of concessions from Madrid, even more concessions than are conceded to Catalonia; and there is talk that if Madrid made the same concessions to Catalonia, Spain might buy some time.

The Basque Country, for its part, enjoys a high level of autonomy in many areas including taxation, a sector that Catalonia and other regions would like to get more control over. - The Local

However, the Basque Country enjoys financial privileges, while Catalonia follows the general system used by most regions. As a result, public expenditure in the Basque Country per capita in 2013 was over €4,000 and just under €2,000 in Catalonia, according to a 2016 report by the central government. The Spanish average was slightly over €2,000. - Politico

What should be obvious to all but bureaucrats, who seem invincibly ignorant to the obvious, is that governments cannot define people. It violates human nature. Rather people must be allowed to define their own government. This is a lesson for all governments to learn.

Mike Konrad is the pen name of an American who wishes he had availed himself more fully of the opportunity to learn Spanish in high school, lo those many decades ago. He writes on the Arabs of South America at http://latinarabia.com. He also just started a website about small computers at http://minireplacement.com.

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