Is the US Right to Ignore Spain vs. Catalonia?

The news about Catalonia has finally started to bubble to the surface of the American press, which seems more concerned about the impeachment circus.  Europe is paying critical attention to what is going on.

I suggest that in this case, America's lack of concern is appropriate.

The crisis started on Monday, October 14, when the Spanish Supreme Court gave rather lengthy prison sentences, nine and thirteen years, to the leaders behind the Catalan vote for independence in 2017.

Leave it to Spain's judiciary to deliver harsh sentences and only make a bad situation worse.  But then the rest of Spain — with the exception of the Basques — has considered the Catalans politically spoiled brats.  Moreover, Spain's constitution has a rather right-wing section that clamps down on any secessionist movements.

After the Spanish Civil War (1936–39), Franco tried to suppress any future irruptions of secession.  Yet even Franco could not erase such tendencies.  Regional differences in Spain have been sharp throughout its history.  Such feelings for secession run deep — deeper than the average "Lost Cause" Confederate sympathizer might presently harbor.

Why?  Because, unlike the Confederacy, Spain's separatist regions actually have long prior histories of independent nationhood.  The Basques, Catalans, and Galicians actually speak different languages. 

The Confederacy did not pre-exist the United States.  The Basques, Catalans, and Galicians pre-existed Spain.  A better analogy might be the United Kingdom, where different nations were held together by force.  Only in Spain, even under force, that unification was never that stable.

Such separatism was one of the major reasons for the Spanish Civil War.

Since then, Spanish hardliners have tended to despise any movement that militates against the unity of Spain, which they deem as sacred.  When the present Spanish constitution was framed, to accommodate the right wing — and to give them no excuse for a coup — the constitution gave Madrid wide powers to suppress separatism.

Apparently, the constitution's assurances of a unified Spain were not enough to accommodate some of the right wing.  In 1981, there was an attempted coup.  They were particularly upset about the autonomous rights given to the Basques and Catalans.

Make no mistake about it: there is still a large quasi-fascist constituency in Spain that will not tolerate any hint of separation.  They have formed a new party: Vox.

Most essential to its platform is [Vox's] call for Spanish unity.

The party — whose supporters are primarily 25- to 44-year-old middle- to middle-upper-class men, according to Spain's Center for Sociological Investigations — also employs language associated with Franco's dictatorship and the Spanish age of conquest.

Vox leaders call for the "reconquest" of Spain, harkening back to the 800-year Spanish campaign, completed in 1492, to expel Muslims from the Iberian Peninsula. They appeal to Spanish nationalism and urge their followers to "thank God for having been born in the fatherland."

So where should America's sympathies lie?  This may surprise some, but not with Catalonia.

The drive for independence in Catalonia  is not as popular as the Catalan secessionists would have one believe.  According to NPR, "In an official survey in July, more than 48% of respondents said they did not want Catalonia to become an independent state, compared with 44% in favor."

The separatists have not created a base of strong support.  They rushed ahead of themselves.

We should not confuse Catalan separatism with the American War of Independence.  Only one sixth of the American populace was loyalist during our revolution.  The famous quote about one third favoring the revolution actually referred to American opinion of the French revolution.  Actually, there was widespread support for the patriot cause in America.

Such widespread support does not exist in Catalonia.  Franco had sabotaged future hopes of regionalism by encouraging immigration to Catalonia from the Spanish south — and it seems to have worked to an extent.

Support for Catalonia is stronger in the rural areas.  A good portion of the pro-independence protesters have to be bused into Barcelona.  The population of Barcelona itself is not majority separatist.  The mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, has been against independence.

And what are the goals of the separatists?  Muddled at best.

I am not against an independent Catalonia in theory.  They have a good case.  But they have not laid a strong foundation.  They are not ready yet.

Neither do I have any respect for the thuggish behavior of Spanish police, nor do I have any respect for how Spanish courts curtail the political debate.

In Catalonia you are not allowed to say that the former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont is in political exile in Belgium or that former education minister Clara Ponsati is in political exile in Scotland. You are allowed to describe them as "fugitives from justice" because the Spanish electoral commission has ruled that this highly judgemental and emotive term is a neutral description. In Spain, you're only considered to be neutral if you support the viewpoint of the Spanish government and the Spanish establishment.

But let us not overlook the amateurish behavior of the separatists.

A former president of Catalonia — who also had run-ins with Madrid — Arturo Mas, has noted:

Mas conceded that the independence movement needed to do more to win hearts and minds in Catalonia, where support for secession has never risen above 48.7%, and where pro-independence parties have never managed to take 50% of the vote in regional elections.

The first object of any revolution is to make things better.  Catalan separatists seem too muddled to have figured that out.

Let them first win popular support and then give a clear image of what they want.  If all they want is separation to rejoin the bureaucratic tyranny of the E.U. — as many do — then they do not deserve independence.

Mike Konrad is the pen name of an American who wishes he had availed himself more fully of the opportunity to learn Spanish better in high school, lo those many decades ago.  He runs a website, Latin Arabia, about the Christian Arab community in South America.

The news about Catalonia has finally started to bubble to the surface of the American press, which seems more concerned about the impeachment circus.  Europe is paying critical attention to what is going on.

I suggest that in this case, America's lack of concern is appropriate.

The crisis started on Monday, October 14, when the Spanish Supreme Court gave rather lengthy prison sentences, nine and thirteen years, to the leaders behind the Catalan vote for independence in 2017.

Leave it to Spain's judiciary to deliver harsh sentences and only make a bad situation worse.  But then the rest of Spain — with the exception of the Basques — has considered the Catalans politically spoiled brats.  Moreover, Spain's constitution has a rather right-wing section that clamps down on any secessionist movements.

After the Spanish Civil War (1936–39), Franco tried to suppress any future irruptions of secession.  Yet even Franco could not erase such tendencies.  Regional differences in Spain have been sharp throughout its history.  Such feelings for secession run deep — deeper than the average "Lost Cause" Confederate sympathizer might presently harbor.

Why?  Because, unlike the Confederacy, Spain's separatist regions actually have long prior histories of independent nationhood.  The Basques, Catalans, and Galicians actually speak different languages. 

The Confederacy did not pre-exist the United States.  The Basques, Catalans, and Galicians pre-existed Spain.  A better analogy might be the United Kingdom, where different nations were held together by force.  Only in Spain, even under force, that unification was never that stable.

Such separatism was one of the major reasons for the Spanish Civil War.

Since then, Spanish hardliners have tended to despise any movement that militates against the unity of Spain, which they deem as sacred.  When the present Spanish constitution was framed, to accommodate the right wing — and to give them no excuse for a coup — the constitution gave Madrid wide powers to suppress separatism.

Apparently, the constitution's assurances of a unified Spain were not enough to accommodate some of the right wing.  In 1981, there was an attempted coup.  They were particularly upset about the autonomous rights given to the Basques and Catalans.

Make no mistake about it: there is still a large quasi-fascist constituency in Spain that will not tolerate any hint of separation.  They have formed a new party: Vox.

Most essential to its platform is [Vox's] call for Spanish unity.

The party — whose supporters are primarily 25- to 44-year-old middle- to middle-upper-class men, according to Spain's Center for Sociological Investigations — also employs language associated with Franco's dictatorship and the Spanish age of conquest.

Vox leaders call for the "reconquest" of Spain, harkening back to the 800-year Spanish campaign, completed in 1492, to expel Muslims from the Iberian Peninsula. They appeal to Spanish nationalism and urge their followers to "thank God for having been born in the fatherland."

So where should America's sympathies lie?  This may surprise some, but not with Catalonia.

The drive for independence in Catalonia  is not as popular as the Catalan secessionists would have one believe.  According to NPR, "In an official survey in July, more than 48% of respondents said they did not want Catalonia to become an independent state, compared with 44% in favor."

The separatists have not created a base of strong support.  They rushed ahead of themselves.

We should not confuse Catalan separatism with the American War of Independence.  Only one sixth of the American populace was loyalist during our revolution.  The famous quote about one third favoring the revolution actually referred to American opinion of the French revolution.  Actually, there was widespread support for the patriot cause in America.

Such widespread support does not exist in Catalonia.  Franco had sabotaged future hopes of regionalism by encouraging immigration to Catalonia from the Spanish south — and it seems to have worked to an extent.

Support for Catalonia is stronger in the rural areas.  A good portion of the pro-independence protesters have to be bused into Barcelona.  The population of Barcelona itself is not majority separatist.  The mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, has been against independence.

And what are the goals of the separatists?  Muddled at best.

I am not against an independent Catalonia in theory.  They have a good case.  But they have not laid a strong foundation.  They are not ready yet.

Neither do I have any respect for the thuggish behavior of Spanish police, nor do I have any respect for how Spanish courts curtail the political debate.

In Catalonia you are not allowed to say that the former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont is in political exile in Belgium or that former education minister Clara Ponsati is in political exile in Scotland. You are allowed to describe them as "fugitives from justice" because the Spanish electoral commission has ruled that this highly judgemental and emotive term is a neutral description. In Spain, you're only considered to be neutral if you support the viewpoint of the Spanish government and the Spanish establishment.

But let us not overlook the amateurish behavior of the separatists.

A former president of Catalonia — who also had run-ins with Madrid — Arturo Mas, has noted:

Mas conceded that the independence movement needed to do more to win hearts and minds in Catalonia, where support for secession has never risen above 48.7%, and where pro-independence parties have never managed to take 50% of the vote in regional elections.

The first object of any revolution is to make things better.  Catalan separatists seem too muddled to have figured that out.

Let them first win popular support and then give a clear image of what they want.  If all they want is separation to rejoin the bureaucratic tyranny of the E.U. — as many do — then they do not deserve independence.

Mike Konrad is the pen name of an American who wishes he had availed himself more fully of the opportunity to learn Spanish better in high school, lo those many decades ago.  He runs a website, Latin Arabia, about the Christian Arab community in South America.