Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Catalonia’s Independence Drive: “Perhaps It Is Time to Re-Think The Nation-State”

WASHINGTON, D.C. Oct. 5 (DPI) – To the surprise of no one, some of Catalonia’s eligible voters showed up at legally disputed polling stations Sunday and overwhelmingly voted in favor of independence from Spain, setting off more uncertainly, confrontation and possibly even violence with Madrid in the weeks ahead.

It’s a development long in the making, and it’s been spurred in part by the recent nationalist backlash of the last year. First Brexit, then Trump’s election, among other events.

Catalonia, population 7.5 million, was centuries ago once its own nation, and by the 18th century was one of the many autonomous regions then referred to as “Las Espanas.”  Like today’s France and Germany and Italy, modern Spain, population 45 million, is a collection of once-autonomous mini-state and fiefdoms, which in recent generations have been ground together, both by practical geography, by force, and by all the blood of the 20th Century.

But an independence movement now? Turns out that Catalonia – well run, industrious, culturally independent – has long harbored grievances with the central authorities in Madrid.  The region generates about 20% of Spain’s GDP, but like California and New York, doesn’t get back what it contributes to the national treasury. A national constitution drafted after the the death of dictator Genl. Francisco Franco, and revised several times since, was intended to provide a degree of autonomy to all of Spain’s 17 regions. Clearly whatever autonomy that constitution provides hasn’t been enough.

There are many ironies about the latest independence movement. Catalonia has prospered more than any other region of Spain with the growth of the European Union and integration of Europe.  Its language and culture are thriving as never before. And about half of all Catalans consider themselves Spanish – but those people didn’t head out Sunday to the polls. Moreover, many of the young people fervently pushing for Catalan independence are first-generation Catalans, who hail from other regions of Spain.

Finally, Spain itself has already surrendered much of its sovereignty to the more powerful nations of the EU, but that in turn has led to greater integration, more economic growth – and higher living standards for everyone in Spain, including Catalonia.

But the feverish passions of independence rarely acknowledge practical realities, and this movement is no exception.

No one knows yet how this movement will play out. A central issue is whether the European Union would allow an independent Catalonia to exist within the EU.  Most suggest, now at least, that the EU would not want to encourage more Catalonias:  If it actually gained independence it would remain isolated, forced to create its own currency and go its own way. That would have disastrous economic consequences, especially in the near term.

The most likely scenario at this point is that Spain’s central government will offer lower tax rates or other policy concessions to mollify the Catalans, thereby keeping the region in Spain.

Certainly, in this age of global integration and connected-ness, the notion of “national sovereignty” is getting a major re-think. People generally want local control – but they also want global participation and access. Thus Catalonia’s independence drive may be only the beginning of that discussion on the improvement – that is, the de-centralization – of global integration.

While tensions rise in Spain, comment boards and columnists away from the confrontation have offered great insights – and hope for a peaceful resolution. The New York Times’s Europe-based columnist Roger Cohen penned an excellent op-ed this week basically declaring that proud Catalonia was cutting off its nose to spite its face. “Spain is a poster child for European integration. So, of course, is Catalonia,” wrote Cohen. “But we have entered the Age of Amnesia.”

Comments attached to that column, while differing in outlook, were also informed and wise. Among the most popular:

What this article fails to recognize, is that the Catalan people have been trying for years to work within the Constitution and to achieve the a multi-lingual truly decentralized state that this document promised. A promise that was broken in 2010 by the ruling of the Constitutional Court, gutting the Catalan Statute of Autonomy, a document that was ratified by both the people of Catalonia and national government. (Of note, the validity of the court that ruled on the statue is in question–three members were working on expired terms and one had died and had not been replaced.) Again, the Catalan government tried to negotiate with Madrid, looking for a similar tax deal that is offered the Basque Country and Navarra. Met with intransigence and a flat out “no,” we have been left with few other options. This was the only political option left, and it was met with brute force. As for all of the people left out of this process, they could have all voted no, but apparently chose not to.
Perhaps it is time to rethink the nation state. Why can’t have smaller governments that participate in a larger Europe? Catalonia does not want to leave Europe, and we do not want to close our doors to immigrants. In fact we were demonstrating in the streets earlier this year, protesting the fact that more refugees have not been allowed to enter Spain. We are an open and peaceful people who want to be treated with dignity and respect. That is all.

For most progressive, racially and ethnically diverse citizens of Barcelona, the referendum was their Brexit or Trump victory, except that it was illegal and illegitimate. The so called Catalunya independence movement is filled with irrational hatred and blame. The violence is not easy to watch but the police had an obligation to stop illegal occupations of schools and public spaces. Warnings had been given and people acted irresponsibly using human shields. Shameful.

I’m Spanish, so I guess I am a bit informed on this issue. The problem with current nationalist parties, nowadays, is their reasons have lost their original sense. There is no absolutist king in Spain, there is no Franco. But to remain in power, you must feed and support old myths: “Spain steals our wealth (same could say those in Madrid)”, “Spain hates us”, “Spanish people – specially from the South: Andalucia – are dirty, ignorant and cannot compare to our superior culture and way of life…” Education – among many other public services – has been delegated to Spanish regions (not just Catalonia). So in Catalonia, for instance, kids have learnt the nationalist way. Therefore most millenials now believe in the myths. As a “funny” paradox, many of those nationalist millenials are children of Andaluces, Extremeños and Castellanos.
Half the population in Catalonia (perhaps even more) does feel both Catalan and Spanish. But the situation has become so perverted many are afraid to share their thoughts in public.
Nationalist politicians are not willing to lose their share of power. I think they’ll try to reach as further as they can, however illegal and irrational their position may be.


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