– John C. Thompson
2nd October, 2017
Yesterday, over two million Catalans, the people of northeastern Spain, voted in favor of independence, yielding a 91.96 percent ‘Yes’ return to the question “Do you want Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic?”
Media reports were replete with depictions of Spanish police running roughshod over Catalans, in an attempt to shut down the vote. The simple narrative is one of repression over a peaceful vote for independence… and the simple narrative is dead wrong.
Canadians are invited to imagine a situation in which the Pequistes and Sovereigntists of Quebec decide to ignore their own party rules; and provincial and federal laws, to hold a binding ‘50% +1’ referendum on short notice with 15 days of campaigning ahead of the vote. Other political parties in Quebec decry the tactic and urge their members to shun the vote. Only 42.3% of eligible voters turn up… would we accept the results? Would anybody?
If anyone outside of the ranks of Catalan Nationalists views yesterday’s proceedings as legitimate, I invite their prompt recognition (and any offers of financial or material aid) as I declare the ‘Republic of My Apartment’. I’m pretty sure 91.96 percent of me supports the idea and the cat doesn’t have the franchise.
Catalonia does have a legal mechanism that would allow for separation from Spain – but it requires a two-thirds vote by the Catalan Parliament to proceed. What is more, the Spanish Constitutional Court prohibited the referendum as a violation of both Catalan and Spanish law, and their objections were trampled flat as the referendum went ahead anyway.
There is danger here. While most of us instinctively think that the Nation-States of Europe are more or less permanent and insoluble, any perusal of a reasonable historical atlas would suggest otherwise. Modern Germany and modern Italy only go back to the 1860s, and have regional parties that think regional autonomy or complete independence would be just peachy. France and Spain are not all that solid either.
Much of the last 500 years of Spanish history revolves around efforts by a weak central government to hold a fragile state together. Episodes like the Spanish Inquisition was not so much about religious persecution and bedrock conservativism, as they were about creating – somewhat artificially – a new Spanish identity to hold a recently cobbled kingdom together. The Spanish Civil War of 1936-39 saw the militant revival of Basque and Catalan autonomy, which is one of the reasons why the Republican Government lost the war. Franco had a much clearer, and more traditional, idea of a Spanish identity.
Madrid, and Spanish police, cannot really be blamed that much for putting the boots – literally – to this exercise. In the longer sense, they’re trying to prevent something with a much greater potential for violence from erupting.
If the Catalans do separate, what will stop the Basques? Or the Bretons, or the Bavarians, or the Corsicans, the Piedmontese or others from heading off on their own. All of Europe could end up as Balkanized patchwork again, like it was for so many centuries before.
It would be easy to set Europe’s clock – and the atlas pages – back a thousand years to the time of various Völkerwanderung and rampant Muslim invasions… Oh. Wait a minute, we may already be here again.
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