Catalonia: Is Independence Worth It?

Author: Anna Pomortseva

Puidgemont in Brussels, members of Catalan Parliament under threat of imprisonment and more than 1000 firms transferred from Catalonia to Madrid, has Catalonia declared Independence ?

 

” 8 segundos de independencia ” – a new proverb for Catalonia, which speaks of a temporary phenomenon.

The temporary phenomenon is the time period of independence, when on October 10th Carles Puidgemont signed a declaration of separation from the Kingdom of Spain. However, after just 8 seconds he stopped the process. What was it? The failure of the referendum and the triumph of Madrid?

The decision of the Parliament of the Generalitet of Catalonia resulted in negative reactions among supporters of independence. Yet it is necessary to mention that the process of separation needed to be paused to guarantee security and stability for residents.

In dealing with such a volatile situation, Catalonia isn’t ready for an immediate and violent break in relations with Spain. Who will control borders, how will wealth and power be shared, and will a new republic remain within the European market ? The best case scenario would be if Madrid & Barcelona could discuss and solve these questions and salvage the Catalan economy from the turmoil it is in now. But it sounds like utopia, doesn’t it?

In Article 155 of the 1978 Spanish Constitution, which has never been invoked in Spain’s four decades of democracy, the central government is allowed to take control of any of its 17 autonomous communities during crisis situations and may restrict power in the region for a certain period of time. However, the Article does not give a right to completely abolish autonomy in the region.

Right now, the current process would have no influence on the economy. According to the available data, on October 22nd almost 1200 firms transferred their headquarters to other regions in Spain. The lists include CaixaBank, Sabadell, Gas Natural & Agbar. Companies explained their actions by citing how the uncertain political situation could lead to losses.

This is not hard to understand considering the complete chaos in Catalonia. Carlos Puidgemont has left Spain and fled to Belgium in order to avoid arrest. The decision came after the Spanish Prosecutor filed charges of sedition, rebellion and other violations against Puidgemont and members of the Catalan Parliament. One day later the Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called for fresh elections in December:

On October 31, Carlos Puidgemont announced in Brussels that the Parliament of Catalonia, which was dissolved by the Spanish government, recognized this decision and stopped its work before holding a long-term elections. Deposed leader Puidgemont said he was not trying to escape justice by travelling to Brussels; ” I’m not here to demand political asylum but in order to put Catalan crisis at the heart of the European Union ” he told reporters in Brussels. He added that his return to Catalonia depends on ” guarantees” of   “fair and independent treatment from Madrid “. It is important to also note that the former members of the regional government of Catalonia are accused of misuse public funds. The crime is punishable by 30 years in prison. On November 2nd, already 8 Catalan ministers have been jailed by a Spanish judge over their role in independence on October 1st that was declared illegal under Spain’s Constitution .

Puidgemont reacted to this decision in a televised address on Thursday evening, in which he claimed that “It is a very serious attack on democracy” and the elections on December 21st would be a “coup against the elections”.

There is still a huge divide between demonstrators. They are diverse, coming from all age groups and socioeconomic levels. More and more articles are highlighting that not all of Catalonia supports independence and many believe the Catalan government played their political game in order to meet their own ends.

“I want to be Spanish and I want to live in Barcelona. Who is the Catalonian government to take those rights from me ?” asked Maria Garcia , a resident of Barcelona.

Now on the streets across Catalonia we often here not “Si , Independencia Catalunya” but “Todos Somos Cataluna”, Spanish for “We are all Catalonia”

British historian Sir Antony Beevor believes in unity and that the separatist’s euphoria will be under threat of existence . He states, “Where the Catalans go from here , it’s difficult to tell -but one thing is certain: that the December 21 elections will show that there is not a majority in favor of independence and the world will breath a slight of relief , particularly the EU.”

It should be noted that the concept of holding referenda is becoming popular among regions nowadays. What does it mean for Scotland , Kurdistan , Basque Country and Catalunya to be separate ? Is it a right to self-determination or something more ? There are numbers of self-proclaimed states which are not internationally accepted and this is the major obstacle for such “communities ” in the international arena

Today,  many political scientists place more emphasis on the growth of nationalism as a precondition for separation . Simply said “back to the roots.” In the case of Catalunya , it is return to 1469 when the marriage of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castilie laid the foundation for a unified Kingdom of Spain .  There are no other reasons except the high level of nationalism in those communities to be separate from their country and call to the world that they have established new states. However, here is another question : Is it a possible for us to see a new referendum in the near future? Unilateral way to declare independence is an uneasy road for success.

An unrecognized state cannot join the UN or the EU , nor can they avail of the benefits of international financial institutions. Its citizens are less privileged than citizens of other recognized countries. There is always a possibility of territorial dislocations of newly formed states which may lead to contradictions between neighbours . Economic difficulties also can take place : a different currency , difficulties in attracting investment and often economic sanctions.

According to such scenario with so many disadvantages , new countries will face many difficulties on their road to independence . There is nothing to say it is impossible for such states to declare independence but they may not be internationally recognized and not hold status of statehood from the standpoint of international law.

It is a necessary question to ask: Is it worth it ? Instead of making a division of us on black and white , Catalan and Spanish , Turkish and Greek Cypriots , we should put our attention and maximum efforts to the burning problems in the world: poverty , pollution, climate change . As without the world , there will be no sense to the referendum.

This article was published in association with the IRAS Global Observer an eclectic blog of news, politics, history and philosophy from students at Jagiellonian University, Krakow: 

https://irasglobalobserver.wordpress.com/

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Why Spain’s King Felipe Made The Strongest Case For Catalan Independence

Author: Dean Molyneaux

Can royal intervention solve a constitutional crisis? The Catalan experience suggests the answer remains ‘no’.

 

For many of a certain age in Spain, the appearance of King Felipe VI in a rare live television address to the nation yesterday will surely bring back memories of the turbulent transition from dictatorship to democracy that the country experienced in the aftermath of Franco’s death.

During those uncertain days, Felipe’s father, Juan Carlos I, made an unprecedented and succinct address on the airwaves, in order to delegitimise the military coup led by franquista military commanders who had barricaded themselves in Congress, while reinforcing the then recently ratified Constitution. It worked. The King became a national hero (for a while) and the Spanish nation was cemented as an indivisible constitutional monarchy.

After two short years on the throne, last night’s address was arguably Felipe’s first opportunity to win back hearts and minds not only in tumultuous Catalonia, where a protest and general strike had been ongoing all day in response to police brutality during the illegal independence referendum on Sunday, but also across the other regions, where an increasing disenfranchisement with the Casa Real has been festering since long before Juan Carlos’ abdication.

With thousands in the streets of Catalan towns and cities, national police being driven from their lodgings by angry hordes and the possibility of a unilateral declaration of independence imminent, Spain is facing its greatest constitutional crisis since the coup of 1981. This is the time for leadership from above politics, a chance to demonstrate that monarchs can still play a role in steering the ship when everything below descends into chaos.

Yet Felipe VI decided to demonstrate all the intransigence of Thatcher in the early days. Unlike his father, who reacted to the coup in real time, Su Majestad had 48 long hours to consider how to best address his subjects. He went on to spend some five minutes reiterating that the Constitution should prevail and that the Generalitat (Catalan administration) had acted outside the law.

He’s not exactly wrong in the technical sense but when there are 700,000 souls tramping through Barcelona’s streets, a small dose of tact can go a long way. Instead, he focused on lambasting the Catalan government with the same terms that have been spun out time and time again by prime minister and leader of the conservative Popular Party (PP), Mariano Rajoy and which have caused such great ire amongst many Catalans, even those nonsupporting of independence.

catalan referendum 1

An optimist would have predicted that the term ‘diálogo (dialogue) would be uttered, as it has been by many both in the streets of Barcelona and by the opposition Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE). If the King wants dialogue, there is a good chance that the monarchist PP will give him dialogue. Instead, we heard the tired rhetoric of unity and perseverance – more like a secondary school politics class on the basics of democracy; lacking in fervour and devoid of any condemnation of the violent clashes which saw hundreds of civilians and law enforcement officers injured on polling day. Casualties? Nothing to see here.

Regardless of where you stand on the legality of the referendum and the need to adhere to the Constitution – which, let us not forget, does not permit regions to secede from mother Spain without an amendment – it is hard not to conclude the best short-term solution some form of dialogue between Madrid and the various players in the rather fractured separatist movement.

The outcome of this is anyone’s guess but if it restores calm across the region and prevents the deployment of troops, it would be a good place to start. The present strategy of inaction, one of Rajoy’s signature moves, while tentatively threatening to invoke Madrid’s constitutional power to suspend the Generalitat, will undoubtedly lead to more civic action, likely in the form of strikes and mass protests. The net result of that? An even more bitter division than exists at present.

What is sad is that from a Spanish perspective, the King has truly scored an own goal. A significant number of those in the silent majority who were either passively or actively against independence, now find themselves disgusted with the treatment of Catalan civilians by state forces; many interviewed in the street described it as a watershed moment. Even though dedicated separatists would naturally disregard any royal message as basura, there was an open net when it came to the millions of other Catalans who wanted to hear compassion, rather than accusation.

They are now rightfully angry at their King as well – the one man who could have commanded some degree of moral authority. Felipe’s intervention may prove to be as irrelevant to the current crisis as it looks to be on the surface but it will surely leave many in Spain and abroad questioning the relevancy of a monarchy already viewed as out-of-touch by many, not to mention thousands fewer monarchists in Catalonia.

 

Dean Molyneaux read Hispanic Studies at Durham University and is a Law Graduate of Trinity College Dublin.