Catalonia goes Kosovo
The political crisis sparked by pro-independence sentiment in the northern region is heading towards an impasse. Swift action is needed to prevent Spain – and Europe – from suffering the consequences.
One of the most memorable moments in world literature is when Captain Ahab nails a doubloon to the mast of the Pequod. Gold is a good argument, especially in desperate times. In Catalonia, the gold is the taxes, the nail is the term “fiscal deficit” (or “Spain steals from us”) and the mast’s new sails have “independence” written all over them.
Money now being the driving force behind Catalan separatism does not take away one iota of its ethnic dimension. The referendum that is now envisaged, and to a lesser degree the upcoming regional elections, will split Catalonia between those who feel Catalan and those who feel Spanish. Both factors combined, the rise of nationalism in an economic crisis can have dire consequences.
Catalan premier Artur Mas is taking the challenges head-on. Maybe a little too much, and not without a self-serving element. In the early elections he has called, his nationalist bloc CiU hopes to increase its seats in the regional parliament. He himself, having said that he will not run for another term once Catalonia’s “national objectives” are met, is gaining biblical status. He is the new Moses.
The epic of the moment should not blind one to the fact that present Catalan separatism is neither democratic nor peaceful. Its leading organisation, which supervised the massive demonstration on September 11, is the Catalan National Assembly (ANC). The ANC’s institutional arm is the Association of Municipalities for Independence (AMI), which today represents more than half of Catalonia’s municipalities, and counting.
This, however, is not the kind of democratic representation one would wish for. Led by the mayor of Vic, CiU member Josep Maria Vila d’Abadal, the AMI relies solely on decisions made by the municipal councils of each of its members. Many rank-and-file members of CiU have cooperated in these decisions, together with more radical parties such as ERC and SI. But no municipality on earth has any authority over state borders.
Hence no municipality in Catalonia has any mandate to push for independence. Indeed, the AMI’s lack of legitimacy contradicts the ANC’s credo that the people have to decide in referendum. It is a blatant abuse of power, born out of the necessity to create an apparent majority for independence after the unofficial referendum of 2009-2011 had only attracted some 20 percent participation. The AMI municipalities are not only dedicating part of their time to the promotion of the creation of new borders, they also pour public money into it.
The ANC and AMI, however, provide Artur Mas with a plan B should his attempts to organise an official referendum – i.e. one that would be sanctioned by Madrid – fail. Mas has said that he would have a referendum nonetheless, knowing that the ANC had already announced that it would conduct one in 2013, based on the AMI structures. The ANC’s demand that the government of Catalonia and so-called “civil society” should work hand in hand would be fulfilled.
Not only is the democratic legitimacy of any referendum tarnished by the dealings of the AMI, the very objectives of independence do not point towards a very promising future. Some municipalities – again only relying on the votes of their local councils – have recently declared themselves “free and sovereign territories”. So did Vic under its mayor and AMI president Vila d’Abadal. With a notable twist: it demanded that “the new Catalan State include among its objectives the achievement of the political reunification of the Catalan Lands”.
Spain and “Greater Catalonia”
The idea of a Greater Catalonia, which has so far characterised Catalan separatism, is going from fringe to mainstream, at the same time that the main Catalan nationalist parties that make up CiU move towards separatism. Irredentism is becoming one of Catalan nationalism’s main objectives.
Many of those who would today vote for an independent Catalonia would do so in order to keep more tax money at home, expecting the cuts in social services and education Mas’s government has applied over the past year and a half to be revoked. Apparently, this group of citizens, so crucial to achieve independence, is now being led towards an even wider conflict with Spain about territories such as the Balearic Islands and Valencia. It’s a conflict that would even include France, into which a Greater Catalonia would extend, as there lies so-called “Northern Catalonia”.
Similarly, a Greater Kosovo would extend into southern Serbia (the so-called “Eastern Kosovo“) and Macedonia. The international community, which actually governed Kosovo at the time the Kosovo Liberation Army expanded into “Eastern Kosovo” and started a brief war in Macedonia, drew conclusions that may now be applicable to any irredentist movement. They come in the form of two articles of the Kosovo Constitution.
Article 1 (3) reads: “The Republic of Kosovo shall have no territorial claims against, and shall seek no union with, any State or part of any State.”
The other article is number 5 (1): “The official languages in the Republic of Kosovo are Albanian and Serbian.” That’s a bold move after what the Serbian regime under Slobodan Milošević did to the Kosovo Albanians, and all the more applicable to Catalonia, where one of its three official languages, Spanish, is banned from being used at public schools as a language of instruction and thus, for the sake of “social cohesion”, reduced to the level of a foreign language such as English, both of which are being taught 2-3 hours a week.
The domino effect
Human rights and political stability would be the guidelines of an international community, led by Europe, that might soon have to moderate between Madrid and Barcelona. Especially because of the probable domino effect: if Catalonia becomes independent, the Basque country might follow suit. And there, too, nationalism lays claim over further territories both in Spain and France. What would become of Spain after losing some of its most prosperous territories is anybody’s guess, but the term “political radicalisation” does come to mind. The effects on the whole of Europe would surely not be positive.
Voices on the Spanish far-right have already started to demand military intervention in Catalonia, and although the government is most certainly not on this track and is in any case bound by its membership of the EU and NATO, it has not shown much sensitivity towards its citizens in Catalonia either. It might not use the military, but it has already announced it will use everything else in its power to prevent Catalonia from breaking away.
Both Madrid and Barcelona are on a confrontational course, and both Mariano Rajoy and Artur Mas seem to believe they have no other option under the present circumstances. Whether or not this is brinkmanship is a moot question, because they are both playing with nationalist feelings that are easy to conjure, but difficult to control.
An international effort might very well serve to let both leaders keep face while it suggests a solution that lets Catalonia keep a fair share of the taxes raised there while imposing respect for human rights and the commitment to regional and international stability.
It is again time to stop the radicals on both sides. In Kosovo it took a war, or two, to come to this conclusion. This time it would be better to learn from history and act early.
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Published: Oct 3 2012
Category: Featured, Politics, Spain News
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
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Tags: AMI, ANC, Artur Mas, catalan independence, Greater Catalonia, independencia cataluña, spain, spain crisis, spain news, spanish news