Catalonia’s revolution is romantic, but once they break free from Spain’s monarchy and the EU’s uniformity, where will they go and what will they do?
The Catalonia saga makes Brexit look positively boring and predictable. To begin with, an illegal referendum is so much more exciting and romantic than a legal one, even if the Brexit referendum was flawed.
The Brits–bless them–are so fair-play, sticking to the rule book. In triggering Article 50, like all good little boys, they are asking permission to leave the classroom. In contrast, just look at the speed at which Catalonia acted. Independence was voted for, approved by parliament, and officially declared within a month.
The Catalonia freedom-fighters, in stark contrast to the Brexiteers, have the merit of being romantic. They take us back to the legendary Cuban revolution that led to Fidel Castro taking power in 1959.
The ousted Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, is fighting two enemies. The first is the Spanish government, the arch-enemy of Catalonian freedom: firing rubber bullets on referendum day, closing the gates of poling stations, and not hesitating one minute in knocking down old ladies trying to exercise their democratic rights. Yes, the referendum was declared illegal by Spanish courts – but who cares when you are in love with your country. The second enemy is the European Union: a foreign imperial power, par excellence, preaching uniformity instead of unity.
In his time, Fidel Castro was also fighting two battles at once. It was a revolution to end all revolutions, to transform an impoverished dictatorship, under Fulgencio Batista, into a corner of paradise that all the world would envy. It was also to escape the claws of a universal oppressor, the United States, who considered Cuba a fallen apple that was to be gathered and eaten.
But Cuba was a fruit… It was an apple hanging from the Spanish tree, destined to fall, as soon as it was ripe enough, into the hands of the United States… Apparently the apple was ripe, and the United States Government held out its open hands. – Fidel Castro, United Nations, 1960
The romantic nature of the events in Catalonia has reached new heights with Puidgemont fleeing to Belgium. Having organised his own referendum–albeit illegally–the Catalonian president is now being pursued by fellow nationals and finds refuge in a country with its own regional disputes.
He may well encounter the Flemish version of Che Guevara and, together, they will plot a way back to free Catalonia of its chains. Although Puidgemont could have joined the separatists in Corsica, avoiding the Belgian rain, his presence in Brussels may have a more practical reason than a love for wet weather.
EU nationals are able to apply for political asylum in Belgium and, although Puigdemont maintains that he will not apply, the Spanish request for a European arrest warrant will probably make him see things differently.
But I must stop dreaming and avoid falling into the trap of considering Puidgemont a martyr or romantic idealist. He is not the victim of his demise, but the instigator of a referendum that did not abide by boring democratic rules and was thus rightly considered illegal by the Spanish central government.
In acting so violently on referendum day, however, Spain has also shown that it has not yet grasped the true workings of democracy. The ghosts of Francoism are still roaming the streets of Madrid, it seems.
New elections will take place later this year. Whether Puidgemont will be in Catalonia for the campaigning is another matter. It is more than probable that the election results will produce a hung parliament, with smaller parties once again holding the balance of power.
A more disturbing scenario is the possible progression of more extreme left-winged separatist parties, one of which–the Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP)–merits particular focus. The party may have had only 10 of the 135 seats in the dissolved parliament, but Puidgemont needed their support in order to carry out his separatist agenda. The CUP sees itself as a ‘clearly socialist organisation with the objective of replacing the capitalist socio-economic model with a new model that is centred on the human collective and that respects the environment.’
The stated objective of the CUP is clear, simple, and, above all, hopelessly utopian:
To become a unitary political reference at municipal level for the pro-independence left and all sectors of the working class and popular classes who are conscious of the need for a socialist transformation of our society and the establishment of a political framework that guarantees social rights, democracy and freedom for our people.
Anna Gabriel is one of the CUP’s founding members and was, up to now, an elected member of the Catalan parliament. She embodies the heart and soul of the CUP, which considers itself more of a movement than a party.
The fact that she can step out of a brand new Seat Ibiza, courtesy of a more than generous salary, underscores her views that, ‘On October 1st, we are going to sweep away capitalism, corruption, and monarchy.’The CUP’s political agenda is clear-cut. The party will do all it can to implement its policies, including the ‘incorporation’ of the Catalan Countries–regions that lie well beyond Barcelona.
Acting at a municipal level, the CUP favours a hard-line socialist platform, comprising nationalisations of transportation and communication networks and withdrawal from the EU and NATO.
It is quite noteworthy that certain voices in the press are displaying extreme prudence in criticising Catalonia’s left-winged aspirations to independence.
Secession, in a democratic Spain inside a democratic Europe, has to be pursued calmly and honestly. – The Observer, September 24th 2017
Certain political parties find it equally hard to position themselves on this question, and end up not supporting one side or the other. The French socialist party‘s view expressed ambivalence, and is typical of the muted political stance concerning the Catalan question:
The nationalism of the Catalan government cannot continue to accelerate its self-determination, and the People’s Party central government, in Madrid, cannot persist durably on a line of total intransigence.
The French socialist party is very restrained on this, almost accusing the Spanish government of not listening.
Why is right-wing nationalism based on xenophobia so easily condemned, whilst left-wing nationalism based on ‘defending’ cultural minorities passes unnoticed, or is easily accepted? Both ideologies contain the word ‘nationalism’.
Ironically, one of the few political parties to have seen this–albeit for the wrong reasons (blaming the EU and Spain’s pro-EU stance)–is France’s National Front.
The National Front regrets the sectarian attitude of the freedom fighters supported by the totalitarian and undemocratic Catalan extreme-left who initiated this process against a decision of a constitutional court.
In declaring a state of independence, Catalonia has gone one step further into the irrational and presented Spain with a fait-accompli– a new state within a state, without even saying ‘adios’. The region is now more divided than ever, with some of its inhabitants living in Spain, whilst others do not– at least in their minds.
If all the regions of Europe that possess their own languages, cultures, and idiosyncrasies, wanted to break up from the rest, Jean-Claude Juncker might as well deliver a ‘state of the Dis-Union’ speech next time around. Either that, or he will be speaking to a non-existent audience. At this rate, the break-up of the Arctic ice-cap will be occurring at a snail’s pace compared to the break-up of Europe.
Money, for the Catalans, seems to have played a big part in the people’s aspirations for independence. Catalonia has long been an economically important region of Spain.
It is estimated that if the region does manage to gain its independence, Spain may lose up to 20% of its economy, not least because Catalonia is a major exporting region and a source of considerable tax revenues.
Financial considerations were, of course, partially responsible for the Brexit vote. A deceitful promise that £350m per week would go into the NHS, coupled with paranoia concerning immigrants, were two major reasons why the UK voted to leave the EU. Catalonia has had enough of paying for everybody else, echoing David Cameron’s ‘rebate.’ This has long been present in the Catalan air.
Leaving the financial aspect aside, it is quite clear that a dangerous amalgamation is being made, comprising cultural identity and nationalism. Catalonia already has its own cultural identity that is, to my knowledge, not under threat from Madrid. The same can be said for the Catalan language: freely practiced within the region. Even politically, Catalonia has extensive autonomous powers.
It seems that Catalonia and the UK are desperately trying to escape from the grasp of a whimsical oppressor. Both insist on living in a fantasy world that no longer exists. The quest for independence is not to flee oppression. For Catalonia, General Franco’s grasp on Spain disappeared decades ago. For the UK, the ‘monsters’ from Brussels are not as dangerous as they are made out to be. Neither is it a quest to escape poverty, since Catalonia is not a poor region, and the UK is the world’s fifth largest economy.Even if Catalonia does eventually attain independence, life for the Catalans will be far from easy. In the days following the Catalonian referendum, CaixaBank and Banco Sabelli–Spain’s third and fifth largest banks–announced they would be relocating their head-offices to Alicante and Valencia, respectively.Other companies, including Seat and Lidl, are monitoring the situation, worried about the happiness of their share-holders and assisted by timely changes to the law concerning relocation from the region. In the independent ‘Socialist Republic of Catalonia,’ señora Gabriel may have to travel a long way to service her newly acquired Seat.Whether they like it or not, the people of Catalonia belong to the Western world, where economics takes precedence over noble thoughts about social justice for everyone. The crucial unanswered question concerning the future of Catalonia is similar, if not identical, to the one concerning the UK.
Voting ‘yes’ on a ballot paper is not the same as voting for a future that has been carefully planned and discussed. Once the Catalans have cut themselves loose from the chains of the Spanish monarchy, and the European ‘Roman Empire’, what will they do, and where will they go?
Probably to the streets, rejoicing in their new-found freedom, away from the mortally wounded Spanish and the terrified Europeans. For the neutral onlooker, it will be deeply emotional, seeing all these men, women, and children, chanting a famous victory.
Ask them about tomorrow, and they will tell you that, ‘tomorrow’s another day, we’ll see what happens, when it comes.’ In the cool of the evening, after the celebrations, the streets of the city will be deserted. Barcelona is playing in the semi-finals of the Champions League, clearly showing that there are much more important things in life than the consequences of having said ‘yes’ in an illegal referendum.
George is a British/French national. He has a passion for oral microbiology (obtained a PhD in Lyon, France) and a passion for philosophy and politics.