By Guillermo Gabriel y Galán
Spain is currently facing its worst crisis since the return of democracy. Catalan nationalism has been a looming threat to Spain’s stability since its origin; but it is now, at the height of its power and influence, when this threat has materialised into a separatist movement ready to break with Spain at any cost and in any way. The separatists have achieved this extraordinary sway over the Catalan society after decades of gaining control over the regional institutions, from which they have systematically discredited everything with the name ‘Spain’ on it. This campaign has consisted of a blatant manipulation of Spanish history, a string of lies about the economic status of Catalonia and the exaltation of ultra-nationalistic values. Particularly concerning are the latter, which are also related to their economic arguments. A very important part of their discourse is based on the claim that ‘Spain steals from Catalonia’, that the rich Catalan citizens are mistreated by the central government who taxes them too heavily to subsidise the ‘lazy, illiterate and culturally inferior’ regions of Spain like Andalucía and Extremadura.
Apart from the economic matter, which has been proven irrefutably wrong on numerous occasions, the worrying part is the feeling of a sort of racial superiority and hatred that has been hammered into the minds of many Catalans, and that has led many separatist leaders to claim that those citizens who do not agree with their views are not only false Catalans, but fascists and traitors to the people. Because another very concerning matter is that while the separatists try to pass their movement as a popular democratic mobilisation, it is nothing else but a fanaticised mob with attitudes towards those who do not stand with them that are, to say the least, undemocratic.
The adjective ‘fascist’, reminder of the Franco regime and widely used in the separatist narrative, is directed towards anyone not standing in support of their claims. This banalisation of the phenomenon of fascism would be disgraceful on its own, but is more so if one remembers the hundreds of thousands of lives lost to the Franco regime throughout Spain, not only in Catalonia. Because the dictatorship was suffered in the entire country, a fact that the separatists like to obviate.
And thus, we come to the events of the 1st of October: the unconstitutional referendum held by the Catalan government, the legitimacy of which is out of the question. Not only was it not allowed by the Spanish Constitution, and thus outlawed by the Constitutional Court, but the referendum had absolutely no democratic guarantees. It is worth noting that the fact that the Spanish Constitution does not allow for the self-determination of its regions is not because of the ‘intrinsically authoritarian nature of the Spaniards’, as some have claimed, but because of the way that almost every constitution is articulated, with the exceptions of Ethiopia and Saint Kitts and Nevis.
Even in their undemocratic scam, the separatists, who also had every opportunity to manipulate the results and the participation, do not have the support of the majority of the population. Of the 7.5 million people living in Catalonia, 5.5 million are in voting age, of which roughly 2 million turned up and voted in favour of independence at the referendum; thus, winning with 90% of the votes, since there was no mobilisation at all from the unionist parties. As in the regional elections, the separatists are very far of achieving a majority of the votes, so the argument of the popular mandate used by Carles Puigdemont and the other separatist leaders is nothing but another lie used to justify the breaking of the harmony and cohabitation of the Catalan people. Because this is also conflict within Catalonia, among neighbours and families, and the social schism that has been created will not be fixed in decades, if not ever.
But the story that caught the world’s eye the 1st of October was not the numerous accounts of voter fraud or the irreversible polarisation of the Catalan society, it was the police violence and brutality exercised against the voters. As despicable as the actions of some police forces were and the brutality seen in some videos, the intervention of the National Police was precipitated by the lack of action of the regional police (Mossos d’Esquadra) who ignored the court orders for the closure of the electoral centres. For their inaction and their actions as a political police in service of the nationalist cause, the highest-ranking officer of the Mossos is being prosecuted for the crime of sedition.
Regardless of the actions committed by the Mossos, the decision of the Spanish government to send these police forces with orders to stop at any cost an unstoppable referendum was a tremendous political mistake, for it gave the separatists the international coverage as the victims of a violent state that they have always been seeking.
The international recognition desired by the separatists as a repressed people is very ironic considering the social environment of oppression and harassment that they have created in many rural regions of Catalonia, which has nothing to envy from the worst days of the terrorist band ETA in terms of social persecution and discrimination towards the citizens that do not adhere to their movement.
To the eyes of the world, the image of the Spanish unionists and our cause are at an all-time low thanks to the inaction and the incompetence of the Spanish government, who has not been able to produce a compelling narrative and has been outsmarted by the separatists at every turn. This calamity is just the last of the corrupt government of the incapable and unworthy Mariano Rajoy, for his indecisiveness towards the separatist problem is what has led us to this critical situation. Spain hasn’t seen worse political leadership since the times of Ferdinand of Bourbon, Seventh of His Name, forever remembered in infamy for selling the country to Napoleon Bonaparte.
The Catalan government are on the verge of becoming the leaders of an open rebellion and against their political bigotry and disloyalty, the only short-term answer is the law. And they will undoubtedly have to face the courts for their crimes against state, the embezzlement of millions of Euros and their corruption of democracy. The rule of law will always prevail in a civilised society.
What Spain needs now more than anything is a decisive President determined to tackle the separatist problem and able to lead a countrywide and cross-party debate on the validity of the 1978 Constitution with the objective of reforming it. Even more important is a re-evaluation of our deeply flawed territorial model, but I fear that with our current political leadership it is very difficult to achieve such goals, and, unfortunately, new nationalist crises will continue to emerge until the roots of the problem are addressed.
DISCLAIMER: The opinions and views expressed in this opinion piece belong to the author and are independent of the Department of Political Economy and KCL Politics Society.
Image credits: PAU BARRENAPAU BARRENA/ AFP/ GETTY IMAGES