Updated: Dec 28, 2020
Spain is (again) at an important crossroads in its tumultuous history as Europe is faced with the creation (or emergence) of a new/rogue state within its union.
It would seem to me this charge towards independence is misguided, self-centred and ultimately dangerous. If we were discussing the Kurds, the Quechua or the Mapuche, I would likely take an alternate position. With respect to the Catalans, this political crisis feels contrived.
Previously I argued a similar position regarding Scottish separation, but as their cousins to the south have ripped that country from Europe, the Scot’s position has opened itself to a new interpretation.
Let’s explore the Catalan issue from two perspectives; post-colonial western Europe and regional rights.
In my opinion, only Germany has come to terms with its atrocious, recent history. Utterly dismantled at the end of World War II, the German people were required to acknowledge the crimes against humanity for which they were clearly guilty. This has permitted Germany to rebuild into a successful, pluralistic society, with an outstanding economy.
The colonial period is not ancient history. In fact all the colonial powers still maintain overseas ‘territories.’ Britain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal, Italy and indeed Spain, are all guilty of genocide. People are alive today who participated in these crimes. It is shocking how this modern history is not a fundamental pillar of current European education.
Much like the history of slavery in the United States and throughout the Americas, pretending the echo of those crimes no longer resonates is obtuse denial. An honest reading of history provides a platform from which to address current and future issues.
Spain’s history over the past two hundred years is particularly ugly. By the time the Americas almost collectively rose up against the Spanish, all the plundered wealth had been lost. In the 1930’s Franco’s fascists killed hundreds of thousands. His conservative, Catholic dictatorship oppressed any hint of minority (or gender) rights in Spain. One may understand why the Catalans are angry.
Which leads to the second point. Europe has done, overall, an exceptional job in supporting regional rights. Moving towards a mosaic model where human rights are respected universally, yet linguistic and cultural groups are supported, the mix of free trade, with a free movement of people has helped to negate the slippery slope of ethnic conflict that was so violent in the former Yugoslavia.
A slippery Slope
I am sure the Catalan nationalists believe they need to separate in order to re-enter as an equal partner. This is a rather compelling argument. But let us not forget, Catalonia became rich on the back of Spain’s empire. It was complicit and not a victim as some would suggest.
As the richest region of a modern country, all the Catalan position does is tear at the fabric of a diverse, modern society. It also opens the door for each region to air grievances with the threat of divorce.
The Catalan region now oversees policing, education and infrastructure. Perhaps they deserve a football team in the World Cup much as the parts of United Kingdom somehow do. But to restructure Spain entirely – and perhaps violently – is not grounded in need or logic.
Let’s play the game. Catalonia becomes a ‘country.’ Then the Basques simply have to separate. Belgium then falls apart. Corsica jumps ship. Northern Italy certainly establishes borders and France loses at least three other regions.
Ireland unites! This would be the one win (as that border is contrived).
Scotland – and perhaps even Wales – carve up an isolated Great Britain.
Moving East, Hungarian nationalists in Romania separate and the Romanians in an act of nationalism round up the Roma minority in their country.
This is what Yugoslavia looked like through the 1990’s. It is ugly.
I have a few friends who live in Catalonia. We speak Spanish together (although I read Catalan easily). One friend’s mother is from Madrid. Another was born in San Sebastian – does he get a passport? Do they want to pay the taxes to establish all of the trappings of a country.
Perhaps the Catalan nationalists should stand up for economic reforms in their country, in Europe and study their role in genocide in their colonies.
I look forward to the conversation that will surely follow 😉
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