In many parts of the world, there is an awakening spirit of nationalism and the resultant resurgent separatist movements. Sometimes, when there is a sudden animated clamour you begin to wonder what bug has bitten the world to energize and set forth the current sweeping through many nations. Let’s take the case of Catalonia as an example, shifting attention away from the flash points in the Middle East—from Syria and Iraq; and from parts of America devastated by the hurricanes, and from Myanmar and Bangladesh.
The separatist tendencies are not a third world phenomenon. Running through the troubled spots with one’s mind’s eye, one finds that there are agitations to have states of California, Texas, New England, New Hampshire, Puerto Rico and Hawaii independent of the United States. Altogether there are separatist groups spread across 23 regions of North America, including Canada where Quebec stands out. Mounting the pressure is Quebec Sovereign Movement. There is Nova Scotia and there is Alaska and Alberta. In the United Kingdom, the cases of Wales, Northern Island and Scotland where First Minister, Miss Sturgeon is waving the Scottish flag, are very well known. In Belgium, the separatist movement is driven by New Flemish Alliance. In France there is the French Basque Country with their kith and kin also featuring in Spain. In Russia, we have Siberia Regionalism. The list is endless: State of Palestine, Aboriginal Australians in Australia; Kurdistan in Iraq and Azerbaijani in Iran; Serbs of Bosnia and Azawad in Northern Mali.
The nationalistic impulses that undergird the fundamental principles igniting the agitation are not too dissimilar from country to country: a sense of cultural, historical or geographic identity; inequity; inequality; alienation; injustice; hate and contempt. The responses by the national governments of different hues are the same in broad terms. In some, there is referendum followed by negotiation during which concessions are made, or there is outright separation. In others there is violent suppression as was the case in 1962 when Indonesia moved against West Papua. What is strange and is food for thought is that since separatist moves can be said to be a leap in the dark, the protagonists still emerge with an iron resolve to forge ahead with absolute disregard to personal consequences; they do not give up. The governments, too, do not invite themselves into deep contemplation to ask themselves that despite what the drivers of the agitation go through they do not give up, especially in places such as California, Texas and Quebec where inequity and injustice, alienation or contempt and repression can hardly ring out loud as the grouses of the campaigners. What then lies behind it?
The problem of Catalans dates back to 1898 when Spain surrendered its last and most crucial colonies, namely Cuba, Puerto Rico and Philippines, to the United States. The Catalans were the most developed ethnic nationality in Spain. They suffered the loss of their textile markets with the ceding to the United States. But then there came the emergence of the professional middle class who were complaining about the backwardness of the rest of Spain. Impatient, they pressed for the independence of their region. They were finally in 1932 given autonomy which permitted them the establishment of institutions to promote their language and culture. The military would have none of that and staged a coup in 1936 determined to impose a unitary state and forge a single national identity through force. It led to a civil war. Democracy was not restored until 1978 after General Francisco Franco’s death in 1975.
The involvement of the military widened the fault lines. It laid the foundation for more agitation and instability in Spain. The repression of democracy by Madrid constantly evoked bitter memories of the gains by Catalans while the Republic lasted. As is usually what results from repression, the Catalans became hardened and irrepressible in their agitation for their rights. The return of democracy in the Second Republic did not meet their aspirations as the self-appointed military reformists, the lieutenants of Franco, still wielded power in the shadows. In 1979, however, Madrid ceded autonomy to regions comprising Basque Country, Catalonia and Galicia which gave them right of taxation, judicial independence and the use officially of Catalan language. In the pre-amble to the statute, Catalonia was described as a nation. The leader of the Catalonia became known as president, so is the leader of the Catalonian National Assembly, (Assemblea Nacional Catalona).
By 2006, following agitation to improve on the terms of the statute, the present Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, then leader of his centre-right party, Popular Party, challenged some parts of the statute in the Constitutional Court. In 2010, the court ruled that areas such as expansion of Catalonia’s fiscal power and its reference to Catalonia as a nation were unconstitutional.
On 01 October, Catalonia had an independence referendum which was won overwhelmingly by the campaigners. Prime Minister Rajoy gave Carles Puigdemont five days to confirm if he had declared independence to which he responded in the affirmative and fled to Belgium after the arrest of the President of Catalonia’s National Assembly and another prominent leader. The instrument of indepence as endorsed by Catalonia’s parliament was signed on 11 October. In all, 20 regional leaders are being investigated by the Spanish prosecutors for rebellion. Supreme Court is similarly investigating six members of Parliament as four fled with the president Puigdemont. Meanwhile, prime minister Mariano Rajoy, invoking what has been described as extra-ordinary constitutional authority deposed the Catalonia’s President and the separatists, dissolved the regional parliament and called an election for next month, December, ostensibly to have another government in place in Catalonia to keep the region in the Spanish fold. Although he is in Belgium and a warrant has been issued for his arrest by Interpol and extradition by the Belgium authorities, Puigdemont is determined to be a candidate and is confident that he would win. Said he: “We can run a campaign anywhere because we’re in a globalized world…I did not flee but it’s impossible to properly prepare a legal defence in Spain,” online publications quoted him as saying to a Belgian broadcaster.
Basque region was similarly barred by Madrid from holding a referendum in 2008. Catalans are markedly different in culture, language and identity from the rest of Spain.
A fascinating report by New York Times Online reads: “The Spanish police cracked down on parts of Catalonia in an attempt to halt an independence referendum on October 1, wielding truncheons, firing rubber bullets and barring polling stations. But in Llivia, the small cobblestone square in the town centre was packed with a celebratory crowd. The atmosphere was so festive that Rosario Cortizo, 67, who runs a restaurant and hostel with her husband, decided to organize a barbecue for voters. ‘We have been waiting for this day for a very long time’, Ms. Cortizo said joyfully.”
“On referendum day, Llivia voted overwhelmingly in favour of separating from Spain, according to official—561 votes out of 591 in favour of si, Mayor Noven said proudly. The inhabitants needed that sense of belonging, especially after Franco. On referendum day, when a mysterious internet shutdown hit the Spanish enclave, Llivia’s Mayor decided to use the French internet connection so that the votes could proceed, said Laurent Leygue, the mayor of the French neighbouring French town, Estavar. As a precautionary measure, they even took the ballots from Llivia to France to count the votes”, said Leygue who joined the cheerful crowd on referendum day.”
Catalonia’s foreign minister, Raul Romeva, said Madrid’s failure to engage with independence debate had left the Catalonia’s government with no choice but to forge its own separatist path, Guardian Online reports him as saying. Romeva insists that Madrid has a democratic responsibility to accept the will of the majority in Catalonia. The Spanish government uses the question of legality a lot, but legality is an instrument; it needs to adapt to reality and to democratic will, and not the other way round. People around the world need to understand that what we are doing is fundamentally legitimate and is not illegal. It’s true the (Spanish) constitution says what it says, but constitutions are texts that exist to serve a particular moment in history and certain circumstances. Even if it were illegal and it’s not—if there were a legitimate, peaceful and majority demand, it’s the law that would have to change. You might not agree with it, but you can’t deny the democratic principle.”
The world will undoubtedly be keen on the developments in Spain. Already, some Western countries, mainly EU countries, have stated that they do not recognize the independence of Catalonia. The world does not care about what lies behind it all and yet the agitations are not likely to abate in all parts of the world. God the Almighty created man, all human beings and human beings created nations and regard any nation so formed as sacrosanct, and indissoluble as the Spanish Constitutional Court proclaimed. All human beings are spirits and his purpose on earth is spiritual. Principles are put at his disposal for the realization of his spiritual goals. From time to town each human being will ask if the conditions in his environment will conduce to the realization of the purpose of his wanderings on earth, this deep vale of matter. Each person also has his allotted time within which he must complete his tasks of development here on earth and it is he alone that bears responsibility for his life.
The majority of the countries of the world do not understand what makes a nation and how communities are formed under the Law. Many in Catalonia probably realise the situation in which they are under the influence of Madrid is constraining. What then do they do? Have the nations in several parts of the world been put together according to the higher Divine Laws which govern all existence? It can be easily seen that without the right understanding our world is in for a great deal of strife and tribulations in years to come.
Next week: What lies behind it all.