••• The International Writers Magazine: From Our Spanish Correspondent
Referendum Time in Spain
Catalonia Breakaway and a 1000 year history
James Skinner + Reaction to the Vote 2/10/17
As riot police clash on the streets in Barcelona to prevent people voting - 800+ people are injured by rubber bullets and police brutality. Websites supporting independence are shut down and 6000 more police were being held offshore ready for further action. How did Spain get into this mess?
Once again, I attempt to portray the important monthly events of this fascinating tourist paradise in the South of Europe amidst the continued and mounting turmoil of international news. Thus, avoiding comments on the rising threat of a possible world apocalypse, my essay will concentrate on a minor chapter, when Spain could take center stage thus adding to the mayhem. As per King Arthur’s song in Camelot, ‘…for one brief shining moment!’ the spotlights are focused on this country, in particular, the final chapter of a centuries’ old demand. The independence of the autonomous region of Catalonia.
Although I have been reporting for several years on the build up to this forthcoming event it has now reached boiling point. Not only is it on the daily national news but has also hit the international press. Many foreign journalists are using their GPS’ to find out where the place is. Others are checking Wikipedia to brush up on the background. Then we have the politicians, the intellectuals, the academics, the historians, the technocrats, the legal beagles and finally the economists trying to piece together the final picture of the jigsaw puzzle to figure out exactly what is going on and what will happen on ‘D’ day the 1st of October. One thing is certain, whichever way the pendulum swings it is going to mark a new era that will change this country for good. For better or for worse is yet to be seen.
It is not the intention of this essay to take sides in the dispute, despite the fact that I have been following this build up for some time. It would not only be unfair but asinine as both sides to the conflict are no different to other similar worldwide nonviolent discussions that have been going on for years such as abortion or gay marriages. In this case it happens to be related to the democratic right to the freedom of decision versus the application of the law. It’s that simple, believe it or not.
So much on the philosophy - now the final act of the play.
Historical data goes back to the XII Century when Catalonia was ruled by the Aragon King, Alfonso II between 1164 and 1196. The main language was Catalan-Valencian. Ensuing conflicts over the next centuries ended in the XVIII Century when the Bourbon King, Felipe V signed the famous Treaty of Utrecht in 1714 ending a series of conflicts that paved the way for peace in Europe. The Aragon dynasty was gone and Spain became a united country. King Felipe VI is the present heir. This is the underlying reason why today’s Catalans consider the consolidation of the Bourbons as an ‘invasion’ of Catalonia reminiscing on the rule of the Aragon Monarchs. ‘Here endeth the lesson!’ as Sean Connery said in ‘The Untouchables’.
So what has followed?
Catalan nationalism is kicked off towards the end of the XIX Century that builds up during the XX. Meanwhile Spain suffers defeat in Cuba and the Philippines thus ending its major colonial supremacy that changed the political course of the country. Whilst other worldwide events were taking place, especially WWI followed by the depression of the 1920’s, Spain’s politics joined the bandwagon of mayhem and in 1931, King Alfonso XIII was forced to abdicate and the II Republic was proclaimed including the approval of a new Constitution. During the brief existence (1931-1936) of this supposed democratic period the first move for Catalan separatism began. First came the proclamation in 1931 of the move to form a ‘New’ Catalan Republic. This was followed in 1932 by the development of its ‘statutes’. However, trouble was brewing with the Spanish government and a change of sides took place. Nevertheless, on the 6th of October, 1934 the Catalan President, Sr. Lluis Companys publicly announced, in defiance of the government in Madrid that the Republic of Catalonia had been formed.
What happened next is well known. By 1936 the Spanish Civil War broke out and the rebellious army led by Generalissimo Francisco Franco defeated the Nationalists in 1939. The II Republic was eliminated and all that went with it. For the next 40 years Spain was under a fascist dictatorship that outlawed all members of the Republican and Communist parties that had been allowed during the Republic. An important move was the suppression of regional languages in schools whilst Castilian was imposed.
Note: One of the reasons for this change in education was that Spain’s illiteracy figures were high and the regime’s aim was to reduce them with a common language throughout the country’s school systems.
The above is a very brief historical synopsis of the events that influenced the Catalan people of that era to seek, if not independence, at least recognition that they were a different nation. No mention has been made of Valencia that includes the Balearic Islands, the Basque Region and Galicia. All have a common denominator that is a separate language plus their own regional flag.
Hopefully this first part of this essay has outlaid the basic and ideological reasons why Catalans ‘feel’ they are not part of Spain
So what has happened since the dictatorship ended and democracy was once again restored?
By 1976, the world panorama had changed and new developments, especially political began to play a different role in the redesigning of the country. A vital point that would have effect was that during the dictatorship, Generalissimo Franco had been grooming a young ‘Prince Juan Carlos’ to one day be proclaimed King and thus restore the Monarchy. On the death of Spain’s dictator, a transitional government lead by Sr. Adolfo Suarez was formed and for the next 4 years Spain held its breath as it prepared itself for a new era of democracy. In the meantime, the hundreds, if not millions of exiled citizens from the ‘other’ side began to return to Spain. These included thousands of republican and other nationalist Catalans. Slowly but surely a new Constitution was created in 1982, formation of political parties allowed, followed by national elections and yes, King Juan Carlos I was crowned and proclaimed as the new Head of State. A Bourbon!
Now comes the real reason of today’s state of affairs that is about to climax on the 1st of October.
Apart from all the other niceties that came with the new Spanish democracy one of the most important was the setting up of 17 autonomous regions each with their own government, parliament and legal institutions. Similar to the USA, each autonomy set up its own rules. The most important point was that is key to today’s situation was the establishment of the official state language, Castilian, and those with separate languages were again allowed a co-official language status all built in to the statutes. In other words, and pardon the pun, every item of regional government correspondence had to be in both languages. What was even more important was that the regional language was obligatory as a separate subject in all school curriculums.
At first there was no real problem as the civil service got to work preparing the implementation of the mandates. However, as time went by the Catalan autonomous region began to increase the use of Catalan whilst relegating Castilian to a secondary role. The result is that over the past years the use of Castilian is not only frowned upon but open to sanctions if used publicly (Example shop store windows).
However, it wasn’t until the Conservative party (PP) were in power (1996-2000) with Sr. Jose Maria Aznar as President that the autonomous regions were given full responsibility in education thus allowing the regions to impose their own curriculum. Catalonia took full advantage of this prerogative and thus today’s generations are indoctrinated in subjects such as history and culture as Catalans rather than as Spaniards.
The second reason for Catalonia’s present defiance was thanks to the Socialist government (PSOE) that won the elections in 2004 after the Madrid terrorist attack. The Catalonia regional government were in the process of renewing their statutes and the then President, Sr. Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero assured them that the Spanish government would automatically ratify them.
By law, the statutes had to be approved by the country’s Constitutional Court to ascertain that they were not illegal according the 1982 Spanish Constitution. The court took five years to come up with many illegalities but by that time Catalonia had approved them in their own regional parliament. Bingo! They ignored Madrid and were now on the road to work on their final goal. Independence!
From then on each successive Catalan government, from President Sr. Artur Mas to the present one, Sr. Carles Puigdemont has been campaigning both nationally and internationally for independence and has resulted in the approval by their parliament to hold a referendum on the 1st of October. The spotlight has finally been focused on this issue both abroad and all over Spain. The media has been active with all kinds of reports both for and against the so called ‘Right to decide’ based on the Human Rights mandate of the United Nations.
What is clear, and has been supported by both the European Union and other governments including the United States is that Spain is an established democracy with an agreed and ratified Constitution that guarantees by law the unity of the nation, therefore, Catalonia is in breach of the law and is considered a ‘rebel’ state. What is more, Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution allows the state to intervene in such a situation of rebellion. This is what the Spanish government is doing at the moment to prevent the referendum. Most of this is being reported in the press.
However, what remains to be seen is how far they intend to go with this particular article under their belt. What will happen in the end is anybody’s guess?
Footnote: I have not included the internal politics going on except to mention that the opposition are blaming part of the problem on the present government of Sr. Rajoy. This is not true as shown in this essay. The movement started long before he came to power. The other important point not analysed is the nationalistic reactions of the other possible candidates (mentioned in the essay) for independence waiting in the wings. If all these regions hypothetically joined the galloping stagecoach it would spell another breakup of a European nation. Again, this is just a long shot scenario of a possible future.
Breaking News 2.10.17
As rubber bullets flew and the National Police Force moved in to occupy polling stations to prevent the vote is this playing into Catalonia's hands?
As you may gather, towards the end of yesterday's caper many television stations had analysts and discussion groups debating the event. One stuck in my mind that was succinct. He said that Sr. Puigdemont and his (Catalan) government's international marketing for independence paid off. The international journalists: 'took the bait, hook, line and sinker!'
The whole thing was a farce. There was no referendum because what was set up were Mickey Mouse polling stations with no methodology whatsoever of controlling the voters. The international press that I have checked so far, are stating that the results were 90% of the voters saying 'Yes'. The bits of paper, most were home made only said 'Yes'. Any Catalan against the independence was at home watching the event on television. In other words the 'No' lot stayed at home. One Spanish television station interviewed a youngster that purposeflly voted 4 times in 4 different stations taking selfies in each place to show the farce. I witnessed this personally as I kept zapping from one Spanish television to another.
Another showed an elderly woman being 'painted' with red paint to falsely show that she was beaten.
There were no check lists that are normal for voting in Spain ticking off your ID and name as you vote. Apparently referendums have a procedure according to an international protocol. It was just not applied.
The polling boxes were made in China without the homoginized seal.
The place was swarming with international press taking pictures and listening to the final statements of the Govern, Catalan government proclaming a victory. The whole affair was a prepared stage play knowing full well that these were waiting like vultures before a Gladiator show as the police (the state police and civil guard) did their job. Of course there was violence. What did the world expect when masses of Catalans (all the independence lot) plus the Podemos lot who had purposefully organised trouble makers to incite them attacked them? Only 2 persons were injured seriously and less than a thousand others including the police. Rubber bullets were fired and batons used but they were in self defence NOT to stop the marches.
Talking about the police, the Catalan local lot, known as Mossos de Escuadra did not try to stop the polling which was the main mandate from the Spanish government. This was obvious because they live in Catalonia. Its known as self preservation. The massive rest of the forces were brought in from all over Spain.
By the way, busloads of agitators were also brought in especially from Basque country with outlawed ex ETA criminals to back the mayhem.
I bet the international press did not show the millions all over Spain who took to the streets before thousands of town councils showing their support for a United Spain against this separatist move. Here in Vigo, as I did my morning stroll, Spanish flags hung from dozens of balconies along rows of flats.
Now the national politics. The Spanish government, although backed by the international democratic institutions and governments maintained their stance outlawing the referendum as illegal according to the Spanish Constitution. You've heard all this before. However, the opposition, rightly or wrongly have blamed them, especially the President, Sr. Rajoy of allowing all this to happen in the first place. This is partially true but not the full story. Just read my original essay as a check point. The government did not open a dialogue a few years back, not only with the Catalan government but with most of the so called constitutional opposition that included the socialists (PSOE) and Ciudadanos. I'll leave it there because this could be the 'meat' for a totally separate discussion.
This first account is written first thing the following day. It now remains to be seen what happens next as the Catalan government have vowed, on these results to proclaim independence on the 6th.
Party is over for now. Don't believe everything you see on the international news. Picture the Titanic just hitting the iceberg and then take a snapshot of all the different groups of 'humans' on board. Another analogy is the recent hurricanes in the Caribbean and the aftermath say in Puerto Rico assessing the damage.
The real show begins from now on
What is happening at this very moment, as I tried to point out in my essay is a build-up that started in 1934. The reconcilliation based on the new democracy after Franco's death did pave the way to peace. Add Spain's membership of the European Union and the massive flow of funds that allowed the country to enjoy prosperity up until the 2008 crash, the political scenario was quiet. Meanwhile, Catalonia was building it's nationalistic project that more or less was converting it into a 'new' nation within Spain. Along comes the Podemos movement 4 years ago to sow the seeds of revolution, Venezuela style and the future scenario was set. What is even more tragic is that in the meantime, when Rajoy (PP) was elected President for the second term, albeit in minority a left wing movement by all the oposition parties began a campaign to get rid of him. This is interwoven with todays Catalan situation.
In other words it is a real dog's dinner that nobody really knows what is going to happen next, especially tomorrow and the following days/weeks.
By the way, Galicia, during the Civil War hardly had any battles as most of the city dwellers returned to their villages to live off the land as supply of food was difficult. This is what my inlaws told me as they lived through the tragedy. What did happen was the constant assassinations especially of neighbours that were of different factions.
I would add another point and that is the actual personal situation of Rajoy. I am not supporting him as a party member but as the 'person in charge' of the country. He has tremendous responsibility like any other PM in Europe has. Tragically he has no support from the other constitutional parties in parliament, especially the Socialists other than a token statement by the leader Pedro Sanchez 'against the referendum'. Ciudadanos supports Rajoy but with 'buts' that have nothing to do with the caos in Catalunia.
I am surprised that Rajoy had not thrown in the towel and handed over the reigns to his Nº2 Soraya Santamaria who is a young extremely intelligent Vice President.
© James G. Skinner. 2.10.17
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