Opinion: Crisis in Catalonia
Edmund Burke said, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” Time and time again that statement has proven prophetic and events in Catalonia, Spain, have been no exception. Catalonia’s fight for independence from Spain has been an on again, off again struggle lasting the better part of the last 500 years. Largely unknown by many outside of the country in the modern era, it has reemerged in full force in the midst of this strange and tumultuous global political climate.
On Oct. 1, Catalans went to the ballot box to vote on an independence referendum. Due to Spanish police interference ordered by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, only about 43 percent of the region’s population came out to vote. The New York Times called the scene “one of the gravest tests of Spain’s democracy since the end of the Franco dictatorship.” But despite the Madrid sanctioned violence, 90 percent of those voters decided in favor of Catalonia’s separation from Spain.
Though the vote, a just expression of the vital democratic principle of national self-determination, was denounced by the conservative Rajoy Administration and the Spanish courts, Catalonia’s separatist leader, Carles Puigdemont, declared his region’s independence from Spain on Oct. 27, following a vote from the Catalan parliament. Puigdemont stated he wished to discuss a peaceful separation with the Spanish government to avoid violence.
Instead, the Rajoy Administration sacked the Catalan government. Rajoy exercised an executive power and dissolved the region’s government, placing full control of Catalonia in Madrid. Catalonia’s separatist officials have either fled the country or been jailed. Puigdemont himself has gone to Brussels and Spanish high courts have issued an arrest warrant for the president in exile.
It is not only that the Catalonia’s democratic decision to void their union with the Republic of Spain has been simply dismissed by Spanish hubris, it is also that it has been handled using violence and militant police. Rajoy ignored Puigdemont’s expressed desire for a peaceful discussion and, instead, chose to usurp the region’s autonomy. Duly elected officials have been jailed, beaten or driven into hiding by federal whim simply because they sought to fulfill the wish of the large percentage of their population. This is not how democracy works and, as a member of NATO, the United Nations and the European Union, Rajoy’s Spain needs to be held accountable for its egregious abuse of power.
President Donald Trump has come out in support of Rajoy and spoke out against the possibility of Catalonia leaving Spain. This came following a meeting between Rajoy and Trump at the White House in late September. That was before Rajoy sicced armed police after people who simply wished to cast a vote and before he dissolved the provincial government and placed himself in charge of Catalonia.
Since the Oct. 1 debacle, the Oval Office has been dead silent on Catalonia which doesn’t surprise anyone. Frankly, it’s surprising that Trump knows the difference between Catalonia and Cambodia.
Many fear that Spain may be headed for another civil war, its first since the 1930s when the fascist Gen. Francisco Franco took control of the country and ruled as dictator until his death in 1978. During his reign, Franco was especially harsh at Catalonia, diminishing their autonomy and forcing many to abandon their native language, Catalan, in favor of Spanish. History does indeed repeat itself, often with dire consequences for those who fail to learn their lesson the first time around.
The Catalonia Crisis has the potential to be bring a type of conflict not seen in Western Europe since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Western democracy is a breaking point with ultranationalist ideology once again rearing its ugly head in Germany, the United States and England while the Russian autocracy of Vladimir Putin looms large over the West. For democracy to survive this current challenge, the trials of Spain must be handled in a purely democratic way, with diplomacy ruling over violence and the wishes of the people holding more weight than the wishes of the Madrid government. Viu Catalunya!