Quotulatiousness

November 1, 2017

Spain versus Catalonia

Filed under: Europe, History, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Tim Black on the situation in Catalonia after the abortive declaration of independence:

L’Estelada Blava, the “blue-starred flag” of the Catalonian independence movement
(Via Wikimedia)

An excessive focus on history can obscure the real dynamic informing the Catalonia autonomous community’s push for independence from Spain. It makes it look as if what we’re seeing now is a revival of a longstanding strain of Catalan nationalism, drawing on its 12th-century legacy as a principality, fired up by the divided union of Aragon and Catalonia during the early modern era, and burnished with the left-wing romance of Catalonia’s stand-alone, red-and-black resistance to General Franco during the 1930s. It makes it look, ultimately, as if Catalonia is not only an entity distinct from the rest of Spain, it is also a victim of, if not Spain, than certainly the Spanish state.

Not that matters have been helped by the Spanish government’s brutal, anti-democratic response to Catalonia’s independence referendum, as unconstitutional and therefore illegal as it was. It merely reinforced the impression that this is a conflict between an oppressive state and an oppressed people. After all, such is the defensiveness and weakness of the Spanish political class, we saw armed units of Guardia Civil assaulting Catalan voters, forcibly shutting polling stations and confiscating ballot boxes, and now we see charges of rebellion and sedition being laid at the doors of the leading pro-independence Catalan politicians, which has even prompted the Catalan president Carles Puigdemont to flee to Brussels. This really does look like a conflict rooted in some longstanding desire of the Spanish state to bend the Catalans to its will.

But to think that misses the real catalyst for the Spanish crisis, which lies less in Madrid or Barcelona, than in the European Union’s HQ in Brussels. That’s because, in the EU’s flight, manned by Western Europe’s political classes, from the democratic accountability of national peoples, in its demonisation of the very idea of national sovereignty as a species of 1930s-style nationalism, indeed in its essential anti-national elitism, it has created a transnational, technocratic set of institutions that necessarily weakens national state structures, depriving nations of numerous lawmaking powers, border controls and economic independence. Admittedly, the Spanish nation state has never been particularly strong. In common with the rest of Europe, its party-political system is in disarray, with its two traditional behemoths, the Socialist and Popular parties, hollowed out, and populist rivals exploding on to the scene. And, specific to Spain, the state has failed properly to cohere itself as a state, with suppressed regional antagonisms re-emerging in the post-Franco era. But the EU has not only exacerbated the internal weaknesses of the Spanish state; it has also fundamentally undermined even the possibility of a functioning nation state.

[…]

Yes, the cultural distinction between Catalonia and the rest of Spain has come to the fore in recent decades, with the red-yellow-and-blue Estelada a familiar sight hanging from buildings, and Catalan a familiar sound on the streets. But it’s clear that the driving force is less cultural difference, no matter how divisive, than the experience of EU-driven austerity as an unnecessary drain on an economically rich region. This is why support for Catalan independence has only risen dramatically since the economic crisis. As the Financial Times puts it: ‘After decades during which Catalan support for independence hovered between 15 and 20 per cent, secessionist sentiment started climbing rapidly in 2009. By 2011, according to the closely followed survey by the Catalan Centre for Opinion Studies (CEO), support for independence was above 30 per cent. Two years later, it reached an all-time high of 48.5 per cent.’

This is not a uniquely Spanish phenomenon, either. In other EU member states, the same dynamic is at work, with richer regions or areas with a sufficiently distinct cultural identity seeking to unfasten themselves from the rest of their respective nations. You can see it in the desire for greater economic autonomy of the rich Lombardy and Veneto regions in northern Italy. And you can see it again in Belgium, with the wealthy northern region of Flanders continually seeking to decouple itself from the de-industrialised, relatively impoverished southern region of Wallonia.

November 2, 2013

Catalonia – the next state in Europe?

Filed under: Europe, Government, History, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:53

Daniel Bogre Udell looks at the state of the independence movement in Catalonia, which has been part of Spain since the War of Spanish Succession in 1714, except for a brief interlude during the Spanish Civil War:

This year, on September 11, hundreds of thousands of Catalans joined hands to form a human chain that extended 460 kilometers across their region, from the French Pyrenean border to Valencia. Complete with matching t-shirts and slogans, this robust act of protest was astonishingly well-organised, which came as no surprise: it was in fact the echo of a mass demonstration that took place one year prior, when a million people took to the streets of Barcelona under the banner: “Catalonia: The Next State in Europe.”

The day after that first demonstration, Catalan President Artur Mas publicly endorsed the protest and called for a referendum on independence. Shortly after, he convoked early elections which produced a sweeping pro-referendum majority in Barcelona.

Overnight, Catalan politics changed. The Independentists were now in control. Unionists softened their rhetoric. Nearly two hundred towns in the Catalan countryside preemptively declared independence [ca]. Parliament passed a declaration of sovereignty.

Instead of taking this clamor seriously and engaging the Catalan public, most in the Spanish government, including Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, positioned themselves firmly as antagonists. They insisted that referendum was illegal, framing Catalan nationalists as enemies of democracy and, in some extreme cases, comparing the sovereignty movement to Nazism.

They have also tried to promote the idea of Catalan nationalist ambitions as parochial and irrelevant. After a meeting with Catalan business leaders in Barcelona this month, Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister claimed not to have noticed any strong markers of regional identity. In a recent English-language interview with The Wall Street Journal, Prime Minister Rajoy described the hypothetical advent of Catalan independence as contrary to the world’s “natural evolution.” When addressing the Spanish public at the UN General Assembly, he went out of his way assure those in the chamber that none of his fellow world leaders had asked him about Catalonia.

Behind closed doors, however, it seems that Spanish officials are more concerned than their dismissive behavior implies: recently, Spain’s UN delegation drafted a report on how best to respond if Catalan leaders take their case to the international community in the wake of a successful referendum on independence. It asserted that Madrid could possibly draft security council allies into blocking Catalonia’s full statehood, but would be relatively powerless to stop the region’s admission as a General Assembly observer.

“Catalonia: The Next Partially-Recognized State” may not be as elegant a turn of phrase as those coined by activists, but it nonetheless haunts politicians in Madrid.

September 13, 2013

The Catalonian separation movement

Filed under: Europe, Government, History — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:15

If you’re not already enthralled by watching Canada’s separatist movement in Quebec or the Scottish independence campaign, there’s a potentially even more disruptive separation brewing in Spain. Tyler Cowen thinks it’s not getting as much media exposure as it deserves:

Personally, I am still waiting to hear why Catalonian independence would not bring the fiscal death knell of current Spain, and thus also the collapse of current eurozone arrangements and perhaps also a eurozone-wide depression. Otherwise I would gladly entertain Catalonia as an independent nation, or perhaps after the crisis has passed a referendum can be held. When referenda are held during tough times, it is often too easy to get a “no” vote against anything connected with the status quo.

Is the view simply that “now is the time to strike” and “it is worth it”? Obviously, an independence movement will not wish to speak too loudly about transition costs, but I would wish for more transparency. Or is the view that Spain could fiscally survive the shock of losing about twenty percent of its economy, with all the uncertainties and transition costs along the way? That could be argued, but frankly I doubt it, OMT or not, furthermore other regions would claim more autonomy too. An alternative, more moralizing view is that the fiscal problems are “Spain’s fault in the first place” and need not be discussed too much by the pro-independence side, but I am more consequentialist and marginal product-oriented than that.

This piece, in Catalan, does cover the fiscal implications of debt assumption for an independent Catalonia. The site also links to this somewhat spare piece by Gary Becker, but I still want more of a discussion of the issues raised above.

Keep in mind that two clocks are ticking. The first is that education in Catalonia is becoming increasingly “hispanicized,” the second is that as economic conditions in Spain improve, or maybe just become seen as a new normal, getting a pro-secession vote in a referendum may become harder. It doesn’t quite seem like “do or die” right now, but overall time probably is not on the side of Catalonian independence.

For those that assume Catalonia has always been part of Spain, Edward Hugh discusses why September 11 has been an important date in Catalonian history for nearly 300 years:

Catalonia was a party in the War of Spanish Succession (1701-1714), where the old crowns of Castile and Aragon fought, alongside their European allies, over who should be crowned as king of Spain following the death of Charles II. Catalonia, which favoured archduke Charles as successor, lost a war which ended with Europe recognising Philip V as the new king of Spain. The long war ended with a prolonged siege of Barcelona, Catalonia’s capital, which was systematically bombarded by Spanish troops fighting for the Bourbon candidate, Philip V. After months of resistance Barcelona finally surrendered on September 11 1714. Modern Spain was born, but Catalonia was to pay a heavy price for its support for the Austrian candidate: Catalan language was forbidden and Catalan institutions abolished. Every year, on September 11, Catalans commemorate the day on which Barcelona fell, honouring those killed defending the country’s laws and institutions.

May 3, 2013

Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia at 75

Filed under: Books, History, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:05

In the sp!ked review of books, Mick Hume looks at the book that got Orwell tossed out of the inner circle of leftist writers, not because it was bad, but because it was honest (and made Stalinism look too similar to Hitlerism):

George Orwell could have been killed twice in the Spanish Civil War. Once when he was shot in the throat by General Franco’s fascist forces; then when he was hunted by official Communist agents who, with the backing of Stalin’s Soviet Union, stabbed the revolution in the back and imprisoned, tortured and killed leading leftists and anarchists who were ostensibly on the same Republican side. Orwell learned the hardest way that the war against fascism in Spain was also a civil war against Stalinism.

Homage to Catalonia, Orwell’s famous account of his time in Spain from his arrival in Barcelona on Boxing Day 1936 to his escape in June 1937, has just reached its seventy-fifth anniversary. Like its author, the book almost didn’t make it either. The radical journalist and author’s usual publisher, Victor Gollancz, turned the book down without even seeing the manuscript, insisting that he would not publish anything ‘which could harm the fight against fascism’ by criticising the Communists.

Most of those from Britain and Europe who went to write about and fight in the Spanish Civil War took a similarly one-eyed view and followed the pro-Soviet line. What was unique about Orwell was that he hated fascism, but also stood apart from the official Stalinist-dominated left of his time. The radical maverick wrote about what he saw in Spain, rather than simply what he was told was true — although he also warned his readers to ‘beware my partisanship’ when seeking an objective account. He questioned the ‘official’ Stalinist-dictated account of events in Barcelona and elsewhere that was accepted around the world. This heresy made him the subject of a hate campaign when Homage to Catalonia was finally published in 1938, a campaign which continued well into the 1980s.

[. . .]

Orwell’s brilliant firsthand account of the conflict stands apart from and well above the I-was-there school of emotive, narcissistic war reporting we witness too often today. He also attempts to put his personal experiences into some proper political context, in two chapters now removed (at his request) from the narrative text and published at the end as appendices.

Here, Orwell closely interrogates and challenges the ‘official version’ of events in Barcelona, put about by the Communists and their many international apologists to justify their brutal repression of the non-Stalinist left. As he unravels the twisting of truth by propaganda organs such as the CPGB’s Daily Worker, you can almost see the ideas he was soon to express in his novels Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four. He is also cutting about the way that the Communists simply branded their opponents as ‘Social-fascists’ and ‘Trotsky-Fascists’ to avoid engaging in important political arguments. Many who express their admiration for Orwell today have yet to absorb his point that screaming ‘Fascists!’ in the faces of those you disagree with is not the same thing as making your case. ‘Libel’, as he concludes, ‘settles nothing’.

August 16, 2012

George Orwell, “the moral compass of the 20th century”

Filed under: Books, Britain, History, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:15

A review of Diaries by George Orwell in the Wilson Quarterly:

The early entries cover Orwell’s days as a tramp, a period that provided material for Down and Out in Paris and London (1933), and his subsequent investigation of poverty in the industrial north of England, from which he drew for The Road to Wigan Pier (1937). This volume’s lacuna is Orwell’s experience fighting the fascists during the Spanish Civil War. Plainclothes policemen in Barcelona seized the one or two diaries that recorded those events, and delivered the work to the Soviets. Though the writings likely remain in the archives of the former KGB, Orwell transformed them into literature as well, with the extraordinary memoir Homage to Catalonia (1938).

Of greatest interest are entries from the periods of Orwell’s life that he did not turn directly into books. His World War II diaries are the highlight. Although all of the entries feature Orwell’s direct prose style, there are occasional hints of the novelist at work: “Characteristic war-time sound, in winter: the musical tinkle of raindrops on your tin hat.” And there are ominous passages that reveal his unusually clear view of the awful century unfolding, such as this one from June 1940 that prefigured his 1945 novel Animal Farm:

Where I feel that people like us understand the situation better than so-called experts is not in any power to foretell specific events, but in the power to grasp what kind of world we are living in. At any rate I have known since about 1931 . . . that the future must be catastrophic. I could not say exactly what wars and revolutions would happen, but they never surprised me when they came. Since 1934 I have known war between England and Germany was coming, and since 1936 I have known it with complete certainty. . . . Similarly such horrors as the Russian purges never surprised me, because I had always felt that — not exactly that, but something like that — was implicit in Bolshevik rule. I could feel it in their literature.

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