Key questions about the Spain/Catalunya crisis answered
Manny Gonzalez (The Philippine Star) - October 19, 2017 - 4:00pm

(Conclusion of Catalunya Independence Crisis Explained)

Question: Why should you care about what’s going on in Spain?

Answer: Because it offers lessons for the Philippines.

Question: Is Catalunya a “nation”?

Answer: It has a language, a Constitution, a territory, a government, and a police force. The Catalunya government has also done a good job of indoctrinating children in the region to “think Catalunyan.” On the other hand it has a population which is split almost straight down the middle on whether it should be a separate nation or not. For every Catalan who wants to be independent, there is another who is happy to be not only Catalan and Spanish, but also European.

My personal biggest objection to the idea that the Catalans are a nation is that their (those in favor of independence) national identity consists almost entirely of the wish to not be Spanish. In almost every other aspirational respect they are in fact Spanish, as the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo pointed out in a recent editorial. The only differences I ever found were that they disapprove of bullfighting, and that there are more sour, xenophobic people in Barcelona than in other cities I have lived in (though most Catalans are fine people, just like everywhere else).

There is not much of an affirmative Catalan national identity, such as French thinking they are foodies or Filipinos injecting humor into adversity. If you Google “You know you're ____ if,” and insert almost any nationality – Spanish, Filipino, Latvian, Italian, etc., you'll get a ton of hits. Put “Catalan” and you get Nothing. Check it out.

Question: Why do the separatists want independence? Are they justified?

Answer: “Because it would be so nice to have our own country, where no one will tell us what to do, and we pay taxes only to ourselves.”

As motives go, this is a common one. After all, what do you think the signers of the American Declaration of Independence were thinking? However, Catalunya doesn’t really qualify under currently accepted international principles, which affirm the right to self-determination only in cases of the third-world colonies of European powers, or (and here there is less consensus) where there is a clear oppression of a distinct region or people (so-called “remedial” secession). The Catalans are far from being oppressed – they enjoy more autonomy and higher incomes than most Spaniards.

Neither international law nor common sense support the idea that you can secede from another country just because you think you will be better off financially. Were that so, what would stop Manhattan or Palm Beach, Florida from seceding from the US? Self-interest alone is not a sufficient condition for sovereignty.

Question: How did the hard-core Catalan separatists convince half the population to fall in with their dreams of independence?

Answer: By emphasizing the possible benefits (pride, tax money) while ignoring the costs and pitfalls. The separatists promised that an independent Catalunya would automatically remain part of the European Union, Schengen, and the Euro currency system.

This is simply false, an auto-mentira (self-delusion). Not a single member of the European Union will support unilateral secessions or a proliferation of sovereign nations. The whole thrust of the European Union is to lessen the impulses of local nationalism and promote a sense of European-ness, a thrust which so far has led to unprecedented prosperity and peace on the Continent.

EU leaders have in recent days repeated these sentiments, and warned that in the unlikely case that Catalunya could enforce its independence, it would most likely never re-join the EU since admission requires a unanimous vote. Cut off from the rest of Europe, with new borders north, west, and south, Catalunya’s vaunted $35 billion annual exports (almost all of that to Spain or the EU) would evaporate. Only unadulterated pride could make them think otherwise.

Question: But haven’t some countries been able to make a success of unilateral secession in modern times?

Answer: The Catalan separatists used to cite the Slovenia model. In 1991 Slovenia seceded from Yugoslavia, fought a 10-day war of independence, was quickly recognized by other countries, and is now a member of the EU. But Yugoslavia was a country engaged in genocidal wars, and it was already clearly fracturing into many pieces. The analogy with Spain fails on many grounds.

The separatists give other examples of partially successful revolutions but all are even more far-fetched than Slovenia, and have the common thread that the rebellious regions were so wretched they had nothing to lose by seceding, hardly the case in Catalunya.

Question: So why are the Catalunyan leaders plowing ahead regardless? Don’t they understand that they are heading for at best a loss of autonomy and at worst economic suicide for the region?

Answer: Who ever said that politicians are rational? When I watch the Catalan separatists on TV, the dominant impression I get is they are giddy, intoxicated with self-importance, like a child whose tantrum is getting him the desired attention. But when a child throws a tantrum, personally I don't blame the child. I blame the parents. In this case, the “parents” are the central authorities in Madrid, who could have done many things over the past decade to head off the crisis, but didn’t. The national government kept backing up, backing up, emboldening the separatists; they should have drawn a line in the sand much earlier.

Question: What will happen now?

Answer: If the Catalan leaders persist, the national government will take control of Catalunya. If it comes to that point, the national government has to do it right, with firmness against the ringleaders but no retribution against the general public. Public services must be visibly more courteous, more efficient, more functional, than under the Catalans.

If the Catalan leaders back down, the situation might still fester. The national government should call for snap general elections, and hopefully convincingly defeat the separatists in Catalunya. Then more moderate voices need to be heard in Catalan schools, universities, print and broadcast media, and social media.

If the separatists still win in the snap elections, then Spain should give the people what they want and deserve, let go of Catalunya, close the borders, and wash its hands. Catalunya has no army, no foreign service, no central bank, few remaining large companies, no foreign trade agreements, no means of accessing international financial markets, and no reserves with which to even pay salaries; meanwhile everyone in Catalunya on a pension can either move elsewhere in Spain, or try to collect from the Revolutionary Catalan Government. I have a feeling that in three months the region will be begging to become part of Spain again.

(The author is founder of Plantation Bay Resort & Spa and now a part-time foreign correspondent.)

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