Monday, 2 October 2017

Was the referendum Catalonia’s equivalent of Easter Rising?

Is the centuries old union on the brink?

Britain and Spain don’t see eye to eye on most things. Historically, there was the rivalry over Catholicism versus Protestantism leading to wars such as the Spanish Armada. There was also the loss of Gibraltar to the British over which fighting is going on, till date. However, there seem to be many issues on which these two are similar and the most evident is that both have a region to the North of their capital fighting for secession from the larger state.

When Scotland called for an independence referendum in 2012 to be conducted in 2014, while many considered it an internal matter of the UK, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of Spain was quick to announce his support to the British and voiced his opinion against Scottish independence. He went on to announce that Spain would veto an application by an independent Scotland to enter the European Union. All this was done as Rajoy didn’t want the Catalan separatists to be provided a fillip by the Scottish nationalists.
The British soldiers leading the surrendered rebels post Easter Rising

But even before Scotland, in the early 20th century, there was the issue of Ireland and home rule for Ireland. It led to a very violent uprising by the Irish rebels for five days in April, 1916. Even in Ireland, some favoured a violent approach to seek freedom, some were pacifist and some pro-British. However, the manner in which the British cracked down on the Irish (there were more civilian casualties than combatants), even those who didn’t support the rebels initially, the public opinion starting turning and the seeds towards eventual independence in 1922 were planted and thus, the Irish nationalists consider the Easter Rising a success for this very reason.

Now fast forward a hundred years to Catalonia – they have faced oppression in the past, under Dictator General Francisco Franco, Catalan cultural events were banned such as their dance – Sardana, and so was their language, Catalan, with a total imposition of Castilian Spanish. However, ever since General Franco ceded power, Catalonia as a region gain autonomy, today, Catalan has become the primary language of instruction in most schools in Catalonia and of course, Barcelona is one of the most important centres of the European Union.

However, with all this, the resentment is not done away with for some Catalans, with a separatist coalition managing to gain power in the regional government; a referendum was called for on 1st October, 2017 – which the Spanish government and the Constitutional court declared illegal. Similar to Ireland, even in Catalonia – there are people with pro-independence views who support a unilateral referendum, there are pro-independence views who support a referendum within the framework of the Spanish constitution and not a unilateral solution and of course, there are people who are for the union (which some polls suggest are the majority).

The major issue that the Catalans kept raising were to spend the taxes in Catalonia, considering they were receiving €10 billion less than what they were sending to Madrid. Indeed, Catalonia, with the presence of Barcelona is one of the wealthiest regions in Spain and it is only inevitable that the government in Madrid channels some of the money to the regions more in need of the money and those less fortunate than Catalonia. So, on the other hand, unlike Ireland, the reason why Catalans want to secede is mostly economic and has very little to do with civil rights of the locals which further weakens the case as economic fortunes have never been permanent.
Clashes between the police and the public leading to injuries of roughly 450-750 people

On 1st October, 2017, the Spanish Guardia police were indulged in violent crackdown on people going to vote, snatching of ballot boxes, the number of injured are ranging from 450 to as much 750 as per various reports from the resulting violence. There are calls for Mariano Rajoy to resign but the question is – was it an overreaction from the Rajoy-led government? He had already secured a victory in the courts and also the fact that only 42% of the registered voters ultimately turned out for the referendum (of whom 90% voted independence) – the referendum would have lacked any international recognition and the violence that the Spanish police indulged in was perhaps not necessary. Even FC Barcelona (considering their global popularity), staged protest by playing their match closed doors. 
FC Barcelona facing Las Palmas in front of no one

With the extent of violence, maybe, similar to Ireland, those who wanted independence following a referendum within the framework of the Spanish constitution might now start leaning towards the side of those in favour of the unilateral secession.

Whether an independent Catalonia is viable is an entirely different question altogether and perhaps deserves an article of its own. It might also trigger movements in other regions of Spain, especially Basque, Galicia and Asturias. Moreover, on a lighter note, it would be a big blow to Spanish football, considering their 2010 World Cup victory – 6/11 players in the starting eleven of the final were Catalans (Joan Capdevila, Gerard Piqué, Carles Puyol, Xavi Hernández, Andrés Iniesta and Sergio Busquets) and thus, would be a big blow to the La Furia Roja.

As far as yesterday (1st October, 2017) was concerned, Catalan separatists were probably not the winners, they are unlikely to get their desired result. However, Rajoy surely lost the plot – there was a lesson that was available from the case of Ireland which he has surely chosen to ignore. Have the seeds of Catalan independence been sown? Only time will tell.

Have a nice day,

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