1714 invasion and eventual capture of Barcelona, Catalunya’s revered city and capital by King Philip V’s Spanish imperial army inadvertently set the tone for the estranged relationship cum marriage between the region and Madrid. And under military dictator Franco, in the 70s and 80s, things worsened- A sordid tale of oppression and persecution that Catalans won’t be in a hurry to forget.
The Iberian country has struggled to keep the sewn fabric of unity from tearing for more than three decades. Trying to keep the Basque region-something she has succeeded with-and Catalunya agitators quiet has been a routine successive Spanish governments stuck to-Hence no surprise to see Mariano Rajoy, current prime minister, stern and firm stance towards the region’s quest for secession.
The ongoing crises simply show two sides at odds; held in their moral and political belief. It is a proof that the divide between Madrid and the region is further widening instead of closing in; a proof that the wound is yet to heal-A point further validated by the recent independence referendum.
Despite the central government’s opposition to the conduct of the referendum by the regional leaders-a stance that had the legal backing of Spain’s supreme- court which declared it illegal and unconstitutional- Carles Puidegemont (Catalan’s president) and co. still went ahead.
The decision to go ahead with the October 1st referendum was met with brawn and force from Rajoy. Federal police carted away ballot boxes and also got into skirmishes with Civilians as they tried to prevent them from voting. The results: Madrid landed in a PR disaster while, the Catalans-though not many turned out-voted overwhelmingly for independence.
However, while Madrid gets flaks for her high-handedness, the Catalans should and must not expect their dream of independence coming to fruition. Puidegemont would do well to shelve independence for another viable option because, the international community; more importantly the European Union whom the Catalans look up to for help are somewhat reluctant to help.
Judging from the sounds and bites coming from the organization, it is glaring that Brussels is unwilling to chart this murky waters and also, from the look of things seems to have tilted towards Madrid.
Just listening to the union’s vice president validates this point: We encourage Madrid to seek diplomacy and engage the Catalans in dialogue as violence won’t resolve issues however, Madrid has the right to use proportional force in enforcing its right.
Really, you can’t blame the EU for shading Catalunya. Still grappling with the rise of nationalism and populism, and on a recovery path from ‘Brexit shock’, it wouldn’t want to stir up another tsunami. Endorsing separatism would not only dent its image but, would further destabilize the fabric of the continent.
So, for all the talks and position on democracy, freedom of association to mention a few, bet Brussels still revers the sovereignty of its members above all the principles and ideology it stands for.
And in this case, Spain’s sovereignty and indivisibility comes first.
Protecting Madrid’s sovereign status quo would further tighten the lid on other separatist agitators among its member states.
The Corsicans in France, the Lombards in Italy, the Flemish in Belgium and the Transylvanians in Romania aptly remind Brussels of a ‘time bomb’ that needs to be properly managed.
Failure to manage the situation properly can fuel the embers of separatism in these countries-a proposition it is not ready to accept.
For the critics, pointing out the UK’s Scotland example would be totally out of order. Because: despite being an internal affair of the UK-just like in the case of Catalunya and Spain- the Scottish referendum still got the blessing of the central government.
But, in this case Spain never gave her blessing to the Catalans’ referendum. As far as the Spanish court was concerned it was an illegitimate cause and should never have taken place in the first place.
Whatever the case maybe, crunch talks between both sides seem inevitable. It remains the only viable option for them; most especially Madrid.
But, the central government’s insistence that the region must drop its independence demand before mediation could take place may hold up procession.
The Catalans are willing to talk and their willingness offers Rajoy an opportunity to resolve the crisis. Both Rajoy and Puidgemont must find a way around this stand-off.
Like the Belgian Prime minister Henri Michel pointed out, “Madrid must stop every form of brutality and engage the Catalans in resolving the crisis.” It is an advice Rajoy should heed. After all the Belgians are good examples of how you can ‘handout candies to disgruntled babies’. Their devolution of powers and greater autonomy to the Flemish region still remains a testimony.
It is a path not unfamiliar to Spain. When the Basque region finally disarmed through its rebel wing ‘ETA’, concessions on autonomy and greater participation was granted by Madrid hence, Rajoy may eventually have to take this path to resolve the catalan issue.
Granting more concessions and devolving power may probably be the way out for both sides. Spain is not ready to give up her sovereignty, and from the look of things the EU is in tandem with her.
Guess the Catalans and Puigdemont may have to accept this and seek other alternatives to be comfortable and happy in this estranged marriage.