A few weeks ago, the Spanish region of Catalonia held an independence referendum. The region’s distinct language and culture, as well as its prosperity relative to the rest of Spain, has made independence an enticing prospect for centuries. Moreover, the repression of the Catalan way of life under Franco has only increased animosity against the Spanish government in recent decades.
The problem was, the referendum was illegal. Spain’s constitution declares the country to be an indivisible whole. Spain’s courts and government thereby view any attempt to be independent as totally illegitimate. But even though the referendum itself was illegal, the way in which the Spanish government tried to suppress the referendum was particularly brutal, with many voters being beaten by police simply for trying to vote.
I’m very torn on the subject. On the one hand, I don’t believe in breaking the law unless you are living under tyranny. Spain may be a somewhat corrupt and highly inefficient state, but it is not a repressive one. So breaking laws which have democratic legitimacy isn’t the right course of action. The Catalonian government called the referendum, knowing it would provoke a backlash and Madrid would try to prevent it using force- making the international community more sympathetic to their cause. The sensible thing to do would be to play the long game- wait until there is a left-wing government in Madrid which recognises the right of the Catalonians to a referendum, as the leftist PODEMOS party does. Calling a referendum which unionists inevitably boycotted for being illegal carries no democratic legitimacy, and is little more than a publicity stunt in my view.
Having said that, the Spanish government’s response plays into the separatists’ hands. By being so thuggish in their (failed) attempt to stop the referendum, the independence movement can now deploy a victimhood narrative, using recent events to demonstrate how authoritarian modern Spain is. What also doesn’t help is that a notable minority of unionist protestors in the aftermath of the referendum were giving fascist salutes (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4959952/Spain-supporters-fascist-salutes-independence-demo.html).
Overall, I agree with PODEMOS. I don’t believe in Catalonian independence. Most of the separatists’ grievances could be addressed though further devolution, without the economic shock and downturn leaving Spain would cause. More importantly, Spain could veto an independent Catalonia’s EU membership, bringing further harm to the region. It simply isn’t worth that risk. However, all people have a right to self determination, the Catalonians included. If they wish to hold a referendum on independence, then that is their choice. If Spain were a truly free country as the unionists claim, then it would respect that right. Furthermore, I don’t believe it is the role of the EU to adjudicate this dispute. EU neutrality is the only way to prevent more Euroscepticism from arising. However badly the Spanish government has behaved here, EU intervention would be seen as a violation of Spain’s right to determine its own affairs. We must only hope peace and common sense prevail in the end.