Sunday, January 26, 2014

Secession: Catalonia And The “Bad Precedent” Argument

Seeing how successful my first post on this topic was, I’m unable to resist the temptation to write a follow-up – so here we go.
For those of you too lazy to read my first post, here’s a recap: Spain is introducing fascist laws to strike down against a region known as Catalonia (mostly known for its capitol, Barcelona) which seeks independence from the rest of Spain. Catalonia is an economically strong (relative to the rest of Spain) region and the Catalans are tired of subsidizing the rest of the country while their culture is being oppressed. Spain has reponded the only way fascists know how to respond: By essentially outlawing demonstrations. Of course, trying to stop people from wanting to secede by banning them from expressing their desire to do so is about as intelligent as trying to stop a flood by legislating against rain. Alas, this is what you would expect from a government that consists of a party with fascist DNA (it was founded by Franco loyalists).
Today, I would like to deal with one of the most popular arguments against Catalonian independence: That it will set a bad precedent. This argument showed up in the comment section after my last post – it goes something like this: If Catalonia can become independent, then what is there to stop Flanders, Scotland, the Basque country, Cornwall and Bavaria from breaking away – just to mention a few of the regions in Europe where separatism exists? What is there to stop Europe from breaking up into thousands of small pieces?
There are several things that can be said in response to this argument. Below, I am going to outline both why the argument is unreasonable on its own, and also why Catalonia really is a special case.
First of all, it needs to be said that there are few separatist movements in Europe which are supported by a majority. While they exist in a lot of places, substantial levels of popular support for independence is rare. The reason is quite simple: Usually, separatism is not the best course of action. Hence, the idea that Europe would break up into hundreds of tiny states if Catalonia were to achieve independence is absurd – even if we allowed every region in Europe in which separatists have majority support to become independent, the number of new states would almost certainly be less than 10 (and very likely less than 5).
Secondly, Catalonia has desired independence for a long time. In the United States, you will occasionally hear people speak of secession when they are really angry with something the federal goverment has done. Texas Governor Rick Perry made some badly-concealed threats of secession back in 2009 – reminding everyone that Texas has a right to secede if it so wishes (most scholars on the subject disagree, but that’s a separate issue). The underlying reason why he threatened secession was Obamacare. I would argue that if Texas had declared independence in 2009, that would have been unjustified – there is no deep cultural divide between Texas and the rest of the country, Texan culture is not oppressed in any way, and Texans have not desired independence for very long – there was a sudden temporary uptick in support for secession when Obama proposed his health care reform, but otherwise Texans (like all other Americans) have been quite happy being in a union with the other 49 states. In Catalonia, independence has been desired for a long time – yes, support has hardened in recent years with the disastrous economic policies of Madrid and the ever-increasing oppression of Catalan culture (I’ll get to that in a minute), but it’s not exactly a new phenomenon; Catalan separatism goes back to the 19th century and became really popular under Franco – no part of Spain suffered as much as Catalonia under Franco, who did everything he could to kill the Catalan culture (fascism emphasizes conformity as we all know, so catalan culture – which stood out considerably from the rest of Spain – had to be destroyed).
This is one requirement that I would have personally in order to support an independence movement: That separatism isn’t merely a political fad, something that is trendy now but will soon be forgotten. Catalan separatism is certainly here to stay, no-one can reasonably argue otherwise. That’s the reason Spain is implementing the measures that I described in the previous post; they know that they can’t just wait for the separatist movement to falter and die on its own – that’s just not going to happen.
Another thing that is important to understand is that Catalonia really does face cultural oppression. The Spanish minister of education has made it his official policy to “hispanicize” Catalonia and forbid Catalan children from learning the Catalan lanugage as well as the region’s history. While there are severe penalties for anyone who dares to burn a Spanish flag, the Catalan flag has been burned live on Spanish TV.
Worse, Catalonia has suffered economically from a boycott, from no other than Spain: That’s right – the Spanish are boycotting one of their own regions. As if overtaxing them wasn’t enough, and by that I mean taking 9 bn euro more in taxes from Catalonia than Catalonia gets back (this kind of unfair regional distribution of taxes is unseen; Catalonia is literally the most overtaxed region in the entire world). Note: This represents about 9 % of Catalonia’s GDP.
And then, in the midst of oppressing their culture, stealing their hard-earned money and boycotting their products, the Spanish are surprised when the Catalans decide they’ve had enough and demand independence. And then, they argue that this would establish a “bad precedent”.
Let me offer the following counterpoint: Yes, separatism may establish a bad precedent. However, here is what needs to be considered: A precedent will be set either way. There is no neutrality in this issue; either you are with the free people of Catalonia, or you are with the fascists in Spain.
If Catalonia were to fail to gain independence, what precedent would that set? It would set a precedent stating that a country can treat a subset of its people as if they are second class citizens, and get away with it. It would be a victory for fascism, racism and totalitarianism. Is that really preferable?
Also tragically, it would establish a precedent that peaceful means are useless if you want independence. Catalan separatists have never resorted to terrorism (and according to the people I know within the movement, they never will). They are not like the certain (not all of them of course) separatists i Chechnya or the Basque country – they’ve always played it fair. While other separatists fight with bombs, the Catalan separatists form a human chain consisting of 1.6 million people (pretty impressive considering Catalonia’s population is only 7.5 million).
The Spanish authorities on the other hand are not so peaceful; they have regularly threatened to use their military might to crush any attempt from Catalonia to secede.
When you ask yourself whom you support in this conflict, what you really should ask yourself is this: Who are the bad guys? Are the bad guys the ones who are overtaxing, boycotting and cultually oppressing, or are the bad guys the ones who are victims to all these acts? Are the bad guys the ones who are threatening military force, or are the bad guys the ones who have never used it and never will?
I think we all know the answer to that question. And that is why I am siding with the Catalans and their right to choose their own destiny. I hope you will join me.
Please visit http://www.helpcatalonia.cat for more information and news on the Catalan struggle for independence.

John Gustavsson

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