The article by Cayetana Alvarez de Toledo, “Europe cannot afford to give into the separatists” (February 19), deserves comment. It is wrong to describe the Scottish independence referendum as “a grave challenge from regional separatists”. Scotland is not a region. It is a nation in its own right within the United Kingdom. The Scottish and English parliaments were joined in an “Act of Union” in 1707. It is the democratic right of the people of the Scottish nation to vote for the repeal of that act if they so wish. Catalonia too is a “nation” as defined by the estatut , an act passed by the Spanish parliament in 2006. To describe both nations as “tribes” betrays a colonialist mind.
The UN is quite clear on the rights of nations. “All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.” For the European Union to “confront separatism”, to “unmask the hypocrisy of nationalism” and “play the legal card of the EU treaties” against Scotland and Catalonia, would be to tread on very controversial ground.
The article accuses the Catalan government of distorting historical facts in this 300th anniversary year of the fall of Catalonia at the end of the war of the Spanish succession. It is worth recalling that Catalonia was effectively an independent nation until 1714. During that war, Catalonia was allied with England under the treaty of Genoa of 1705 and fought for the Habsburg cause against the Bourbon Spain. When the British government withdrew its support for the Habsburgs and signed the treaty of Utrecht in 1713, Catalonia fought on alone. It took a one-year siege by a combined French and Spanish Bourbon army to break Barcelona’s defences which fell on September 11 1714. Thousands of defending Catalans were killed in the siege and in the retribution which followed. Catalonia’s ancient parliament, its identity, language and culture were crushed. Large parts of Barcelona were razed to the ground. Catalonia did not voluntarily join Spain, it was brutally conquered.
Catalonia was treated little differently during the Spanish civil war when Barcelona was bombed by Franco’s rebel air force, killing 1,300. Catalonia’s elected President Lluís Companys was forced to flee into France. He was extradited by Franco and shot in 1940 at Montjuic Castle overlooking Barcelona. Lluís Companys remains the only incumbent president in Europe ever to have been executed. No apology or posthumous pardon has been given.
Catalonia remembers these historical facts – they are not “imaginary historical grievances”. On its National Day (La Diada) on September 11 2012, one and a half million Catalans filled Barcelona’s streets waving the Catalan Senyera flag and calling for independence. On La Diada last year they formed a 250-mile independence human chain from the French border to Valencia. The independence movement is deeply rooted in Catalan society, fuelled by every rebuff from Madrid.
Like Scotland’s, Catalonia’s parliament has a majority in favour of an independence referendum. The Westminster parliament has given Scotland the right to decide its future. In contrast, the Spanish parliament in Madrid refuses to debate Catalonia’s request. Democracy is not feared in the UK – it is embraced. Democracy should not be feared in Spain either.
Geoff Cowling, Bromley, Kent, UK, HM Consul General Barcelona 2002-05
Published at 'Financial Times'
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