November 6, 2017
By: Matthew Pond
For those of you who are not aware, Spain is currently in the midst of a constitutional crisis which has been ongoing since the beginning of the month. A referendum held in Catalonia (the northeasternmost region of Spain, which has historically held a high degree of autonomy and has a population of about 7.5 million) showed landslide support for independence (with over 90% support and just under 50% turnout despite government attempts to shut down the vote. There were widespread reports of police beating and intimidating those who showed up). The central courts ruled the outcome illegal, and the situation escalated dramatically on Friday, October 28 when the Catalan parliament declared itself an independent republic.
Within hours of the vote, Spain’s prime minister invoked Article 155 of their constitution, giving the central government the power to call for the dismantling of the regional government, the dissolution of the legislature, and the suspension of all Catalonian ministers. The question currently on people’s mind is what will happen next. Will national police need to step in to enforce orders by taking control of the regional police forces, or will the separatist leaders in Barcelona step down and accept the call for new elections in December?
Spoilers: it’s probably going to be the former, and it is in all likelihood going to result in widespread riots.
Obviously, violence of any sort should be a last resort, but there are a few things to keep in mind over the next few months when you see the inevitable news of protesters clashing with police in Spain, along with endless talking heads offering up condemnations of the situation. In the less than 24 hours between the news being announced and the writing of this article, I’ve already seen several left-leaning news outlets attempt to offer up reactionary, right-wing framings of the situation, and let me tell you right now that it’s total bullshit.
First, there’s the historical context to think of. As I said above, Catalonia has held a huge degree of autonomy from the rest of Spain – though the situations are different, it’s roughly analogous to Quebec’s relationship with the rest of Canada, or Scotland with the UK. The region was an independent principality until it was captured by Philip V of Spain in 1714, and the people there speak their own language and have a culture that’s notably distinct from the rest of the country.
After the Spanish Civil War resulted in a victory for the military forces under General Francisco Franco in 1939, the new fascist government moved to suppress the Catalonian independence movement by ruthlessly cracking down on public institutions. They were also against the use of the local language, forbidding any public discussion of topics like socialism or democracy and executing thousands of dissenters and political prisoners in purges. The people there have some strong opinions on the matter is what I’m trying to get across here.
After Franco’s death in 1975 and the move towards a modern democratic Spain, the region ended up becoming one of the most wealthy and culturally influential areas of the country. As a result, many commentators have attempted to frame the independence movement as selfish, entitled well-off people attempting to stage an illegal vote to bail on the rest of the country.
In reality, this couldn’t be further from the truth. This is, in fact, a grassroots, leftist movement, which has been fighting for decades for people’s right to self-determination. The response was one of the most naked, unconcealed instances of violent governmental repression in recent memory, with literal jack-booted riot cops brawling with unarmed protesters in a country that merely 50 years ago was under fascist rule.
Unfortunately, the prospects for an independent Catalonia don’t look good, because the rest of the EU has a vested interest in ensuring that the independence movement doesn’t succeed. With all the turmoil in Europe over the ongoing refugee crisis, the financial meltdown in Greece, and Britain voting to leave the EU, the last thing that that those in charge want is another rallying point for populist, nationalist movements, be they left- or right-wing. The head of the EU’s legislature has already indicated that the vote will not be recognized, and the idea of meaningful recognition from the rest of the world is unlikely at best (for instance, both Trudeau and Trump have put out statements “in support of a united Spain”).
The sad truth of the matter is that even if the independence movement is able to thwart the government’s efforts to re-impose their rule while maintaining a majority in the forthcoming election (and the one after that, and the one after that…), it’s quite unlikely that they’ll be able to garner significant international recognition with the forces against them.
Then there’s the question of stabilizing their economy and of the divide among left-wing forces about how progressive an independent Catalonia would truly be, and the thousands of other issues that inevitably crop up when discussing topics this complex. However, I think that it’s still important to show solidarity with those fighting for national liberation in the face of governmental oppression, and for that reason, I urge you to support the people’s ongoing struggle for independence.