Friday 27 October 2017

Catalonia Declares Independence: What Happens Next?

By all accounts, Barcelona and other Catalan cities are awash with the Estelada, the national flag of Catalonia, which declared herself independent of Spain today. Within an hour of that declaration being made the Spanish government announced plans to strip Catalonia of what autonomy she enjoys and send colonial administrators in to run the country at the behest of Madrid.

It is unlikely that we would have reached this crisis had the European Union not thrown its entire weight behind Spain. A more relaxed, neutral stance from Brussels might have given the Neo-Falangistas in Madrid pause for thought, but Brussels has in effect told Madrid to do as it pleases so Spain appears to be about to do just that.

One would have hoped that the British government could have adopted a more hands-off approach, but Theresa May has already pledged full support for Spain. Given that this is a European Union crisis that does not involve us, it might have been a better idea to offer no statement at all and then await events. As it is, London has given up a valuable piece in its own chess match with the EU for no return that is visible to this writer.

What happens next really depends on events on the ground in Iberia. If the Spanish do nothing then Catalonia will become independent by default. If the Spanish send their army into the country and Catalonia does not resist then the country will go back to being a region of Spain. The notion of rights does not enter into the equation: all that matters is the respective willingness of young men in Catalonia and Spain to be willing to die in the cause of one side or the other. 

Given that Spain has an army and Catalonia has to build one from scratch, the advantage is clearly with Madrid at the moment, but Catalonia does have two valuable cards to play.

The first is that one of the causes of the Spanish Civil War which broke out in 1936 was Catalonian independence, an independence that was crushed by the Spanish Republic's defeat in that war. Until 1975 the Catalonian language was suppressed, the country's Estelada flag was banned, and Catalonia was basically run as an occupied country. Post-1975 and no government was willing to make the surviving fascist rebels from 1936 pay their dues, so it is quite likely that one of the issues that motivate today's Catalonians is revenge for those past injustices. If that is the case, then Catalonia might just have a population that is willing to pay any price to achieve independence. 

Secondly, we need to ponder on the reaction of Latin-America to all this. There are rumours swirling around that Venezuela and Bolivia may recognise Catalan independence, so we need to keep an eye on developing attitudes in Caracas and La Paz. If countries do start to recognise Catalonia as an independent republic then that will encourage the country to resist Spain to the utmost of her ability.

Sadly, to reach the stage where countries with issues of their own with Spain give support to Catalonia, an awful lot of young Catalonian men will have to die first to show that the people are serious about this declaration of independence.

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