Col·lectiu Emma - Explaining Catalonia

Saturday, 7 october 2017 | THE NEW YORK TIMES

English

Chaos in Catalonia

EDITORIAL


By THE EDITORIAL BOARD
 
OCTOBER 2, 2017

The brutality of the Spanish police on Sunday in their mission to shut down the Catalan secession referendum succeeded mostly in deepening a political crisis. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy had the law largely on his side, but Barcelona now has the television images and the solidarity and sympathy they generate, leaving the prime minister looking like an intransigent bully and rendering any possible political resolution of the conflict more remote.

The problem was complicated enough before Sunday’s violence. The Catalan regional government’s unilateral call for a secession referendum highlighted a notoriously knotty contradiction in global governance, that between the principle of self-determination and political unity. When empires were breaking up in the last century, it seemed self-evident to let former colonies and captive nations determine their own political destinies. But independence struggles and the rise of nationalism have been continuing sources of conflict since, in places as diverse as Chechnya, Kosovo, the Basque region, Darfur and Kurdistan. No rules govern the exact balance between people’s right to determine their political future and the maintenance of existing states and borders, but something of a consensus has developed against breaking up a state that is law abiding and respectful of human rights.
 
Though the Catalans were suppressed under the Franco dictatorship, Catalonia today cannot claim to be colonized or oppressed. The region has one of the highest standards of living in Europe along with considerable political and cultural autonomy. But then, Catalan nationalists would argue, so did Quebec and Scotland, and they were allowed to hold referendums (and voted not to secede).

In Spain, the government and the courts responded, the 1978 Constitution, for which the Catalans overwhelmingly voted, enshrined the “indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation.” That made an independence referendum unconstitutional, and when the Catalan regional government refused to cancel it, Mr. Rajoy’s conservative government ordered extraordinary measures — including the arrest of referendum organizers and the dispatch of Spanish police officers — to prevent it. The Catalan independence movement, moreover, found little support from a European Union jittery about the rise of populist and nationalist movements in most of its member states.

The fact, however, is that a chaotic round of voting and police clashes did take place on Sunday in Barcelona and across Catalonia. And even though the tallies cannot be independently verified and are regarded as invalid by Spain, the Catalan leader, Carles Puigdemont, now claims that he has the authority to have the regional parliament declare independence, and independence advocates have called for a general strike. Madrid has threatened to use emergency powers to prevent that. That could include taking full administrative control of Catalonia.
 
All this amounts to a crisis that could well get far worse if the contending leaders do not back down. Strong-arm tactics by the Spanish government will only draw more support for the Catalan secessionists, while barreling ahead with an ill-considered declaration of independence whose true support was not possible to gauge from the chaotic voting will only plunge Catalonia into further chaos and conflict. There are potential political solutions, probably involving greater autonomy for Catalonia, but so long as Mr. Rajoy and Mr. Puigdemont remain intransigent, these will remain out of reach.


 
 


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Col·lectiu Emma - Explaining Catalonia

Col·lectiu Emma is a network of Catalans and non-Catalans living in different countries who have made it their job to track and review news reports about Catalonia in the international media. Our goal is to ensure that the world's public opinion gets a fair picture of the country's reality today and in history.

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