The Lung Brothers

Hanging out at the extreme end of the long tail ...

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Mucho Do-Do About Nothing

Catalonia is one of the richer regions in Spain. It has its own language and culture and has always felt itself apart from the rest of the country. There is also the fact that a lot of taxes leave wealthy Catalonia and go to the poorer and needier regions of Spain. This chafes a lot with the Catalans who feel that if they work hard, their rewards shouldn’t go to less hard-working compatriots.

Like with every other country in the world, the latest crisis has heightened the us-and-them attitudes of the locals and reignited the question of a possible independence. A week ago, the local government convened a referendum about independence which was declared illegal and unconstitutional by the central government in Madrid. This is technically true although stopping a people from mounting their own election doesn’t seem very democratic.

So on Sunday last (October 1st) a few thousand national police were called in to prevent this ‘illegal’ referendum. The local police who had more or less said that they would help out the national cops, backed out at the last minute, leaving the nationals with their asses swinging in the air. So when the National Police went out on Sunday to close down polling stations and confiscate ballot boxes they met with passive protests. People with their hands in the air, blocking the way. People sitting on stairways. In many cases, the cops walloped people and dragged people brutally out of the way in order to get through. These images went all round the world. They scandalized many people and enraged the local population.

So where are we now?       

The way I see it there are morons on both sides of the clash and I just hope that cooler heads come forward sooner than later. 

Firstly, the Catalan leadership:

The current leader of the local government Mr. Puigdemont is obsessed with independence to the point where I've never heard him speak of anything else. Education, public health, unemployment? Forget it. He's a one-trick pony. And what's worse is that his party is in a coalition with the CUP. They're anti-establishment anarchists, a bunch of extremists who are gagging for a fight. They must have creamed their pants when the cops put the boot in last Sunday. 

Now, being Irish, I'm certainly not against Catalans' rights to self-determination. I just don't think they should destroy the country in order to achieve it. On a practical level, the idea of independence is not viable without the blessing of the EU. And there are enough member states in the EU with their own problems of national unity, so don’t expect a whole lot of encouragement for separatism there. In the past few days, all of the Catalan banks have transferred their headquarters out of Catalonia and capital is hemorrhaging outwards too. Didn’t they know that this would happen? I’m not an economist or a professional politician and I fucking knew it was going to happen.

So either they’re insane and are going to declare unilateral independence anyway or there’s going to be a climb down. But the gang at the top is so frenzied at the moment; it’s just possible that they think committing economic hara-kiri would be the noble and heroic thing to do. If that’s the case, we’re all fucked. The economy will come crashing down and Madrid will send in the army - but probably not in that order.

The problem is that since last Sunday’s beat down, the issue has become very emotional here and rationality has gone out of the window. The Catalans are seriously pissed off and to be honest, it’s hard to blame them. But emotions make a people easy fodder for propaganda and that’s a little scary. It`s a bit of a powder keg and all it would take is one little spark. The anti-separatists are having themselves a march today. Let’s see how that works out.    

What annoys me is that the Catalan separatists have been selling that idea that independence will bring financial prosperity. That all the extra taxes we pay to Madrid will be kept in the region and we can spend it on our own sweet selves instead of building toll-less motorways for the Andalusians. It’s a level of economic simplicity that one would associate with that dolt Boris Johnson. Now that the cold reality of the situation is setting in and you can see people are having second thoughts.
And yes I am Irish and yes I’m happy we got our independence in the 1920s but by God we suffered for it. Decades of hardship, we were an economic backwater until the EEC came along and fished us out of the primordial sludge. So if you want independence Catalonia, don’t kid yourself that it’s going to be a bonanza because it won’t, it’ll be tough. Now if you are prepared to suffer for your sovereignty, fine. Carry on. Just don’t expect a bowl of cherries.

Secondly, the Spanish leadership:

As an outsider, I can only stand back in awe at the utter stupidity of the Spanish government. (The centre-right Popular Party) Honestly? Did you really think it was a bright idea sending in the riot police to a peaceful vote? You can hear all the anti-separatists defending the decision saying that the referendum was anti-constitutional and illegal and we had to stop it one way or another. And perhaps they’re right on paper but boy are they up their own asses when it comes to common sense.
The day after the clashes, the central government declared the referendum invalid - exactly the same what would have happened if they hadn’t sent in the paramilitaries – but with three slight differences:

As I’ve said before, the Catalans are now very, very angry. They have been censored and treated like shit. Before this debacle, if there had been a referendum (even a non-binding one) according to the polls, the separatists probably would have lost. But I can tell you from my own experience that a lot of people here who would have voted against independence would now vote firmly for it. So congratulations for radicalizing the moderates and shifting them to the other camp!

Putting aside the idea of legality for a moment and replacing it with legitimacy, let’s look at the affect of Sunday’s actions. A question – what is an illegitimate referendum? A referendum without legitimacy is a bunch of people putting little bits of paper into a box, nothing more. Now if that’s illegal, I’m going to have to start throwing my garbage onto the street. If the central government really believed that the referendum was illegitimate, they would have ignored it and declared it invalid afterwards.
But they didn’t. Instead they treated it like a real threat to their power, they gave it huge importance. By sending in the riot cops and shutting down polling stations, ironically, they actually legitimized the referendum as a proper act of democratic protest.

Regarding the coverage of this event in Spain, what most people saw was the news on the national television network. This was edited and sanitized to minimize any police brutality and to make the protesters look like violent rioters. There were 900 injured members of the public and a handful of police hurt, so unless the numbers lie, the vast majority of brutality came from the cops.
However, what people saw abroad was not this censored version of events. What people saw were peaceful citizens outside polling stations with their hands in the air getting beaten in the ribs by helmeted bully-boys, they saw young women being thrown down stairs, passive protesters getting dragged away by the hair.
Now, you can get as righteous as you want and stamp your little feet and yell about the constitution but those images were viscerally repulsive and they did terrible harm to the image of Spain as a country.
I received several messages from friends abroad asking if I was OK and almost all of them mentioned Franco.  One friend said: “You’re supposed to be part of a modern Europe now Spain. Time to hang up the Tricornio.”

So what’s the solution?

Well, the Catalan govern should under no circumstances declare unilateral independence right now. It would be like pulling the rug from underneath the whole country. Enough damage has already been done. By all means, work towards independence but prepare the ground first. It’ll be very hard with the PP in power but they probably won’t be there forever. Meanwhile, look for some leverage to force Madrid to give you more fiscal autonomy, much like the Basque Country already enjoys and you could also put the pressure on to amend the constitution which would give you more room to move forward.

And as for the national government? Well, pretty simple really. Sending in cops to beat up peaceful voters was an awful idea. Try not to do it again. Stop being so obstinate, stop hiding behind laws and constitutions, they can always be altered. And maybe throw Catalonia a bone to calm things down.  

Watch this space.