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Spain is (still) not a democracy

by IdiotSavant Mon Sep 28th, 2020 at 11:53:08 PM EST

The list of Spanish abuses of Catalonia's democracy is long. When Catalans voted for independence, Spanish riot police seized ballot boxes and beat them in the streets. When they elected leaders to represent their views, Spain refused to allow them to take their seats, or jailed them for "sedition". And now, their supreme court has deposed Catalonia's elected president and barred him from office. His crime? Allowing a banner calling for freedom for political prisoners - the official policy of the Catalan government - to be hung on a government building:

Spain's Supreme Court confirmed on Monday that Catalan president Quim Torra should be removed from office as he is guilty of disobedience for displaying signs in solidarity with the jailed pro-independence leaders on public buildings during an electoral period last year.

In dismissing Torra's appeal, the top court upholds a previous verdict banning the Catalan head of government from holding public office for 18 months -- the second time in three years that a Catalan president is sacked.

Later in the afternoon, the Catalan High Court enforced Torra's disqualification and ordered vice president Pere Aragonès to move forward in replacing him. By 5 pm, Torra had been personally notified of the ruling.

The decision is set to anger pro-independence supporters in Catalonia, who will all but certainly see the ruling as Spain's umpteenth attempt to undermine their political aspirations by prosecuting their leaders.

Torra is the second Catalan president in a row to be removed from office by Spain - his predecessor Carles Puigdemont was overthrown by the imposition of a state of emergency and the imposition of direct, colonial rule. It is clear that Spain will not allow Catalans to rule themselves, or to peacefully and democraticly express their views, and will remove any elected leader who represents them. Which makes it crystal clear that Catalonia needs to be independent, simply in order to enjoy basic democratic rights. By denying those rights, Spain makes it clear that it is not a democracy.


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You will note that this diary has only been recommended only by non-Europeans. For most Europeans the issue is not quite as simple as Spain wrong and Catalunya right. The question of which polity should take priority is at the core of the issue, and it is Spain which is the member of the EU, and thus in receipt of more direct EU support.

That is not to say that most Europeans think that Spain has acted wisely or well in its treatment of Catalunya and its separatist politicians. Most would advocate a much more conciliatory approach. Spanish authoritarianism has uncomfortable resonances of Francoist dictatorship and many Europeans died fighting for the Republican side in that civil war.

But that civil war is not one which most Europeans feel comfortable about revisiting. Many EU member states have separatist tensions and regions of their own to deal with. Nobody wants the EU to fragment into even more, smaller states and statelets.

The common response is to try to sublimate those regional tensions into a larger European whole. The more important the EU becomes in citizens everyday lives, the less the national states like Spain figure in their lives. The hope is that Catalunyans will feel more comfortable as part of a stronger EU than they feel about a resurgent Spanish state with a history of repression.

This may all be wishful thinking, of course. Historically, European states have tended to emerge as the results of wars or violent national liberation movements rather than peacefully by consensus. If Catalunyans want to go down that route, that is their choice, but they are playing into the hands of a Spanish state which has a virtual monopoly on the means of force.

Even Northern Ireland nationalists eventually gave up their attempt to gain their goal by violent means. Their aspiration is to remain/become part of a European Member state and so the EU can be broadly supportive. But the EU cannot support an attempt to undermine the constitutional order of the EU, which is based on Spain as a member state.

Abuses of human rights can be sanctioned and the Spanish government advised to take a more conciliatory and sympathetic approach, but that is about as far as it goes. As the examples of Hungary and Poland also show, the EU has very little institutional power to force Spain to grant Catalunya more autonomy, much less independence.

EUrotribers generally are no great fans of nationalism per se, as it has resulted in too many wars in Europe, and latterly in the Brexit debacle. The whole point of the EU is to diffuse these nationalist tensions, and replace them with a broader European identity. Clearly this is work in progress, but it has resulted in 60 years of relative peace, something Europe has almost never experienced before.

So while we have no problem with Catalunya seeking to express its regional identity in stronger regional institutions, that does not necessarily extend to support for Catalunyan independence - or the excesses and stupidities of the Spanish state, for that matter.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Oct 11th, 2020 at 10:55:05 PM EST
I've refrained from commenting because the situation is too parallel to the American revolution and the American Civil War.  Some of Spain's claims are valid in context. Washington and Jefferson were properly called traitors in English eyes. Same with Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis. After all the US Constitution defines treason as "Making war on the United States". Firing on Fort Sumter was an act of treason.  OTOH, some of these arrests and charges look like thought crime. and refusing to seat duly elected officials?  Arrest them for real crimes but is seems eminently undemocratic to say, "No the voters were wrong, we won'y seat you."  That's the view from here.
by StillInTheWilderness on Sat Oct 17th, 2020 at 01:07:49 AM EST
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by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Oct 17th, 2020 at 06:21:51 PM EST
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I support Catalan independence - or rather, the right for Catalonia to decide on its independence - because I'm a democrat. Questions like this should be resolved peacefully and democratically, not by beating people in the streets, dissolving elected governments, and jailing people for "sedition". The UK (which is not what I usually think of as a good example of democratic governance) is showing how you can manage such a process with Scotland. Spain should be doing the same, rather than treating peaceful democratic advocacy like terrorism (which only makes people want to get out from under their boot).

As for nationalism, from the outside, the EU seems to provide a model where nations can both be culturally distinct and part of a greater whole. France, Germany, and Italy are all different, all unique, but they're also all European together. Meanwhile, EU regulations and the four freedoms mean that borders just matter less. So peaceful successions within the EU where everyone remains part of the EU seem to not make a hell of a lot of difference (while of course making all the difference in the world to how people feel about their state). But then, I live in a not very nationalist (indeed, kindof anti-nationalist, or anti- the traditional trappings of nationalism) country, so there may be a cultural gap there.

by IdiotSavant on Mon Oct 19th, 2020 at 10:26:13 PM EST
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You could equally argue the right of Spaniards to democratically decide they want Spain to remain intact as is - or at the other extreme, you could give every town and village the right to democratically secede from whatever county, province or country they happen to be in. Democracy can only only operate within the confines of a state whose boundaries may have been decided by wars, colonialism or any number of other non-consensual means.

Czechoslovakia is a rare example of a state freely and democratically deciding to split in two, but that is because the majority in both freely willed it. North island and South Island could become two independent countries, but again, only by mutual consent. Would New zealand grant independence to the richer parts of Auckland, if their people willed it?

It is in the power of Westminster to grant, or not, the right of Scotland to hold another referendum, and then to impose all sorts of conditions for independence to be granted - such as a sharing of the national debt, the loss of nuclear submarine bases, the right to use the British pound etc.

Northern Ireland voted by a large majority against Brexit, (as did Scotland) and their wishes were then totally ignored. Ireland had to fight many bloody uprisings before independence was granted - in part.

The whole concept of a nation state is a relatively recent invention and most countries in the world have only existed, in their current form and territory, for a few generations. Germany Italy France and Spain are amalgamates of previous fiefdoms and kingdoms by war or other bloody means.

The stability of the EU is based on the status quo established by the outcome of WW2 and the more recent fall of the Soviet Union/end of the cold war and the break-up of Yugoslavia. Most people don't want to revisit those conflagrations all over again.

In Spain's case the civil war is still the subject of much bitterness generations later, with much of the structure of politics and the economy determined by its outcome. There is virtually no prospect of a mutually agreed parting of the ways between Spain and Catalunya, and every prospect of a revival of fascism if it is seriously attempted without that agreement.

Best that we all become better Europeans rather than fight those battles again. As you note, there is nothing to prevent a great deal of cultural diversity within a broader European framework, and nothing to be gained by disrupting it, that is worth a few hundred thousand lives.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Oct 20th, 2020 at 01:03:20 AM EST
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I don't think the rest of Spain has any right to decide for Catalonia, or Westminster for Scotland, any more than I have any right to decide for the South Island or Auckland (or for Tokelau, which will undoubtedly have another independence referendum in my lifetime). When a people decide they no longer want to be a part of your country, the best thing for everyone is to accept it and focus on working out how to live together in peace afterwards. Which is what is gradually happening in the UK, it seems (UK law says independence is a non-devolved matter, so Westminster decides; but the UK also seems to recognise that the decision is really one for the Scots, and its just a question of how long it takes them to finally get there).

If states don't want people to want to leave, they need to make them want to stay - and you don't do that by putting a boot on their necks. You can do it with regional autonomy, but Spain fucked that up, to the point where it is probably now irretrievable. (The UK didn't fuck it up, but devolution became a driver for independence in Scotland because it highlighted the differences in political culture and expectations).

by IdiotSavant on Tue Oct 20th, 2020 at 02:44:42 AM EST
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