As Imperialism Reigns in Spain, Democracy gets CatalonelierTom Zaja
The decades-running cold war in the Spanish state may be reaching its zenith, as the autonomous region of Catalonia executes an unsanctioned referendum on independence. Europe has not seen anything like the extreme measures of repression currently strangling all segments of the region’s technological infrastructure, but momentum and milieu look to be in Catalonia’s corner as the long-game plays out.
In the words of Julian Assange, the West’s most significant conflict between people and state since the fall of the Berlin wall is unfolding before our eyes, only the tactics are very 2017: VPNs, proxies, mirrors, and encrypted chat are part of the necessary logistics as Spanish military police besiege telecoms, hundreds of websites are censored, protocols and apps are disabled along with Catalan government software needed for officiating. Though no major violence is expected, the physical presence of 6,000 extra federal police is heightening the intimidation, having seized up to twelve million paper ballots and arresting hundreds of mayors. In response, Catalans are sleeping at 2,000 polling places in order to ensure their continued custody.
The case for independence is certainly a solid one that goes far beyond the issue of taxation deficit. The Spanish constitution already confers nationality status onto Catalonia in respect of its own language, culture, and erstwhile independence as part of the Kingdom of Aragon before its conquest by Spain in 1714. It is thought that the ethnonym for the Catalan nation could be a portmanteau of Gothia and Alania (an Aryan nation), both active in the region along with Gauls and Moors. As a result of political union in the 18th century, Castilian (Spanish) naturally became the lingua franca among the Catalan, but by the 20th it became the lingua Franco — a jealous tongue made hegemonic by the fascist dictator who proscribed all rival languages.
Interestingly, the vestige of this political dynamic means that Left-Right politics is aligned in a somewhat counter-intuitive way with respect to competing nationalisms. Catalan independence has been consistently spear-headed by Left-leaning parties and activist groups, including the now dissolved terrorist group Terra Llieura. It may just be political opportunism, but the Left somehow never resonated with ‘Better Together’ style reconciliation — or a sense of enriching the tapestry of Spain through diversity. Instead, it is framing independence in terms of minority victimhood and the pursuit of anti-imperialist closure. One interesting feature of Catalan politics is that anti-Semitism is more likely to come from the Left — and it is not the meager BDS variety in question but accusations of things like inherent disloyalty.
Naturally, the ruling conservative party in Spain has been the rigidly opposed, and, in all objectivity, responsible for much of the escalation and uncooperative demeanor with Catalonia. Far-right supporters are the most visible defenders of Franco’s legacy of a monolithic Spain and are in fact able to rally without the same stigma that the Roman salute attracts elsewhere. Though there may not have been a way to reverse Catalonia’s trajectory towards independence, the conduct of Spain’s authoritarian government in the lead up to October 1 has assured an irreconcilable loss of trust. In such a polarizing climate, it is likely safer to partake in the running of the bulls in Pamplona than to walk the streets of Madrid draped in an Estalada.
Over the last week the systematic crackdown of the government would have made Franco proud, but two groups that have markedly swayed are Catalan moderates and the international community. In 2011, Sudan was civil enough to allow its (admittedly poor, sub-Saharan) region to vote on secession, while Iraq recently demonstrated it is one step more tolerant than Spain by allowing a peaceful referendum among Kurds — albeit cleverly being able to pay it no attention. Spain is looking so bad that increasingly commentators are calling it Europe’s ‘banana monarchy.’
The international reaction thus far has been rather incoherent. The perceptible absence of leaders pledging cliched support for the ‘territorial integrity’ of Spain has been somewhat of a surprise, while the European Union has been largely silent on what is an obvious harbinger of things to come. On the one hand, it is loath to be on the ‘wrong side of history’ by failing to back the progressive Left, but on the other it is embarrassingly aware of the optics of fraternal nationalities being unable to coexist in the same state. This raises the question of how on earth the ‘new Europeans’ will harmonize when their populations reach critical mass.
From North America, a group of seventy intellectuals headlined by Noam Chomsky have signed an open letter condemning Spain and siding with Catalan self-determination, though one wonders why the case of Crimea was approached so differently by the herd of independent thinkers. But the unrivaled champion of the Catalan cause and most effective activist has been Julian Assange, who appears to be doing a lot more than providing moral support from Ecuador’s embassy on the Greenwich Meridian. Assange self-identifies as a libertarian although in recent times has been dovetailing into non-mainstream material, including American Renaissance and The Unz Review (with the appropriate caveats). One particularly incisive swipe was aimed at the US Alt Right for a piece written disparaging Catalan independence.
The gist of the article is the utterly inane assertion that Western independence movements are analogous to cowardly white flight. Does Catalonia propose moving to the suburbs for better schools? The substance of the objection is that because the Catalan independence movement is not sufficiently race conscious (and Spain is?), and without the fashy pedigree of Spanish nationalism, the bridges should be burned. Keep in mind that the forced marriage keeping Spain together is one in which the state flag is disputed, and the anthem has no words in order to appease all parties. The economic and demographic terrain of the country is akin to a quagmire, and unemployment is the Eurozone’s second worst (behind Greece).
Also pouring cold water over Catalan independence aspirations has been Richard Spencer — consistent with his anti-Brexit position and essentially in league with the worst enemies of British nationalism who resorted to every smear and sob story to sustain the EU’s fanatical pivot to yet more centralization. If the president of the National Policy Institute has an Achilles heel, it is in the area of national policy. Far too often Mr. Spencer appears to be concerned less with pragmatic politics and more with the aesthetics of pan-Europeanism, to the point of desiring the preservation of such structures, presumably for the time when he will seize the reins of power and crown himself emperor.
Unfortunately for Europe, geopolitical disadvantages mean the time for drastic change is rapidly expiring, and though Catalonia cannot be that change, it can be a watershed. Postcard patriotism and number-plate nationalism may be a pitiable vehicle to carpool in for now, but any change is good change. What the European map resembles after the ‘slippery slope’ of possible balkanization is of little concern at this point. History and the present readily demonstrate that small states are some of the most stable, independent, and resilient. It is Switzerland that is among the toughest on immigration, Iceland that arrests its bankers and provides refuge for journalists like Assange. The UK, France and Germany are at the opposite end of the pozometry scale.
Perhaps the greatest advantage to splitting up countries (and power) is that the governments of resulting statelets are disproportionately smaller as well and have ruling classes less remote and more representative of their constituency. As far as democracy is concerned, the sum of the parts is actually worth more than a unified whole of a larger country. An independent Catalonia, unlike Spain, does not have the baggage of an exotic colonial and imperial past, and in the current political climate this is a significant guilt burden of Spain’s to jettison in favor of an unapologetic national pride. Besides, the opportunity to compose a declaration of independence and new constitution with nativist safeguards is a pipe dream worth hoping for.
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