Here’s why Catalonia should secede from Spain, and why it won’t
Since the Iberian Peninsula was unified under one ruler five centuries ago, the struggle for hegemony in its midst has been its continuous feature, the Castilian/Spanish nation vying to assimilate and wipe off the other feebler nations, that somehow have resisted its aims.
Portugal managed to recover its independence in 1640 but Catalonia’s brief periods of breaking away from Spain, be it as an independent State (1641, 1810-1812) or under shelter of French rule (1641-1659, 1812-1814), ended badly when Spain conquered it back again.
A long gloomy history that seemed to settle down during the last forty years thanks to democracy, Spain’s European Union membership, and the prosperity brought by open frontiers, free trade, and globalization. It seemed likely that autonomy inside Spain was the best outcome for the Catalan nation to survive and thrive sharing an independent State that would be at the same time the Spaniards’ State and the Catalans’ State, as equal partners.
This dream has soured since the Spanish institutional frame makes certain beyond any doubt that a national minority whose might is a paltry 16% of the population will never have a say to rule an uninational State that continues its centuries-long-held policies to assimilate Catalans and turn them into second-rate Spaniards.
No need to bother on winning the hearts and minds of a perpetual minority doomed to submission and assimilation; hence the Spanish Nomenklatura, legitimized by the Spaniards’ overwhelming majority votes, indulges itself to relish on policies systematically preventing Catalans from reaching their potential, to erode their autonomy into a self-defeating shameful mock-parody, and to siphon 10% of Catalonia’s G.D.P. every year by the simple way of Catalan taxpayers’ racketing to keep afloat Spaniards’ well-being.
Those impudent principles and practices come at a price for Spaniards too, as Edmund Burke foresaw, since a self-consciously free people could not govern a despotic-leaning State vis-à-vis of its national minorities without the dominant people themselves become somehow enthralled.
A substantial and increasing number of Catalans have realized these last ten years that there’s no future —and barely a present— inside Spain, where they have to invest more and more resources and badly needed energies to resist and not be wiped off as a folkloric leftover, just to slacken the stroll down the slippery slope to reach the final stage of Catalans’ centuries-old fear: to be no more.
What a non-independent people fear most, Pankaj Mishra says, is the possibility of being swallowed up by the dominant alien culture in their midst, and that’s the likely outcome for Catalans under the Spanish rule. Don’t be surprised if they increasingly opt out of Spain and choose outright independence instead.
This aim, however, has moreover stalled in a quagmire of wishful thinking, a Marxian “sigh of the oppressed creature” that it’s both heart-warming and ineffectual. A Senator asked me in Washington more than four years ago: “Do your people want independence, or do they just want to rally for independence?”
That’s exactly the point of it all: a substantial part of the Catalan people and their mainstream politicians strongly desire independence as a gift that will be bestowed upon them by a warm-hearted international community that will force Spain to allow a legally-binding referendum on Catalan independence.
That’s sheer nonsense.
There will never ever be a self-defeating Spanish government willing to risk losing Catalonia: 16% of its population, 19% of its G.D.P., 24% of its exports, a net provider of 20 billion euros ($22.3 billion) in siphoned taxes every year. Worst than all that, to lose Catalonia is an existential threat to proud Spain’s vision of itself that no responsible government can allow to happen come what may, whatsoever the costs or circumstances may be.
To get anything done, however, is highly unlikely since Catalans are unaware of Colton’s motto: “Liberty will not descend to a people; a people must raise themselves to liberty; it is a blessing that must be earned before it can be enjoyed.”
Their deeply ingrained frame of mind is extremely risk-averse and unwilling to grab power by themselves in a confrontation with Spaniards that, even if peaceful, would get Catalans out of their comfort zone of moral supremacy as the paramount good and smiling guys.
A cherished wish may warm their hearts, but only a strong will and devil-may-care attitude are able to make wishes real. Catalans badly lack them and regularly vote for spine-less run-of-the-mill politicians that assuage their fears and moral virtues delivering nothing, in all good conscience for them all, people and politicians alike, to warmly share wound-licking communitarian therapy sessions.
Whence those paralyzing tropisms sprout the likely outcome for decades to come — an extremely boring and acrimonious topsy-turvy parade of cranky Catalans and annoyed Spaniards, the latter unwilling to let Catalans go, the former unwilling to go by themselves.
It’s upsetting, it’s irksome, and it’s a dead weight that blocks both Spaniards and Catalans from playing a positive role in the international community, but get used to it since you will have it.
Catalan independence foresight? Don’t bet on it.
(This piece was first published in Business Insider)
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