Today we saw an old State reborn.
No, not Catalonia – though historians in the future will probably look back on today as the day when independence became an inevitability for Catalonia.
No, today we saw Franco’s Fascist Spain come back to haunt us.
I am not using fascism lightly here.
The Catalan democratic body decided to hold a referendum on whether Catalonia should become a sovereign State in her own right: Independent. The debate around Catalan Sovereignty has been a topic of discussion for decades in Catalonia, and has received far larger support and media coverage there than the issue of Welsh independence has received in Wales.
Nobody could argue that Catalans were caught unawares or were ill-informed on the subject. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Catalonia was ready for this referendum.
But Spain decided otherwise.
The Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, has gone as far as to deny that there was a referendum held in Catalonia,
But the State went much, much further than this. In the days leading up to the referendum the Spanish State sent people into stop the printing of ballot papers, stop the distribution of the ballot papers and destroy what they could
blocked websites which were reporting on the referendum
effectively took control of the devolved Government against its wishes
arrested elected officials and civil servants who were preparing for the referendum
and on the day itself they sent in their jackboots to assault innocent people who were merely looking to express their democratic right at the ballot box
These aren’t the actions of a modern democratic State.
Banning the press; arresting politicians and officials, denying people their vote, and sending armed Police in to bludgeon your opponents are the actions of a fascist State.
Some European political leaders have belatedly voiced concerns about the Spanish State’s actions today. The First Ministers of both Wales and Scotland expressed their horror at the violence being shown by the Spanish State. We understand that both Belgian and German leaders have contacted Spain to voice concerns. Others might have contacted their Spanish Embassies by now.
But nothing has been heard of from the UK Prime Minister. Nothing. Zilch. Nada. Or as Google Translate informs me, Res, as they would say in Catalonia.
This is Europe. In 2017.
We’ve seen fascists terrorise our citizens through the actions of various organisations. We then saw them get elected to state Parliaments across Europe. We now see their actions in Government.
We shouldn’t be surprised. Fascism is, after all, the natural end point of the type of right wing nationalism (formerly know as imperialism, also known as supremacism) that is growing in response to the increasing progressive nationalism which is threatening the very existence of the old order, and seen in the small stateless countries across Europe.
The right to self-determination is a cardinal principle in modern international law.
In 1960 the United Nations said:
Recognizing the passionate yearning for freedom in all dependent peoples and the decisive role of such peoples in the attainment of their independence…
Recognizing that the peoples of the world ardently desire the end of colonialism in all its manifestations…
Believing that the process of liberation is irresistible and irreversible and that, in order to avoid serious crises, an end must be put to colonialism and all practices of segregation and discrimination associated therewith…
Welcoming the emergence in recent years of a large number of dependent territories into freedom and independence, and recognizing the increasingly powerful trends towards freedom in such territories which have not yet attained independence,
Convinced that all peoples have an inalienable right to complete freedom, the exercise of their sovereignty and the integrity of their national territory,
And one of the most popular statesmen of the twentieth century, John F Kennedy, said this, to the Dail in Ireland on his visit there
For self-determination can no longer mean isolation; and the achievement of national independence today means withdrawal from the old status only to return to the world scene with a new one. New nations can build with their former governing powers the same kind of fruitful relationship that Ireland has established with Great Britain–a relationship rounded on equality and mutual interests. And no nation, large or small, can be indifferent to the fate of others, near or far. Modern economics, weaponry and communications have made us realize more than ever that we are one human family and this one planet is our home.
All this means sweet FA when it comes to it.
Every international body – the United Nations, The European Union, NATO – they were all built by the successor States of former Empires, or those with Imperial ambitions. They have no interest in allowing nations to seek their independence.
Democracy and the EU project
The European Union claims to have democracy at its very heart.
The Lisbon Treaty boasts of the EU’s high regard for democracy.
Article 2 of the European Treaty States,
The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail.
The promotion of democracy is at the very core of the EU project.
If the EU ignores Spain’s ruthless assault on the democratic process in Catalonia it should result in a crisis of legitimacy for the EU. However, with so many of the founding and indeed current members of the EU being successor states to brutal Empires, with many stateless nations seeking their own self-determination within their borders, it’s unlikely that we’ll see any real condemnation from the European Parliament any time soon. The concern is that it will be brushed under the carpet for fear of raising the hopes of the many other stateless nations.
As BBC’s Deputy Political Editor says,
… many EU nations fear that if Catalonia won its independence, then that would encourage other separatist movements in their own countries. Many of Europe’s nations are relatively young conglomerations of ethnicities and languages and territories. The last thing they would want is the integrity of their own states being threatened. Think northern Italy, Corsica, Flanders and the south Tyrol.
For what it’s worth we should insist that Spain’s actions in Catalonia are not ignored, and that they are brought to task. This, after all, isn’t about independence or nationalism. In fact, it’s not about Catalonia any more. This has gone beyond Catalonia. It’s about democracy and the right to have your voice heard.
Democrats everywhere should stand shoulder to shoulder with Catalonia.
Lessons for Wales
But what of Wales?
What lessons should we take from it?
There are many people from Wales out in Catalonia now, and have been part of the decades long campaign. There will be lessons about how it became a movement; about how the grassroots escalated the matter and moved it forward; how political parties promoting Independence managed to gain support, and much more besides. Their lessons will certainly be invaluable to us as we plan for our day of reckoning.
But in the meantime, what we can say immediately, is that, much like with the Scottish vote, once a political party gains power with the express aim of holding a referendum on Independence, then things move quickly. Very quickly.
The press gets involved. The world wide web gets scoured by everyone for any morsel of information to better inform them. The national debate shifts considerably. As much as the establishment would like to draw attention away with bread and circuses, they can’t. The elephant in the room at last dominates the discussion. There’s no avoiding it.
It becomes self-fulfilling.
The authorities get frightened and start to use every tool at their disposal to stop it from happening. This however only serves to fuel the process. It adds new dimensions, turns an old story into a new one, and keeps the momentum.
In Ireland’s case, England’s foolish execution of the leaders of 16 could be said to be the making of modern Ireland. The UKs lies and underhand tactics fuelled the support for the Scottish Yes campaign. And the Spanish State’s violent clamp-down will almost inevitably result in the re-birth of the Catalan State.
So let’s talk about the ‘I’ word’.
Let’s not be afraid to use it.
There’s no right or wrong answer.
Yes, our opponents will try to shut the argument down. They’ll thrown any number of claims about our inability to be independent.
But don’t shy away.
After all, we have nothing to lose.
We are living during the time of national rebirth for nations across the world. Let’s not let Wales be left behind.
As one wit said, we the Welsh are but Catalans in the rain!