Taking Away the Independence of an Independence Movement 

Taking Away the Independence of an Independence Movement  October 24, 2017


As we blogged about, the region of Catalonia is declaring its independence from Spain.  So now the central government in Spain is revoking Catalonia’s autonomy and will rule the region from Madrid.

Imagine if the federal government in Washington dissolved your state government–removed your governor, put Congress in charge over your state legislature, and took on all other state functions, from running the state bureaucracy to operating public television.  That is basically what is happening to Catalonia.

Invoking a power spelled out in its constitution, Madrid is removing from office Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, a pro-independence activist, as well as other officials.  Madrid will then assume authority over all Catalonian civil servants.

The Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy will not dissolve Catalonia’s parliament, but most of its functions will be taken over by the Spanish Senate.  The central government in Madrid will also assume control of the region’s budget.

Catalonia has its own police force, which Madrid is trying to assert control over.  In the meantime, national police and the Civil Guard will be sent to enforce the new laws.

Prime Minister Rajoy is even planning to take over Catlonia’s public broadcasting system.  The public television and radio networks have been advocating for independence, so now Madrid will operate them so as to “guarantee the transmission of information that is true, objective and balanced” and that is “respectful of the values and principles of the Spanish constitution and charter law for Catalonia.”

So what will the Catalonians do?  Some are calling for a general strike.  Preparations are being made for President Puigdemont (who is being threatened with arrest) and his officials to go into hiding and to set up a government in exile.  He hasn’t said if he would take that step. Some Catalonians are calling for violent resistance, though there is no Catalonian military force, as far as I know.

Meanwhile, some Catalonians are having second thoughts.  Many businesses in this, the only prosperous region in Spain, are already pulling out of Catalonia, due not only to the unrest but to the prospect of being in a country that is no longer part of the European Union, with all of its trade benefits for existing customers.

Prime Minister Rajoy is considering holding new elections, possibly in January, offering the carrot of a return to self-government if the Catalonians agree to stay in Spain.

See Joseph Wilson, Spanish leader moves aggressively to clip Catalonia’s wings | News OK (AP).   Here is a story about the Catalonian response.

It appears that this independence movement, at least, is provoking a backlash of the central government asserting its power, even at the expense of democratic self-government.

The Iraqi government is also striking back at the Kurdish independence movement with military force.

Nevertheless, independence movements keep proliferating.  Two of Italy’s wealthiest regions in the north have voted for autonomy–though not complete secession–from Rome: Veneto, which includes Venice, and Lombardy, which includes Milan.  

Maybe national dissolution will take us back to the city states, such as Italy had through much of its long history.  Or maybe these independence movement, motivated mainly by ethnic identity and financial considerations, will be crushed by centralized nation states that are stronger than ever.

Or is that way of looking at the issue unfair?  Perhaps we are seeing decisive government enforcing its laws and protecting its nationhood from forces that would tear it apart.  Perhaps Prime Minister Rajoy is the Spanish Abraham Lincoln.  In the conflicts between nationalism and ethnic identity, doesn’t nationalism have a higher claim?

What do you think?

Both the United States, quite rightly, and the European Union are staying out of the controversy.  But which side are you rooting for?

UPDATE:  The Spanish Senate must vote to activate the takeover.  The Catalan parliament is debating what to do.


Photo of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy by European People’s Party (Mariano Rajoy) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons


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