The Catalan parliament has voted to declare independence from Spain. Today (October 27) Junts Pel Sì (United for Yes), the largest pro-independence party in the parliament, filed a motion to declare independence and begin the procedure for the formation of a constituent assembly.
The motion was approved with 70 votes in favour, 10 against and 2 abstentions. Lawmakers of the pro-unionism socialist party, Ciudadanos (citizens) and the Popular Party left the plenum in protest.
Catalan separatists’ violation of the Spanish Constitution is not just an illegal act. It is also a sign that Europe is once again faced with the scourge of nationalism and civil strife. A misunderstood and confused concept of self-determination is at the core of this attempt to divide people, exploit anger and resentment, and to sow the seeds of discord among communities that have lived together in peace for decades.
While some separatists argue that Spain is an oppressor and equate the government in Madrid with Franco’s dictatorship, the truth is that Spain has undergone a successful transition from dictatorial rule to democracy, and that since the end of the Fascist regime all people in the country, regardless of personal identity, language, creed or political beliefs, have enjoyed the same rights and duties and the same guarantees of protection under the law within a system of representative democracy with checks and balances.
Of course, Spanish democracy is far from perfect, as are all democracies. No one would argue that democracy in the US, the UK or any other country is flawless. Democracy is not a perfect system, it is a system that allows people to debate how to solve problems.
If Spain fails to bring together its people, if Catalan separatists win, if the principle that any nationalist group can violate the law and secede triumphs, then Europe will sink into the abyss of civil strife and chaos. Years of infighting, and perhaps of war, will ensue. Instead of focusing on a sound and reasonable debate about economic and social policies, the continent will be marred by hatred, identity politics and division.
Spain’s decision to divest Catalonia of its autonomy is not an easy one. The implementation of Article 155 will meet with resistance. And what will separatists do then? Will they use their bodies to sabotage the police? And how will the police respond?
Catalan nationalists knew from the start that any heavy-handed approach by the central authorities would be a propaganda victory for separatism. Catalan nationalists welcome confrontation, because it allows them to portray themselves as martyrs, despite the fact that they have been violating the law in the name of an ideology of division.
The scenes of the Spanish police enforcing the law will be exploited by nationalists and demagogues, in Catalonia and elsewhere in Europe, as the sign of repression. They will compare Spain with Franco’s dictatorship. They will smear the government and the more than half of the Catalan population that do not want secession.
The price Spanish central government has to pay is the damage to its reputation, but the reward will be the long-term benefit, peace and stability of Spain and Europe. Madrid will look like an oppressor in the eyes of the nationalist-minded and of those who easily fall for the rhetorical tricks of demagogues.
But if the government does not persevere, the price to be paid will not be just symbolic. It will be the beginning of a vicious circle of hatred and strife that once again will wreck Europe, and wreck even those who now believe that the gospel of division, resentment, anger and intolerance will save them.
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