Due to my time spent living in Spain I still retain an interest in what goes on there; however I have no claim whatever to be an expert on Spanish politics nowadays. In the Madrid of the 1990’s, the country seemed like a place just waking up to democracy. They’d had barely fifteen years of being able to speak their minds; the long sleep of fascism was over and the citizens emerging into the daylight rubbing their eyes. They were testing the limits; marching on demos with the glee of children being allowed to stay up late, not quite believing that they wouldn’t be arrested for publishing newspapers. Habits of democracy take time to form, as we know only too well – and as we also know, they can be easily erased. True, ours wasn’t much at the outset, just a few nobles wresting power from a king; but it was a start. We didn’t have full democracy until 1928 when all adults could vote on an equal basis: but, imperfect as our system may be, it is part of our DNA. Not so in Spain.
Like many places – like the former Yugoslavia, like the Soviet Union; like the UK itself – Spain is not one country but many. Ask a person from the Basque country if they are Spanish and see what reaction you get: it’s like asking a Scot if they are English. Regions such as Catalonia are analogous to Scotland: the area has its own language and culture; it has a history of self-government. To complicate matters, Catalunya (to spell it correctly) extends into France, and many activists want the whole area separate and unified. That flag won’t fly; but it is possible that, as in Scotland, there is an increasing appetite for independence from Madrid: and the sensible thing to do would be to open negotiations.
Now, I have blogged before about the UK government’s unedifying and shabby response to Indyref 1:
but the Madrid administration makes Cameron’s response look positively statesmanlike. From sending in troops to beat up demonstrators, to declaring the referendum an act of rebellion (can you hear the word ‘traicion’ in the air?) they have basically acted like latterday Francos and have justly earned opprobrium around the world.
OK, it’s a problem. I get that. Clearly there is an appetite for independence in Catalunya; if it came to pass this would probably open a greater can of worms than Scotland leaving the UK. It is understandable that the government might feel panicky, but clamping down is not the way to go. Denying that violence took place when people have seen the videos; refusing to say what might happen if Catalunya declares independence: these are unwise and overly authoritarian reactions which have escalated a crisis into a near-disaster. They need to negotiate, not escalate; these actions can only incite more unrest and a greater desire for independence. What’s next – sending in tanks? Spain is not the Soviet Union. This is not the 1950’s. Grow up, guys. Start talking – because hablar es mejor que la guerra.*
*(a rough translation of ‘jaw-jaw is better than war-war’)