In the Autumn of 2013 and into the Winter of 2014, violent protesters, including well organised and armed neo-fascist militias descended on the Maidan in Kiev with one goal in mind: to overthrow the weak, imperfect but ultimately reasonable and moderate government and President of Ukraine.
In spite of a foreign funded insurgency descending on Kiev, the then President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych did not resort to lethal force against the militants. To put it in perspective, a duo of average policemen in the United States engaging in a traffic stop are more heavily armed than the Berkut officers of Ukraine were when taking on protesters who had already killed and injured police officers.
Ultimately, even when the militants pulled off a coup in Kiev, Yanukovych refused to use his legal option in calling in foreign allies to help preserve civil order. Where Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad called in his allies to help fight terrorism and restore peace, Yanukovych literally ran away in the middle of the night. Some call Yanukovych’s flight an act of cowardice and betrayal, others say that it was an act of preserving the life of his family.
The story today in Catalonia could not be more different. Whereas in Ukraine, latent fascist elements worked to overthrow a moderate government, in Spain peaceful voters have been brutalised by Spanish police in the heart of the European Union, a place which was supposed to have mechanisms in place to avoid such a disaster. These mechanisms have clearly failed.
Catalonia has voted and it is almost certain that a majority of Catalans have voted to separate from Spain. What’s more is that today’s police brutality against voters and the Spanish regime’s attitude has been one of arrogance, violence, defiance and anti-democratic posturing against people who by Madrid’s own narrative are fellow countrymen. If there is one way not to get people on your side, it is by treating them like dirt, but this is exactly what Madrid’s forces have done.
I have previously made the case that the referendum in Catalonia, cannot be judged through the prism of previous secession movements. All secession movements, like all countries and all cultures are unique. Furthermore, each place and time is also unique. Thus, while Donbass voted for survival, Yugoslavia was broken apart by terrorists, and Iraq, Syria, Iran and Turkey are all under threat from an Israeli backed Kurdish movement which seeks to disenfranchise traditional indigenous non-Kurdish local populations, Catalonia is different.
While emotions were bound to run high, unlike Donbass where separation was a matter of life or death or Yugoslavia where preserving the state was a matter of life and death–sovereignty versus terrorism and imperialism, Catalonia was not this at all.
Catalonia was fundamentally about two things. First of all, it was about Catalan pride in resisting a Madrid regime that had become increasingly neo-Francoist in attitude, something appalling to the traditionally anti-fascist patriots of Catalonia. Catalonia was indeed given autonomy by a punitively left-leaning government in 2006. However, Spain’s High Court which was packed with neo-Francoist judges stripped Catalonia of its hard won autonomy shortly thereafter. The Court’s decision set the pace for a showdown wherein an increasingly disrespectful Madrid ignored, debased and disengaged from Catalonia’s interests.
Secondly, the vote was a matter of economics and governance. Catalonia is the most wealthy part of what is presently Spain and matters of wealth distribution between regions of a country were very much a part of the matter being voted on.
Unlike Spain which disregarded Catalan grievances, in 1974, Josip Broz Tito authored a new Yugoslav constitution which accounted for the autonomous privileges of ethnic minority dominated regions of Serbia (Kosovo and Vojvodina). However, in 1986, Serbs authored the SANU Memorandum, in which Serbian students complained about the lack of Serbian representation in majority Serb areas of Bosnia and Croatia as well as increased Albanian terrorism in what was then the Socialist Autonomous Province of Kosovo. This ultimately led to the Anti-Bureaucratic Revolution of 1989, a political re-organisation effort that was ultimately crushed by an illegal NATO war on Yugoslavia ten years later.
The Yugoslav leadership did everything it could to make all groups feel included in the organs of state and in civil society. This was crushed by western backed terrorists, ultra-nationalists, fascist groups and ultimately by NATO itself.
Spain by contrast has not tried to listen to the grievances of Catalans. Madrid has treated Catalans as though they are terrorists when they are not. This de-facto means that Madrid is terrorising innocent people who still hold Spanish citizenship. They are treating their own people as though they are an enemy, when Catalonia’s democratic process has never once been violent or threatening to Madrid.
Because of this, Madrid had the luxury of engaging with Catalonia and making a positive case for national unity. Geo-political expert Andrew Korbyko has made such a rational case for Spanish unity, in a piece just published in The Duran.
While I personally disagree with Mr. Korybko’s penultimate conclusion, this is because I view the conflict through the prism of neo-Francoism versus Catalan, anti-fascist patriotism. Were I inclined to view the conflict in purely economic and geo-civilisation terms, I would probably be inclined to reach similar conclusions to Mr. Korbyko.
But the pleasant discussions I have had about this subject are now consigned merely to the realm of theory. In refusing to engage with the people of Catalonia in such a manner, Spanish leader Mariano Rajoy has turned what could have been a peaceful dialogue between Barcelona and Madrid into a kind of early stage civil conflict.
After sending police to beat civilians and fire plastic bullets at unarmed voters, Rajoy now says, “No referendum has been held in Catalonia today”. Such an arrogant statement at a time when reconciliation is required, irrespective of the future of Spain’s borders, means that many Catalans who were previously ambivalent or pro-Madrid will have joined the independence camp.
Unlike the legendary footballers of Barcelona, Rajoy has scored an own goal. He has turned a matter that could have been handled calmly and respectfully, into a matter of conflict and all out confrontation.
Many countries facing similar secession movements do not have the luxury of time and calm that Spain had. In throwing this opportunity away and in plunging his country and the entire EU into crisis as a result, Mariano Rajoy has behaved in a manner that is both cruel and self-defeating.
Unless someone feels like a slave, they will generally not wax lyrical about the need to be free. Today, Mariano Rajoy made the Catalans into slaves, this is why soon they will make themselves free.