Back in Barcelona after almost three years, and an obvious novelty is that there are fewer Estelada flags fluttering from the city’s balconies and windows. Some are still out there, tired and pale, but Catalonia’s separatists seem to have run out of steam. Spain has weathered the storm of 2017-18, and it’s all for the best.
It is an almost instinctive reaction for a conservative to support the right of small nations to secede from larger ones and establish sovereign statehood. In Catalonia’s case the urge should be resisted. The separatist movement has never been supported by a majority of the province’s eight million people. Worse still, far from seeking to reaffirm Catalonia’s traditional identity and culture, the movement uses artificial provincialism to mask its cosmopolitan essence. Its ideological foundation is a mix of cultural-Marxist platitudes, pro-EU federalism and human-rightism. It rejects not only the political framework of the Kingdom of Spain but also its cultural heritage—exactly because it is real and rich—in favor of an imagined, postmodern one.
To put it bluntly, the Catalan independence movement seeks to undermine Spain’s sovereign statehood in the name of a “civil” identity which is antagonistic to any form of national coherence based on common ancestry or culture. Catalan separatists thus present themselves as truly, genuinely “European”—and want to subjugate their putative state to the rule from Brussels—exactly because they abhor all traditional forms of patriotism, and especially if it entails some degree of loyalty to the Spanish state. True to the spirit of postmodern absurdity, supporters of Catalan independence define themselves as “an inclusive movement” based on “European values,” in which “neither the national origin nor the language are important.” Furthermore, independence supporters claim—with reason—that most “far-right” and “xenophobic” groups and individuals in Catalonia support Spanish nationalism. In other words, truly patriotic Catalans are well aware that only by remaining in Spain they can hope to preserve their ethnic and cultural identity, and stop their province’s slide into Barcelona’s multicultural mayhem.
The crisis started in the fall of 2012 when Catalan president Artur Mas called a snap general election. For the first time it produced a pro-independence majority in the regional assembly. It passed the Catalan Sovereignty Declaration in early 2013, followed by a referendum on independence in November 2014. When the Spanish Constitutional Court ruled it illegal, the Government of Catalonia decided to turn the referendum into a non-binding “consultation.” The result was an 81% “yes” vote with a turnout of 42%—which meant that barely one-third of eligible voters supported independence.
Another provincial election was held in September 2015, in which pro-independence parties won the majority of seats with 47% of the vote. A year later, new president Carles Puigdemont announced a binding referendum on independence. It was held on 1 October 2017, under chaotic conditions and in violation of the Spanish law and constitution. It produced a 90% vote in favor of independence, with a turnout of 43%. With this dubious mandate, on 27 October 2017 the Parliament of Catalonia approved a resolution creating an independent Republic unilaterally, thus violating the decisions of the Constitutional Court of Spain. As a result, article 155 of the Spanish constitution was triggered, the Catalan government was dismissed, and direct rule was imposed from the central government in Madrid.
The separatists have succeeded in conjuring an image abroad of popular will in favor of independence, but it is misleading. First of all, there was no real “referendum” two years ago. In going ahead with it, the regional government violated Spain’s 1978 constitution which was approved by over 90 percent of Catalan voters. It provided extensive autonomy to Catalonia, the country’s richest region, but it also affirmed Spain’s “indissoluble unity.” That unity has long roots in history: Catalonia has been an integral part of Spain for half a millennium, and a province of the Kingdom of Aragón before that. The fact that it still retains its distinct language and culture is a testimony to Spain’s deeply rooted respect for regional diversity.
Today the issue seems passe, with support for independence trending steadily downwards. Puigdemont remains on the run from Spanish justice in a Brussels suburb. The trial of twelve other leaders of the independence movement ended in June, including Catalonia’s former vice-president Oriol Junqueras. The judges’ decision will be announced in the next two weeks, and a potential guilty verdict will be used by pro-independence parties and activists to reignite the issue with demonstrations.
A new campaign was launched on September 2 to promote a “disobedient and non-violent” response to the verdict. Also on Monday Barcelona mayor Ada Colau suggested seeking a pardon from central government in the event of a guilty verdict. This option the jailed leaders reject, however, because accepting pardon would imply their acceptance of guilt.
It is unlikely that the verdict will infuse the separatist movement with fresh energy, especially if the sentences prove to be light. Most Catalans do not sense any contradiction between their national identity and their Spanish citizenship. Spain is an eminently civilized country in which the rule of law still trumps the demagoguery of a zealous minority. That minority has ignored the rule of law in pursuit of an objective which would have violated the real bonds of history, faith and culture. Its artificial provincialism, which but conceals its leaders’ leftist cosmopolitanism, is devoid of any merit.
The Spanish state, by contrast, symbolizes and embodies Europe’s lasting values. To that end it needs to remain united, great and free. ¡Una, Grande y Libre!
Dr. Srdja Trifkovic, foreign affairs editor of Chronicles, is the author of The Sword of the Prophet and Defeating Jihad.