As if Europe weren’t struggling with enough problems, from
Polling has been inconclusive on how deep the support for secession runs among Catalans. A controversial and illegal plebiscite Oct. 1 drew a turnout of only 43%, but the vote — conducted despite violent and questionable tactics by the federal government to stop it — was overwhelmingly for secession. And now the country's top prosecutor, Atty. Gen. Jose Manuel Maza, is calling for the leaders of the peaceful secession movement to be tried on sedition and other related charges.
This would be a good time for a cooling off period. In the run-up to the referendum, the attorney general threatened to arrest mayors who allowed the balloting to take place in public buildings, as well as people who printed or distributed ballot papers. The government also warned postal workers not to handle referendum-related mailings and threatened to cut off electric power to polling places. Granted, Catalan leaders should have observed a federal court order barring the referendum, but the Franco-style response by the national government made the situation worse.
After Catalan lawmakers declared independence last week (an action that was boycotted by dozens of their colleagues), Spanish Prime Minister
Until that vote, efforts by the national government to criminalize peaceful behavior and imprison those pursuing a nonviolent political dream will exacerbate the crisis at a time when passions and rhetoric need to settle down. If the central government wants Catalans to vote in a new pro-unity slate, it should stop ham-handed attempts at intimidation.
Is there a mediation role for the
Europe has struggled with these issues before, and sometimes disastrously so. Regional independence movements led to the violent collapse of Yugoslavia a quarter century ago amid ethnic cleansing campaigns that had disturbing echoes of the continent's violent 20th century. Scotland, propelled by dissatisfaction with its representation in the British Parliament, held its own referendum three years ago, with voters ultimately deciding to remain within the United Kingdom.
But Catalonia is in a different space from Scotland. Catalans speak their own language and have enjoyed significant autonomy for far longer, beginning before the civil war that brought Franco to power. Whether they win the next step in the political process will be significant, and we won't presume from this distance to tell the Catalans how they should vote. But it is in the interests of greater peace that this confrontation be resolved through negotiation, not force, and that the decisions be based on the realities of modern Spain and Europe, not a romanticized notion of national identity.