Seeing how successful my first post on this topic was, I’m unable to resist the temptation to write a follow-up – so here we go.

For those of you too lazy to read my first post, here’s a recap: Spain is introducing fascist laws to strike down against a region known as Catalonia (mostly known for its capitol, Barcelona) which seeks independence from the rest of Spain. Catalonia is an economically strong (relative to the rest of Spain) region and the Catalans are tired of subsidizing the rest of the country while their culture is being oppressed. Spain has reponded the only way fascists know how to respond: By essentially outlawing demonstrations. Of course, trying to stop people from wanting to secede by banning them from expressing their desire to do so is about as intelligent as trying to stop a flood by legislating against rain. Alas, this is what you would expect from a government that consists of a party with fascist DNA (it was founded by Franco loyalists).

Today, I would like to deal with one of the most popular arguments against Catalonian independence: That it will set a bad precedent. This argument showed up in the comment section after my last post – it goes something like this: If Catalonia can become independent, then what is there to stop Flanders, Scotland, the Basque country, Cornwall and Bavaria from breaking away – just to mention a few of the regions in Europe where separatism exists? What is there to stop Europe from breaking up into thousands of small pieces?

There are several things that can be said in response to this argument. Below, I am going to outline both why the argument is unreasonable on its own, and also why Catalonia really is a special case.

First of all, it needs to be said that there are few separatist movements in Europe which are supported by a majority. While they exist in a lot of places, substantial levels of popular support for independence is rare. The reason is quite simple: Usually, separatism is not the best course of action. Hence, the idea that Europe would break up into hundreds of tiny states if Catalonia were to achieve independence is absurd – even if we allowed every region in Europe in which separatists have majority support to become independent, the number of new states would almost certainly be less than 10 (and very likely less than 5).

Secondly, Catalonia has desired independence for a long time. In the United States, you will occasionally hear people speak of secession when they are really angry with something the federal goverment has done. Texas Governor Rick Perry made some badly-concealed threats of secession back in 2009 – reminding everyone that Texas has a right to secede if it so wishes (most scholars on the subject disagree, but that’s a separate issue). The underlying reason why he threatened secession was Obamacare. I would argue that if Texas had declared independence in 2009, that would have been unjustified – there is no deep cultural divide between Texas and the rest of the country, Texan culture is not oppressed in any way, and Texans have not desired independence for very long – there was a sudden temporary uptick in support for secession when Obama proposed his health care reform, but otherwise Texans (like all other Americans) have been quite happy being in a union with the other 49 states. In Catalonia, independence has been desired for a long time – yes, support has hardened in recent years with the disastrous economic policies of Madrid and the ever-increasing oppression of Catalan culture (I’ll get to that in a minute), but it’s not exactly a new phenomenon; Catalan separatism goes back to the 19th century and became really popular under Franco – no part of Spain suffered as much as Catalonia under Franco, who did everything he could to kill the Catalan culture (fascism emphasizes conformity as we all know, so catalan culture – which stood out considerably from the rest of Spain – had to be destroyed).

This is one requirement that I would have personally in order to support an independence movement: That separatism isn’t merely a political fad, something that is trendy now but will soon be forgotten. Catalan separatism is certainly here to stay, no-one can reasonably argue otherwise. That’s the reason Spain is implementing the measures that I described in the previous post; they know that they can’t just wait for the separatist movement to falter and die on its own – that’s just not going to happen.

Another thing that is important to understand is that Catalonia really does face cultural oppression. The Spanish minister of education has made it his official policy to “hispanicize” Catalonia and forbid Catalan children from learning the Catalan lanugage as well as the region’s history. While there are severe penalties for anyone who dares to burn a Spanish flag, the Catalan flag has been burned live on Spanish TV.

Worse, Catalonia has suffered economically from a boycott, from no other than Spain: That’s right – the Spanish are boycotting one of their own regions. As if overtaxing them wasn’t enough, and by that I mean taking 9 bn euro more in taxes from Catalonia than Catalonia gets back (this kind of unfair regional distribution of taxes is unseen; Catalonia is literally the most overtaxed region in the entire world). Note: This represents about 9 % of Catalonia’s GDP.

And then, in the midst of oppressing their culture, stealing their hard-earned money and boycotting their products, the Spanish are surprised when the Catalans decide they’ve had enough and demand independence. And then, they argue that this would establish a “bad precedent”.

Let me offer the following counterpoint: Yes, separatism may establish a bad precedent. However, here is what needs to be considered: A precedent will be set either way. There is no neutrality in this issue; either you are with the free people of Catalonia, or you are with the fascists in Spain.

If Catalonia were to fail to gain independence, what precedent would that set? It would set a precedent stating that a country can treat a subset of its people as if they are second class citizens, and get away with it. It would be a victory for fascism, racism and totalitarianism. Is that really preferable?

Also tragically, it would establish a precedent that peaceful means are useless if you want independence. Catalan separatists have never resorted to terrorism (and according to the people I know within the movement, they never will). They are not like the certain (not all of them of course) separatists i Chechnya or the Basque country – they’ve always played it fair. While other separatists fight with bombs, the Catalan separatists form a human chain consisting of 1.6 million people (pretty impressive considering Catalonia’s population is only 7.5 million).

The Spanish authorities on the other hand are not so peaceful; they have regularly threatened to use their military might to crush any attempt from Catalonia to secede.

When you ask yourself whom you support in this conflict, what you really should ask yourself is this: Who are the bad guys? Are the bad guys the ones who are overtaxing, boycotting and cultually oppressing, or are the bad guys the ones who are victims to all these acts? Are the bad guys the ones who are threatening military force, or are the bad guys the ones who have never used it and never will?

I think we all know the answer to that question. And that is why I am siding with the Catalans and their right to choose their own destiny. I hope you will join me.

Please visit http://www.helpcatalonia.cat for more information and news on the Catalan struggle for independence.

Thank you for reading.

6 comments
  1. This is an interesting piece, although i’d like to hear more of what the anti-secession side has to say.

    However, the ‘creating a precedent’ anti-secession argument makes no sense to me.

    What on earth would be the downside of a zillion little independent countries, all over Spain, all over Europe, and all over the planet?

    The truly great crimes of the West (such as the genocide of the natives of the Americas) were possible precisely because of the unified nature of the colonial powers. Far, far better, in terms of millions of lives saved, had the Spanish never united in the first place and no Spanish empire ever existed. (And it would have probably been better on the home front as well, for both Catalonia as well as the Castellanos, Basques, and others.)

  2. Not the Catalan flag was burned, but the separatist one. A partisan symbol, not a national one.

    I suggest to learn about basics before going into analysis.

    “Either you are with the free people of Catalonia, or you are with the fascists in Spain” is so over the top that it is as hilarious as “Catalan separatists have never resorted to terrorism” is wrong.

    Would you please speak about this universe, not a parallel one?

  3. “The Spanish minister of education has made it his official policy to “hispanicize” Catalonia and forbid Catalan children from learning the Catalan lanugage[sic] as well as the region’s history. ”

    [citation needed]

    The linked article in fact says:

    “One provision would allow families that are disgruntled with Spanish-language instruction in public schools in regions that have their own official language to send their children to private institutions and claim a stipend to pay for that from the regional government.”

    Currently, children in public schools in Catalunya are taught in Catalan. Please show me where Wert suggests that Catalan children should be forbidden from learning Catalan, or from learning about Catalan history.

  4. It sums up the Catalan point of view pretty well, you have quite a good insight on the topic. I’m pretty sure the nationalist Spaniards will make their voice heard on the comments as well, they always do.

    I’m a 38 year old Catalan and even though I’m pro-independence and I appreciate you siding us, I believe there are a couple of things you didn’t get quite right.

    To be fair to the truth, there once was a violent group in Catalonia. It was called Terra Lliure (Free Earth/Soil) and when I was a kid I remember one day waking up and seeing the monument to Franco in my hometown gone (they bombed it over night). As far as I know they didn’t use to kill anyone (can’t be certain about that) but they did bomb some monuments and buildings around Catalonia. They disappeared long time ago and nobody has ever heard of them again for more than over 30 years.

    Another thing which is not exactly correct is about Wert forbidding students to learn in Catalan. This topic is a bit more complicated than just that.

    In Catalonia, instead of having two kind of schools (Spanish and Catalan) and splitting the society in two our government thought it was better to teach everyone the same. Both Catalan and Spanish are taught, but Catalan has a stronger presence in the non-language courses because it is considered to have the lower hand in the media, administration and your daily life interactions.

    What Wert law tries to do in terms of language is to force the Catalan Government make sure that anyone who wishes can learn in a mixture of Spanish and Catalan. Even if it is only one student in a room of 20 everyone has to do half in each language. They don’t admit Catalan as having the lower hand but instead they want to give both of them the same weight in school.

    If you think about it you may think it is not so bad, in the end Catalan is not forbidden at schools, but it’s just considered as not necessary to protect it. This came because about 3 families (out of 45.000 in Catalonia) asked for their “right” to learn in Spanish. Both the Popular Party and the Constitutional Court are determined to make sure these 3 families get what they want, while the Spanish Socialists whistle.

    Meanwhile in Valencia (they also speak a Catalan dialect) there are about ten thousand families who asked their Government to let their students learn in their mother tongue. They are still waiting while being taught in Spanish because the ruling party in Valencia is the Popular Party as well.
    Over the last six months about 10 media channels were closed in Valencia (all of them in Catalan, none in Spanish). In some cases they argued we are in crisis and they can’t afford their own regional TV. In other cases they just forbid the Catalan media (TV3, Esport3, 33, Catalunya Ràdio, …) to be broadcasted in Valencia, unless they wanted to be fined heavily.

    In Baleares, also speaking a dialect of Catalan, the ruling PP issued a law forcing schools there to teach equally in Catalan, Spanish and English. The trick in general is the same as in Catalonia, but here is even worse because a clause of this law states that when there is nobody capable of teaching in English they should do it in Spanish. So effectively you get by law almost all of the schools in Baleares teach 66% in Spanish and 33% in Catalan (unless they just ignore the law, which some did).

    I could go on but this post is long enough already. Thanks for being so enthusiastic and clear about this topic.

  5. All is about democracy. All countries that were part of Spain in the past had to fight for its independence. Catalans prefere to vote their independende. Actually this is a universal right for any nation.

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