How many of you have heard of the People’s Party in Spain? How many of you have even a rudimentary understanding of Spanish politics? No-one? That’s OK, I’ll give you a primer: Spain is going fascist.
You think I’m exaggerating? Well, keep reading and if you still disagree after you’ve finished, leave a comment.
Let’s start with the basics: The People’s Party is the ruling party in Spain, elected in 2011. They won a majority of the seats in the Spanish parliament, and so they don’t need any coalition partners – in other words, they do as they please. Outside of Spain, the PP is often referred to as a christian, conservative party. As nice as that would be (christian conservatives rarely get to govern in Europe), it’s very far from the truth: The People’s Party was founded by former members of the Franco government – the totalitarian fascist government which ruled Spain with an iron fist for 30 years. Of course, a party shouldn’t be judged solely by its origin – however, in the case of the People’s Party, it’s clear that the leopard hasn’t changed its spots.
A very recent example of this is the Citizen’s Security Act, passed by the Spanish parliament right before christmas. Here are a few things that will be illegal under the CSA:
– Desecrating or burning the Spanish flag will now get you a 600 000 euro (about $850,ooo) fine. Don’t get me wrong, I’m against flag-burning, but 600,000 euro is just ridiculous.
– Videotaping or taking photographs of on-duty policemen is now also illegal – 30,000 euro ($40,000) fine. This is clearly meant to make it virtually impossible for demonstrating protesters to prove that the police has used unjustifiable violence (something that’s not entirely uncommon in Spain, despite the fact that demonstrations turning into riots is an extremely rare occasion). Speaking of demonstrations…
– Arranging a demonstration without permission – 30,000 euro. There has been 6000 demonstrations in Spain in the past year. How many demonstrations do you think the government will permit next year? What’s more absurd is, a “demonstration” is defined rather broadly, which means…
– If you want to start a facebook group protesting the government, be prepared to pay up 30k. Yes, that’s right – a social media gathering (like the one in a facebook group) counts as a demonstration and is illegal. Sure, facebook groups may be among the lamest ways of making your voice heard, but that doesn’t justify this policy.
– Speaking of social media, if you create a group that gathers around a symbol or a flag (say you create a facebook group called “If you like the Catalonian flag, join this group”), then you’ll be subject to a 30k fine.
– Preventing a policeman from doing his job – ie. by participating in a sit-in protest and refusing to move will cost you 30,000 euro.
– Being partly or fully masked during a demonstration – 30,000 euro. Again, please don’t get me wrong – I don’t like the idea of masked demonstrators and I wouldn’t want to participate in one (as I feel there’s too high a risk that the demonstration will turn into a riot).
– Carrying a sign during a demonstration with a message that is critical of Spain. Basically, if you have a sign that says “Spain sucks”, then you’ll soon find yourself 30 000 poorer.
– Drawing a satirical cartoon, portraying for example a politician, will also cost you 30 000 euro.
All of these fines will be handed out without any involvement from any court – a cop will be able give a demonstrator a 30k fine just as easily as he’d been able to give someone a speeding ticket.
You may wonder how this party ever got elected. While I’m not by any means an expert on Spanish politics, my understanding is that Spain, like the US, suffers from a severe shortage of decent politicians. This means that in every election, voters are asked to choose the lesser of two evils, to an even greater extent I think than in the US. The Socialist party which ruled Spain before PP refused to rein in the housing bubble, which caused an economic crisis – unemployment in Spain is an astonishing 26 %! And as we all know, in times of unemployment, voters turn to totalitarian politicians who seemingly offers safety and stability. Now as you’ve probably guessed, this stability hasn’t really materialized – austerity measures have continued, with savaging cuts in particular in health care. While there is absolutely an economic case to be made for austerity, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that such measures will generate protests.
But in order to fully understand these regulations, there is another thing you need to know: Within Spain there is a region known as Catalonia. Catalonia was once an independent state, but long story short it was conquered and together with the conquerors it formed the nation today known as Spain. Catalonia has its own culture and language (Catalan) – the most famous city in the region is probably Barcelona. I don’t know if you’ve figured this out already from my description, but the “problem” from Spain’s point of view is that Catalonia has an ever-growing independence movement.
Not only do they have an independence movement, but this movement is so strong that it has gained a majority in Catalonia’s regional parliament. The call for independence has become stronger as the economic crisis has worsened; Catalonia is one of Spain’s richest regions and doesn’t want to be dragged down by the rest of the country – fully understandable in my opinion.
The latest political crisis was caused by the regional government in Catalonia announcing that they will hold a referendum on Catalonian independence on the 9th of November this year. The Spanish government, of course, responded by reaching out to the Catalonians and offering to discuss alternative, mutually beneficial solutions… actually, no, that would have been the sensible thing to do, but being Fascist, the People’s Party of course responded the way you might have imagined Hitler would have responded to a referendum on Polish independence. They immediately declared that such a referendum would not take place – and added that they were not willing to discuss the issue or compromise with the Catalonian nationalists.
However, it is very likely that the referendum will take place – and if they cannot arrange a referendum, the Catalonian government will probably simply hold a vote within the parliament on independence (or hold a new, regional election in which independence would be the central issue), and then declare independence. What could Spain do? Catalonia already got pretty much all the institutions necessary to function as an independent state, and they are supported by the UN. Several European nations have expressed their support for Catalonia’s right to self-determination – including big countries like the UK.
The only thing Spain can reasonably do is to use military force to crush the nationalists. Will they dare to do it? I honestly don’t think so – putting tanks on the streets of Barcelona just seems like the kind of thing that could tarnish Spain’s image internationally for decades. If a referendum does take place, it is common knowledge that voters will approve of independence and it won’t even be close (polls show the nationalists hold a 20-30 point lead).
But Spain believes the best way to handle this situation is to scare the nationalists into silence by threatening them with huge fines – most of the Citizen’s Security Act is directed towards Catalonian nationalists – remember, you can’t hold demonstrations critical of spain, you can’t desecrete the Spanish flag, you can’t gather around a symbol or a flag etc. Just by briefly studying history, we learn that this approach never works. Instead, if a part of your country wants to become independent, the best way to convince them otherwise is to approach them peacefully, talk to them and be ready to compromise – basically, show them that you (the federal government) are not their enemy. This is what the United Kingdom has done with regards to Scotland – there will be a referendum on Scottish independence next year as well, but the nationalists in Scotland are set to lose by a wide margin. Why? Because it’s really hard to portray David Cameron (Prime Minister of the UK) as some sort of Longshank-style tyrant, and since the UK government has promised to respect the results of the referendum, it is also hard to portray them as coldhearted oppressors.
Moving on, there is another big story that we must not forget about in the middle of this: The European Union has screwed up again.
Spain, for the past couple of years, have been dependent on the EU for financial aid. They only recently exited their bailout program, but their economy is so frail that it is a very real possibility that they could need financial aid at some point not too far away into the future. And, given how much power Spain and all the other Eurozone countries have had to give up in order to get financial aid in the first place, the EU has had every opportunity to pressure Spain not to introduce the totalitarian Citizen’s Security Act, and to allow the people of Catalonia a chance to vote on the future of their region.
Basically, what this debacle shows is that the EU is not a reliable safeguard of democracy and human rights. If they can’t even get poor, Europe-dependent Spain to respect human rights, then which country can they possibly influence? What happens if an economically healthier country like France were to introduce such measures, would the EU be able to do anything except stand by like the League of Nations did before World War II?
The situation with Catalonia is even more ridiculous – it really shouldn’t be very hard to negotiate peace between Spain and Catalonia; after all, the Catalonians (most of them) do not seek independence because they hate Spain, but because they are tired of being marginalised and of paying much more taxes than they will ever get in return. Not exactly unsolveable issues, but then, the EU actually isn’t very good at peace-keeping – the credit for the long peace in Europe should really be awarded to the United States. In fact, I doubt the EU could negotiate a peace between two coconuts.
One final observation: This law also indicates that the Spanish government knows that the economic crisis isn’t really over. If they expected it to be over soon, there would be no need for this law as nearly all the demonstrations will cease as soon as economic conditions improve. Basically, don’t believe the hype: The eurozone is and will always be unfixable, unworkable, and unsustainable.
Thank you for reading.