The Self Declared Republic of Catalonia
Today as many of you have probably read, Catalonia declared independence from Spain. Obviously the how's and whys have been better reported by professionals so I won't waste time in repeating the story, it's been told already.
I've been living in Spain and Catalonia specifically for the last 3 and half years and I've had a good chance to familiarise myself with many of the arguments, opinions and actions of both parties. Unfortunately, this doesn't leave me with a lot of confidence in a sensible outcome.
Madrid has proven itself time and time again to be utterly tone deaf without a hint of diplomacy. I wonder if this has something to do with the brash fairly outspoken nature of Spanish culture, which even in it's linguistic choices favours a relatively blunt unconsidered way of approaching an issue. However, I've been surprised by the fact a leader of a G20 country such as Rajoy, could not see that while remaining firm it is possible to use softer language and maintain an air of respectability and statesmanship when stewarding your people. There's something of the right wing in Spain especially (although I'd hesitate from calling them fascist. There's luckily a way to go before we get to that.) which seems to think a strong armed response can quickly resolve an issue by beating it into submission. However, most right wing leaders in Europe lack the charisma to really pull off something like that and making it stick with most of the population. And for the better.
Then again Rajoy is very much a person who's in the wrong leader at the wrong time. He's too partisan and like a lot of politicians of today is not worried about the populace at large but is more concerned with pulling powerful, influential, and ultimately loud, tribes into his sphere of influence. I guess that's politics for you. The problem with Rajoy is his style of communication is too aloof. He doesn't ever seem to address the people as equals or appeal to them directly. Instead he acts the king using lofty rather blunt (and repetitive) expressions about law and order and seems utterly limited to explain his choice of action beyond it being "within the law". He isn't completely wrong to do this but a more charismatic politician could express this sentiment in a way that isn't so hard headed and properly allows a hint of empathy, especially with the under represented (at least in terms of discourse) majority of people who don't dream of an independent Catalonia.
Then there's the other extreme. Puigdemont, who seems to think that he's some kind of Iberian Nelson Mandela, whilst riding roughshod over most of his population's wishes to achieve his own personal aggrandisation. Puigdemont as a former journalist definitely shows a greater ability to manage communication but at the same time he does so in a way that is heavy handed in it's emotiveness, dare I say to the point of Propaganda. The messaging coming from the Catalan Parliament is equally as heavy handed but uses way more of the tools of the psudo-oppressed (thankfully that's not the case here and I find it distasteful that this way of communicating is being used as it unfairly takes away legitimacy and attention from the actually oppressed), which generally has worked better. Let us not forget that despite the constant repetition of terms like democracy and self determination, what Puigdemont and his coalition have done is utterly undemocratic and rightfully not considered right or normal under the laws of most parliamentary democracies in the West.
Worse still, the more you see the message repeated you see more people with a similar mindset repeating the same keywords to justify themselves. It also highlights a large wave and feeling of separatism in the digital sphere across all nationalities. There's something very interesting and also quite worrying about how a simple but easily repeatable idea or keyword or lie spreads quickly and without question. Madrid has been little better in this matter repeating ad nauseum a seemingly closed minded repetition of it's dull unfeeling law and order discourse.
Puigdemont may act the martyr but he's seemingly trying to do it on purpose. He's talked on multiple occasions about being willing to go to prison, as if taunting Madrid to do it. It will make a great chapter in his memoirs about his struggle I'm sure, although it seems unfair that he does this at the expense of the Catalan people as a whole. At the same time Rajoy is guilty of also being irresponsibly careless with his treatment of the matter. However, the parliament of Catalonia is not behaving responsibly either with its idea that a few are motivated enough to become martyrs in the name of a large group who do not wish for this outcome or what they, the independentists, are asking for. I'm also highly suspicious of martyrs in general. I don't think they always make the best teachers.
Say what you want about people like Nelson Mandela, he was fighting against Apartheid. Whereas Catalonia despite undergoing severe cultural repression in the Franco years, today cannot be compared with something as brutal and discriminatory as that despite how hard it tries to wish itself into such a position to cynically justify it's position. The region rightfully enjoys a lot of privileges such as the common everyday usage of the Catalan language in all its institutions and daily life. It is also seen as being one of the best educated and most industrious regions of the land. Being Catalan is no disadvantage to any position in this region or the rest of Spain. And all Catalans are taught Spanish bilingually so there's never a problem communicating with the rest of the country or the real risk of isolation from outside culture. The declaration of independence is based on a parliamentary coup really, despite how much it tries to dress itself up with dialogue from Les Misérables.
The sad thing in this whole situation is that all Catalans will suffer for the aspirations of a few particularly rash and purist Catalans and an utterly aloof group of politicians in Madrid. This upsets me because many of my friends find themselves with family rifts and unsure of where this leaves them and their home. They like nearly half the country have tried to stay out of this and remain quiet for fear of upsetting a very passionate dedicated group. All for very little clear reward. They're also bewildered as to how Madrid could mess up the situation this badly.
Nationalism is an insular, limited way of trying to solve a problem at a time when the world should be coming together and trying to understand each other, despite how difficult it can be. Countries like Spain and England still may be trying to overcome the trauma of losing control of large Empires whilst reconciling this in a world where they maintain a large level of cultural hegemony (especially in terms of language). These are also countries that have not had the chance to reflect on their own national confusion as to what they are. This is manifested in nationalism and complete apathy. Sadly the nationalism tends to make more noise and therefore gains more attention. Perhaps it's time to move past nationalism as a way of organising ourselves. It's a pretty 19th Century fad anyway and doesn't feel congruent in the 21st Century.