The Bells of Barcelona Toll for Europe
President Trump got bad advice about the secession crisis in Catalonia. When Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy visited the White House last week, he said that Spain's northeastern region would be "foolish to secede." On the contrary, the gutsy Catalans are the world's poster-boy for populism. Their independence movement is a real revolution. America shouldn't meddle in Spain's internal affairs, to be sure, but we ought to recognize a kindred political movement when we see it. Ultimately, the Catalan independence movement is a response to Europe's demographic cataclysm.
Here's what I wrote in Asia Times today:
Political analysts are blinking in disbelief at yesterday’s events in Catalonia, trying to recognize the political phenomenon that took the world by surprise over the weekend. For the first time since the end of the Second World War, a revolutionary movement has asserted its power over an important European region. The conduct of the Catalan independence referendum was a thoroughly organized insurgency involving the whole of civil society, from the region’s Catholic Church to the organs of public safety. Unlike the failed independence movements of Quebec or Scotland, it was not a top-down affair promoted by a small political elite with the sentimental support of a popular minority. Unlike Italy’s Lega Lombarda, it was not a regional lobby fighting for more control of tax revenues. Catalan’s independence movement is the genuine article.
Never in postwar European history have tens of thousands of citizens collaborated in a campaign of civil disobedience so well planned that it successfully countered the mass deployment of national police and the paramilitary Civil Guard, and with sufficient grit to take nearly 1,000 injuries requiring medical treatment. The Catalans kept more than 2,000 voting stations open and saved their ballots from seizure, allowing more than 2.4 million of the region’s 7 million residents to vote. Ninety percent of them supported the establishment of an independent Catalan republic.
To frustrate the Madrid government’s attempt to suppress the referendum, the independence movement coordinated the occupation of hundreds of polling stations by ordinary citizens, including families with children. It persuaded the regional police, the Mossos d’Esquadra, to stand off the Civil Guard and National Police, as in this video published by the Catholic-Monarchist newspaper ABC:
It organized the fire brigades of Catalan towns to form human shields between the polling stations and the Civil Guard. It established mechanisms to hide the ballot-boxes from the national police and transport them to a secret site for counting. Where the national police forces broke through, ordinary citizens defended the vote with their bodies, resulting in nearly 1,000 injuries, against roughly a dozen injuries for police, in a display of determined but non-violent resistance.
The Catalans did so with the explicit support of their Church, 400 of whose clerics signed an independence manifesto last week, including some bishops. Unlike the anti-clerical left-wing movements of the past, the Catalan revolutionaries evinced thoroughly bourgeois goals. As a revolutionary movement, the Catalans better resemble the Americans of 1776 than the French of 1789, the Russians of 1917, or the Catalan revolutionary government of the late 1930s that ultimately was crushed by Francisco Franco. They are tired of subsidizing the backward money-sinks of Spain’s southern provinces; they are hard-working and productive, and want to separate from the economically irreparable parts of Spain.