Standoff in Catalonia

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I’m posting in the hope that readers in Spain will continue to provide insightful commentary about what comes next after the government in Madrid tried to crush the independence referendum in Catalonia, with only partial success. Even though Catalan officials declared victory and are moving forward with their plans to declare independence soon, the fact is that the central government managed to disrupt the referendum sufficiently so as to raise doubts about the vote. Turnout of ~43% was high in light of shuttering of some voting places, the confiscation of ballots and voting boxes, and the shows of brute force, leading to reports that over 860 were injured. Moreover, despite EU leaders have remained silent, so Catalonia is very much on its own.

The English language reports are transfixed by the violence but also seem uncertain about how to position themselves, no doubt in due in part to taking interest very late in the game. Nevertheless, even with these accounts dutifully stressing that the referendum is illegal, are also painting the picture that the crackdown was excessive. For instance, from Bloomberg:

On Sunday night, Rajoy praised police for their “calmness” in defending the constitutional order after they raided polling stations and seized ballot boxes in their efforts to shut down the vote. As forces deployed, camera phones beamed the confrontations to the world. In one video, broadcast by a local newspaper, a woman is seen being thrown down a flight of stairs. In another, police rip ballot boxes from the hands of would-be electoral officials…

As polling stations prepared to open at 9 a.m., officers in riot gear smashed in the doors and dragged protesters away by the hair, beating some with batons and firing rubber bullets at others. The Catalan government said 73 percent of polling stations had opened.

Of course, it may be that Twitter images like this are driving the reporting:

And this:

Even the reliably neoliberal New York Times described the stalemate in stark terms:

Catalonia’s defiant attempt to stage an independence referendum descended into chaos on Sunday, with hundreds injured in clashes with police in one of the gravest tests of Spain’s democracy since the end of the Franco dictatorship in the 1970s.

National police officers in riot gear, sent by the central government in Madrid from other parts of Spain, used rubber bullets and truncheons in some places as they fanned out across Catalonia, the restive northeastern region, to shut down polling stations and seize ballot boxes….

The day’s events left nothing clear except that the clashes over the status of the region — Spain’s economic powerhouse, where yearnings for a separate nation have ebbed and flowed for generations — had left supporters on both sides more hardened and polarized than before.

The Madrid government, with the backing of Spanish courts, had declared the referendum unconstitutional and ordered the vote suspended. But that did not stop Catalans from gathering before sunrise on Sunday, massing on rain-slicked streets across the region.

“Spain has shown us today its ugliest and darkest face, that which we really thought had disappeared 40 years ago,” said Mario Pulpillo, 54. “You simply can’t use violence against people who just want to vote.”

Despite the police threat, Mr. Pulpillo, who uses a wheelchair, said he went to vote “to make sure this was our feast of democracy, not our humiliation at the hands of a Spanish state that believes in repression.”

Voters like him made the turnout an extraordinary show of determination in the face of a steady drumbeat of threats from Madrid.

However, even though Catalonia may not have won, Rajoy has clearly lost. His crackdown on Catalonia was a stark reminder that he is a legatee of Franco. The Guardia Civil, which were sent in to bar the election, are a national paramilitary force created by Franco, because the central government could not rely on local police. Indeed, the media reports I saw (I worry about relying on English language sources) said the police in Catalonia for the most part stood aside. So Rajoy’s crackdown is applying pressure on long-standing fault lines.

Had things not gotten to this point, the government in Catalonia might have been satisfied with a “most favored region” deal, since a major beef has been that Catalonia has less autonomy than other regions. But the way so many people to came out to vote in the face of Madrid’s thuggery has stiffened the resolve of the separatists. As a political scientist told me, “Like the Kurds, it’s what they want, even if it’s suicidal.”

By contrast, Rajoy already has a fragile coalition. The Basques have every reason to be alarmed about the rough treatment of Catalonia. If they pull out, they could bring the government down. It’s over my pay grade to game out what might happen next, but Rajoy has clearly overplayed his hand, and he has also not allowed himself a way to retreat gracefully. So the only safe bet is that things will become even more chaotic over the coming few weeks.

Readers Sue and Jesus Martinez provided particularly informative reactions and links yesterday. I’m hoisting bot of Jesus’ for those who may have missed them, and hope they will also spur more commentary from readers in Spain or who have a good reading on the politics.

From Jesus’ first comment:

Regarding the Spanish government’s actions:

1.I think that the hard-liners took over control two weeks ago but they seem to have vanished now. They overdid it, and the civic reaction has set limits to their actions. I may be wrong, but my impression is that it was a big bluff that would only work if people didn’t react and international reactions were late and lame. They are in retreat now. That is my hope at least. I perceived a changed tone (even in the Spanish media) after the UN statement that Sue mentioned in comments first. It seems to have been a watershed that has changed the game (although there is no public acknowledgement of that, of course). It is not only that they have met the limits of what they can do. It is that they have actually overstretched badly: many of the actions of the last ten days are illegal according to the Spanish law, and I think that if the conflict is not resolved quickly at a political level we are going to see appeals at the European Court of Justice that are going to have damning consequences for Spain.

2.Their plans for after the vote: no bloody idea. I think that they just plan to sit and wait until all this goes away. I know it sounds insane, but that is my impression. Their only option was that people would shit their pants and not vote. I think that their tactics may be to be nicer to the Catalan government from now on and to keep on saying no to everything. Honestly, I can’t see a single idea in Moncloa (site of the Spanish government offices) regarding this conflict. And, objectively, all options beyond the status quo are horrible for them.

Catalan side:

1.Even if the referendum is a big victory (we’ll see that in a few hours: there are reports of police trying to stop the vote, but they seem to be limited to a few polling stations, and if so they would be just for the show), the refusal of the Spanish government to anything more than five-o’clock-tea kind of conversations is going to leave our government in a tricky situation. Madrid has control of the tax spigot, and a couple of days ago Puigdemont, the Catalan PM ruled out a unilateral declaration of independence. So it seems that the Catalan government seems open to negotiations, but things being as they are now means that the Spanish government has the upper hand in specific issues, even if we are politically reinforced by today’s vote. And Madrid may accept negotiations about certain things, but independence is NEVER, NEVER, NEVER going to be in any agenda that they accept to discuss.

2.I think that a unilateral declaration of independence is a huge risk that might backfire, and that at the moment we should focus on solidifying the support for independence gained these last two weeks. But then, I read opinions by patronisingly reasonable, law-abiding, never-break-a-thing bastards repeating that such a declaration would be a disaster and I think: that’s probably the thing to do, then.

On a more general note, and out of a certain sense of guilt about my (very long) posts possibly being too parochial for most of you, two reflections on mechanisms of cultural/social/political dominance that have occurred to me these days:

1.In an essay (on education, I think), Bertrand Russell, discussing literacy, made the point that the aim of both the Church and the State was to control the masses; but that the interests of the Church were better served when people were illiterate, whereas the interests of the State are better served when people are literate. These days I have seen (it is definitely a subjective impression) among people who are well-informed, who read the newspaper and who would claim to have an idea of how the world works (what we would call serious people), a distinct bias towards being more scared, doubting themselves more (they were all pro-independence) and being certain that there would be no vote; on the other hand, less-informed people would plainly say that yes, there would be a vote and were showing more indignation than fear. If today there is a big turnout and the vote proceeds normally, Russell’s words would be vindicated big time. And I am afraid that I would have to include myself in the list of informed dupes :-(

2.The second comment is about expert opinion: in this Catalonia-Spain debate the official definition of expertise is: words by someone with the proper academic/intellectual capacities who is against independence. They can be rabidly against, make displays of reasonably-sounding third-way opinions (yes, there is a third-way in this debate and it is as bogus as the Blairite one) , they may consider independence as an exercise of sheer fantasy that inevitably crumbles down in the face of reality, or they may be exquisitely equidistant. But they must never, never, show a solid preference for independence. The moment they do it, they are automatically expelled from the Kingdom of Expertise, and they become partisans. So it can be said without a shade of doubt that no expert supports Catalan independence.

Reader Dan pointed out:

The Catalan independence movement involves people from all sides of the political spectrum. Part of the coalition (for example, what comes from the old CIU) is very right wing, as socially and economically extremist as the PP that governs nationally.

Absolutely what has triggered this is the following – most of Spain is fed up with corrupt, incompetent government subservient to bankers and energy companies that is dedicated to diminishing the welfare of ordinary people – in Catalunya there presents itself the utopian solution of starting all over again – it’s an infantile solution – but it’s appealing to the frustrated and desperate. It’s like voting Brexit, Scottish independence, Trump, Podemos, etc. the source is similar in all cases.

Of course there is more. The linguistic difference is real. There have been independence wanting Catalans for a long time, and there are other, more serious reasons for wanting independence, some of them quite reasonable. In the end the question shouldn’t be whether those reasons are right or wrong, but rather, given that a substantial portion of Catalan society wants independence, how to organize a process that determines whether such independence should occur, and in what terms. A schism of that sort is a like a divorce. It can occur amicably, when both sides behave like adults, or it can degenerate into fighting over money and children. What is happening is the latter. Serious issues, like who pays for the pensions of public employees post independence, have to be discussed, not just blown off. But prior to that, there has to be a constructive effort to channel the desires of the Catalan population to be heard. Maybe such a vote would fail, maybe not (I personally have no problems with Catalan independence as a consequence of a well organized process), but the central government’s refusal to even broach the issue is simply blind stupidity.

Now of course things are worse. The time for reasonableness has passed. There will probably be a unilateral declaration of independence and if there is the central government will declare some sort of martial law and take over. The end game of such developments cannot be good. Who wants them is a fool. But both governments apparently want them.

And from Iganacio:

If you can read spanish I recommend today’s editorial from El Periodico de Catalunya:
Fracaso colectivo (collective failure)

I cannot agree more.

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  1. David May

    I’d just like to point out that the Guardia Civil are a body of the military. That should help clarify the Spanish state’s response.

    1. Terry Flynn

      I find it interesting that the King of Spain is commander in chief of the armed forces (including the Guardia Civil). Now, as the article points out, this is not effectively a “real” power in these “democratic” days but is largely symbolic, but it DID enable his father to stop the attempted military (Guardia Civil instigated) coup in the early 1980s.

      Spaniards here – is there any strong “on the ground” support for the King to exercise certain power he has (but typically doesn’t use) to influence the situation?

        1. Terry Flynn

          Could you say more? I’d be interested – I freely admit I don’t know a lot about the ‘new’ king’s views on his notional powers (though I did read that he DID initiate the last General Election when no electoral block had had a majority – something he has the power to do but which is generally considered a power to be exercised by politicians)

          1. Crul

            I did read that he DID initiate the last General Election when no electoral block had had a majority
            I’m not an expert, but what I know about this technicallity is that the countdown for a new election if there is no president ellected is triggered by a “formal attempt” (debate de investidura) of any canditate to become a president. That formal attempt requires a meeting with the king, who also has meetings with other possible candidates, but he has no power (as far as I know) to do any action which starts that countdown.

            Historically this has been irrelevant because the results were clear enough to get a solid candidate, but the 2015 elections were not. That showed a legal vacuum because the law say nothing about what happen if there is no formal attempt, so in a blocked situation we can stay without goverment with no time limit.

      1. PhilM

        Can you explain further what you meant when you remarked that commanding armed force is not “real” power? Maybe it was sarcasm? I ask myself, if Rajoy did not command the armed forces, and the Catalans did, wouldn’t that decisively change the balance of power in the current contest?

      2. Crul

        is there any strong “on the ground” support for the King to exercise certain power he has (but typically doesn’t use) to influence the situation?
        It’s a tricky question. Part of the pro-king (usually right-wing) stablishment prefer not intevention by the king because the only-a-symbol (AKA no-political-power) argument is a strong one here. That not-intervention stand even include public declarations.

        My perception (from Madrid) is that only a extremist minority would want an intervention from a “over-democracy” figure. Over-democracy because, obviously, the king is not elected; the previous one was sanctioned by the (all-included pack) constitutional referendum (1978) and the succession (2014) was very successful in avoiding a debate about it.

  2. nostromo

    Also “from the field” (Madrid, not Barcelona) :)

    The previous analysis is quite accurate. Just add a couple of things.

    * A fact: the EC has issued a statement
    * In particular the part about violence in politics seems to push Rajoy towards negotiation:
    * The missing piece is the socialist party, PSOE. They have a very ambiguous position, as they want to capitalize on Spanish nationalist votes in some regions of Spain while eroding Rajoy’s position. Possibly the only way to deactivate the process would start by Rajoy calling for elections on his own, which looks impossible, or prompted by PSOE and nationalists supporting a reprobation vote, which is tricky if you want to keep strong between Spanish nationalists and catalan so-called “unionists.”

    My personal view is that even if Rajoy promised big things to the Catalan govern and they were willing to take the money and keep things quiet, the cat is already out of the bag and there is no way to solve things that does not pass through a proper self-determination vote with a proper campaign. Something that requires a constitutional amendment. Such a kind of debate will be really healthy for my loved poor, dirty, wild Fatherland (Paraphrasing a catalan Poet, Salvador Espriu, in his Rehearsal of the Canticle in the Temple/Assaig de càntic en el Temple).


      Just remind that PSOE plus nationalists does not have enough votes to win a reprobation vote, Podemos is needed.

  3. Terry Flynn

    For the record, it was exactly this kind of “regionalism/separatism” encouraged by the Eurozone straitjacket that constituted a lot of the “LEAVE” side of the internal argument I went through when voting in the BREXIT referendum last year.

    Now, don’t get me wrong – Yves admitted to changing her views on something yesterday after learning about a particular economic theory – and I certainly have become a lot more scared of BREXIT, following the multitude of articles on NC that have pointed out the practical difficulties (and plain old daftness) of the type of BREXIT we are heading towards.

    But one view I continue to hold and which has yet to be proven wrong – the “core EU” (broadly, but perhaps not exactly “eurozone”) simply is not viable. They must step back, or move towards full federalism (which I don’t believe the Germans will ever sanction). They’re on the unstable rock when trying to cross a stream – you have to either go back or forward….or fall in.

    And when the times were good all was well. Now they’re not…..hmmm…..suddenly money matters. And let’s not forget it’s not just Catalonia – where EU “structural” funds are concerned the “regions” are not always co-terminus with countries – hence why Galicia in NW Spain is grouped with the top half of Portugal. Galician is really closer to Portuguese than Spanish anyway and when I visited there years ago I learnt a lot from locals about their “regional identity”.

    These things now matter when the EU is pursuing an economic policy that is total madness. Regionalism and nationalism are the result. And who knows where this will all go…..

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Catalonia’s beefs with Spain have existed long before the EU. Yes, the very bad handling of the crisis (27% unemployment at its peak, and the Basque got through it with less damage) is a big contributor to the separatist upsurge. But it has roots going back a very long time. Making this about the EU IMHO is incorrect when this is about Spain.

      1. Terry Flynn

        Sorry I didn’t make my point very well. I’m pretty well up on Catalonia’s beefs with Castille etc – we got an impromptu lecture from a cleaner in Salou (Catalonia) on our first Spanish holiday in 1979ish!

        But I guess what I really wanted to say was that latent problems with “Spain” were largely papered over during the good years when DeutcheBank et al poured money into those dodgy Spanish banks and helped with the “boom”. It’s when the going gets tough that the problems really spill out.

        So I don’t disagree – I just don’t think I made it clear that the problem was there originally, but has now has “fuel added to the fire”.

        1. Darn

          Agree — Catalan nationalism would not cease to exist if Spain left the euro. But the economy can make politics more volatile (can motivate Rajoy’s approach too).

          Similarly the background to Trump is 35 yrs of Reaganomics. The foreground, the proximate cause of Trump’s election, is the maddeningly slow recovery from the Great Recession (fault of 2008’s Dems). (Maybe Trump would have still arrived, on the same date, or a later one. Maybe the result in Catalonia would have been the same.) Likewise in Germany the Treaty of Versailles was important, but fifteen years old, and nationalism and anti-Semitism already existed, but surely what got the Nazis from 4% to 40% of the vote was the austerity during the Depression.

          1. Terry Flynn

            Thank you!
            Yes exactly what I failed to say explicitly/succiently: “the economy can make politics more volatile”

        2. Colonel Smithers

          Thank you, Terry.

          It wasn’t just my employer, but its domestic German clients, too and not just inter-bank loans to Spanish banks, but non-financial firm lending to Spanish firms, too.

          As the Euro crisis began to bubble, an Aragonese friend and (now former) colleague told me how French and German banks and other firms muscled in on the construction and infrastructure booms financed by the EU and others. It was implied that should the Iberian Peninsula and other peripheral regions want EU money, firms from the major EU member states should benefit from the contracts. One can see why Germany and France, in particular, are silent.

          Unemployment in Spain peaked about 27% as you rightly pointed out, but youth and some regional unemployment peaked at nearer 50%, adding particular fuel to the fire.

          1. Terry Flynn

            Thank you Col S! I see both personal experience from you and echoes of the more general pieces on NC in the last couple of years in particular regarding the fragility of the the inter-connectedness of the major Eurozone banks/financial firms.

            It might be a bit simplistic (and I freely admit I’m speculating) but I can’t help think that Spain needs Catalonia more than Catalonia needs Spain at this point…..

            1. Colonel Smithers

              Thank you, Terry.

              I agree with you and don’t consider your comment simplistic. I would add that the Eurozone should be worried, too.

              Italy is a bigger risk, but Spain is not so far removed. The apparent recent recovery in Spain is deceptive and has much to do with the Frankfurt, Brussels and DC ambitions of Luis de Guindos, formerly of Lehman.

              What did you think of my comparison with the Easter Rising yesterday? Does your family have any particular perspective, anecdotes?

              1. Terry Flynn

                I think your comment was perceptive. Of course plutoniumkun is probably better positioned to answer but my family (ironically we are talking my mother’s side – the Flynns moved to UK around 1900) certainly became more in favour of home rule as a result of heavy handed tactics.

      2. Ignacio

        This is true, but the situation is now very different. We cannot ignore, for the better or the worse, the history between, let’s say 1930s (the second republic when the Generalitat declared independence). Catalonia is now filled with migrants, recently from Africa and East Europe, but also from anywhere in Spain. They have their own language (shared by Comunidad Valenciana) buy they speak spanish. Catalonians that came or are descendants of non-catalonian speaking Spain are called “charnegos” and they are abundant in urban Cataluña. They played an important part in the industrialization providing cheap labor. The term charnego, somehow demonstrates chauvinism prevalent in Catalonia (I believe mostly in rural areas). Catalonian culture is, of course, a mixture of many influences including charnegos and has strongly influenced the rest of Spain. Just as an example, the most important editors in spanish (that made a lot to promote southamerican writers in the past and anti-Franco thinking as well) have been catalonians. The connections between Catalonia and the rest of Spain are so tigth that the messy “proces” that has been proposed poses the risk of breaking a lot of lives, dreams, works of so many catalonians and spanish that depend on a good relationship. If Brexit is messy, Catalexit migth be chaos. There is only one good outcome, that is, a negotiated outcome. And that is what has been absent in the “proces”. Catalonian independentists rightly blame it on the intransigency of the PP currently ruling in Madrid but they are now commiting the same mistake. They are ignoring an important part of their society.

        Catalonians have a fame for being reasonable, responsible and quiet negotiators. If they loose it nothing good for Catalonia and Spain will come.

    2. Eustache De Saint Pierre

      That worthwhile dream of the EU gradually turning into a nightmare, which without the banking crisis, I believe could well have muddled along despite it’s structural flaws, enough perhaps to not result in the planting of the seeds from which nationalism etc grow. It does appear to me that all of the troubles we face in the West come from the same source, made all the worse due to austerity measures & the general stamping on the faces of those who were least to blame for the hangover.

      I have not been able to find updated information on the child poverty rate in Spain, but the last figure I found from some years ago was 40%. I doubt that it has improved since then, but as Spain has been recently lauded as a success, it makes me wonder for whom & why any country can be praised when it is in possession of such a dark statistic, or anybody should be surprised when it’s citizens want change.

    1. freedeomny

      That twitter feed was really interesting and confirmed a lot of what I have heard from my own family. My father’s family is from Catalonia – most were stone cutters who fled Spain during Franco and ended up in Vermont (Barre – the granite cutting capital of US) and NYC. Although my Nana was a snob re Catalonian Spanish vs other dialects- they were actually NOT rabid nationalists. They were also very conservative and sought eagerly to assimilate into US culture – most of the first generation cousins, extended family etc never even learned to speak Spanish which is very unusual when you compare it to other latin/hispanic cultures.

  4. Ignacio

    As a spanish NC reader and commenter I have to say: what a good coverage of the Catalonian Crackdown! I am very much impressed. I am somehow sick about this issue because it has been constantly on the news for too long time and you could see how the political class (they are the true drivers in this mess) has been completely unable or unwilling to dialogue, not to mention reach an agreement.

    If I was to blame anybody in partucular, Rajoy and the conservative party’s dictatorial heritage are on the top. This said, Catalonian leaders are not guilt-free. Catalonians that do not agree with the “proces” have been threatened by catalonian oficialdom and the atmosphere in Catalonia could not be less favourable to a truly free democratic exercise. For instance, pictures showing the same guy voting several times in different polling stations are circulating and show how invalid it has been.

    But I am ready for the next mistake because I don’t trust in any of the “leaders” involved.

    Something good could come from this if it helps Spain to get rid of the mentioned heritage and if a true negotiating procedure is initiated. Unfortunately I am not sure any of this will happen.

  5. Jesus Martinez

    well, I was going to go to bed, but after Yves’ words I feel a certain obligation to write :-)
    First of all, I have to say that I was moved when I saw that Yves copy-pasted one of my posts. I have visited this site for years and opening your page when it is updated in the evening has become a daily ritual that I cherish. NC has shaped my views on many subjects and I am very happy to be able to contribute something here.

    And I was also moved by the images of repression today. I have to say that I don’t quite understand what they did. I just spoke with a friend in Puigcerdà, a city in the Pyrenees, in a hard-core pro-independence area, and he said that only 2,000 something people could cast their vote there. The cyber-attacks would bring down the system short after it was rebooted. It seems that that region was particularly targeted by the Spanish cyber-police (let’s call them) because it is such a stronghold of pro-independence sentiment. And this is what leaves me baffled: if cyber-warfare was enough to disrupt the vote massively, and if the Spanish police were able to physically disrupt the vote in only a small number of polling stations, what was the point of the whole display of violence? Because it has cost them dearly in terms of public image, and it has only increased the number of Catalans that support independence. I could speculate on that, but it would be only speculation. Was it meant to instill fear to prevent a declaration of independence? Was it just that they couldn’t just not do anything, action for the sake of action? I really don’t know. Events in the next days may shed some light on it.

    Regarding negotiations in the (near?) future: I don’t see common ground. It is not about this or that politician being pig-headed. We are seeing in conflict two incompatible concepts of the polity: the Spanish side thinks of Spain as one, and the whole of Spain as the subject that makes collective decisions. On the Catalan side, Catalonia is the subject and it is entitled to making the decisions about its future. Spain has never accepted that Catalonia is entitled to that. I think that the events these days show that clearly. The apparent success story of devolution in Spain since the ‘78 Constitution was a big exercise of pretense: Madrid would pretend that it respected Catalonia’s identity, and the Catalans would pretend that the problems with the watered-down devolution that we got were sort of technical, that they would be solvable one by one, through negotiation and influence. To make a long story short, the ruling of the Constitutional Court in 2010 meant the end of the pretense. The reach of that ruling was more political than juridical. It meant that the game of increasing devolution step by step, through political negotiation was over. So we had to turn to something else, which is where we are: independence as the only option to avoid Madrid making decisions that we feel are ours to make.
    Now, I think that the only possibility of fruitful negotiations for Catalonia to remain is Spain is the return of that pretense. But the return of the pretense is going to be a hard sell in Catalonia. Not least because the big beneficiary of that arrangement was Spain.
    There is no trust on the Catalan side. Nothing short of real devolution would be accepted. Madrid is not going to let us decide. And on top of that, real devolution means also financial devolution, something similar to what the Basques have, and that would be a major restructuring of the State. And then, if without real devolution we have staged a revolt, what would we do with all resources in our hands?
    Anyway, guys, I am too sleepy. I’ll see you tomorrow.

    1. Terry Flynn

      Thank you. Great summary as usual.

      Made the point far better that I tried above to make regarding the “pretense” of Catalonian independence and how it worked for so long but eventually had to fracture unless there is real restructuring (particularly financial) of the state.

    2. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you, Jesus, for sharing with the NC community. Look after yourself and your loved ones.

      “I have visited this site for years and opening your page when it is updated in the evening has become a daily ritual that I cherish. NC has shaped my views on many subjects and I am very happy to be able to contribute something here.” This applies to many of us around the world.

    3. Marco

      Just a lay US observer here but what I find confusing from all the anti-secessionist “both sides are to blame” comments online is the canard that “the-vote-was-illegal” and they all refer to that 2010 Court ruling like some rubicon Catalonia could never cross. Obviously Catalan’s reject that. I cannot find any decent succinct (English media) analysis of how that ruling played out at the time.

      1. JTMcPhee

        We all want to believe that there’s a “justice system” in action that produces Solonic laws and rulings and regulations that set “what’s legal,” somehow consistent with some cosmic expression of the “greater good.” A legitimacy we can carry as a postulate in our geometry of our natures. But: The Spanish court’s ruling on the legality of the Catalonian referendum. The “legality” of drone murder and torture and invasion of other countries in some undefined “national interest for security whatever,” under the AUMF, and those legal memoranda by the Empire’s apologists. Jim Crow had a whole lot of laws and rules and norms that made all that “legal.” Lobbyists writing the legislation that gets “passed” by legislators in “the world’s greatet deliberative body, who “wait until we pass it to find out what’s in it.” The US Supreme Court, on the counting of votes in Florida and the standing of corporations as “persons and citizens” under the Constitution, and so many other “strict constructions.”

        There’s a crying need by us mopes for legitimacy as a fundamental block in the edifice of the political economy, for legitimacy as it’s thought of in the Mope’s Dictionary of Terms. But the mechanisms of creating legitimacy are all appearance, and owned by the Owners. What’s shaping in Catalonia is one flavor of what’s being done to the regulatory agencies of the Homeland (through many presidencies), the “foreclosing” (theft) of homes already paid for or through other frauds, the “lily pads” sprouting from swamps of MMT money across the planet, that’s the reality of “legitimacy.”

        “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun,” not a total explanation but a useful aphorism to assist people trying to understand the reality behind the mythology…

        All comes down to what kind of political economy “we” want, and how “we” can organize to effectuate it — and maybe as Franklin said, “keep it” against the constant and often violent efforts of a few of us to return to “might makes right” for their benefit…

        1. JBird4049

          Authority, legitimacy and legality do matter, but they all derive, in the end, from a government’s people, not the people’s government. Governments can, and often do, use its power, its ability to use force aided with violence to control its population, and maintain at least the appearance of legitimacy. However, cunning, if not wise, governments try to acquire and maintain the approval of the population it rules, for without it, its ability to function, never mind its ability to survive is weakened.

          Often the society’s ruling elites come to believe that they are the people, and not just the ruling elite. Then they come to believe that the government should do as they, and not the whole society, want. In the United States, and from what little this American can see, in Spain, that is what is happening, Add corruption, nepotism, greed, and just plain stupidity and now an economy in the early(?) stages of collapse, things can go really bad, really fast.

          Here in the United States, more people, regardless of political ideology, and even class, are seeing the Justice system including the police is not concerned with, never mind delivering, justice or even any bit of fairness, of equity. The same with big business/big money, and the government at all levels, but especially the state, and federal, levels. More people are seeing that the Constitution including the Bill of Rights is becoming a dead letter.

          If the leadership of our country was wise, they would try to reform the whole system, but stupidity, and its good, good friend, folly seems to be running the country; like with Spanish government, distorting the courts, and the laws, shouting outing what they think is right, just, and legal, and not caring what everyone else thinks, and then using the growing police state’s growing powers to enforce what they think.

          Paraphrasing Lincoln here, without the people you cannot succeed, with the people you cannot fail.

      2. Ignacio

        I don’t know if I should even feel mentioned in your commentary, but because I have written before that both sides are to blame, you may be referring to me among others. First of all, I am not anti-secessionist I don’t support it but I can understand secession. Second I am pro-referendum and third, I am pro-agreement since this is the only way this can be resolved without drama and lots of damage.

        1. Marco

          I was referring to comments on Twitter (at Glenn Greenwald and Assange accounts) where the 2010 ruling came up repeatedly. Anti-secessionists seem to throw it around as some iron-clad defense of Rajoy. What I am trying to find is an official (or unofficial) Catalan separatists response because as JTMcPhee states above there is a serious question of legitimacy with respect to that ruling.

      3. nostromo

        There was (in 2006 IIRC) a hard negotiated agreement between the Catalan parliament and the Spanish one, for a new ‘Estatut’ (Statue of Autonomy). This was voted by the Spanish Parliament, the Catalan Parliament and approved in Referendum by the Catalan voters. After that, the PP (now governing Spain) started a campaign asking for signatures against it and presented a motion in the Constitutional Court that it was not according to Spanish Constitution. They simultaneously started a strong PR campaign against “indoctrination” in Catalan schools, etc.

        After the PP went into power, in 2010, the highly politicized Constitutional Court ruled against the Estatut, and Catalonia had to return to the old one. This is pointed by experts as the cornerstone of the conflict escalation, as it ruled any negotiated solution that didn’t start with a Constitutional reform, which is blocked by the Popular Party.

        A politically mediated conflict was turned into a standoff about rule of law, and independentists in Catalonia climbed from around 10% at the time to the current ~45% as they became aware than gradualist solutions were not going to work.

        Yesterday the problem escalated even more, as the Spanish King made a declaration that leaves in the cold the ~30% of Podemos/nationalists/fraction of PSOE Spanish people and majority of Catalan people that strongly support negotiated solutions.

        He said that the Government should restore the law, which basically means he supports any legal or military actions without further resource to negotiation. No mention of the words “dialog”, no talking about Catalan people except by the generic “Spanish” that a high percentage don’t accept.

        Later, the Catalan President moved a declaration scheduled for today at noon to 21:00, in a symbolic move to put himself in the same status position as the king. Let’s see.

  6. Lawyercat

    The Guardian Civil’s Twitter account highlighted images of the local police standing by and not beating people. They were calling them out for standing on the sidelines, so that is an important dynamic, as you mentioned.

    Also, the national socialist party (center right) is getting squeezed, because, from what I understand, they allowed the current right wing government to form even though they did not have an electoral majority to form a government after the last elections. It does seem likely that this will be the end of Rajoy’s mandate, or at least I hope so, and it will probably leave the socialists more exposed as a party that delivers little to nothing to their base, strengthening alternative parties like podemos and ciudadanos.

  7. EoinW

    Catalonia attempted in good faith to hold a democratic vote. Madrid chose to use thugs to prevent it from happening. At this point, I’d suggest turnout is irrelevant. To question the legitimacy of the vote is to be doing exactly what those who chose anti-democratic violence want. There are plenty of undemocratic elements in the West – mostly in ruling positions – and they’ll use the low turnout as an excuse to deny Catalonia free choice. Are the 99% of us going to fall into the Technicality Trap or are we going to give unqualified support to the Catalans?

    Democracy is a nice theory and it is wonderful when it can be put into use. However when you’ve a bunch of ruling thugs – not just in Spain – who pay lip service to democracy while really being against it then average people must move beyond democracy if they are to be free.

    It’s pretty simple at this point. When your ruling government can use such violence against the people then they forfeit the right to rule those people. If Catalans have good sense they’ll leave Madrid behind. But make no mistake, what is going on in Spain can happen anywhere in the West. The illusion of democracy and well being was stripped away in Catalonia yesterday. Yet it still exists everywhere. It’s inevitable that people will be forced to choose change because we are all being ruled by a ruling elite which does not care about our best interests.

    1. c_heale

      I’m not sure that the Catalan politicians are acting in good faith, but I do agree that the ruling elite cares about nothing except maintaining power. They will do it peacefully if they can, but if they can’t then they won’t hesitate to take the gloves off.

      I also agree with the earlier point about their being two completely incompatible visions of Spain. I lived in Madrid for 10 years and initially was shocked by the unwillingness of most Madrilenos to even consider that Catalonia might have reasons to ask for more devolution. And this unwillingness wasn’t limited to rightwingers. I think this lack of understanding is somewhat similar to the attitude of many English people toward Scottish Independence (although I am English I am pro independence, since (among other reasons) I think it would be better to have a good relationship with a friendly country than a poor relationship with an unfriendly/unhappy province). I also think this incomprehension was shown by many people on both sides in the Brexit debate, but particularly remainers. The problem lies in the fact that those on the side of the status quo see the current situation as ‘normal’ and don’t understand that their ‘normal’ is to those on the other side, unfair or abusive.

      I’m not trying to draw too many parallels between the three political situations, just that this attitude of ‘why aren’t they grateful to us for everything we’ve done for them’, is in my view the main problem.

    2. Basil Pesto

      With respect, that is a pretty idiosyncratic definition of good faith.

      I would give unqualified support to the Catalans if they held a referendum that was legitimate and free and I would support their independence if they voted for that (although I also recognise that organising a legitimate referendum appears to be very difficult). I also support their fight against the economic subjugation they are apparently experiencing at the hands of Madrid, as reported here and elsewhere. I abhor Rajoy’s actions yesterday and I anticipate that the government will be held to account for some of its actions, legally and hopefully politically as well. But a 90% outcome from a 43% turnout does nothing to suggest a proper expression of democratic will. To dismiss that as a ‘technicality trap’ is not at all convincing. Besides which, surely some of those who voted no or were prevented from voting or who stayed at home in protest are part of that ‘99% of us’ as well? Maybe they legitimately disagreed with Puigdemont and the way he went about things? How does ‘moving beyond democracy’ help those particular average people?

      1. Darn

        Yeah. It’s not good faith to hold a referendum even after it’s been banned, and dare the Spanish government to either put up with it or try to prevent it. And then to play the victim because they tried to prevent it, which is already to assume the Catalan govt had the right to make the decision, which is to imply it should already be an independent country. We also don’t know whether the Catalan govt would falsify the results, since they were already breaking the law in the first place. The police brutality is inexcusable, of course.

          1. Darn

            I hardly said anything Francoist, or even barring possible Catalan independence in future. Point was: good faith? Nah.

      2. Anónimo 2

        A 43% turnout is not bad at all, considering that it is said that almost 700.000 votes were robbed by the guardia civil and policia nacional. Moreover, keep in mind that people were getting beaten almost to death, gased (search aiguaviva) and shot with rubber bullets. Under these circunstances do you really think that 43 % (56% when you add those 700.000 ) is low????

        And then madrid did all its best to prevent people from voting and afterwards they say that the turnout is too low? How hypocrite can someone possibly be?

        1. Basil Pesto

          Again, I’m not excusing government chicanery and heavy-handedness as far as ‘robbing’ the votes goes. My argument is not that a 43%/56% turnout is ‘bad’ or ‘good’. My point is that when nearly half the voting population does not turn out for a vote, it may be because they are afraid, but it may also be out of protest for what they consider an illegitimate election. Either way, it is not, in my opinion, politically or legally legitimate. That said, in my opinion if a legitimate election were held tomorrow, I think Catalunya would vote for independence.

      3. Oregoncharles

        Rajoy set the “technicality trap” for himself when he sent the Guardia Civil to suppress the referendum. the violence sacrifices his legitimacy.

        Now the Catalans have a compelling reason to leave. And Puigdemont took the first step: he demanded that the federal police leave the region. (Wish I could link that, but I can’t find the original article.) Not sure how he’ll enforce that, but it’s tantamount to a declaration of independence.

        Actually, I can think of a way to enforce that: a mass boycott. No cooperation, no supplies, no phone service, no electricity to their ships, etc. Jus tmake them really uncomfortable – and make it clear that they’re a foreign occupier.

        1. Basil Pesto

          Well, I think both parties have behaved illegally. Puigdemont regarding the legitimacy of the referendum with regards to the constitution, and Rajoy with regards to the European Convention of Human Rights and probably also the Int’l Bill of Human Rights but redress is probably more likely to occur in the European Court (the Human Rights law at the ECHR level would not find in favour of the holding of the election itself – the right to vote covered in Protocol 1 Article 3 of the convention does not, generally, deal with referendums, and so claims as to the legitimacy of the referendum would be inadmissible at the ECHR I think. Arguments as to the legitimacy of the election would have to be brought before the UN, and relate to article 1 of the ICCPR which covers the right to self-determination, but I am less familiar with that jurisprudence.) Such redress would probably be on the grounds of freedom of assembly, right to life if there are any fatalities, and some others. One can certainly argue if the constitutional law is good or fair, but acting in contravention of it is democratically illegitimate in my view. Now, the question of whether democracy is all it’s cracked up to be is another thing. I have a number of reservations about it (I should stress that I’m not an authoritarian!) which I won’t go in to here. But I think that as long as it is in place, it and the rule of law (even if we disagree with the laws!) should be respected.

          I certainly agree with you that Catalans now have a reason to leave. I mean, they’ve always had reasons but now they have a new reason and stronger motivation. It’s a horrible situation, and it’s been astonishingly mismanaged politically – not just recently but, it seems, over the last 40 years, to varying degrees of egregiousness). I’ve seen comparisons here to the founding of the Republic of Ireland. I certainly hope, in terms of human suffering, things don’t go the way of 20th C Ireland in Catalunya.

        2. Anónimo 2

          In calella 200 guardias civiles have been forced to leave the hotel by its owner. They have been spitting and orinating on the people in the street.

          Yesterday night there was a peaceful demonstration outside that hotel, the local police was making sure that demonstators did not get closer. Despite this fact and the fact that they were neither in service nor in danger, the civiles decided to go down and crack down on demonstrators with clubs. Later on they said that the reason is that demonstrators were insulting them.


          So you see which kind of thungs we have here. Most of them are volunteers. So I guess they did not want to lose the chance to beat old people and sexually harrass young girls who demonstrate pacifically.

          That being said: I am not even separatist. At least I was not… I used to be federalist and to want to stay with a different Spain, the one representes by podemos and the heirs of the II republic. Now I do not know anymore.

          Please to not abandon the topic because international coverage is the only thing that prevents them to completely crack down on anyone who dissents and dares to show her or his opinion.

  8. Yomismo

    Ok…. but the guardia civil was created in the xix century way before Franco. Its the same as the Carabinieri in Italy

  9. Humanist

    Very good post and great commenters, as usual at NC.

    I just want to add the EU today missed The Opportunity to mediate in this conflict. Leaving this as an internal affair, with catalonia set to declare independence and spain to intervene militarly will destabilize Europe. This is like a nuclear reaction about to be unleashed, and it requires some external cadmium to prevent major damage. The EU is either dumb not to see this or plain temerary.

    The EU spirit as a safe haven of peace, democracy, freedom and human rights is fading fast, and this means very dark times ahead for all democratically inclined people in the world. The rising geopolitical big powers are democratically deficient. And instead of setting a high moral bar for the world to chase, it is Europe who is chasing an ever lower democratic quality.

    1. Clive

      Agreed. And I did wince a bit from reader Dan’s suggestion that independence movements are akin to Brexit (which is true) but these are [an] “infantile solution”.

      I voted Brexit and if anyone accuses me of being infantile, I’ll quite happily argue them under the table.

      But it’s a minor quibble because Dan is broadly right when this is read in context and with the dynamics Dan implies — it’s the simplistic framing that independences (Catalunya, Scotland, Basque countries), “united” Irelands or “partitioned” Irelands and, yep, “consequences free” Brexits — which is the problem.

      And perhaps even more than that, the root of this is that our societies are just too complicated and too interdependent.

      1. JTMcPhee

        And too much dominated by that all too human trait, “self-interest.” And a very narrow understanding of it.

        Ants, termites, bees, even schools of prey fish, manage the task of group and species survival a lot better. But then biological analogies are frowned upon as weak arguments…

        1. vlade

          The inteoperation between any of the animals you described are entirely different from human society. There’s a biological argument and a biological argument. For example, I doubt that you’d argue that wasting lives just so is ok in the human society, while it’s a very valid coping strategy for any of the above (bees and ants regularly self-sacrifice, schooling fish don’t but then it breaks on other levels, as they dont’ school to deal with each other but with superior predators).

          As Clive says, we have too complicated and too interdependent society. And there simple is absolutely zero way out of it, because system with so many indpendent (which is not case of ants/bees) actors WILL become complicated even with relatively few rules.

          The only way to de-complicated human society is to radically lower the number of humans alive and keep them there. See, we evolved living in small societies (up to a few hundred years back taken liberally, but even then the societies were way smaller than now), and can’t cope well with what we get now.

          My classical example for that is coping with a new environment. Take the behaviour of most pople who get out of a tube/bus/whatever in an entirely new environment. They stop, and start looking around. Because it makes sense when there was a few people around, and you got into a new environment to take it in, and only then act. But now, there’s another few tens or even hundreds of people trying to get out of the same tube exit/bus, who will just pile up behind you. So the ideal behaviour is something entirely different – but it goes very much against what we have wired in as a default (which does not mean we can’t re-wire it, but it takes effort).

          1. lyman alpha blob

            For example, I doubt that you’d argue that wasting lives just so is ok in the human society…

            Most people think it is not OK, and yet human societies have been doing just that since before the dawn of history so the analogy really isn’t too far off.

          2. JTMcPhee

            As I said, biological analogies are weak. But as you note, the human complicated interaction of interdependent critters does not seem to be survival-ready, either for most individuals or for the larger sets. And way too many of us refuse to acknowledge the interdependence part, nor the mutual vulnerability, while way too many of us expand themselves by aggravating and accelerating and then feeding off the carcasses that the interdependence breeds. Bees and ants are yes, very different, but seem to have done a better job in their tiny, complex way, of working out survival strategies. I guess maybe there are not enough humans who are willing, like the people who first-responded at Chernobyl, to self-sacrifice? Or all those soldiers who hug an enemy grenade to save their buddies from getting shredded by industrial shrapnel? Or the medical personnel who responded to the Ebola outbreak? Not enough of that milk of human kindness to feed all the infants…

            I’d offer that we collectively have indeed facilitated several simple ways out of the situation — nuclear weapons, other weapons of mass destruction that some of us are busily constructing and perfecting “as we speak,” the accelerating accretion of destruction of our supporting habitat, and extraction and combusto-conversion of “resources,” and as they say on the Ronco ads on infoTV, “But wait! There’s more!” Particularly, as I offered, way too much self-interest that trumps all considerations of comity.

      2. Terry Flynn

        Thank you Clive and if nothing else your post has given me the courage to admit I voted leave (though by a 51/49 internal margin). The balance was tipped *precisely* because I predicted this sort of unrest (due to economic imperialism) and the potential for “dissolution of the EU in its present form in any case so why not lead the charge”.

        Now that doesn’t change the fact that a huge load of NC articles have since revealed just how awful BREXIT will be. And I honestly don’t know if my vote would now change – it’s as if we are being asked “would you like the band-aid pulled off in one quick agonising rip or a series of smaller but ultimately more painful smaller rips?”

        We live in “interesting times” as the Chinese would say.

    2. RabidGandhi

      I think a lot of this has to do with Juncker and the EC being fully vested in Mariano Rajoy. By being more Catholic than the pope when it came time to punish Greece and apply austerity at home, Rajoy fully proved that he was one of ‘the club’– as opposed to the crazy pinko hippies (/sarc) in Podemos or the fairweather PSOE.

      Juncker already showed his loyalty to Rajoy when he said that “Catalunia would be out of the EU the day after they vote for independence”, and Jean-Claude is not exactly known for changing course mid-blunder.

      1. Ignacio

        You have a point, but I think it is somehow misguided. Not exactly in the center of the diane. I think it is common practice amongst the european conservative leadership not to get involved in certain political questions in other member countries. As simple as that. Rajoy was more papist than the pope for ideological reasons not because he was asking for silence from the EU.

        I think Humanist is rigth and the EU should have done something before. They had a lot of time to do it because this could be predicted long ago. I think everybody is so focused in their own problems that nobody payed attention.

      2. Yves Smith Post author

        I don’t like to seem like I am defending Juncker, but he has a tendency to be extremely direct.

        I don’t read his comment as a defense of Rajoy. The EC was weakly pro- Greece in the 2015 talks (the EC tried acting as an intermediary and was slapped down; the EC tries to be the defender of smaller countries) while Rajoy was even more hardline re Greece than Schauble.

        I read his comment as that of a Eurocrat: “This is what the rules say and what would happen.”:

        1. Eustache De Saint Pierre

          Were the EC also acting as a weak defender when Papandreou was given the boot for proposing a referendum ? whatever the case it does appear to be one example of interfering in the affairs of another EU state. I also suppose ( hopefully incorrectly ) that the lack of condemnation could be taken by Rajoy as a green light in another ” Whatever it takes ” sort of way & if this all goes horribly wrong, as I am afraid it will. the EU might have allowed a rather large nasty cat to escape from it’s bag & then they will have blood on the their then no doubt, wringing hands.

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            Huh? The saboteurs of the that referendum were members of other Greek parties as well as his own ministers, most importantly Evangelos Venizelos. And Papandreou was not “given the boot”. He cancelled the referendum.

            See Papandreou scraps Greek referendum as open warfare erupts in his party .

            Even though Papandreou was also called on the carpet by EU leaders, it was defections within his own coalition that caused him to retreat:

            Four ministers, including Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos, rebelled against Papandreou and opposed the referendum. In Parliament, some MPs from Papandreous’ centre-left PASOK party defected over the poll, leaving the prime minister with 150 MPs in the 300-seat parliament.

            Despite all this criticism, it became clear that Papandreou would not resign but agreed instead to drop the proposed referendum


  10. Jeff

    Many years ago, the French had a bit of civil war in New Caledonia, where a large part of the population wanted independence, but another part didn’t want.
    Michel Rocard “gave” them their independence, but on a commonly agreed schedule. And ever since, New Caledonians are on a road to independence, but not yet there. So they mind their own business for some things, but get the full support from the french state for other stuff.
    I hope the Spanish people can find a statesman willing to walk the walk and bring a compromise that everybody can accept.
    (And I even more hope they can avoid the equivalent of a Brexit – politicians killing a country while fighting for some spoils).

    1. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you, Jeff.

      Many of the other part who do / did not want independence are / were pieds noirs resettled from Algeria after independence. That community should be considered like settlers in southern Africa and Palestine.

      1. Frenchguy

        As far as I know, pieds noirs were not an important source of migration in New Caledonia. Europeans were already a sizeable minority (~40%) at the start of the 50s.

    2. Fazal Majid

      Not directly comparable. Rocard’s agreement was submitted to referendum by all of France (I voted yes), and it scheduled an independence referendum in New Caledonia 20 years in the future with stringent residency requirements.

  11. Jake

    So what does Catalonia want independence from? I hope this isnt another brexit and they have really thought this through.

    1. Humanist

      Well, yesterday everyone could see *what* catalans want independence from.

      The spanish administrative layer between catalonia and europe is not only impractical, but often contrary to catalan interests. Plus, Madrid seems to have an obsession with wiping catalan culture, language etc. I can not understand why companies can be reorg’d all the time and administration of countries can not. So XIX century.

      1. Synoia

        European Countries has had various borders throughout history.

        I can remember walls of maps of Europe in the 14xx, 17xx, etc, but not the details.

        England only achieved stable borders when the were limited by the sea.

  12. DJG

    The latest from LaStampa, which can be cautious, although their coverage of Madrid’s maneuvers and now the EU’s tergiversations has not be complimentary:

    In short: The vote was not legal. It is a Spanish internal matter to be decided constitutionally. Which is what we’d expect of the EU anyway.

    Interesting question from up top in the comments: Where is the king? [If Elizabeth can twit May, and if the two young princes can visit Grenfell survivors, surely what-his-name has a role here. Not that I’m a monarchist, but then the EU is talking about constitutions.)

    1. Terry Flynn

      where is the king?

      Indeed, as I asked above. Don’t forget his father was a key player (whether genuinely or opportunistically) in the move to democracy and the current constitution. The views and motivations of the Spanish monarchy are rather opaque to an outsider like me.

  13. RabidGandhi

    the media reports I saw (I worry about relying on English language sources) said the police in Catalonia for the most part stood aside.

    Several Spanish news sources are reporting that members of the local Catalunian police force (the Mossos) have been cited in seven different courts for refusing to participate in the repression. This is after Madrid’s failed attempt to take control of the Mossos.

    I can also report with regard to the difference in press coverage that the Spanish mainstream media have been uniformly biased against the referendum in a way the foreign media have not (eg. the NYT quote above vs Spanish National Radio, who always precede any mention of the word ‘referendum’ with the adjective ‘illegal’). I have even heard Spaniards complaining of a “defamation campaign from abroad”– a phrase that gives me chills as it is the same formula that was used by Franco (and other dictators) to deflect human rights reports against their regimes.

    Lastly I do have a question with regard to the ‘nuclear option’: hasn’t Madrid blocked a default on Catalunian bonds by pre-emptively taking over the Catalan exchequer?

    1. Eustache De Saint Pierre

      Here is a short article from Craig Murray giving examples of descriptions added to photos in the British press. Not ” The defendant attacked the toe of my boot with his nose M’lud “, but heading in that direction.

  14. The Rev Kev

    This is not going to end well. The actions of the Spanish Civil Guard has probably brought back many bad memories of the Franco era to the Catalonians. It was Franco remember, that reformed the Civil Guard into a sort of Praetorian Guard and the ones that I saw in Spain decades ago seemed to regard themselves as an elite. That was probably why they tried for a grab for power, unsuccessfully, in ’81 (
    I have sometimes thought of democracy as an iron fist in a velvet glove. Normally you do not see it but when you challenge the powers that be, off come the gloves. Just ask veterans of Occupy Wall Street about this point. Rajoy has obviously decided that a demonstration of brute force would kill the referendum but I wonder if he ever asked himself the question “Then what happens?”.
    This use of violence was worse than a crime – it was a mistake!

  15. Colonel Smithers

    Thank you, Rev.

    I fear this iron fist will also come out in the UK should Corbyn win a general election. Melenchon, too. There is a lot at stake.

  16. Sid Finster

    I suspect that the Basques and everyone else will be kept in line, if not by Madrid then by Brussels.

    The EU cannot allow Spain to go down, as the EU will come down with it.

    This is also why Brussels cannot and will not unequivocally condemn the actions of Guardia Civil, even though relatively minor offenses by Poland and Hungary are severely punished. If nothing else, the events in Catalonia have taken the mask off Europe.

  17. yan

    Just a couple of remarks:
    About the Guardia Civil: it was created well before Franco´s time, in 1844. Mischaracterizing the Guardia Civil as a legacy of Franco is wrong. Moreover, there are normally around 3.000 members of the Guardia Civil and the National Police in Catalunya. They carry out tasks that go from counter terrorism to financial fraud and traffic duties in highways. An extra 13.000 or so were sent in to stop an illegal referendum that was also characterized as lacking any basic democratic guarantee by the OSCE. Among them: lack of a valid census, lack of independent observers in the voting places, lack of sufficient time between the referendum decree and the referendum taking place…

    The whole Catalunya has less rights than other regions: when Franco died and during the transition period where a new constitution was negotiated, one of the main points was a negotiation between the regions and the central government and how much autonomy each would have. A politics of “coffee for everybody” (cafe para todos) was decided whereupon each region was to negotiate its own statute (represented by the local politicians). Catalunya, at the time, decided AGAINST having more local fiscal freedom among other things because they thought they would be better off devolving those prerogatives to the central government. This was negotiated by one of the fathers of the constitution, a catalan himself, Miquel Roca. The referendum to vote for the constitution and the new autonomy statute was approved with 96% of the vote in catalunya. Again, they got to negotiate, and fiscal autonomy was on the table, many things. Compare this to the Basque region which did decide to regain fiscal autonomy, as did the Navarre region.

  18. JEHR

    This search for sovereinty by a portion of a country has occurred elsewhere; namely, in Canada. Luck probably had a lot to do with the final (positive) result for the country. But since the referendum, Canada has also given Quebec (or Quebec has taken) some of the things that they desired; consequently, Quebec often presents itself to the world as independent from the rest of the country (in immigration, in foreign policy where they often speak of themselves as a country, in their National Assembly, in their language laws, etc.)

    Sometimes, I think Quebec even likes having a relationship with Canada especially when it comes to support for their industries, for example, Bombardier, and for equalization payments.

  19. Mattski

    The impulsive rejection of the notion of Catalan independence by people here–with so little awareness of the history or background–can only be described as reactionary. I have lived in Catalunya, and in southern Spain, too. Catalunya is culturally and politically another country. The language was outlawed during the Franco era. It is also a far more progressive place than the rest of Spain, one reason why the emerging experiment there will be fascinating to watch. It may help to know that the transition from Franco was engineered to leave much of the repressive architecture of fascism in place; that has been on full display as the Madrid far-right government, playing fully into the hands of independence leaders, attacked people this weekend–the leadership had expected and even hoped for this, because it was a clear demonstration of what the future holds in a neoliberal-right Spain. For decades Madrid has promised the people of Catalunya greater measures of autonomy without ever coming through. People have a right to collectively determine their own futures. There’s no law or clear independent logic to the idea that countries must be enormous, especially given emerging global conditions of production; the real fear in Madrid is that this gives new life to independence movments in Valencia, Andalusia, the Basque Country, and in Galicia; that already looks like the case in the Pais Vasco. Catalunya–meantime–is on the way to independence. If that means years of city council meetings and people organizing outside of the traditional corridors of government, that might be a very good thing. The global will to imagine alternatives to the nightmare of corporate neoliberalism may be collapsing, but something real and important is emerging here; we need every idea and opportunity we can muster. For those who insist that the uprising is being engineered by Catalan banksters. . . you are simply mistaken. Of course there will be a struggle between big capital and progressives; let it commence.

  20. Ned


    Just the opposite. Perhaps it’s partially engineered by people opposed to banksters?

    Catalonia is 1/5th of Spanish GDP.
    What percentage of Spanish national public debt is it responsible for?
    What happens if Catalonia demands renegotiation/reduction/ambivalence toward of it’s share of the national debt?

    Modifying the old Soviet “They pretend to pay us, we pretend to work” line–

    How about “The debt’s not in our name, we are not responsible for it”?

    As to private debt, why should the new government of Catalonia enforce the old debts contracted under the previous ‘Anxious Regime’?

    Is there some reason they couldn’t start the equivalent of a state bank like North Dakota, funded by the massive tourist income and industry after their ‘credit rating’ is wrecked by non-subservience to the ECB?

    1. JBird4049

      I guess Catalonia could start a national bank, but would Spain, the E.U., or any other country accept it, or allow it to function?

      1. JTMcPhee

        Maybe that Catalan Postal Bank of the Holy Ghost and Commerce might be the first domino to fall…?

        The CIA has game plans and manuals on how to destabilize nations and change regimes. I learned some stuff about that from reading the memoirs of a CIA paramilitary spook, titled “First In– How Seven CIA Officers Opened the War on Terror in Afghanistan,” including big blocks of shrink-wrapped US currency. Some fella wrote a book about his life as part of an organized effort, across decades, to use the larger-world financial structures to trash, impoverish and loot little and large nations, I recall it as “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man.” And there’s the awarenesses from “The Shock Doctrine” on how the mopes are bashed. The Right Bastards have their PowerPoints and seminars– maybe some people of good will and good sense could develop a playbook for little people in little places to leverage their togetherness and common needs to do stuff like setting up postal banks and dealing with each other outside the vast death and corruption of the global blob, which is, as we have seen recently, both less stable and foregone than advertised, and vastly vulnerable to the complexity of it all, like Code and Supply Chains and theemdpoints of Walmarting and Amazoning and McDonaldsing and Boe-ing and GoldmanSax-ing, those globalized ligaments that creak like my own aging back and knees when I go to stand up and walk … The PTB sense their vulnerability.

        Looking now for that catalyst, or that last crystal dropped into that supersaturated solution of repressed but needful human aspirations…


    I strongly disagree to equal Podemos, Trump, Brexit, the Scotland Referendum and Catalonia. Besides being simplistic is just neoliberal crap. Podemos is punching ball to show that you are a reasonable person, with merits to remain in the Expert Kingdom.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I understand your point (and agree) and your frustration, and you did criticize the argument and not the person. But if you start out this forcefully, from a rhetorical standpoint, you have nowhere to go. :-)

      In other words, sometimes less is more.

  22. Jesus Martinez

    Referendum results: Turnout was 42%, 90% YES, 7% NO. The Spanish side is trying to downplay the results. The turnout figure must be considered in the context of physical disruption by the police and digital disruption by hacking. Make no mistake: it is a huge victory. Some people are proposing a referendum in accord with the Spanish government: if the date proposed was within the next few months, the result would be a resounding YES. If it was put off for a couple of years until a constitutional reform was passed, it would be seen as treachery by most Catalans. There is no trust on the Catalan side. We have seen this type of politicking time and again. In two years’ time means never, and everyone in Catalonia knows that. The relationship is broken.

    Some have pointed out division in Catalan society. This is one of Spain’s fantasies about Catalonia. We can’t push for independence because society would break in two. False. It was true before last Sunday, and society is more solidly united now. Unionists will accept a YES vote. No one is going to start a war about this. Trust me here: I am from Unionist-land. The civil war scenario is a fantasy in the mind of Unionist leadership and the Spanish right-wing media. Jordi Cañas, a Ciudadanos Catalan MP put it in very coulourful terms: if Catalonia declared independence, he said, “os vamos a montar un Ulster que te cagas” (we’ll start a fucking Ulster). It is on record. That is their only hope. They just happen to be talking about an imagined Catalonia.

    Xarnegos: Spanish immigrants and descendants. I am technically one. I have never, in 26 years living there been called xarnego. I have never experienced discrimination for being of Spanish descent myself and I have witnessed it very few times. I learnt Catalan during my teenage years. I remember struggling to understand the first shows on Catalan TV when it started broadcasting in the early eighties. Now I often pass for a Catalan native speaker, and I can tell you that the number of conversations in which I was present where someone said something that could be qualified as racist (anti-xarnego) is very, very limited. My impression is that up to the eighties the division was there. After the eighties, it changed quickly. (And a funny twist regarding the last wave of immigration from Latin America, Northern Africa, Eastern Europe and South Asia is that, at least in Barcelona and its surrounding region, it has served to define a sort of a common identity agglomerating old Catalans and Spanish immigrants: but that is not playing a role in current events, so I’ll leave it aside). Anyway, the interesting thing about the word xarnego is that it nearly disappeared from public usage as a term of abuse at some point thirty or forty years ago, and only made it back to political usage when the Unionists appropriated it as a term of pride: we are xarnegos, we are the underdogs. What lies behind those ridiculous claims is that their only hope to block secession seems to be that Catalan society divides along ethnic/linguistic lines. They are thinking in particular of the Spanish-speaking neighbourhoods around Barcelona. If they can get people from there to follow them along the path of ethnic/linguistic division, then they can create a sort of a blocking minority of, say, 30% of the population. I think that if before the 1 October vote they had little chance of succeeding, after the crackdown on Sunday they can forget about it.

    Ethnicity: very often people frame Catalonia as an ethnic nation. That is, Catalans are the descendants of those who were Catalans at some vague point in time, and the rest are sort of outsiders. Of course, language, for instance, plays an important role in the definition of Catalan modern nationalism. But if you think of Catalonia as an ethnicity-based political construct you are not going to understand what is going on. I remember reading that Catalonia’s genetic pool back in the mid-nineties was 65% non-Catalan, and at that time that meant that that 65% was mostly Spanish (I am 100% genetically Spanish, whatever that means). Nowadays that figure is significantly higher. The Catalan pure-breeds are possibly 15-20% of the population, and that is probably a generous guess: I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a lot smaller. There is no way to understand what is going on based on ethnicity. You don’t outvote 80% of the population. A lot of the videos these days show people talking back to the police in Spanish. You need to think of Catalonia as a political nation, as a polity made of its citizens, just as you think of, for instance, of Australia as made of Australians and not made up of distinct English, Irish, Italian, Indian or Afghan communities. Of course, reality is much more complex than just that, but if you think of Catalonia as an ethnic community there is no way you can explain anything going on there.

    Regarding foreign reactions: the Spain-Catalonia relationship is broken and other countries know it. I think that this is one of those moments when everyone knows that something is going to change but no one will admit of it in public. There is a young Catalan historian, González Vilalta, who went through the diplomatic records of France, the UK and possibly other countries (I haven’t read the book) back in the 1930s. The reports sent from their embassies and consulates in Madrid and Barcelona were all full of variations on the following theme: why on earth doesn’t Catalonia become independent? Why, if it has all the attributes of a nation, and could become a state, doesn’t it choose to leave the mess that Spain is in? Nothing of that was reported in the press, there were no public noises about it, it was all confidential records and private conversations, but the idea to those diplomatic services was clear that Catalonia could perfectly become a state. I think that we are seeing the same situation. The EU keeping quite could change overnight. But of course, that doesn’t mean that it will.
    What can other countries be thinking?
    1- Even if we wanted to leave the EU, they wouldn’t let us. That fantasy in Spain that an independent Catalonia would be expelled from all civilized institutions and some of the uncivilized ones is just for internal consumption.
    2- For the EU, Catalan independence is an internal rearrangement. It may be a problem, but it is not the net loss that it would be for Spain.
    3- One of the main concerns of the EU with Catalan independence may be that it would set a precedent, and then other regions in Spain and northern Italy might follow. And perhaps, and this is only a guess, the EU is thinking: we can deal with the new States, but the problem is: what do we do with what remains of Spain? What do we do with Southern Italy?
    4- Support for EU membership is strong now, but a serious crackdown (the tanks, basically) with EU silence validating it could mean that in 4-5 years’ time Catalans could vote for independence even if that means leaving the EU. Or we could vote for independence because that would mean leaving the EU. My friend from Puigcerdà spontaneously reported that the lack of reaction from the EU had many people extremely disappointed.
    5- In 1986 the (sort of) Socialist government held a referendum re. NATO membership. Spain had joined it through the back door in 1981 or 82, and there was a vote on it in 86. Remain won in Spain, but Catalonia voted to leave. I think that some of the reactions recently in Washington (the WH Spokeswoman, Heather Something, used (I think twice) the expression “government or entity that comes out of this vote”) have a lot to do with it. They can accommodate change, but they don’t want disruption. It seems that there is one person in the Barcelona consulate (this is something that I heard of only once, so it may be not all accurate, but it sounded genuine to me at the time), in the Barcelona American consulate there is one person who is in charge of following events in Catalonia and he knows everything about it. Everything means: absolutely everything. And I suppose that that person does not keep all that information to himself.
    6- Manual of societal control for governments. Rule number 1: never mix a nationalist movement with a social issue. Rule number 2: never mix a nationalist movement with basic democratic rights. Rule number 3: never mix a nationalist movement with anything else. It is explosive. No change means a lot of mixing in the years to come.
    7- I was surprised a couple of days ago how this issue triggered a lot of comments about secession of American states. A dynamic of repression and resistance is probably not the best example for the masses of the world, and this conflict is not just going to go away.
    8- EU: “Mr Erdogan, you should treat your Kurds better”. MR ERDOGAN: Eeeeeer…

    It seems that the Catalan government seems to be gearing towards a declaration of independence, but at the same time it is asking for international mediation. They are not incompatible moves.

    I would like to elaborate on some interesting comments (nostromo’s, for instance) or some of your questions, but my lunch break finished a while ago, so I reckon that I will have to stay late in the office today. ☹

      1. Jesus Martinez

        no, I am not. I am fully aware of the difference. I am saying that the airs that they put on of having-the-moral-high-ground that the EU has made part and parcel of its diplomacy is going to be seriously questioned. The tone, and possibly substance, of its diplomacy are going to be questioned. And not only by Turkey.

      2. Jesus Martinez

        Also, think of internal public opinion. The so-called European project is not the most robust of contraptions. Part of their legitimacy comes from their own public accepting this moral high ground bullshit. My opinion is that the EU and the Euro-zone are solid enough to keep going at least for a good while, but good part of that solidity relies on the project being perceived as a guarantee for democracy and progress (whatever that means), particularly in Southern Europe. I don’t know about Eastern Europe. Think of the Greeks, who after their ordeal are still supportive of EU membership. Or the Italians. And I understand their reasons to want to be in, but these reasons have a lot to do with the guarantee of democracy and civil freedoms. The fabric is wearing thin, and you don’t want people to start thinking that after their pensions, their welfare state and their public jobs, their freedoms are going down the drain.

        1. Frenchguy

          It’s always the EU’s fault, they interfere too much in internal politics, they don’t interfere enough… Anyway, speaking of France only here, the independantist have absolutely not won the PR war. Even the more left-wing papers, while condemning police violence, usually have a balanced take on the fundamental issue of independance and are quick to point out that both sides are to blame. There is still no huge popular feeling of solidarity towards Catalonia here and to think that there is any consequence on EU popular support is extremely far-fetched. As long as it stays that way, French leaders won’t do a thing (and don’t think the French foreign office is forgetting that an independant Catalonia will, at one point, come after Perpignan…).

  23. St Jacques

    I been following this crisis in both Spanish and French and I can tell you that this independence campaign is filthy. Now I’m not defending Rajoy and his corrupt party, but the independistas are basically calling the rest of Spain lazy and spongers because most of the rest of the country is substantially poorer. There also has been a derogatory campaign against other Spaniards, especially those from the south, going back many years to one Jordi Pujol, who governed Catalonia and was one of the architects of Spain’s constitution. To put the essence of this campaign into perspective, it would be like if the Île-de-France (where Paris is) decided to quit France essentially because it has the biggest regional economy and has to support the poorer regions. These independists are basically selling the dream of an economic utopia but dressing it up with issues like language rights, where the real problem is that Catalan schools only teach in Spanish for a few hours a week. In 2009 only around 15 % of Catalans wanted independence. It is clear that the economic crisis is behind the surge in support for independence since then, but they are still in the minority. In 2014, when the economic situation was far worse, they held a referendum which polled 81 per cent in favour but they were only able to get 42 per cent of eligible voters to participate. Since then, all polls have shown that support for independence has been weakening slowly. This referendum, which was ruled as illegal by the Constitutional Tribunal, was also clearly flawed in the way it was conducted and supervised. The speed they counted the vote, the amazing result and there have been numerous reports of multiple voting. Anyway, here’s an interesting article in French that really gets the dilemma of ordinary people who are caught in the crossfire between an unyielding, corrupt and inept Spanish central government and a fiercely, even viciously nationalist Catalan independence movement by a demagogue who doesn’t give a damn about breaking parliamentary and constitutional rules and laws. Clearly they cannot win legally, so their plan is clearly to cause as much politically and economic chaos, force a social polarisation of Catalans against other Spaniards (the abuse of pro Spanish Catalans is notorious) and thereby force the EU to intervene and force their new state into the EU by threat of chaos. That’s my reading of what is happening.

  24. Peronella

    To those who would have us believe that the majority of Catalans want to remain in Spain, some numbers. These are taken from the Generalitat’s (Catalan govt) official count on Sunday evening

    Registered voters: 5.34 million
    Total votes counted:. 2,262,424 – those not seized by the Span police or Guardia Civil.

    YES votes:. 2,020,144. 90.9%
    NO votes:. 176,165. 7.87%

    Unmarked ballots:. 45,586. 2.03%
    Null ballots:. 20,129. 0.89%

    Potential lost votes by seizure by the Guàrdia Civil and Spanish Police and vote supression:. 770,000. Even if these missing votes were all NOs, there is no way they could overtake the YES. Not even close.

    If you did not go out to vote you are not counted and you can’t whine about the results. That goes in any democracy.

    The intl observers speaking to the press afterwards, validated the vote process, which they commended all the more given the appalling violence voters had to face to simply cast a vote. Their report will be out shortly.

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