The International Writers Magazine: From Our Spanish Correspondent
The Battle for Hearts and Minds in Spain
Scotland held its referendum on independence with a lot of pomp and circumstance and next day it was back to ‘business as usual’. The European Union held its breath as a great deal of future and unknown challenges laid ahead should the Scots, or rather the registered citizens of Scotland vote on a ‘Yes’ to leave the United Kingdom for good. The outcome as we know was to continue with ‘status quo’ albeit with future extra concessions by Westminster, but remain as members of Great Britain. Everyone uttered a sigh of relief except the Catalans in Spain. They have been on the same wavelength as the Scots demanding a similar referendum that has been continually rejected by the Spanish government as being illegal.
Here ‘endeth’ the similarity.
The present Spanish Constitution, that was officially ratified in December 1978 is composed of 169 articles, is the foundation of this country’s democracy since the end of the dictatorship of Generalissimo Franco. It is the base of the Spanish legal system. Article 2 categorically confirms Spain as one nation for all Spaniards although based on autonomy for its different nationalities. Article 137 expands on this definition into territorial regions, provinces and town councils allowing each their own legal rights of government. Hence you have 17 different regions with separate parliaments that determine their own laws and manage their own legal affairs, but always in line with state law. In essence and bar the continued menace of ETA in the Basque Country seeking its own independence, the system has worked well and Spain has progressed, with the help of European funds into a solid member state of the European Union.
However, Catalonia’s regional government has never been satisfied with this arrangement, has always maintained that Catalans are not Spanish, have a different culture and language and have been brooding over this difference over the past four decades by demanding more and more autonomy falling short of a plea for independence. The original President, Sr. Jodi Pujol, who is now up before the judge for money-laundering began a ‘silent’ separatist movement way back in the early 80’s by slowly indoctrinating the new generations that they were definitely different. His clever program included the catalanization of everything Spanish including the imposition of the Catalan language above the Castilian. Today’s new generations, definitely believe that they are not part of Spain and should therefore be given the freedom to choose their future. Along come the Scots and the movement suddenly took off on a massive scale with daily rallies, marches, demonstrations and speeches consolidating this demand for so called freedom.
Unfortunately the whole idea of even a referendum clashes with the above articles of the Constitution and the Spanish government, including the major opposition Socialist party. Both are determined to uphold the law as they consider the move illegal. Nevertheless, the present Catalan president, Artur Mas has been on a constant jamboree of waving flags, chanting outrage at the refusal, and is going ahead anyway with some sort of a ‘consultation’. It has even been approved recently by the Catalan parliament and will be held on the 9th of November. There is an ironic twist to this façade. As a proper referendum was always out of the question, the opportunity to hold proper debates on the consequences of the creation of a new European state similar to what occurred in Scotland were never attempted. There have been hundreds if not thousands of ‘tete-a-tete’ debates on television and in the press but none with any real substance as to the pros and cons of independence. Artur Mas has even bent history saying that three hundred years ago Cataluña was an independent nation. Meanwhile the rest of the Spanish media rebuffed his distortion of facts. In other words, and apart from the warnings from many international organizations including those in the European Union the Catalans have no real idea, nor the rest of the Spaniards for that matter what it would mean to break up this country in a similar way to what may have occurred in United Kingdom. We’re talking about the economic and other far reaching consequences, and all the small print that finally appeared, albeit rather late in the debates over Scottish independence. None of this has ever been discussed. This is the real tragedy behind this move by Catalonia.
This latest determination that has been given the green light by the Catalan parliament has prompted swift action from the central government of Mariano Rajoy. Pandora’s Box has been completely opened and the whole of the might of the Spanish law will be applied against what is now considered as a rebellious autonomous region within Spain. The whole issue will be brought before the Constitutional Court that is the ultimate legal decider of the country. If it confirms, as everyone suspects that the move by Catalonia is illegal it remains to be seen to what extreme the government will go to penalize Catalonia including criminal charges against its president, Sr. Artur Mas.
I’ll end here on this internal dilemma as the next few weeks will be crucial and it is anybody’s guess as to what may eventually happen.
The other main event that took place, again highly controversial was the resignation of the Minister of Justice, Sr. Luis Gallardon because of a dispute with the PM, Sr. Mariano Rajoy over the controversial introduction of a modified abortion law by the minister. It was eventually scrapped and yet another government promise in the election manifesto 3 years earlier was not complied with. This is yet another blow to the government as it continues to ignore the wishes of its electorate in introducing a significant number of changes that were promised to put right the mess left by the previous socialist government of Sr. Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.
Abortion is a very delicate subject throughout the civilized world. Laws that permit it are diverse and varied and continue to clash with those for and those against the destruction of embryonic life. In the case of the Spanish law, the first that was introduced in the present democracy was back in 1985 and was simple and basic allowing abortion in case of rape, mother’s health or malformation of the fetus. It also removed the act of abortion as a criminal offence. This law continued unchanged until the government of Zapatero took over. In 2010 a new one was approved that more or less opened the flood gates to every woman who did not want to continue with her pregnancy. The real controversy was twofold. It allowed a girl of 16 to seek an abortion without her parents’ consent. She did not even have to inform them. The second was that it was a ‘woman’s right’ to abort. This second issue caused a tremendous turmoil in a divided Spanish society. During the election campaign in 2011, the conservative party (PP) vowed to revoke this law but did not specify how. Result? Nothing has been done to change it and Spain continues with ZP’s law in what some pundits call ‘coffee for everyone’. The debate continues.
The rest of the month is more of the same. The macro-economy is stable as per the government’s spin doctors despite the growing public debt and continuing trade deficit. The unemployment rate has dropped but not enough to change the mood of its citizens. In fact this very issue continues to fuel the so called ‘non-conformist’ platforms of citizens that pop up like mushrooms wishing to change everything.
Although summer is nearly over it’s been a bumper year as far as tourism is concerned. Due to the growing international conflicts in other parts of the world Spain continues to be a safe haven for sun, beach and tapas bars. The outside world is usually oblivious to the country’s internal problems and this is a real blessing in disguise; at least for the time being!
See you next month.
UPDATE: October 7th 2014
As predicted, the Constitutional Court, in unprecedented speed confirmed the move by the Catalan Government to hold a ‘consultation’ on the 9th of November as illegal. The Spanish government has once again reiterated its intent to uphold the law and proceed with the necessary steps to halt the move by Catalonia. The effect, according to the polls, has caused the majority of the Catalans citizens to defy Madrid and go ahead with their so called mini referendum regardless. This stalemate situation has now become of national concern. The next step will be for the government to literally ‘send in the troops’. Artur Mas, the Catalan President intends to distribute thousands of ballot boxes around the country for ‘D’ day next month. If this occurs, the state government has the authority to ‘remove’ these so called voting centers by force if necessary. ‘And hererin lieth the problem’. This would mean sending in the National Police and/or the Civil Guards to carry out the task. Ah! But Catalonia has its own ‘local’ police force known as the Mossos d’Esquadra (in Catalan). Would there be a clash between the different upholders of the law? There is another caveat and that is the status of the Civil Guards should they also intervene. This body is part of the Spanish Army and the head of the armed forces is none other than King Felipe VI. Will he have to order the move? What is even more of a confused situation is that the Catalan movement of independence is supported by the ERC (Esquerra Rebublicana de Catalunya) the Republican party, that are demanding an end to the monarchy anyway, and the ‘restoration’ of a Spanish Republic similar to the one that governed in the 1930’s. We all know what happened then when social unrest led to the Spanish Civil War. Apocalyptic murmurings are already appearing in the press as no one yet knows how all this is going to end. We’re less than 5 weeks away.
© James Skinner. 7.10.14
With all the problems that have sprung up around the world in recent months, the Spanish Government has nothing better to do than to start yet another riff raff with Britain over Gibraltar.