Yeah, right! - Writings by Brian Murdock

Posts Tagged ‘Catalan Independence’

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February 4, 2018

The Catalan Chronicles: I never said independence, did you?

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Within days of announcing the DUI, the separatists were already in a pickle.  Mariano Rajoy, the prime minister, had removed their home rule, dissolved their parliament and called on a snap election to take place seven weeks later.  The most radical advocates of secession gave a knee-jerk reaction.  La CUP, which based its argument on the fact that Catalonia was no longer a part of Spain (even though this was a reality that existed only in their minds), refused to participate, as it would give legitimacy to the idea that it had never left, which everyone (except for them, it appears) knew was true.  They even vowed to spend the day, December 21st, preparing a large paella.  Somehow they considered this action to be the ultimate show of defiance.  The paella, by the way, is a typical dish of Valencia (though I’m sure the ANC claimed it to be Catalan at some point), which was still a part of the Spain they belonged to too, but simply refused to accept.  Kudos to them for sticking to their guns, and I’m serious about that, but that did present a problem.  Once it was explained to them that they actually weren’t a sovereign nation and that if they didn’t run for parliament they would risk being excluded from politics, they did an about face.  It went something like: we know we’re a free nation; we just want to make sure.

 

In a sense, that was one brilliant aspect of Rajoy’s decision to announce the upcoming elections (and trust me, his administration didn’t have a lot of brilliant ideas).  In light of the fact that no one was going to put up a stiff resistance, the renegade parties either accepted the challenge and, thus, admit they were still inside the Spanish state, or be left out of any decision-making from then on.  And that wasn’t going to happen.

 

Junts per Sí, Puigdemont’s party, stuck to its strategy of playing word games with the public and thinking they are slyer than all get out.  It can get tiresome, I can tell you.  Well, the members of the Catalan Parliament who had held a secret vote three days before claimed they had never declared independence because it was never explicitly expressed in the resolution they voted on.  So, I guess if I say something like “I’m going to take possession of your car without your permission and keep it forever,” I can’t be charged with stealing because I didn’t express it in those terms.  Or something to that effect.  Here are some of things the people who did not explicitly declare independence voted on instead:

  • We hereby constitute the catalan republic to be an independent and sovereign State, and of social and democratic rule of law.
  • The law for the judicial and foundational transition of the republic shall come into effect immediately.
  • We shall initiate the creation of a new and democratic constitution, citizen-based, transversal, collaborative and binding.

I don’t know.  I’ll let you judge for yourself; but it doesn’t sound to me like they were drawing up the rules for a baking contest.  And notice the generous use of the word “democratic”.  Let us not forget that there was yet to be a poll (even the separatists were aware of this) that indicated a majority in favor of leaving Spain.  Not one.  So, in the name of democracy they hoped to obligate the majority of the residents in that region to leave Spain, to leave the European Union.  There you have it.  But they didn’t vote for independence.

 

As the days went by and doing time in the slammer became a greater reality, some of the secessionists began to recant.  Carme Forcadell, who was the speaker of the parliament, and a major proponent of the “procés indenedentista”, admitted before a judge that the vote was only “symbolic in nature” and was not binding in any way.  Is that right?  I’d like to see just where in the text that is stated explicitly or implicitly.  I’d also dread to think how the “nature” of the document would have changed if, say, the United Kingdom had decided to recognize the sovereignty of Catalonia.

 

It’s an endless game of dodging punches and rope-a-dope politics.  Sometimes I feel like I’m watching the Cheese Shop sketch of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, where John Cleese, to the backdrop of a man playing a Greek bouzouki and two other members dance in suits and bowler hats, tries to buy some cheese from Michael Palin, but the store is totally empty.  That does not prevent Cleese from ordering dozens of varieties to which Palin, aware that he has no cheese, replies no to one by one.  It is a classic in absurdist comedy.

 

Less comical but equally absurd was the verbal run-around that rocked the system in Spain in November, 2017.  All that was missing was the bouzouki.

 

 

 

 

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February 3, 2018

Tha Catalan Chronicles: Every which way but loose

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As you can imagine, the independence supporters were elated, somewhat belated, but elated all the same.  Members of parliament were joyfully singing the Catalan national anthem, Els Segadors, and pro-separatists were rejoicing in the street as they embraced their new-founded freedom from Spain with the enthusiasm of children on the first day of summer vacation.

 

The Central government didn’t share in the merriment, and didn’t take long to respond.  You kind of expect that to happen when a region in your country has just declared itself a sovereign nation. Rajoy called a press conference and made a fairly lengthy set of announcements, which could be summed up in the following:

  • The Catalan Parliament was henceforth dissolved until further notice, (that doesn’t happen every day).
  • The regional government was removed from power. (that was also a novelty)
  • And regional elections were announced to be held on December 21st.  A snap election, as they call it.

Was this all a good idea?  We’d find out in a no time.  But the fact was, he pretty much had no choice.

 

If Puigdemont had hoped his declaration would trigger support from around the world, by six o’clock, he was soon getting the message that he was terribly wrong.  The total number of nations recognizing Cataluña had added up to zero.  And it didn’t get It was that pitiful.   The EU in block rejected the notion.  They weren’t going to spur on an onslaught of peoples wanting independence.  The U.S. said no too, stating that Catalonia was an “integral part of Spain” and that it backed any and all “constitutional measures to ensure unity.”  So, that was definitely a no.

 

So, without about no one in the world willing to stand by them, the secessionists vowed to make a stand on their own.  They cried out words like “dictatorship”, “oppression”, “repression”, “coup d’etat” and “resistance”.  And I mean a lot of resistance.  Passive resistance, active resistance.  The Spanish government could try and do what it wanted, but if it thought it was going to be met with cooperation from the Catalan people, they could forget it.  And I could see it happening.  I really could.

 

Well, what a letdown.  Pandemonium did not spread throughout the countryside.  Spanish-speakers were not abducted and tossed into the nearest lake.  Guardia Civil was not plowing into schoolyards.  Franco had not arisen from the dead.  Catalan was not being spoken on the beaches of the Costa del Sol.  All hell was not breaking loose.  Instead, people were getting home from work, nursing a beer and watching Netflix or getting ready for some tapas.  It was essentially what you’d call…a Friday evening.  Status quo, big time.  It’s one of those undaunted characteristics of the Spanish.  The caña is the caña.

 

Levity aside, a highly significant reaction from the ashes of the takeover was that there was practically no reaction at all?  For the love of God, Madrid had just deposed the regional government, dissolved its parliament, suspended its home rule and taken control of its institutions.  Except for the use of the armed forces, can you get any more pro-active?  Can a region be anymore humiliated?  If the hard times the separatists claimed Catalonia had suffered over the decades had really been true, wouldn’t this have been the ideal time to stand up for their rights?  This, if we were to believe their discourse on how poorly treated they were, should have been their Gandhi moment; the Martin Luther King moment; their Nelson Mandela time.  So, where in God’s name was the resistance?  I mean, apart from the threats and a few days of protests and outcries, where was the forecasted fight to the end?   With all the alleged oppression, suppression, repression and God knows what other kind of -pression, where was all the outrage?  Where were the factory slow downs, the administrative obstruction of orders, the strikes, the boycotts, the sit-down protests, the sabotage, the defiance?  Ubi sunt?  Ubi erant?  It just doesn’t add up, I’m sorry.  Were things really as desperate as they had made them sound?  Or maybe most weren’t willing to sacrifice their standard of living, their livelihood…their, God forbid, their lives.  In many ways, I can thankfully say no, for the sake of everyone.  But it does make me wonder, and it should everyone.

 

One person who did have a course of action planned as head of the planet’s newest nation was their trusted leader, Carles Puigdemont.  Trusted, that is, until it became apparent what he had planned up his sleeve.  A plan few people would have imagined.  Flight.  In the traditional sense of the word.  He left.  He ran off.  He, and five other deposed ministers, bolted for Belgium, of all places, to seek refuge.

 

Now, just what did this generally drab country have to offer a fugitive of the law other than its outstanding chocolate and excellent beer?  It wasn’t because it was the capital of the European Union, Brussels, I can assure you that, as the European Commission president, Jean-Claude Junker was made very clear that he would not find solace from EU institutions.

 

But it was near Brussels all the same, and that never hurt.  Plus, Belgium also had a coalition government formed in part by a separatist party of its own, which dreamed of founding a Flemish state.  They were most sympathetic towards the Catalan independence cause and welcomed exiles Catalonia as if they were refugees.  So, holding out abroad until it is the right moment to return has been done throughout history, and successfully on occasion.  But it’s a gamble, and it doesn’t always pay off.

 

You see, not everyone saw this as a brilliant and necessary move.  Others held a very different opinion of Mr. Puigdemont’s unexpected maneuvering.  The press in Spain had a field day and even his allies raised some eyebrows.  After all, Carles’ number two man in the government, Oriol Junqueras, stayed back and faced the music.  He was sent to prison.  He is still in jail.  Meanwhile, Puigdemont three months later was looking to install himself in €4,400 a month mansion in Waterloo, Belgium.  Not a bad place to engage the enemy.

 

So things were sort of in disarray, especially among the secessionists, who labored to decide just how to proceed.  The pro-unity side, on the other hand, had set its sights on the December 21st elections, which it hoped would be a referendum in disguise.  If all went well, this mess would be settled then.

 

As we have learned by this stage of the game; things tended not to go well for anyone.

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February 1, 2018

The Catalan Chronicles: The Jordan Syndrome

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Some people just don’t know when to hang it up.  Even all-time greats like Michael Jordan couldn’t walk away with the grace we were all hoping for.  He was close, though.  In the sixth game of the 1998 NBA finals and behind by one, Air, with the clutchness that was so characteristic of his style of play, started to drive to the net in the closing seconds, pulled up and sank a mid-range winning jumper.  It was his third consecutive ring after returning from an early retirement, before which he had also been crowned for three straight years.  The dream ending to a dream-come-true comeback of a dreamlike career.  All he had to do was sling a leather coat over his shoulder in the locker room, take one more look at the court, and  head down the tunnel into eternity.  It would have been a storybook finish.  And it should have been.

 

Two years later, he returned to partially purchase, play with and hopefully turn around the hapless Washington Wizards in what would end up being two forgettable seasons.  Jordan’s place among the gods in Olympus is uncontestable; his numbers nearly unequalled; and his candidacy as the greatest player the game has ever seen, essentially unbeatable.  But there will always be that lingering question: why?  We all wanted that perfect ending…but, oh well.

 

Fastfoward to a very different scenario, to a very different country and situation, and a similar inquiry arises.  It’s January 31, 2018, and the Catalan regional government is once again grinding it out under the pressure of a deadline.  This time not with a declaration of indepedence in mind, but with hope of electing a new president of the region.  The December 21st elections had pretty much solved nothing.  Once again, the pro-separatists, despite losing the popular election, managed to win more seats.  The constitutionalist party, CC, had received the most votes of any party, but not enough to have the majority.  Not by a long shot.  And even if they pooled all the parties together, the fell short.

 

So, who was the nominated candidate?  Carles Puigdemont, of course.  And where was Mr. Puigdemont in this delicate moments of crisis when he was most needed?  In Brussels, of course, where he had been taking refuge since late October, after declaring independence and fleeing the country on the basis he could not be guaranteed a safe or a fair trial under the Spanish legal system.  Pretty much the rest of the leaders stayed behind and assumed the position, if you know what I mean.  Carles ran away, somehow thinking that he was establishing a kind of government in exile.

 

Well, there he still was, waiting to return triumphantly as the new president of the Catalan government; it is one of the more bizarre moments in one’s understanding of how life works, and let’s see why.  Puigdemont had a warrant out for his arrest, should he return to Spain.  There was a mild attempt to have him detained in Belgium, but the Spanish government didn’t make an all out effort because my guess is that they were happy to have him sulking abroad.  The farther the better.  And I think they were right.

 

Anyway, for some reason, Puigdemont had decided that it wasn’t necessary for him to even be there for the investiture, or for even his term in office.  He could just run Catalonia via internet and all would be hunky-dory.  I’m totally serious here.  The man was being chased by the law for civil and judicial disobedience, along with leading a movement to secede from the country (pretty serious charges if you ask me), and somehow he thought he had the constitutional backing to pull it off.  So did his supporters who, to my befuddlement, were still legion.

 

The Spanish government as well as the judicial branch were going to have none of it and told him in the immortal words of Bob Dylan, “you ain’t a-going nowhere.”  But just to be sure, there were car checks, opening trunks and all, at the border and around the Catalan parliament to make sure wily Carles did not sneak in somehow.  Crazy, but true.

 

Well, as time was running out, the leader of the parliament, Roger Torrent, was still trying to make it happen, but Spain’s highest court had ordered him not to.  Keeping his promise both to the Spanish government as well as his own people, he chose to put off the vote until everything was in order.  The problem was, he had only one day left.  It looked like the battering rams were ready to crash their heads into each other needlessly once again.

 

Just why Puigdemont still sat atop the totem pole was a mystery to me, and I’m sure many others too, though no one was talking about it.  His swan song had been playing for quite some time now.  I could see it coming when:

  • He had to switch cars secretly inside a tunnel in order to show up at a polling station on October 1 when the separatists held .  Not very statesmanlike, if you ask me.
  • When he performed the now famous coitus interruptus during the first semi-declaration of indepedence.
  • When he failed to stand up to the central government when activating Article 155 (the constitutional authority to remove home rule from a region), time and time again.
  • When he waivered over and over again in the hours leading up to the official declaration of independence.
  • When he held the vote secretly so no one could be held accountable.
  • When he left behind his supporters, allies and constituents and fled to Belgium and let the others take on the Spanish justice system alone.

 

I kept saying to myself that it was inconceivable this man was not being being laughed out of town by his own people.  Did they admire his ability to fight on from a distance? Did they really think he bolted because otherwise the cause would be lost?  Did they really buy it?  You betcha.  At least some did.  Others were becoming increasingly frustrated with and irritated by the “problema Puigdemont”.  To some, he was becoming a liability.  A former star who wouldn’t accept his time had come.

 

Then a little miracle happened.  A miracle for the constitutionalists, that is: the very next morning, the TV channel Telecinco released a breaking news report in which several messages written to a colleague, and former Catalan minister and fellow outlaw in self-exile, Toni Comín, in which the once and future head-of-state admitted he had been outplayed and that everything was lost.  The texts were sent through an ultra-secure though relatively unknown messaging service called Signal, a company which sure to benefit from the publicity.  They were snagged on camera and just too juicy to keep to themselves.

 

Puigdemont, just about as the same time he was defying Spain’s demands on the international scene, was essentially admitting defeat surreptitiously.  He was caught big time.  Actually, Comín was the culprit because it was his cell.  Some even suggest the “friend” let the messages be filmed so as to force Carles out of contention, but that seems unlikely.  Though, you never know.

 

The very next day Puigdemont admitted the messages were his.  It was, in my humble opinion, a perfect time to throw in the towel.  The tenth perfect time, but nonetheless a perfect time.  He tweeted what many thought might be his capitulation.  Here’s how he did it: “I am human and I, too, have moments of doubt. I am also the president and I will not fold or back away out of respect for the gratitude I feel towards – and the commitment I have – to the citizens and the nation. Onwards!”

 

Lord have mercy.  Michael…take another shot, please!