Every once in a while when some kind of humilliating debacle grabs the headlines, people here reach for the sky and clamor, “Spain is different!” They look at me all bummed out and whimper, “I bet these kinds of things would never happen in the U.S.” What they want to hear me say is that they are right and explain that in America Puigdemont would be doing time in Texas long ago. Not that Lone Star State is known for coming down hard on political outlaws, but the name does somehow satisfy the Spanish’s basic understanding of places in the United States where no criminal would ever like to be incarcerated. And, as you can imagine, saying “he’s doing time in Rhode Island” just doesn’t have the same effect. So, I give them what they want. I provide comfort. “Oh, he’d be picking up soap every day in Waco, trust me.”
They nod firmly, pleased by what they have heard. “Fucking-A. That’s the way to do it.”
Then I get to the sad truth. Unfortunately, when people Madrid here look to American history for solace, they don’t always get what they bargained for. This is why. The War of Independence came about by:
- A people with no prior history as a nation.
- Separatists who claimed they were being robbed by the state.
- National leaders who created their own parliament to legislate their next moves, and…
- Ignored British laws, overlooked judicial decisions and flat out defied royal decrees, and…
- Declared independence unilaterally, the way it’s usually done, folks, and…
- Renounced an institutionalized monarchy and proclaimed a republic, and…
- Propagated their message through a fairly well-oiled propaganda machine which often highly distorted the facts, and…
- Counted on less than half the population for support, at least at first before the British came in and started breaking heads.
What do you know. Essentially this is an outline of many of the ingredients that go into the Catalan independence movement. Many of the acts and actions that many of us find unacceptable, all the illegal measures, the sedition, the inciting of passive and not so passive resistance, were also perpetrated by the Founding Fathers of my homeland. Ironically, the Catalans could make a case for their secession by using the birth of the United States as a model. Shit. Does Puigdemont know about this? I’m not sure if anyone (much less his own supporters) cares what he thinks at this point after he bolted to Belgium, but you never know.
Plus, the American movement wasn’t exactly the same, was it? To begin with, times were quite different back then. The colonists had already left England a century and a half before looking for the freedom to do as they wished. They were already predisposed to no longer putting up with the kind of crap you had to deal with in Great Britain, and that sense of freedom would only augment with time. The people did not get the proper representation they deserved and had little say in how their land should be governed. The monarchy back then was a lot more powerful than the figurehead is today. And even though George III was not the evil authoritarian that my elementary school textbooks made him out to be, it was clear he was not keen to make things easy for the colonists. So he used force. A lot of it. Not only did that damage the British cause, it also triggered an unexpected complication. As Howard Zinn put it, “victory was made possible by the existence of an already-armed people. Just about every white man had a gun, and could shoot.”
And they did. The active participation of the French and Spanish, who were always game for screwing over their arch-rivals, proved key too.
The American Revolution was also very much of a transfer of power from the wealthy in the United Kingdom to the wealthy in the colonies. The driving forces behind America’s inception was none other than the ruling class of the New World, which meant there were no members badly in need of a proper haircut and wearing bizarre T-shirts two sizes too small marching down the aisle with a smirk as they voted for to break away from the motherland. There were scores of grown men who also could have done with a visit to the barber, but who owned so much money, land and slaves, they couldn’t give a damn what others thought.
Catalonia’s ruling class (economic power), on the other hand, made it very clear in the early days of October that it had no intention of joining in the seccionists’ games. Logically, they saw nothing but trouble from being kicked out of the European Union, and told the leaders of the movement (in probably less cordial words) that they could basically go perform lewd acts on each other and enjoy their freedom on their own. The threat of leaving the euro can do that to individuals and entities of substantial wealth. I wouldn’t know personally, but I figure that’s the case.
What’s more, the region does have its own parliament, its own governing laws, its own fiscal administration (that means they can tax). It has been granted the right to have its own police force and schooling system. As for democracy, no fewer than 11 regional elections have been held (in addition to the national ones), with pro-Catalan parties dominating. One can hardly say they have been victims of mistreatment over the past 40 years since the Franco regime disappeared (that is, from a time when they really had a good reason to want to separate); they have enjoyed plenty of autonomy, as well as plenty of chances for the independentists to want to garner enough support for their cause. But that doesn’t seem to have happened as of yet.
Does any of that really matter when your final goal is to become your own country? When you’ve got it in your head that you will not rest until to you pull down every last Spanish flag, do you care about those details? Not really. You just ignore the facts and plow ahead. Your mission is not over. And that’s where things get messy.