There is an excellent book on socio-economics written by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner called Freakonomics which was actually a collection of articles discussing a whole slew of totally unrelated issues with no apparent purpose at all…not wholly unlike my teaching style. In their case, however, they actually had one thing in common: they were willing to look at issues in unconventional ways. They were also effective.
Not so surprisingly, the authors’ conclusions were often no less eyebrow-raising and, on occasion, shocking, when not altogether controversial. Good books should be like that. For example, they explored the notion that the crime rate in the 1990s in America did not decline dramatically due to increased sizes in the nation’s police force, as was commonly believed at the time, but rather as a result of an entirely different event which had taken place twenty years earlier: the introduction of legalized abortion. The assertion was startling to many and even dismissed by some experts. But one thing was unquestionably valid: the writers reminded us of just how important it was to think out of the box when trying to study the cause of certain phenomenon.
This book invariably came to mind when I started reading numerous articles in foreign newspapers and noticed that time and time again they would suggest that the Catalan independence movement really was a product of things going awry in the past ten years: major causes ran from the economic crisis to the corruption scandals involving members of the ruling party, the conservative Partido Popular (PP), the repealing of the Catalan Estatut, which is a kind of agreement the region had with the Spanish government. When you are talking about a conflict which predates any living Spaniard today, no matter how many years he has added to his life expectancy thanks to the fabulous Mediterranean diet, is there really any truth to it?
Granted, it is true there was a rough spell of economic inactivity, which the PP had inherited for the most part from the previous administration. The problem was so ginormous that it wasn’t like they could turn things around overnight. Everyone had to tighten their belt and suck it up. And it sucked. We teachers in Madrid had our Christmas bonus payment withheld. It really wasn’t actually a bonus at all, but rather a 7% cut in our salary that year, let’s stop kidding ourselves. We didn’t take to kindly to it at the time, but it sure beat lining up at the unemployment office. Eventually we were all paid back, but it goes to show lots of people all over the country were feeling the squeeze, not just the Catalans. And you don’t see us wanting to separate from Toledo. Please.
And it’s also true that the PP as a ruling party had also done just about everything a party can do to undermine its own credibility, with over 800 cases nationwide of unethical and outright illegal behavior and practices under investigation, making it one of the most criminally-investigated political formations in recent memory. I tell you, if you want to learn how to have your reputation as a trustworthy individual go down the toilet while in public office, these are the guys to talk to.
The party has finally tried to take a tough stance on these abuses of power, but the damage was done. In the 2016 elections, they lost 56 seats in parliament and 3.5 million votes. A blistering knuckle-rap if there ever was one. Another consequence was the founding of two new parties which have, for the time being at least, done away with the two-party system and are playing a crucial part in the most recent developments. One party is a kind of conservative-leaning, but not really right wing party, known as Ciudadanos. It’s hard at times to really know what these people represent, but one thing is for sure, all the leaders are really good-looking, which must be a prerequisite to becoming a candidate. The left wing, which had been in tatters for years after totally misreading the winds of change in Spain’s rise to prominence, abandoned the old traditional parties and regrouped under the guidance of a pony-tailed former college professor named Pablo Iglesias. I’ll tell you more about him at another time because he’s done a fine job of tanking his own cause.
No, those aren’t the reasons. They are merely the most recent episodes in a very, very long series of events which have stymied unity and union in this country. And, as you can expect, just where you want to begin depends heavily on what your perspective is. Let’s take a look:
- Pro-union Spain likes to go back to the very dawn of time to dig up proof that Catalonia has never, ever, ever been its own country. And even if they wanted to play fair and pick up at the beginning of the Christian Reconquest, their position is essentially the same. Their argument is flawed if only for the reason that the fact they haven’t been their own country, doesn’t mean they don’t have the right to become one. Duh.
- Hardcore Spaniards also point to the fact Catalonia was only a county and then a principality, and for centuries belonged to the Kingdom of Aragon, as in “Catherine of” fame, and they have a point…but only to a point. Catalonia did have its own institutions back then too. Its courts were among the earliest in Europe.
- Independence supporters sometimes cite the War of Spanish Succession (1701-1704), as Catalonia’s first true attempt to break away. They claim they backed Archduke Charles to be king and not Philip V, and the Philip imposed his will on the Catalans. That’s B.S. They actually welcomed defended Philip at first, and only switched sides when they felt threatened by the influx of French commerce.
- The Catalans often hark back to the 19th Century, and the cultural and nationalist renaissance that soared in many parts of Spain, not just Catalonia, not to mention Europe, where Germany and Italy were forming.
- Skipping over to the 20th Century, Spain was a monarchless republic, as most are, in the 1930s, and it was at this time that Catalonia claims to have declared independence under Lluis Campanys. The Spanish government, as well as many conservative Catalans, did not look upon that with favor, and suppressed the movement. He would later be freed and ran Catalonia during the Civil War before having to go into exile. Poor man, he was later detained in France, extradited, jailed and finally executed. Naturally, he is a major hero of the Catalan cause.
- The Franco regime is often a referred to as a blemish in the pro-Spain movement. Forty years of bliss for conservative and traditional Spaniards whose consequences, forty years later, the country would in part be paying a price for. At least say some. If by 1978, those with power, those with first-hand knowledge were letting bygones be bygones, it is sort of hard to understand why those who had nothing to do with try to use it as an excuse.
- Pro-Spain advocates love to allude to the 1978 Constitution as their starting point. It flat out says the country is based on the “indissoluble unity of the Spanish Nation, the common and indivisible homeland of all Spaniards.” Yeap, and 90% of the Catalan voters supported that statement.
- Yeah, but then the opposition will say that they were let down by the system and to longer believes in the constitution. This might be valid if it weren’t for the fact that, if anything, Catalonia has increased its autonomy since then. It enjoys more freedoms than forty years ago and lives a perfectly healthy and happy existence…unless you want to be independent, that is.
Conclusion. What would the freakonomists have to say? I couldn’t begin to guess. I’m not as smart as those guys. But if I had to go out on a limb, I’d say that just around the time constitution was passed at signed, a number of people smiled silently and said to themselves, we’re not done yet.
We still aren’t.