Homage to Catalonia

Voters in the Spanish province of Catalonia yesterday gave a large majority to pro-independence parties, who now command 2/3 of the seats in the regional parliament. The practical impact may be attenuated, because the secessionist movement is weakened by being spread across four parties: separatists can’t unite.

Madrid vows to resist any split. Spain apparently only likes two-state solutions when they involve other people’s states. And they are not alone in that. [UPDATE: More on this in the comments.]

Secession in the U.S. has historical baggage that leads it to be associated with reactionary and regressive tendencies. Interestingly, the historical valence of Catalonian separatism is progressive and Communist. The region was a hotbed of Anarcho-Syndicalism in the early 20th century. It was one of the last Republican strongholds in the Civil War (yes, the other one, and the other Republicans). Separatis movements through Spain were suppressed after the war. Orwell’s memoir that provides the title for this post criticized the Soviet domination of the anti-Fascist forces. So if opponents of secession in the U.S. may be the legatees of Lincoln, are the unionists in Spain followers of Franco?

UPDATE: The E.U. has been coy about whether it would accept a Catalan state, and as readers noted, EU rejection would put the kibosh on independence. The EU’s reaction is predictable: it is a country cartel, many of whose members face similar separatist drives. It wants to discourage this kind of thing, and I expect its threats of exclusion will mount as independence seems more likely.

On the other hand, part of the ideology of the Union is its continental nature, its scope – thus the persistent expansion to include even unlikely or remote members. Another part is its inevitability – that is why minor retrogression, like Greece dropping the Euro, is threatening. Thus having non-EU pockets within the union is a challenge to the notion of Europe. I think after some bluster, Brussels would put Catalonia on the (often long) road to accession. Anyway, the EU needs more solvent members, rather than fewer. So my advice to Catalan secessionists (who may not read this, and haven’t asked) would to be to tough it out and not go wobbly.

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