“In the Lenin Barracks in Barcelona, the day before I joined the militia, I saw an Italian militiaman standing in front of the officers’ table.”
Seeing the news headlines on TV España this morning, I wondered how Orwell would have felt if he were here today, waking up to read the news over his morning coffee. Then I quickly realised that my imagination had grotesquely failed me. Orwell would not have waited until the morning newspaper arrived; he would have been out there, on the plazas, in the heart of the action during the night.
For weeks, Sunday 25th of November 2012, was being geared up to be one of the most historical events in the history of Spain and Europe. It was supposed to be a day in which Europe would see the end of 19th and 20th century federalism and mark the beginning of a European-wide move towards greater independence. It was the day of the Catalan regional elections.
That’s quite a heavy burden for what one would assume to be nothing more than a local election.
Catalonia is a very autonomous region and practically an autonomous state with its own police, political system and tax laws. Its incumbent president, Artur Mas, noticed the Catalan people’s fiery anger about the crisis and thought he would seize the opportunity to turn this force into an anti-Spanish, pro-independence movement by calling an early election and labelling it a quasi-plebiscite on Catalan independence. How wrong he read the people; how wrong he was.
The Catalans are disenchanted with their livelihoods, just like the rest of Spain. The average Catalan worries about what the future holds and how much longer they’ll be able to put bread on the table, just like the rest of Spain. A Catalan deals with the daily crisis first and then at the end of the day, if there is any time or energy left, may consider the politics of the region and country, just like the rest of Spain.
If President Mas had all the answers to Catalonia’s problems, then he would have won 6 extra seats in the Catalan Parliament which he predicted; instead, they lost 12. The two winning parties are Mr Mas’ Convergència i Unió (CiU) and Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC), winning 50 and 21 seats respectively. Those who favour Catalan independence will be quick to point out to the world and his dog that the two parties which came out top are both pro-independence. However, a quick survey of their politics and their websites and you soon discover that CiU is centre-right and ERC is a left-winged party.
The centre-right party has more votes than the left-winged party. Does that not reflect the current political situation in most European countries? Does it not show that there has been a European-wide shift in the electorate to the right? Does it not reveal that what lies at the core of the Catalan people’s hearts are economics and social matters, not political independence? If the Catalans so desperately wanted to separate from Spain, then surely they would have backed the horse which had the best odds of making it possible? The fact that Mr Mas’ party has lost 20% of its seats from the previous parliament (down from 62 to 50) shows two things: he got it wrong and the Catalans aren’t happy with his government.
The political world has been focusing on the Catalan elections largely thanks to Mas’ media campaign (he has managed to turn an election into a plebiscite on independence even though it is just a regional election) but also due to the wider ramifications it could have for other European countries. If Catalan becomes independent, then that lays the path for Scottish and Bavarian independence, amongst other separatist regions.
Of course, there has also been the question of EU membership. Mr Barroso revealed last weekend that any break-away states are required “to join the queue for membership.” Given that EU membership requires the unanimous agreement of all 27 member-states (which is why Kosovo couldn’t join, because Spain said no), it does come as a shocking surprise when Artur Mas states the “major European rail and road crossings” as the reason why Catalonia would be allowed to join the EU.
Orwell paid homage to Catalonia and fought in the Spanish civil war because he believed in Catalonia and her independence. If he were here today, he may question how much the Catalans believe in Catalonia. However, it is important to point out he fought some 80 years ago, when the continent stood on the brink of political disaster in the form of communism and fascism. Spain today is a democratic country and has given Catalonia unprecedented autonomy. And it can have more, if it wants.
Whoever leads Catalonia tomorrow and the day after tomorrow must understand one very important thing: when the people are in a position where they can not only survive but live in prosperity, then and only then can they consider less important things, such as Catalonian independence. Deal with the problems of the people and you will deal with the problem of independence.