Contrasting articles on Catalunya and Euskadi

Thanks to Col·lectiu Emma, I've just read an interesting article by Paddy Woodworth, comparing what is happening in Catalunya with what is happening in Euskadi, the Basque Country, a place with which he seems to be well acquainted.

  Madrid's nightmare


  Foreign Policy, 20 August 2010

It's worth reading alongside a contrasting article that appeared just over a week ago in Spiegel Online.

  Zero Tolerance in the Fight against ETA


  Spiegel Online, 13 August 2010

One of the great imponderable questions of the last century is whether a country like Ireland would ever have won its independence from the United Kingdom if it had not fought a war for it; or whether the UK would later have relinquished its strategic interest in the north if people hadn't been prepared to fight for it. We in Wales and Scotland can only consider ourselves fortunate that we are now in a position to become independent when we vote for it.

But once a fight for independence has become violent—or indeed the fight to prevent it, for in any armed conflict both sides use violence—it requires no little effort and commitment to then fight by peaceful and democratic means.

To my mind, Der Spiegel's article reads too much like a vanity piece for Patxi Lopez. As I read the situation in Euskadi, the Basques will undoubtedly vote for independence whenever Spain allows them to do so ... that's why Spain refuses to let them exercise that choice. They have been able to portray far too many Basque leaders calling for independence as terrorist sympathizers, imprisoning them and banning their parties in an attempt to quash any mechanism by which independence could be achieved by democratic means.


But Catalunya, like Wales and Scotland, has no real history of violence in the fight for independence, so the issue is not clouded in the same was as it has been in Ireland and Euskadi. If Catalunya can gain its independence by peaceful means (the onus being on the Spanish, because they're the ones who might use military force to prevent it) it will then be hard for them not to let Euskadi do the same.

And when Scotland wins its independence, it might in turn be the catalyst that triggers Irish reunification. For the unionist community has far stronger cultural and social links with Scotland than with the RUK. And their loyalty to the crown will be tested to breaking point when a queen they respect and can look up to passes away to be replaced by a son who cannot be looked up to.

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Val the Impala said...

Of course Ireland followed the constitutional route to independence, firstly through the Home Rulers and then by the Sinn Fein victory in the 1918 election. It was only with London rejecting the will of the voters that violence took centre stage in Ireland.

What would be the reaction of London to a victory for the Independence camp in Scotland or Wales. Are we sure that "we are now in a position to become independent when we vote for it." Would London really accept or would they find excuses to ignore such a vote? I'm sure they would find plenty of support within the EC (from Spain, France and Greece) if they chose to reject the will of the Scots or Welsh voters.

As for Ulster I think that the Unionist rump, based on a redrawn border, would far prefer an independent Ulster to reunification with the rest of Ireland in any circumstances. Infact I'd say that Ulster is the part of the UK most likely to vote for independence. As democrats have we any reason for denying them that independence if they choose to vote for it?

MH said...

Val, both Labour and Tory governments have said in the past that Scotland can be independent if it votes for it. OK, that doesn't bind any future governments, but I can't see the position changing. There'll be various constitutional challenges, I'm sure, plus lots of haggling over debts and assets. But I don't see a problem.

However, I do think there's a real sense in which the "UK Establishment" have convinced themselves it will never happen, so that it will be a shock to them when it does. At that point, my greatest fear is that they will shut the stable door after the Scottish horse has bolted, so as to prevent the same thing happening with Wales. But that's not to assume that Wales will follow behind Scotland, I think we will be independent in the early 2020s irrespective of what Scotland does.


On Ireland, having partitioned it once, I don't think anyone is going to be mad enough to partition it again. Perhaps it is tempting to think that giving Fermanagh, and maybe Tyrone, to the Republic will allow unionists to be a safe majority in what's left, but neither side will let that happen.

I think there are two elements to the eventual solution. The first exploits each side's overlapping ideas of identity in relation to sovereignty and the monarchy. To Republicans, the integrity of the island of Ireland is paramount. To Loyalists, allegiance to (and protection by, in constitutional terms) a protestant monarch is paramount. The queen is "Queen of England" (and many other countries) which is a claim on the geographical territory. But she is not Queen of Scotland, but Queen of the Scots ... shifting the emphasis to personal allegiance rather than a geographical claim.

So what if she, after Scottish independence, were to restyle herself Queen of England and Queen of the Scots and Ulster Scots thus allowing loyalists to retain allegiance, and their positions as her subjects; perhaps even with passports to suit, in exactly the same way as the Irish who live in the six counties can choose Irish or UK passports now. Thus Ireland has the land, but the Crown has the people who want to be subject to it.

The second element is that the six counties should have at least the same degree of devolution in a united Ireland as they now have in the United Kingdom. In my opinion the Republic is over-centralized, with disproportionate wealth and growth in and around Dublin. As a small country it can probably get away with it, although what has happened in the last few years should be a lesson about the dangers of unbalanced growth. So I believe the reunification should be accompanied by a new structure for Ireland, with a large and equal degree of devolution to the regions of Ireland: the Dublin area; the West centred on Galway; the South on Cork; the East on say Wexford; plus the six counties as the North centred on Belfast. In a romantic sense, these are the four provinces, with Dublin as Tara. But in a modern political sense it is the existing Irish Euro Constituencies as shown on this map. Each of the regions would have the same degree of self government within an essentially federal structure.

Val the Impala said...

The original partition was just a stop-gap measure and the treaty envisaged a referendum to redraw the border. Of course both sides saw advantage in not holding the referendum so it never happened.

I don't believe that the Unionists actually care that much about the Union or the Queen other than that these institutions have historically guaranteed their rights vis a vis the Catholic majority in Ireland. A devolved Ulster will very soon have a Catholic majority and that would be unacceptable to the Protestants. No solution that places the Protestants under Catholic governance would be acceptable to them and they would fight for their right to rule themselves.

In the absence of any likelihood of normality between these two communities the only sane position it seems to me would be to recognize the fact of their enmity, draw a line on a map - I believe that studies show this can be done to leave 90% of Protestants on one side and 90% of Ulster Catholics on the other - and give the Protestants de facto independence within that area. Whether that's within a united Ireland, a united kingdom or a united Europe is less important than the fact self-rule.

Of course it would be nice if the two communities could actually get along but that just seems pie in the sky.

MH said...

If/when a majority of votes is achieved in a referendum, the six counties will be reunited with the rest of Ireland. The minority will have to accept that democratic decision or take up arms against it. But if they do the latter, the British government will not—this time round—fight that battle for them. That's the big difference between then and now.

Val the Impala said...

Yes that looks a likely scenario. The non-involvement of British forces is certainly part of the solution.

Democratic? I guess so but only in the same way that deciding Welsh independence on the basis of a UK wide referendum would also be "democratic."

I doubt very much if the 26 county government would want to attempt to force a million unwilling Ulster Protestants into a united Ireland against their will. You'd have to be lacking in imagination to not see what such heavy-handedness would do to the island.

The Ulster Protestants aren't going to go away you know, and Ireland will have to come up with a realistic solution which the Protestants find acceptable - I doubt if being a minority in a devolved 6 counties would cut the mustard. Of course getting the British out of the picture is a necessary step to a solution, as is the mindset of seeing the Protestants as a non-people.

Anonymous said...

MH - I think you're right about the Basque Country. Whilst I agree with ETA's basic statement that the Spanish state won't allow the Baques to become independent democratically (a point reinforced by the Spanish parliament throwing out the Ibarretxe Plan ... the Basque 'SDLP' if you like) I think also that the continuation of ETA (like the PLO or Hamas for the Palestinians) is now the Basque's biggest draw back. As the author of the Foreign Policy says (and his book on the Dirty War is very balanced) a peaceful Basque pro-independence movement would give Spain post Franco a huge challenge.

Were the Catalans and Basques to campaign peacefully for independence then I can't see how, in the long run, Spain can refuse it. If it does then after a while (10 years of pro-independence marches and votes etc) many people across Europe will actually, not to say in the Basque lands will support ETA. I don't say that as a threat. I just think the best thing is peaceful agitation but Spain can't stonewall the will of a nation for ever.

I can't for the life of me understand the Spanish position. Even with an independent Catalonia and BC there would still be an independent Spain, still be the Cortes, a Spanish football team, Spanish will still be spoken and understood in these countries and Spanish will still be an important world-wide language.

Nations and languages which have existed before the foundation of a state in which they find themselves in (Basques, Catalans, Bretons, Wales) have a right to decide on being a part of that state or not.


MH said...

No Val, that's a bogus parallel. The people of any territory have the right to decide their future democratically with or without the consent of anybody outside that territory. What is wrong is to sub-divide that territory in an attempt to make those on "one" side separate from those on the "other". Such partition was imposed once in Ireland, and you now want to do the same thing again.

And no doubt if you were able to impose your solution you'd later have to do it again ... and again ... until your "protestants" were separated into "right handed" and "left handed" protestants ... then those with "blue eyes" or "non-blue" eyes ... and so on

The mistake is that when you start dividing human beings into such groups you end up by having to keep on doing it, identifying a new characteristic each time. Much better to treat everybody who lives in a territory as of equal worth, irrespective of any such characteristic you or they want to identify, and for them to make a collective decision.

And, to put it bluntly, there is and should be no onus to "have to come up with a realistic solution which [any minority] finds acceptable". The idea that one group with a particular characteristic has a right of veto over the majority will simply result in intransigence by that group.

MH said...

Macsen, you're right about Euskadi in that the future solution must involve the cessation of violence. But problem is that you need to deal with people for what they now are, no matter what their history. The mistake is to try and deal only with a "moderate" group, and exclude what you class as the "extremists". Britain tried dealing with the SDLP, but freezing out Sinn Fein. The breakthough only came after the British Government took Sinn Fein seriously, recognizing their democratic mandate.

Israel is doing the same, in their eyes the PLO has morphed into a "moderate" group they would prefer to deal with, with Hamas being demonized as the "extremists" they won't deal with. But they'll have to deal with Hamas, because Hamas has a democratic mandate.

And the same is true with Spain. Time after time, Spain bans Basque parties on the grounds that they are connected with ETA. Spain needs to change that attitude and let people form the political organizations they want, dealing with anybody using violence on an individual basis. In all instances, we need to remember that those who support violence have every bit as much right to be represented as those who don't. If we profess to want a democratic solution, we have to accept the right of those who hold opinions that we disagree with totally to be democratically represented.

Violence only ever gets people so far. In the end the conflict has to be resolved politically. That is as true in Ireland and Euskadi as it is in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Anonymous said...

MH: "What is wrong is to sub-divide that territory in an attempt to make those on "one" side separate from those on the "other". ... MH - this is the argument which the Spanish use, especially the 'international' left wing Spaniards, use against Catalan and Basque independence. It's also the argument the Chinese use in Tibet. It's also used in the UK - Britain being the normal 'territory'.

MH: "And no doubt if you were able to impose your solution you'd later have to do it again ... and again ... until your "protestants" were separated into "right handed" and "left handed" protestants ... then those with "blue eyes" or "non-blue" eyes ... and so on" - I don't think this is a very respectful take on Val's arguments and ignore's the cultural/political differences within NE Ireland. Left-handed people don't have a different culture to right-handed ones. This is the kind of arguments I heard in my youth against Welsh nationalism.

I'm not sure what the 'solution' is for NI. But some form of recognition of different cultural heritage is needed (as you say yourself). It may be a federal Ireland. In that case, I don't see the difficulty in recognising that NE Ulster is a different place culturally (or there is a greater density of difference) than Fermanagh and why not recognise that with a regional parliament of some sort rather than a 9 county Ulster? I don't know the answer. But I don't think a French-style Jacobin one-size fits all approach is the solution.

You're right about the need talk. I don't see Spain ever speaking to ETA unless the threat of the level of conflict becoming something approaching civil war/war of independence. I think, as you I'm sure, that tactically and morally, it's time for ETA i stop and a process of reconciliation within the BC to begin, built around a confident democratic call for independence.


MH said...

Macsen, in relation to your first paragraph, I wasn't making that point. I used the word "territory" to refer to any unit of land, irrespective of what different people might call it, because different people will have different views on what to call it.

Wales and Tibet exist as defined, recognized territories. Ireland existed as a defined, recognized territory. If the majority in that territory want it, they should be able to decide whether to be independent or not by democratic means. But in Ireland that principle was not adhered to.

With hindsight it was a mistake to partition off six counties of Ireland because they had never before existed as territory, and I think not many people would doubt that it was not done as the result of any genuine agreement, but imposed with the threat of force by the United Kingdom. Nevertheless that is what was done, and it was done so long ago that I think we have little choice but to say that those six counties are now a defined, recognized territory. Of course it is to some extent arbitrary as to how much time must pass before for that to happen. As a rule of thumb, I would say a generation. As an illustration, within our lifetimes Morocco invaded Western Sahara. It has spent the last thirty years populating it with Moroccans to the point where is has become impossible to now decide that territory's future by democratic means, because the majority now consider themselves Moroccan and a generation has lived and grown up there. Israel is doing exactly the same with the territories it occupies. That's not to say either situation is now permanent, but that the normal democratic process can no longer be used to resolve it. A solution must be reached in a wider context, usually requiring agreement from the other territories that are affected as well.

You say that I have not taken into account the cultural/political differences within NE Ireland. I would say that they have been taken into account, and a hard-won agreement has been reached between all parties concerned. This agreement allows for what is now NI to become become part of the Republic if that is what they vote for. It does not allow for further partition.

That is why I think it ridiculous for someone to suggest that we repeat the same mistake by say, partitioning off Fermanagh and inventing a new "five counties" instead ... then to do the same for Tyrone to create a "four counties" ... then maybe to split Armagh to create a "three and a half counties" ... then to partition off West Belfast into an equivalent of West Berlin with a corridor through to the republic. The only motivator for such actions is to consider one group to have more rights than any other, so that it should never find itself in a minority. It is that way of thinking that I reject. And if that comes across as lack of respect for Val's argument, it's meant to!

Albert said...

Interesting post, thanks for the link to the article in Der Spiegel. As a Catalan I'm thankful that terrorism hasn't been used in my country since it'll make things a lot easier in today's international environment.

It looks like the Basque are just realising how much faster they'll achieve their targets through democracy and things are moving and changing fast in the Basque Country, even if it's not yet obvious. Especially having seen how the Spanish won't doubt for a second to make a coalition in the Basque Country to carry on their Spanish national interests in that area.

The only good thing is that PSOE's attitude in the Basque Country and Catalonia has been an eye opener for many people since (as opposed to the PP) the PSOE, especially in Catalonia, claim they are Catalanists, while in practice they've showed all these years in the Government that they share the same point of view of PP when it comes to national matters and all the Catalan PSOE deputies in the Spanish Parliament have always voted the same as the Spanish PSOE deputies, even when it was against Catalonia's interests.

The positive effect is that people have realised this and the debate for the elections campaign in Catalonia is now polarized around the Spain-Catalonia axis instead of the usual Left-Right axis. This is good since in Catalonia there's no point in being Left or Right wing until we are independent since no policies can be implemented for either lack of attributions or budget.

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