Catalonia’s a tricky path to nationhood

Friday October 13 2017

Protesters wave Spanish and Catalan flags during a demonstration called by Catalan Civil Society under the motto

Protesters wave Spanish and Catalan flags during a demonstration called by Catalan Civil Society under the motto "Catalonia yes, Spain too" in Barcelona on October 12, 2017. Spain is suffering its worst political crisis in a generation after separatists in the wealthy northeastern region voted in a banned referendum on October 1 to split from Spain. PHOTO | JORGE GUERRERO | AFP 

By HENRY OWUOR
More by this Author

Spain’s Catalonia region can declare independence despite warnings from the central government in Madrid, but that is the easy part.

Nationhood without recognition is empty. The country will have no seat at the United Nations and regionally, joining the European Union would be a pipe dream.

Ask Kosovo, Somaliland, Abkhazia and Taiwan what they have gone through. Declaring independence is one thing and recognition is another issue.

Whose passports will the Catalans use? They will also need a new currency. The EU has declared that Catalonia is an “internal Spanish matter.’’ Many other European nations are facing their own separatist movement problems, including Britain’s Scottish independence drive. Others are Romania, Greece and Belgium.

As a sign of the anxiety, among the first European leaders to call Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was French President Emmanuel Macron, who swore that he would always support a united Spain.

SEPARATISTS

Mr Macron’s concern arises from a common ailment that afflicts the two nations in the form of the Basque National Liberation Movement that has for decades fought to break away from Spain and France, a battle that has claimed nearly 1,000 lives.

While the Basque separatists went the path of bombs and bullets, the Catalans have opted for crowd power a force that will surely overwhelm Spanish government.

In modern times and with the gaze of the world’s media firmly on Spain, it is a matter of time before the inevitable happens.

Catalonia’s leader, Mr Carles Puigdemont said after a referendum that saw less than half the 5.3 million registered voters cast their ballots: “We are going to declare independence after all the official results are counted.’’ But a week later, he opted for dialogue.

Prime Minister Rajoy has vowed to use everything in his power to prevent Catalonia’s independence and refusing to rule out imposing direct rule over the semi-autonomous Catalan region, which borders France.

CONSTITUTIONAL ORDER

Earlier, Spain’s King Felipe VI retched up tensions by urging the authorities to defend “constitutional order” setting in motion actions to stem the Catalan independence drive.

Under Spain’s 1978 Constitution, if a region’s government breaches its constitutional obligations or “acts in a way that seriously threatens the general interest of Spain”, Madrid can “take necessary measures to oblige it forcibly to comply or to protect said general interest”. This can include Madrid taking control of political and administrative institutions of the rebel region.

The purge appears to have started last week with the Catalonia regional police chief being charged with failing to rein in pro-independence protesters.

A court in Madrid summoned Mr Josep Luis Trapero and three other suspects to a hearing over unrest in Barcelona on September 20 and 21 after national security forces raided regional government offices in a crackdown against the independence drive.

It is a matter of time before Mr Puigdemont gets his summons. Perhaps his rush to declare independence was simply to avoid such a situation.

WEALTHIEST

With a population of 7.5 million and a GDP of $255.204 billion, which is a fifth of Spain’s $1.2 trillion, Catalonia is wealthy with a per capita GDP of $33,580.

It is the wealthiest of Spain’s 17 autonomous regions.

However, most of Catalonia’s wealth could be due to its being part of Spain that allows it to enjoy European Union subsidies. The tension over the independence drive in Catalonia is expected to drive away business.

Last week, 92 people were injured in clashes with Spanish security forces. Most of the officers did not even use their batons.

INJURED

It was just a shoving match that left many injured, including one elderly woman who broke her arm after she was pushed off a chair by Madrid security forces.

The question now is which steps the Spanish central government will take to contain the Catalonia thirst for independence.

In Brussels, the door has been shut firmly in the face of a Catalan state. European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said “an independent Catalonia would not be part of the EU if it did vote for independence in a legal referendum and would have to apply if it wanted to join.’’

Mr Owuor is foreign editor, Daily Nation. [email protected]