Autonomy and Anarchy

I do not mean to suggest that Catalunya is in a state of anarchy.

I do wish to remind myself that historical memory can inform politics today.

During the Civil War, an ideological conflict, the anarchists, some of whom committed anticlerical murders, were associated with the Republicans centered in Barcelona.

The central government’s decision to send in the National Guard to shut down the October 1 referendum elections, with a focus on Barcelona, reminded me that Spanish elected officials, and maybe a few citizens too, may still harbor fears of a Catalan uprising.

I do not believe the October 1 referendum elections amounted to an uprising and the Catalans who chose to leave their homes to vote did not deserve the forceful shutdown of the elections they endured. Did the Catalans have the right to vote on the referendum? Maybe not. But what good did it do to disrupt the process by force?

The central government’s decision to unleash the National Guard on Barcelona’s voters served the public relations function of making it appear that the referendum voters were staging a dangerous revolt. Hence old perceptions of Catalans as anarchists may have been inflamed.

The President of Catalunya, who never declared independence, has refused to rescind his independence movement. Madrid has used Article 55 of Spain’s constitution to seize control of Catalunya’s government including the Catalan police (Mossos d’Escuadra) which group, it is judged, colluded with the separatists by not supporting the National Guards’ use of force.

The upshot is that Catalunya is no longer an autonomous community. The formation of autonomous communities in 1978, nineteen in all, was a major step in Spain’s transition to democracy. Each “autonomía” has a parliament from which a president is named.

Without autonomy, Catalunya will not fall into anarchy. But it will be difficult for Madrid to call regional elections from outside Catalunya and ensure that the majority of seats points to a leader not for independence. In other words, I do not how fair the electoral process will be from inside or outside Catalunya.

If Madrid appoints a president it risks further painting Catalunya as a region of anarchists. This perception could have far-reaching consequences for Catalunya’s image in Spain and in the world.

If the Catalans were anarchists, they would not generate 18.9% of Spain’s GDP (Catalunya’s economy is roughly the size of Finland’s).

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