Catalonia, Catalonia, What Makes Your Big Head So Hard?

The last time Spain had a civil war it was fought between supporters of the fascist dictator Francisco Franco and communists who wanted to establish a worker’s paradise similar to Stalin’s Soviet Union, which offered an even worse choice than the one America voters faced in the last presidential election. This time around it’s the seceding government of the largely autonomous Catalonia region against the federal government, and although it lacks the military might to wage an actual shooting civil war like America once endured with its secessionists the spat doesn’t look to end well for anyone.
Catalonia’s regional government has declared its independence from Spain, but the Spanish government has asserted constitutional authority to prevent that from happening. The Spaniards have kicked all the rebellious Catalan officials out of office, arrested several of them, sent in enough firepower to get it done, and the smart money is betting they’ll prevail. So far no nation has recognized Catalonia’s independence, and the polling there suggests most Catalans would prefer to remain Spaniards.
An independent Catalonia would be a tiny country with a tiny population and tiny economy, too, but it could be viable. It has the world-class city of Barcelona as its capital, lucrative borders with the Mediterranean Sea and France, and a long tradition of running its regional affairs to the satisfaction of its people. Catalonia also has its own way of talking, a rich distinctive culture that gave the world Antoni Gaudi’s mind-blowing architecture and some great cuisine, and no doubt some very valid complaints with the Spanish federal government. There’s a case to be made for Catalonia’s independence, but from our vantage point here in Kansas we’re not buying it, and we’re sure it worries people all over.
Even here in Kansas, where the leaves are beautifully turning and we’re temporarily back to sunny skies and temperatures as moderate as you can hope for in late October, there’s a certain uncomfortable sense that here and around the world too many people are itching to sever the bonds that have long bound them to their countrymen. It’s probably more pronounced in Spain, where the Catalans have officially declared their independence and the Basques have long waged an occasionally terrorist war for it, or in Canada where the Francophone Quebecois have long threatened to assert their independence, or in the United Kingdom, where the Scots recently agreed by a scarily slim majority to stay on board. There are countless independence movements in South America and Africa and the Middle East, as well, and given how none of those regions have managed their affairs to anyone’s satisfaction that’s all the more unsettling.
Even here in relatively hale America there’s the longstanding talk about Texas reasserting its independence and California splitting into three states, as well as all the ongoing talk on both sides about the reliably Republican-voting blue states and the the hard-core Democratic blue states parting ways, and although none of it seems likely to come pass any time soon it doesn’t look to end well. If the tiny country of Catalonia and its tiny population and tiny economy gain independence, it will only encourage the separatist movements in the Basque region of Spain and the Quebec province of Canada and the Scottish portion of the United Kingdom, not to mention all those destabilized elements in the more already unstable portions of the world, and it might even wind up enflaming the conflicts here in once-Bleeding Kansas.
From our perspective here in Kansas we’re sympathetic to local rule, and can’t blame Europe’s nationalist parties for their skepticism about European Union rule, and well understand that a lot of those South American and African and Middle Eastern boundaries were badly drawn by European powers, and that some adjustments in some places are required. Catalonia’s case, though, is less compelling. When America declared its independence from the United Kingdom its Continental Congress acknowledged that “When in in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth to which the Last of Nature and Nature’s God entitles them, a decent respect for the opinion of mankind requires that they should declare the the causes which impel them to the separation.” The rebellious congress of the United States America compellingly made that case in the Declaration of Independence, and so far the Catalans haven’t.
So far as we can tell the Catalans’ case isn’t based on any valid complaint that the federal government has prevented them from running their region to the people’s general satisfaction, but rather on a stubborn ethnic pride that wants to assert itself. This is understandable enough from our perspective here in Kansas, where we also have our own way of talking and doing things and resent any outside interference, but not convincing. So far at least Kansa continues to do things mostly it own way, begrudgingly allows those crazy Californians and New Yorkers and the rest of the blue states to do things their own way, and as bad as things are everywhere they could be a lot worse.
So far as we can tell Catalonia and Spain could continue the same slightly tolerable arrangement, and we hope they do. Some adjustments to the borders might be required elsewhere, but for the rest of us some stability and a lack of stubborn ethnic pride would be more comforting right now.

— Bud Norman

Forever Scotland, More or Less

That Scottish independence referendum proved anti-climactic. Had the Scots voted to secede from the United Kingdom it would have been one of the biggest stories in years, roiling financial markets and re-aligning the geo-political order and fueling separatist movements around the world and provoking thousands of op-ed pieces and stirring up God only knows what other sorts of irksome mischief, but the apparent vote to stay put just means that a rather desultory status quo will continue indefinitely.
Disappointing as it might be to the world’s press and other cheerleaders for catastrophe, the result is not surprising to anyone who still credits the Scots with a modicum of common sense. When the United States declared its independence from Great Britain they believed that “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation,” and laid out a litany of complaints that included standing armies quartered among the general population and taxation without representation and an ongoing slave trade, but after 307 years of union the would-be Scottish nationalists were never able to make such a convincing case to their relatively pampered countrymen. Instead they relied on Obama-esque slogans of “Yes We Can” and “hope” and “change” along with a blatant appeal to the most base sort of tribalism and the endorsements of empty-headed show biz celebrities, and apparently that wasn’t enough to overcome a lot of questions about the country’s currency and solvency and place in the security arrangements that have prevailed over the past half century and more.
That the question even came up is prompting some soul-searching all over the western world, with the press in even the more seemingly solid jurisdictions pondering the strange discontent that seems to have settled upon the unwashed masses almost everywhere. The reliably elitist New York Times worries that it’s symptomatic of a global rebellion against the elites, and at the other end of the media spectrum the reliably populist billionaire Rupert Murdoch is saying the same thing without the same fretful tone. All the world’s various secessionist movements, from Spain’s Basque and Cantalonia regions to Flemish Belgium to Italy’s hard-working northern portion to the Kurdish enclaves of the Middle East to Texas and California, all have very specific complaints, but there’s a natural inclination to lump them all together. The independence-minded Scots were dreaming of a country that would levy higher taxes and lavish more generous social services and pursue a more savage-friendly foreign policy, along with the welcoming immigration policies that are not usually associated with nationalist movements, but The New York Times can’t help likening them to America’s “tea party” movement because both represent the same threat to the established order. Those elites and their established order should not be reassured by Scotland’s acquiesce to the status quo, however, because it seems begrudging and disgruntled. There is clearly little enthusiasm in Scotland for Britishness, a concept that has become almost meaningless in the post-war era, but they just can’t muster the necessary Scottishness.
One of our few forays outside the United States was a driving tour of Scotland with our Pop a few years back that seemed to take us through every square mile of the country, and we found it a strikingly dissipated land. The scenery is breathtakingly beautiful, and you’ll still meet some likable folks in the picturesque villages, but there’s no mistaking that the best of the country is in the past. All of the best architecture is centuries old, and the stubbornly elegant squares of the cities are filled with statuary the great Scotsmen who enriched the world with their genius long ago, and the unattended churches are adorned with the names of Scotsmen who died fighting for Great Britain in wars long since forgotten, but what’s new is shabbily modern and the pubs are likely to erupt in a brawl at a moment’s notice and the mostly tabloid press is filled with tawdry crimes and scandals and the kinds of empty-headed show biz celebrities who endorsed Scottish independence. We had a nice beery evening listening to a Scottish folk band in a gorgeous little seaside pub, and couldn’t help noticing the resemblance to the bluegrass that the folkies are playing down in Winfield right now, but otherwise Scottishness seemed mostly a matter of higher taxes and more social services and the rest of the dissipating socialist agenda, and suspect that in the end that was not enough to persuade the average Scotsman to dissolve a familiar arrangement.
Any American op-ed writers looking for a local angle on the Scottish story would do well to avoid the “tea party” allusions. Limited government and lower taxes and expanded liberty and increased personal responsibility appeal to Americanism in a way that a welfare state does not appeal to any instinct of Scottishness going back more than 307 years, and those who are dissatisfied with status quo here still have what it takes to assume the burdens of nationhood.

— Bud Norman

On Board with Ukraine

Here’s hoping the Ukrainian people succeed in their heroic struggle for freedom and democracy, and that the western civilization they hope to join isn’t yet too enervated to offer meaningful help.
At the moment it seems possible that the Ukrainian people might prevail, as the mass protest movement for independence has forced pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych from Kiev and established a tenuous interim government controlling most of the country, while the western nations have belatedly offered incompetent but nonetheless crucial support. There is still reason to worry they might fail, though, as Yanukovych retains control of much of the eastern and largely ethnic Russian portion of country, the Winter Olympics are now over and Russian President Vladimir Putin thus has a freer hand to intervene with his usual cunning and ruthlessness, and the west’s recent record of resisting tyranny is not encouraging.
After weeks of characteristic dithering he European Union is offering monetary as well as rhetorical support for the new government, and the White House is issuing stern warnings against Russian meddling. These are positive developments, but they likely won’t inspire much confidence in the Ukrainians or much fear in Putin. America’s “reset” diplomacy with Russia has re-set the country to its traditional role of anti-western antagonist and encouraged its meddling not only in the old Soviet Union’s sphere of influence but also the Middle East and even the western hemisphere, the American president’s stern warnings of “red lines” in Syria and “grave consequences” for the terrorists who murdered for Americans in Libya have proved toothless, longtime allies from Poland the Czech Republic to Israel to South America and Asia have seen longstanding American promises betrayed, and the Ukrainians have no reason to believe that their fledgling democracy can expect resolute American support.
Any Ukrainian with access to the internet can find further reason for worry on YouTube, where an anonymous has post video of Victoria Nuland, the State Department’s top official for Europe, discussing a plan that would allow Yanukovych to retain a measure of power and ban opposition leader and national hero Vitali Klitschko from power. The proposal was too weak even for European tastes, and Nuland can be heard responding to their understandable objections by uttering an obscene suggestion for the EU. Aside from the worrisome fact that such foul language is now so ubiquitous it intrudes even into high-level diplomatic discussions, the conversation confirms a natural suspicion that the Obama administration’s first instinct was to mollify the Russians even at the expense of a proud nation’s long-sought independence.
President Barack Obama tried to allay these fears during a news conference last week in Mexico, saying “Our goal is to make sure the people of Ukraine are able to make decisions for themselves about there future,” but judging by Nuland’s remarks he doesn’t fully trust them to choose their own leaders. He preceded that statement by saying “Our approach as the United States is not see these as some Cold War chessboard in which we’re in competition with Russia,” which also does not bode well. Obama and the rest of the left got the Cold War wrong, they apparently have not yet realized that we are still very much in competition with Russia, and they are clumsily playing checkers while Putin plays chess with typical Russian skill.
The Ukrainians might yet pull it off. Klitschko, the Ukrainian national hero that Nuland wanted to bar from power, is not only a recent world heavyweight boxing championship who well understands the masterful deployment of brute force, he’s also said to be a pretty fair chess player.

— Bud Norman