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

St. Patrick and the Borders

Today is St. Patrick’s Day, but we don’t have big plans. The parade and the celebration at The Shamrock over on West Douglas took place Saturday, presumably so that everyone could get the hangover out of the way before heading back to work, and there doesn’t seem to be anything else on the agenda in this not very Irish town. With all due respect to Ireland, however, we will wear something green to ward off the pinches, put an old Van Morrison record on the turntable, hoist a beer, and hope that the Emerald Isle lives on in something like it’s current shape.
Hanging on to national territory is getting to be a trickier proposition almost everywhere these days. Ukraine just lost a big chunk of itself to a dubious referendum overseen by Russian soldiers, and the rest of the erstwhile Soviet empire is nervously watching the west’s weak response. China also seems intent on extending its claims far into the South China Sea, at the expense of Japanese and Filipinos who are also no doubt wondering what happened to the good old international order, and any other tin pot would-be revanchists out there are probably figuring that now’s as good a time as any to stake a claim. The once great nations that used to impose peaceful borders on unfriendly neighbors are preoccupied with holding on to their own as territory, as Ireland’s neighbors in Scotland are considering bolting the United Kingdom, Venice is contemplating a break with Italy, and the Quebecois’ latent yearnings for independence from Canada have lately been reawakened. Similar secessionist movements are popping up everywhere, from Puerto Rico to California to the more easily disputed regions of Asia and Africa, and there’s no telling what the maps will look like by the end of the Obama administration.
Ireland should look pretty much the same, we suppose, unless “the troubles” somehow recur. Although we are not well-traveled outside the United States we did once drive almost everywhere in Ireland on a trip with the old man a few years back, and found it a lovely country full of friendly people, although the inebriated fellow urinating on our hotel window in Dublin wasn’t altogether atypical. There was an eerie abundance of European Union flags and a strange lack of Irish flags, and nothing to mark the border with Northern Ireland except that the pubs demanded payment in Pounds rather than Euros, but there was a distinct sense of nationhood that we expect will survive a few more years. The nationalist sentiment was even more apparent on the next week’s tour of Scotland, also a lovely country full of friendly people, although we did have to dodge a particularly rough bar brawl in Edinburgh, and we wouldn’t be surprised if Great Britain is missing a big chunk of itself soon.
That’s nobody’s business but the Scots’, we suppose, but when the lines are re-drawn with soldiers and warships and a complete disregard for the agreed-upon rules it always ends in trouble. When the nations responsible for enforcing the rules can’t keep themselves together, it’s even more troublesome.

— Bud Norman