October 21st 2017

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Reality of family unit must underlie tax system

EDITORIAL Christianity today: the challenges ahead

CANBERRA OBSERVED Xenophon: a Mr Fixit or a political yo-yo?

DRUGS POLICY Science elbowed aside in rush for latest silver bullet: 'medical marijuana'

TRANSGENDER MARRIAGE Decoys to revolutionary laws redefining sex and marriage

FOREIGN AFFAIRS What is the way out of the Catalan crisis?

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Our barmy Army: all politically correct

FAMILY AND SOCIETY The child as weapon in Family Court process

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Faiths and the global future

KOREA Hermit Kingdom versus the Land of Morning Calm

MUSIC Hi-tech lo-fi: Resistance is futile

CINEMA Blade Runner 2049: A cypher unlocking a mystery

BOOK REVIEW The rebels

BOOK REVIEW An attempt to break through the fog


HUMOUR More excerpts from the forthcoming revision of Forget's Dictionary of Inaccurate Facts, Furphys and Falsehoods


EUTHANASIA Victoria's death bill: questions that need answers

TRANSGENDER MARRIAGE: George Christensen calls Parliament's attention to activists' end-game

EUTHANASIA Victoria mistakes killing for compassion

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What is the way out of the Catalan crisis?

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, October 21, 2017

To most people outside Spain, the violent suppression of an independence referendum in the region of Catalonia by the central government seems inexplicable – if not incomprehensible.

To understand what is going on, one needs the perspective of history, and an understanding of the power structures in modern Europe.

Barcelona, the capital of the region of Catalonia.

For centuries, Catalonia, whose capital city is Barcelona, has had a sense of national identity separate from Spain, with a distinct language, history and culture. Periodically, this region has sought independence from Spain.

Finally the Spanish Government recognised the strong local feelings of the people. Under the Spanish constitution and the Catalonia Statute of Autonomy, Catalonia is recognised as a nation, although the term has no legal force, but reflects historical and cultural realities.

Along with the Basque region, Catalonia is already accorded the highest degree of autonomy of any part of the country. The local government has responsibility for health, education, police, and regional government administration.

Total independence

However, for many people in Catalonia, this is not enough. They want total independence, a demand that the central government will not accept because it would certainly lead to other provinces taking a similar course, leading to the dismemberment of the country.

Commentator Albert Sánchez Piñol, born in Barcelona in 1965, expressed eloquently the sentiment of the Catalan separatists after the attempted referendum on independence was disrupted by the central government.

Piñol wrote: “When the Guardia Civil (a Spanish para-military police force) storms polling centres and confiscates ballot papers, it does this ‘to guarantee the rule of law’. If it threatens more than 700 mayors with prison, because they are ready to set up polling centres, the threat serves to ‘defend democracy’.

“And lastly, a legitimate government is holding this referendum, with broad support from parliamentarians, but citizens are forbidden to vote because it is ‘antidemocratic’, and the referendum is called a coup.”

He concluded: “Spain is dead. Its own elites, not the separatists, have killed it through their own political arrogance and moral, intellectual, and emotional inflexibility.”

Piñol had hoped that the European Parliament would come to the defence of Catalonia, but this was delusory. The European Union’s leaders have repeatedly thrown their weight behind the Spanish Government, because they know that in half the countries of Europe, from the UK to Italy, there are separatist movements which threaten to divide further the countries of the EU.

On the other hand, the actions of the Spanish Government in violently suppressing the will of the Catalan people will only encourage further resistance in Barcelona and other parts of Catalonia.

The Spanish should have known this from the Basques’ response to the suppression of Basque nationalism from the 1960s onwards. ETA, the Basque terrorist group, caused the loss of hundreds of lives in Spain over 40 years, and a state of semi-war in parts of northern Spain.

The leaders of the Catalan Autonomous Government were well aware of this history when they called an independence referendum which they must have known would be suppressed by the central government in Madrid.

The uncertainty now is whether they will use the central government’s actions to strengthen local Catalan sentiments by declaring an independent Catalan state, and how they will set about enforcing such a separation.

A more effective response to the Catalan separatists would have been to permit the local people a vote on independence, as the British government did for the people of Scotland, but to bring to the attention of the people of Catalonia that a vote to break away would have numerous and grave consequences.

The first is that an independent Catalonia will not be a part of the EU. It will require its own currency, its own border force, and its own defence forces. It will also damage trade with neighbouring countries, particularly Spain and France.

A vote for independence will thus separate Catalonia not only from Spain, but from the rest of the EU. This will damage the prosperity of a region which is one of the most prosperous in Spain. Interestingly, most opinion polls show that most Catalans reject independence, but a majority want a referendum on the issue.

It may be that the Catalan separatists are attempting to provoke the central Government to invoke Article 155 of the Spanish constitution, which would give Madrid the authority to dissolve the Catalan Parliament.

If that were to happen, the polarisation between Catalonia and the rest of Spain would escalate further, with utterly unpredictable consequences. The fragile minority Government in Madrid could face a backlash and potentially lose a vote of confidence in parliament.

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