Candidly Speaking I would like to begin my topic with the memorable words of the famous French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who in his The Social Contract said, “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains. One man thinks himself the master of others, but remains more of a slave than they are.” In spite of this, liberty springs eternal in human breast.
We know that a few days ago, the Catalonians took part in a massive referendum for independence from greater Spain under the leadership of their president Carles Puigdemont.
By the by, it will not be out of place to mention that Catalonia is a prosperous autonomous region situated in the northeast of Spain. Its cosmopolitan city, Barcelona is best known for tourism and contributes much to the economy of Spain. Catalonians with their own history, culture and language have nurtured their national sentiment. The authoritarian and repressive nature of the central government is also at the root of their separatist movement. Additionally, in return of their contribution to Spain they enjoy only a symbolic autonomy that does not satisfy them.
Time and again they made several endeavours for separating their homeland from Spain. As for example, in 2012 they held peaceful demonstration in Barcelona, the largest in Europe in support of their independence. In 2014 they had another ballot on independence and 80% people favoured it. Then the Constitutional court declared it illegal though it was not prevented by the central government and the police.
The recent Catalonian referendum that held on 1 October 2017 created a great repercussion in Spain as well as in the world. As reported by Al Jazeera, almost 92.01% people cast their votes in favour of independence while only 7.99% did not. It was declared illegal by the Spanish government and violence erupted when thousands of police officers took to the streets of Barcelona to close the polling stations. The video footage of police scuffling with people and elderly women bleeding after trying to cast their votes tremendously shocked the separatists and even those who opposed the referendum. The brutalities and atrocities of the police went beyond limit for which the Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy expressed apology in his speech. As a matter of fact, violence and abuse of power cannot be the basis of modern democracy which means giving power to people and not to traumatise, punish and imprison them:
“Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage.”
The way in which the Catalonians held the referendum for independence evinces their profound love for freedom which is the inborn right of mankind.
To their utter surprise Mariano Rajoy, Prime Minister of Spain, took the hard line and even demanded more clarity about the declaration of independence from the Catalonian leader. The warning was: Catalina stays or goes. He was determined to invoke the article 155 of the constitution in the event of declaration of independence to abolish the autonomy of Catalina and impose direct central government rule over it. In an emergency cabinet meeting on Wednesday 11th September 2017 he declared the referendum illegal and violation of statute. So pressure was mounting high on the Catalonian President Carles Puigdemont though he was in a bid to declare independence on October 10, 2017. Realising the gravity of the situation he suspended the declaration to allow further talks with Madrid. On the contrary, Mariano Rajoy said that he was ready for dialogue though he rejected the referendum on the grounds of re-establishing normality and stability in Spain. It is interesting to note that their referendum for independence coincides with that of the Kurds (KRG) in Iraq which came to an impasse for fear of the stern action by Turkey and Iran.
However, any reversal from independence may have negative impact on the fragile regional coalition government of Catalonia. If he declares independence defying all warnings, the crisis will deepen. On the other hand, the government of Mariano Rajoy knew well that the declaration of independence on that day would have been a crux day for Spain leading to the disintegration of the country. As a final step both leaders Mariano Rajoy and Carles Puigdemont must sit together and talk about the possible solution of the crisis. Then an important breakthrough may result:
“But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!”
Consequently, for Spain it would be far better to retain a rich breakaway province by giving greater concession. Conversely the Catalonian President may shift from his unflinching stand provided he succeeds in gaining greater autonomy for his region than creating political turmoil and instability of his country. He should proceed with precaution not to quit certainty for hope.
At this moment the powerful nations of Europe along with the US have shown no signs of support to their struggle for independence but it is true that their separatist movement has strong popular and organisational support. If this internal turmoil escalates and turns into an international crisis, it will surely force the major diplomatic players to embroil themselves in the situation. This crisis will move in this direction unless it is resolved in time. Now it is the worst of time for Catalans as the referendum has not yet culminated to the declaration of independence though it was scheduled to happen as per plan. It does not mean the end of their struggle for statehood. Since their road to independence is a long way, so tedious and difficult, that the structural unity of the Catalan society irrespective of class distinction will be a big step-forward to stand the test of time, the hard time they are passing these days. Moreover, their leadership should be as charismatic as Bangabandhu, The Father of the Bengali Nation.
As a freedom loving nation we have empathy for the people of Catalonia just as we have respect for the territorial integrity and unity of Spain. We wish them all the best of time.
The writer is a Professor of English and Vice-Chancellor (In-charge) Britannia University, Comilla