It has been 18 days since an overwhelming proportion of Catalans voted to quit the Kingdom of Spain in a referendum poll.
In that time, we have heard the King of Spain speak to Catalans in a manner more in keeping with lecturing forcefully to troops engaged in a mutiny, than civilians who expressed a democratic view.
Spain’s premier Rajoy has also been firm, calling the referendum vote illegal. Even while voting was underway in Barcelona and across the most north-easterly region of Spain, national police were seen aggressively trying to disband crowds and interfering violently in the election.
Let’s just remember where this is. A mature, advanced European Union nation. Something the EU is itself embarrassed to recognise.
The scenes look like something out of General Franco’s fascist era in Spain, than that of a country which democtratised in 1980 when it re-install a Constitutional monarchy. Or is it more like Europe’s rogue nation, Belarus?
Europe is never a fan of regional breakups. Witness the cold mood of the EU towards Scotland which demanded a second referendum because the pro-European nation voted in 2014 against leaving the UK, some 21 months before the UK itself opted to quit the EU.
Similarly, there is every reason to believe the EU when it said last week it would not recognise a break-away Catalonia as a nation within the EU.
With the Catalan President threatened with arrest and some of his closest political colleagues already in Spanish prisons this week, it does not look like the region has achieved more than irritate Spain and put its toil on the international scale, briefly harming euro zone asset values.
Why did it come to this?
In a sense, the very sorry events in October are the mustard after a meal. It is almost an after-thought that could have been avoided.
Why did Madrid not intervene sooner to stop the referendum going ahead? Was Rajoy so convinced that Barcelona would simply cow-tow? The Catalans saw the poll as their best chance of getting the issue of independence onto the world debating table and arguably were never all that serious about breaking away from Spain for fear of direct rule from Madrid
Remember the animosity to Madrid has been around for centuries. And even in 1968 it came to a head in the Eurovision Song Contest, of all places. A Barcelonan singer, Joan Manuel Serrat, refused to sing Spain’s entry song in Castillian, the official Spanish language, but in his own Catalan. Gen. Franco would have none of it and replaced the singer with Massiel, a Madrid woman. The song went on to beat Cliff Richard’s “Congratulations” UK entry by one solitary point. You can imagine how much domestic political capital Franco could make of his “foresight”.
Spain also went on to win the following year, 1969, when Vivo Cantando by Salomé – ironically born in Barcelona – claimed the title, jointly. Four nations tied – France, Netherlands, Spain and the UK’s Lulu – and the rules would later be changed to break ties with a new rule that the winner would be the nation with the most 12 out of 12 points. So technically there were four winners that year.
But on a heavier note, knowing the deep desire of Catalonia to leave Spain it was foolhardy to ignore preparations for the referendum.
Catalonia is also not the only region in Spain to want out. In the north-west is Basque, a region which technically straddles France and Spain and has its own language and culture. Until a few years ago, the Basque region, centred around San Sebastian, resorted to violence to make its claim for independence with bombs and assassinations carried out by the extreme terror group ETA.
That violence achieved nothing. But does Madrid want Catalonia to descend into such territory? The heavy-handed and tactless way Madrid has reacted to the referendum just might have deeper repercussions.
And not just for Spain. The “internal matters” as the EU likes to label crises it has no enthusiasm to resolve or even intervene, show desperately how different European countries deal with constitutional challenges. Can you imagine the UK being so heavy-handed? Even rule-riddled Germany would not handle a stand-off this way. What it does underline is just how different Europe is from north to south, east to west. While it is a coalition of interests, the component nations have very different ideas about democracy and how tolerant to be in the face of challenges. It again underlines why the European integration model is likely to ultimately fail.