Thursday, October 19, 2017
Catalonia. Spain. Twilight for Europe
He explains it better than I can.
By Otto Ozols
I am writing this text on October 15, two weeks after the historical referendum in Catalonia which Spain tried to wreck with brutal police methods. In spite of endless threats and violence, 90% of Catalans voted for independence. The Spanish police confiscated countless ballot boxes, so it is not clearly known how many people took part in all. As I write this text, the president of Catalonia has suspended a declaration of independence for some time, thus once again giving Spain an opportunity to start a dialogue. So far, this proposal has been rejected, and we cannot know how this will end. In the past, Spain has categorically rejected any discussions and any call for dialogue 18 times. For many years, Spain has ignored millions of the country's residents.
So what exactly happened in Catalonia and contemporary Europe on October 1, 2017? To put it very briefly and clearly, people and democracy were kicked brutally and massively. The most terrible things happened afterward, however. It turned out that a twilight of true double morality and collective cowardice has appeared in Europe. The idea that present-day Europe is democratic and seemingly enlightened proved to be a pitiful illusion. Europe reminded me of a village in which the largest elder of a home brutally attacked the smaller and less defended other side simply because the smaller one wanted to engage in dialogue, have voting rights and have the right to make a choice. What was he thinking?! What kind of democracy is this?! It was like in the darkest Dark Ages. The smaller one was told to shut up, and after he refused to obey, he was thoroughly whipped in a merciless, public and offensive way. There was not even any mercy when it came to women and elderly people.
What did the rest of Europe do? Yes, it just watched, issued some kind of cowardly mumble so as not to offend the big and fat one. Europe simply turned its back on more than two million of its European brothers and sisters, also threatening that in the case of divorce, they would simply be kicked out of the village. The shameless, little and haughty Catalans are dreaming about the right of self-determination?! Has the UN Human Rights pact anything to say about this?! What else? That pact has lots of things to say. They only apply to super-nations and the elect caste -- Norwegians, Danes, Swedes, Finns, Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Poles, Scots and other first-class nation. No one said that out loud, but the attitude was very clear, indeed.
Let no one doubt the fact that hundreds of ultranationalists in Spain went into the streets and raised their arms in a way that terribly reminds us of the times when people were divided up between "Übermensch" and "Untermensch." Some nations deserve 100% human rights, while others deserve less. Does this mean that the political elite in the EU really believe that the Catalans belong to these "incomplete ones"? Is it not really the case that a spiritual twilight has once again begun in Europe? Europe's leading politicians and the mainstream media are ready at other times to spend month after month yelling about ultra-radicals and the rebirth of Nazism, but now they are suspiciously quiet. In the village of cowards, it is dangerous to loudly criticise the large and mighty neighbour. That might mean that the cowards themselves would be seriously harmed.
Many European politicians with serious faces repeated Spanish propaganda that said that the Catalans had violated the Spanish Constitution. These hypocrites probably haven't even read it. They haven't even read the first article which says that Spain is a democratic country. You know what a democracy is? It is a system in which people are free to express their views and in which the freedom of speech and assembly are respected and protected. What happened in Spain? The police simply beat up people who wanted to peacefully express their views by voting, and ballot boxes were taken away by force. Is that democracy? Can it really be that the senior politicians in Europe have lost their minds? This is democracy that can only be part of the understanding of Vladimir Putin, perhaps.
If we continue to discuss the Spanish Constitution, then we must remember articles 96 and 10.2, which clearly state that Spain must observe international agreements that it has signed. If local laws are in violation of these agreements, then international agreements must still be observed. That's written in the Constitution. The aforementioned UN Human Rights Treaty states clearly in its first chapter that all nations have the right to self-determination, and it is on the basis of such rights that nations can freely determine their own political status and freely ensure their economic, social and cultural development. Spain ratified the treaty in 1977, which means that the right to self-determination of the Catalan people must be observed. Do Spain and its friends feel that UN documents can be viewed selectively? Here we come to an even darker twilight zone. People have been looking through their fingers at fundamental principles related to human rights and democracy that are enshrined in international law. The Soviet Union and its leaders used to do that. The Soviet republics theoretically had various rights, including the right to withdraw from the USSR, but anyone who dared to speak about his or her democratic rights was immediately grabbed by the police, and imprisonment was guaranteed.
There will be those who will say that it is impossible to compare Spain to the Soviet Union. Euroskeptics do tend to claim that the European Union is similar to the Soviet Union, but Europeans with good faith will say that this is absurd. They are right. But if the police officers of a European city are allowed to beat up unprotected people who had different thoughts and believed in the freedom of speech, then one fine day we will go to bed in the EU and wake up in the USSR. The sad fact is that the twilight of democracy usually sneaks up behind us without us even noticing it.
Back during the Soviet era, police officers could beat up those who thought differently in the streets. The Stalinist regime punished whole nations and millions of people. In the Soviet Union, the media in the imperialist centre could spit on journalistic ethics and demonise their opponents. That's exactly what is happening in Spain right now. Major newspapers and television channels in Madrid are not far behind the worst examples from the Kremlin regime. The Soviet Union, too, had judges who were appointed by politicians and who tried politicians who satisfied the will of voters, not the orders of the imperialist centre. Will you still say that the comparison to the Soviet Union is absurd? Think again.
You probably think that there are essential differences between the European Union and the Soviet Union. I will remind you that the political elite in the USSR had to agree on collective and public lies. Leaders at various levels publicly repeated absurd lies on the basis of commands from higher-ranking leaders, and no one believed those lies. After the mass attack against unprotected voters in Catalonia, Spain announced that maybe just two or four people were injured. What followed in Europe was a pitiful farce. As if they had been ordered to do so, government ministers and politicians in many EU member states repeated these obvious lies. The world's leading media outlets, where there are strict editorial selections and only trusted materials are printed or broadcast, reported that several hundred people were beat up and injured. Respectable human rights organisations confirmed the same. The politicians had clearly seen and understood this, but they nevertheless repeated the absurd lies that Spain had dictated. This was shameful for the politicians and their citizens, and this discredited Europe as a union that is based on democratic principles. The most terrible thing, however, is another comparison with the Soviet Union. Politicians and diplomats joined together in mendaciousness even though they knew perfectly well that they were wrong and that citizens did not believe them. Yet more evidence of a twilight in Europe. Of course, there were a few honourable exceptions. The Slovenian parliament voted to denounce the violence of Spain's government and police and supported the right of Catalonia to self-determination. The prime minister of Belgium also plucked up the strength to object. Those, however, were rare exceptions.
Now, you may be thinking that this author is a terrible Eurosceptic who wants to eliminate peace and mess up Europe's unity. Here we must return to the Soviet Union, where critics of the regime were given stupid names. No, I am not a Eurosceptic. I love Europe, but one in which fellow citizens are not beaten up just because they imagined that they might have the same right to self-determination that was enjoyed in the past by Norwegians, Finns, Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, and many other nations in Europe. Politicians in the aforementioned countries sometimes try to justify their cowardice with another totally idiotic argument, to be perfectly honest. They say that Catalans, unlike nations in the former Russian Empire, have nothing to worry about, because Spain is a democratic country in which no one oppresses them and so on (sometimes people are just beaten up, face lies and are tried in court in a politicised way). That's why Catalans should not even talk about the right to self-determination. Here we must cry oh Britain, poor Britain! If we follow along with this "wise logic," then we have to conclude that Great Britain is not a democratic country, and this is why the Scottish people were given the right of self-determination. That is what we must conclude from what has been said.
We are told that Queen Elizabeth purred joyfully when she learned that the Scots voted in a referendum to remain part of the United Kingdom. Still, what did she say in advance of the referendum? Elizabeth II was laconic and said "a result that all of us throughout the United Kingdom will respect." She and other Brits thought that Scots are and will be a nation with full rights, one that deserves the same rights as any other nation. The British government did not think that Scots could not make their own decisions or that they are an underdeveloped pseudo-nation that is unable to take independence decisions without the supervision of "older brothers." This has nothing to do with different constitutions or laws, but it has everything to do with attitudes. After the orgiastic violence of the police in Catalonia, the king of Spain said nothing at all that would indicate that he understands or feels sorry for the Catalans. Apparently the Spanish elite feel that the Catalans, as a nation, are not even worthy of dialogue, to say nothing about the choice that was given to the Scots. If the Catalans try to state their choice, they must be brutally beaten up and humiliated, and apparently that is all fine for the king. Can we now complain that the Catalans no longer want to hear anything about this monarch?
The sad fact is that even seeming societies in Europe have various false biases about the Catalans. These are spread by Spanish ultranationalists, and many people uncritically believe what they say. We must remember that the Catalans are not a Spanish sub-nation, and the Catalan language is not a dialect of the Spanish language, as many believe erroneously. The Catalan language is internationally and academically recognised as a unique and separate language. Any more or less educated person has seen the global language tree in which the Roman language branches have separate twigs. Let me stress that these are separate twigs related to Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, French and also Catalanlanguages. The difference between Catalan and Spanish is at least as large as that which exists between Norwegian and Swedish, Estonian and Finnish, Ukrainian and Russian, and Latvian and Lithuanians. The Catalans are one of the oldest indigenous nations in Europe, and they have their own and unique language, history and identity.
At a time when twilight is covering Europe, it is time to remember something that was once said by one of the most brilliant thinkers of the 20th century, the outstanding diplomat and former president of Estonia, Lennart Meri. In 1993, he delivered an important speech that was titled "Where Does European Identity Begin?" The things that Meri said about Ukrainians can now be applied to Catalans: "Any nation that faces a rejection of self-determination rights suffers a slap against its self-confidence." True, Catalans were publicly slapped and kicked in modern-day Europe in 2017, and the European Commission declared that the police acted appropriately. The European Union and Spain have demonstrated the same haughtiness toward the Catalans that Putin once demonstrated toward Ukrainians, declaring in a conversation with the president of the United States that Ukraine is not a real country, which suggests that Ukrainians do not deserve their own country. The same attitude right now is seen in the attitude that the EU and Spain display toward the Catalans? Does that not suggest darkness of mind?
In another famous speech, this time in Salzburg in 2000, Lennart Meri spoke very important words that can certainly be applied to Catalonia: "Our world is not growing, but the number of countries in it increases. There are no signs of this tendency abating. The number of small countries is continuing to grow, and it would be light-minded of the world to close its eyes to this reality. The number of small countries can only grow on the account of big ones. In the democratic parts of the world this growth serves to reduce tensions and evoke new creative potential, whereas in the non-democratic parts of the world it increases tensions and induces new crises. The latter is especially valid for the regions where colonialist relationships nurture totalitarian regimes or vice versa, where totalitarian lifestyle has preserved colonialist relations." Here we must remember that Catalonia is not a "small" country. It has 7.5 million residents, and in this sense it is much larger than Denmark, Norway, Finland, or the three Baltic States taken together. In terms of economic capacity, it has one of the most dynamic and powerful economies in all of Europe.
Short-sighted European politicians are talking about the threat that Europe might split up. Just look at a map that is 150 years old. There was no Ireland, no Norway, no Finland, no Czech Republic, no Hungary. Most European countries did not exist at that time, but now they do exist. Has that weakened Europe? On the contrary, Europe is more unified, peaceful and powerful than any time before. Can we imagine Europe without the aforementioned countries? Should it return to the old empires and patronage in the name of greater stability? No. Europe's creative strength is based specifically in the diversity of nations and the respect of nations. Europe is endangered not by a diversity of countries, but instead by conflicts among nations that have not been resolved for a long time, by human rights violation and by unacceptable state violence against its own citizens. Human rights organisations are starting to talk about human rights violations not just in Russia, Africa and other unstable regions; they are now talking about Europe.
Europe's might is not based on natural resources such as oil, gold or gas; it is based on values that are the foundation for European stability, welfare and development. If we betray these values, we open the door to Europe's dark past. In the 1930s, Europe watched as a major power betrayed democracy, bartered the interests of smaller nations, and created a gruesome catastrophe. The foundation for all of this was the betrayal of democratic values, turning them into Realpolitik coins. This was done in the seeming name of peace, but stable peace cannot be achieved if its' very foundations are destroyed.
What to do? First of all, we must understand that we have gone much too far. We must also understand that Catalan independence is inevitable. No relations that are based on violence can be sustainable, and that must be understood by Europe and by Spain itself. The sooner this happens, the better it will be for everyone, particularly Spain itself. Spain cannot prevent Catalan independence, just like one cannot change the flow of a rapid river with a fork. Spaniards and their politicians, of course, must demonstrate extraordinary courage in accepting the fact that Spaniards and Catalans can be brothers and good neighbours, each in their own country. They can be allies at the regional and international level.
There is no doubt that Catalonia will be an independent and internationally recognised country. We must accept this fact and understand it, and the path toward that moment must be taken respectfully, as is appropriate for a union of democratic and wise countries. It is time for Europe to dissipate the twilight that has settled on its mind. The attack that took place in Catalonia on October 1 was not waged only against Catalans. It was an attack against the very foundation of Europe – the principles of democracy and human rights. If Europe proclaims democracy, but applies it selectively, blindly accepting large, mighty and pernicious countries that leave smaller and less protected nations in the hands of destiny, then it is basically descending to the level of Putin's Russia. That is a road to nowhere. It is time for common sense to return. If unprotected Catalans were beat up today, then someone else will be beaten up tomorrow. Maybe even you. Because European societies will be accustomed to the fact that there are certain times when we must keep quiet and turn our heads in a different direction.
It is time to respect Catalan courage and to insist that senior politicians in European countries immediately return to the highest fundamental principles of democracy. This requires great wisdom, smart courage and true strength of spirit of the precise type that we are currently seeing in Catalonia. The Catalans deserve being heard. They deserve respect. They deserve independence after many centuries during which they have suffered endless persecution, language bans, concentration camps, forced emigration and the murder of their leaders. People in Europe who continue to believe in the ideas of democracy must not be threatened or beaten up. Every honest European must defend them.
Otto Ozols is a Latvian journalist and writer.
This article was first published in DELFI, by the Lithuanian Tribune and appears here with permission of the author.