Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Legitimacy of the Catalan Referendum

I didn't write this, Tom Harrington did, and it was published in ARA on 5 October 2017, the day after the Catalan referendum on independence was held:

"One the more popular arguments now being employed but those who are against the separation of Catalonia from Spain but who do not want to be seen as lining up with the political philosophy and violent tactics of the Rajoy government is the following:

"I'm all for the Catalans being able to vote on independence. But there is no way that we can use a referendum such as the one that took place on Sunday as a basis for such a change. It simply did not meet the basic level procedural rigor needed to legitimate such a momentous social transformation".

As first glance this seems like an extremely reasonable posture. Who is against doing things, especially historically momentous things, with the highest level of procedural rigor? Certainly not me.

When, however, we subject this argument to a few basic queries, it's essentially disingenuous character becomes readily apparent.

Do you remember all the procedurally pristine processes that led to the independence (and, in numerous cases, subsequent rapid entry into the EU) of countries like Kosovo, Croatia, Slovenia and a long list of others? I don't either because they didn't take place. And I certainly don't remember any of today's legion of new born "proceduralists" raising any objections about it then.

What took place was that EU leadership class led by Germany saw in these countries a new set of relatively virgin markets that were also filled with low wage labor that would allow them to serve, In Emannuel Todd's Words, as Germany's "Near China".

Arguably more important than this was NATO's –which is to say the US's– desire to surround the former Soviet Union with countries loyal to its geopolitical aims. They knew that by pressuring the Europeans to swiftly acquiesce to the independence of the newly declared independent countries of the east, they could quickly corral them into serving as part of the US's emerging anti-Russian coalition, an absolutely essential element of the American's long-term geopolitical plans.

In addition to avoiding these realities, the new army oh-so-concerned proceduralists obviate the fact that from the very beginning of the current drive for independence in 2010 it has been the Catalanists who have talked constantly about the need to carry the referendum off in the most transparent and clean way possible, only to be told again and again by the Spanish state that there is nothing to talk about.

To hold up pristine procedure as a fatal strike against the Catalan cause when their interlocutor will not allow talks about proper procedure to even begin, is tantamount to ostracizing a woman who finally walks out the door of her house after having had her perennial requests for a peaceful, no-contest divorce dismissed out of hand by the man she no longer loves.

Finally, if there is one thing that established states can always do, as we saw on Sunday in a particularly crude way, it is to sabotage the "procedures" of the incipient states within their borders. To appoint the potential saboteur of the procedure, in this case Spain, as the judge of proper procedure in the region seeking independence, is to hand the established state an effective veto power sine die in the conflict.

I don't remember anyone granting the Serbs or the Russians this absurd privilege. Why are supposedly liberal and democratic people bending over backwards to provide the Spain with this outsized prerogative?

Keep these things in mind the next time some apparently well-meaning person tells you they'd be in the lead car of the train for the Catalan "right to decide" were it not for the lack of procedural guarantees in last Sunday's referendum."

Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Spanish want to make the Catalan language illegal (like it used to be under Franco)

The link is to an article about seven agents of the Spanish National Police who started a fight in a bar in Barcelona yesterday.  Off-duty and drunk, they mistook the Italian waiters for Catalans (not knowing even vaguely the difference in the difference in how the two languages sound) and demanded that they speak Spanish (among themselves) because "Barcelona is Spain!".  

This kind of thing doesn't happen every day, but if you live here, you're not surprised when it does. There was recently an incident at the Barcelona airport when a traveler was speaking Catalan and a Spanish police agent arrested him for not speaking Spanish.  

The Spanish Guardia Civil and Police National are typically antagonistic with Catalans and the Catalan language, which they, for the most part and in spite of some of them being stationed here for their whole career, don't speak. When I first came to live in Barcelona and was being bothered and followed by a beggar on the street, I went up to two National Police to ask for help, speaking in Catalan. They made like they didn't understand what I was saying. I realized afterwards that if I had spoken in English, they would have figured it out. Thinking I was a tourist, help would have come. Thinking I was a Catalan, they couldn't care less, even though it was their job to do something. 

That experience colored my perception early on as to how to view and behave with the Spanish police forces. It's a little like blacks in America, an experience I also had when I was visiting in Los Angeles with my black boyfriend and we were arrested for driving in a car with stolen license plates even though the car was mine and I produced the car registration. But that's a long story. Just to say that blacks in America don't trust police for good reason, and here I feel the same with the Spanish police.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Spanish Police Say Tweety Sucks And So Does The Food

One odd story today in the midst of all the news about the Spanish takeover of the Catalan government that is about to happen on Saturday.  Before the 1 October referendum, Madrid sent 12,000 paramilitary police to make sure the referendum did not happen.  These 12,000 agents were unable to find a single voting box but they did find a few million paper ballots.  They were supposed to keep the citizens from voting, but in spite of beating up over 1000 unarmed voters, over 2,300,000 voters managed to slip in between the armed thugs and cast their ballots.

These official thugs are housed in three ships -- one of which lacks the dignity that official thugs should receive because of the cartoons of Tweety and friends painted on its sides.  The police are still being housed there, more than a month after they've arrived.  And they have now complained to the Spanish Minister of Security that they don't like their accommodation.  The food stinks.  The housing is unacceptable.  And the worst of it all, they've found out that they get paid less than the Catalan police do.  Holy Mother of God!  They are pissed off and threaten to take action if something is not done.  I wonder that that action might be.  Maybe they'll chuck it in and go home?

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 "√úbermensch" 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.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Help Catalonia, Save Europe

This video is in English.  It was made by Omnium Cultural, a Catalan cultural organization that for the last few years has been instrumental in the Catalan Right To Vote and Independence movement.  

By posting this video, I'm hoping to help disseminate information about Catalonia and the current crisis.  Omnium (as well as the Catalan government and everyone involved here) is trying to get more public attention to the situation and to get Europe involved in an issue that, in spite of what EU leaders say, is not just about Spain.  Democracy, human rights -- the right to free speech and assembly, and the right to vote, are basic values of the European Union and incorporated into its charter.  The current instability that gets worse each day, and the Spanish government's refusal to engage in dialogue or be assisted by mediation, is endangering the Catalan economy.  This seems to be Spain's aim (just last week they just made it easier for corporations to move their headquarters out of Catalonia, hoping to pressure and weaken the Catalan economy).  What they don't seem to realize is that with Catalonia providing 20% of Spain's economy, when Catalonia falls, so does Spain.  And when Spain falls, so does Europe.  So even with leaders willing to ignore the violation of basic democratic rights and the violence perpetrated again peaceful, unarmed E.U. citizens right there in Catalonia, in the middle of Europe, the economic threat should wake them up.

The media, for the most part, reports on and takes the Spanish side.  But there are two sides to the conflict and the Catalan side has a lot in its favor.  Watch the video and see what you think, and if you agree, please share it with people you know.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

When is Something Illegal Actually Legal?

When is Something Illegal Actually Legal?

When the bigger guy says so.

Footnote: Human rights can never be illegal.

All the world seems to agree that for Catalans to vote on a referendum to see if the majority does or does not want independence is illegal.  Everyone says this because it is Madrid’s mantra that no one questions.  Madrid says that a referendum is illegal and secession is unconstitutional.  And given those two points, it is not possible to vote on them or to discuss them because you cannot talk about things that are illegal and unconstitutional.

I’m no legal expert.  I’ve never taken a law course.  But I read and I listen and I try to apply logic to the statements and arguments I hear.  And there are two things I don’t hear often.  One is that voting is the basis of democracy; without it there is no democracy.  So the legitimacy of a country that says that voting on a referendum is illegal should be questioned.  The second is that local laws are overridden by state or national laws, and national laws are overridden by international laws.  So what do international laws have to say about the Spanish law?

Within Spain, there have been dozens of laws recently passed by the Catalan parliament that were overridden by Spain – laws that included the protection of unemployed or poor people from having their gas or electricity turned off in winter months for non-payment; a tax on bank owned repossessed properties in order to pressure the banks to make the properties available for rent in an inadequate housing market; the prohibition of fracking; the outlawing of bullfights, and more.  In all these instances the laws were overturned because either they gave Catalans better protections than other Spaniards enjoyed, or because it was said that it was not within the jurisdiction of the Catalans to pass such a law.

Since the very beginning, six years ago, when Catalans began to have huge mobilizations that numbered from 1 to 2 million people each year on their National Day, 11 September, demanding the right to vote on a referendum to ascertain what percentage of Catalans wanted independence, the Spanish government always responded that a referendum was illegal.  After a few years of these massive demonstrations (2 million people demonstrating out of a population of 7.5 million is an impressive number of people) the topic started to come up in E.U. discussions.  And the response there was always the same.  This was an internal matter for Spain to resolve.  When Catalan leaders arranged an informal, non-binding consultation to see what the citizens wanted, they were accused of illegal activity, banned from holding public office, and now face disobedience and other charges as well as having their private property – bank accounts and homes – seized by the Spanish state.  Knowing this, the E.U. continued to maintain that it was an internal matter.

More recently when tensions rose to new heights and violence erupted on the part of Spanish police against peaceful citizens, the position of the E.U. was that it could not condone the Catalans voting on a referendum that was illegal by Spanish law (also mumbling something about too much use of force on the part of the police).  Virtually all international media condemned the violence in stronger terms than the E.U. did, saying it was disproportionate and too brutal, but everyone still assumed that the vote had been illegal.

However, just as Spain can legally override Catalan laws, so Europe’s laws override the laws of their member countries. 

The E.U. was created after World War II in order to prevent violence among the peoples of Europe.  It has strong guarantees of consumer protection, workers’ rights, and human rights.  These are codified in the Lisbon Treaty, incorporated into the Charter of the Fundamental Rights of the European Union, and are part of European Union law.  They include

Article 1: The Right to Human Dignity
Article 6: The Right to Liberty or Security of Person
Article 11: Freedom of Expression and Information
Article 12: Freedom of Assembly and Association
Article 54: Prohibition of Abuse of Rights

Articles 11 and 12 were violated with the charges against the Catalan leaders who arranged the informal consultation, and all of these were violated when Spanish police confiscated voting materials as well as mail and publications of non-profit pro-independence groups, and attacked peaceful citizens who were trying to protect voting boxes and cast their ballots.  Craig Murray, author, broadcaster and human rights activist, former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan, and former Rector of the University of Dundee recently wrote: “The European Commission is obliged to abide by this Charter by Article 51. Yet when the Spanish government committed the most egregious mass violation of human rights within the European Union for a great many years, the EU Commission deliberately chose to ignore completely its obligations under the European Charter of Fundamental Rights in its response. The Commission’s actions shocked all of intellectual Europe, and represented a complete betrayal of the fundamental principles, obligations and basic documents of the European Union.”  (See full article here.)

And that is not all.  The fact that police were attacking European Union citizens (as all Catalans are) who were exercising their right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, among other rights, is not the end of the story.  The laws of the European Union are also subject to being superseded by the laws of the United Nations.  Article 1 of the U.N. Charter of the United Nations says that people have the right to self­-determination.  “Article 1 (2) To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace.”

So this “illegal referendum” that the Catalans risked their lives to vote on is legal under the Charter of the U.N., and the police brutality against non-violent citizens, plus the confiscation of voting boxes, ballots, any referendum-related material, as well as letters and publications sent through the mail that had been confiscated by the Spanish police were violations of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights.

So when you read that the referendum was illegal, stop and think even if you never heard of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights or the Charter of the United Nations.  What is the basis of democracy if not voting?  That should be enough to tell you that no democratic country can make voting illegal and still be called a democracy.  The international press has either been too lazy to research, incapable of thinking logically, or has taken sides and is not interested in providing the public with a rounded view of an important crisis.  And the European Union has failed miserably in upholding the rights it is supposed to guarantee to all its citizens.  Maybe tomorrow, or one day soon, they will. 

Photo from public source

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

A Declaration of Independence put on ice

The President of the Generalitat sort of declared independence today. The declaration has been signed by a majority of the Catalan parliament but they immediately suspended it allowing for some time to see if there can be dialogue and negotiations with Madrid.
Since Madrid has always said and continues to say (even today) that they won't talk about something (a referendum or independence) that is outside the law and unconstitutional, there doesn't seem to me that there is much hope for any dialogue. But if some millions of your citizens have a complaint, and turn out to demonstrate about the issue in the millions, year after year for six years, and you won't talk about it because it goes against the constitution, what chance is there that those citizens will ever feel attended to? To solve a political problem, political leaders must talk. Using the court and the police does not solve the problem.  Political problems need to be solved by political means -- at least in a democracy.  And if they have to change a law or amend a constitution to meet the needs of the people, they do that. Constitutions are supposed to serve the people, not put chains on them.
However, because Rajoy is screwing the economy of Catalonia as well as the whole of Spain with the unstable situation that exists now (occupying one part of your own country with thousands of military and paramilitary troops does not inspire confidence in the financial world), he may well be pressured by outside forces to negotiate.
The cava that many people were going to break open today will have to wait for another day. The good news is that it keeps, and to a point, even improves with age.

(Photo from public source)

Monday, October 9, 2017

Tractors for Independence!

Usually when I post, I post my own writing.  But this article from the New York Times was so sweet as well as informative (and so unlike their usual biased articles against Catalan independence), that I felt I wanted to share it with anyone who might not have seen it.  So here's a link to the article titled, Catalonia's Push for Independence Has an Unlikely Symbol: Tractors.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Silent Majority Came from Madrid by Bus

This was illegal on 1 October
Mario Vargas Llosa came to Barcelona today to participate in a demonstration against Catalan independence.  The Nobel Laureate seemed to have no problem with the police violence of the week before, or at least he didn’t mention it.

But others at the demonstration did address the issue.  Hundreds went to place themselves in front of the precinct of the National Police on Via Laetana where they thanked, applauded, and kissed the police who had beaten up their fellow citizens the week before.

This demonstration was called by a citizens’ group, but who was really behind it was the PP party and the Ciutadanos – both right wing parties who are against not only Catalan independence, but the right of the Catalans to vote to see how many actually want it and how many don’t.

Today’s demonstration was billed as the march of the silent majority.  The Unionists – those who are against independence and for the maintenance of the present union – have always said that the majority of Catalans do not want independence and lately have utilized the term “silent majority” – a term which is impossible to prove or disprove without a vote.  And yet it is the same Unionists who have declared a referendum on the issue illegal.  Thus we are left with the fictional silent majority.

The silent majority today numbered 350,000, as estimated by the local police.  It was a peaceful demonstration, it was legal, and there were no threats by any police or anyone else against the marchers.  If you consider that last Sunday, on 1 October, over 2 million (2,262,425 ballots could be counted, additional ballots had been confiscated by police) people came out to vote, in spite of being told by Madrid that voting was illegal, and in spite of the threat implied by sending thousands of Spanish National police to the area to stop the voting, and in spite of actual police violence and brutality against voters – violent police attacks that began at 9 in the morning, you have to wonder which is the majority and which the minority.

The other notable factor in today’s 350,000 people who constitute the silent majority of Catalans is that many thousands of them came in on charter buses from all over Spain.  The organizers and the two political parties behind the event put out a call for participation from all Spaniards and some thousands responded and came.  In the on-street interviews on the news, only 2 of the 10 I saw interviewed could speak Catalan.  How many of the Catalan silent majority were actually Spaniards who lived in Madrid, Seville, Burgos, or Salamanca?

Vargas Llosa came today to make a speech.  He has been vocally against independence for some time.  I wondered how much he actually knew about the issue outside of what the Madrid authorities and Madrid press says.  He was certainly unfamiliar with the major Catalan players, mispronouncing the names of both Catalan President Puigdemont, Vice President Junqueras, and having to ask someone else on stage what the name of the President of the Parliament was (Forcadell) and then getting it wrong when he repeated it.

Although he is a world-class writer and had won the Nobel Prize for literature, his comments against Catalan independence have no creativity about them and simply adhered to the PP party line.   Today he told the cheering crowd that the Catalan independence movement constitutes nationalism, fanaticism, and racism.  (He left out Nazism.  The leaders and press of Madrid love to describe Catalan demonstrations and independence movement as being like Nazis.)

This shocked me.  It was as if the man had just landed from Mars.  There is more than one definition of nationalism, and we all knew which one Vargas Llosa meant.  One definition refers to patriotic sentiment.  What Vargas Llosa was talking about was the extreme form of patriotism marked by a feeling of superiority over other countries, currently an issue among some of the other European nations

Catalans don’t want to exclude anyone and there is nothing in their speeches, writings or personal discourse, as far as I’ve heard, to indicate that they feel superior to anyone.  They take in more immigrants than anywhere else in Spain bending over backwards to help them and make them feel welcome.  They want nothing more than to remain part of the European Union and keep on paying in their share.

As for fanaticism, if people believe in something very strongly, they work tirelessly to achieve it, even at personal risk.  That is called committed.  That was what the freedom fighters in Mississippi did in the 60s and what the suffragettes did before them.  Working for change or justice, being dedicated to an ideal, is not fanaticism, unless you are on the other side of the issue.

Some people like Vargas Llosa say the Catalan independentists are nationalistic, others say they want to secede for financial reasons.  But there are many other reasons for secession.  These have to do with protecting their culture and language and much more from Spanish onslaught.  The foreign press talks often about how Catalans have a lot of autonomy.  But just in the last few years the Madrid government has prevented the Catalans from doing the following:

The Catalan government passed a law that would prohibit the utility companies from turning off service in the winter months of people who are at risk.  The Social Services Department would provide the information as to whether or not the person met the requirements for that protection.  The Spanish government said this was not fair to all the Spaniards living outside of Catalonia who do not have that protection.

The Catalan government passed a law to prohibit fracking.  The Spanish government said it was not in their jurisdiction to do that.

The Catalan government attempted to protect citizens who were swindled by banks with mortgages and investment schemes that were fraudulent and denounced by the European Union.  The Spanish government said it was not within their jurisdiction to do that.

The language of instruction in Catalan public schools is Catalan as it has been for 30 or more years.  But the Spanish government tried to force the Catalan school system to use Spanish.  When one parent complained that he wanted his child to be taught in Spanish, the court ruled in his favor and directed the school that the whole class had to be taught in Spanish.  That means that 29 other people have to submit to the one.

Several years ago the Catalan government prohibited bullfights.  A couple of years later, the Spanish government declared bullfighting a national treasure, thus overriding the Catalan prohibition.

The rail line that runs up the Spanish Mediterranean coast is, in many places, a single track, requiring one train to wait for another that is passing in the opposite direction.  This is a heavily used line of both passenger and freight trains connecting Spain with France and the rest of Europe, and is where most cargo transport moves, passing the ports of Valencia and Barcelona – the two biggest ports in Spain.  For years the European Union has said that the line needs to be enlarged so that trains would not need to make unproductive stops.  It is concerned because not only would it help better connectivity for Spain, but obviously for the rest of Europe.  But Spain refuses.  Its method is to build transportation lines that radiate from Madrid, and Madrid is not on the Mediterranean.

Wales, which is part of the United Kingdom, has teams representing it in international sports competitions.  Catalonia would like to do the same but is not allowed by Spain to do that.  Does the constitution also limit sports teams?

There are many others I could list.  They are all examples of where, notwithstanding the autonomy it is supposed to enjoy, Spain interferes in Catalan affairs to the detriment of the Catalan people.

Catalans don’t feel they are better than other Spaniards; they just want the others to leave them alone to run their own community in peace.

The Catalans are not how Vargas Llosa described them.  They are not nationalists in the negative sense of the word, not fanatics, and not racists.  Whether or not a majority wants independence, all polls show that a majority of about 80% want the right to vote to determine the issue.  When the 2 million votes were counted after the polls closed on 1 October, it showed that 89% had voted Yes and 7.8% had voted No.

Vargas Llosa could have presented arguments for why Catalonia should remain in Spain.  I would give examples, but I can’t think of one.  Going on and on about the constitution isn’t particularly convincing.  Constitutions can be amended.  The U.S. has done it 23 times.  One change was to give women the vote.  He would have been more eloquent and closer to the truth if he had said what The Economist said in the issue of 7 October:  “WHEN a democracy sends riot police to beat old ladies over the head with batons and stop them voting, something has gone badly wrong.” 

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Voting is Sacred in Catalunya

Last Sunday the Catalans tried to vote on a referendum asking them whether they wanted to form a new state or not.  Meanwhile the Spanish police, who ostensibly were sent to confiscate ballots and ballot boxes, also spent a lot of their energy that day breaking doors and windows of schools and gymnasiums, bludgeoning people young and old, pulling women along the ground by the hair and one they dragged by the mouth (yes, and there are videos).  At the end of the day emergency services reported they had attended 844 persons.  By the next day that number had risen to 893.  The physical damage to the public property, all of it done by police (there were no riots) totaled 300,000 euros.  The Catalan government will be filing a complaint with the court naming the Spanish National Police and Guardia Civil.

At many of the polling stations people tried all kinds of ingenious ways to hide the polling boxes from police so they wouldn't be confiscated (obviously at some personal risk).  One school hid its box in the space at the top of the elevator shaft.  Others kept moving from room to room in a cat and mouse dance with the police.  But the volunteers in Vila-rodona were the most ingenious of all.  Watch the video and see where they did their vote count.

In the end, in spite of the repressive activity of the thousands of Spanish police who were sent from all over Spain, over 2.2 million of the 5.3 eligible voters cast ballots that were counted.  Close to 800,000 people either could not vote because their polling station had been closed by police, or their votes were lost because, as the Catalan spokesman said, "the ballots were stolen."   The total number of eligible voters is 5.3 million, which means that participation (actual votes counted) was at 42.34%.

And the results are:
Yes won with 89% of the vote
No had 7.8% of the vote
Blank had 2.02%
Null had 0.8%

It is expected that the Catalan Parliament will declare independence this week.

(The photo was from media, found on the web.)