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By Jason Michael

Storm clouds have gathered over Europe. By its brutality and repression in Catalunya Spain has put the new Republic in a position that has often in the past led to armed conflict and war. This is serious.

Let’s for a moment imagine a situation in which, after a fair and democratic election, the British government, that of France, or the United States was deposed by an outside force and its ministers imprisoned. There is no denying that such a coup would be met with immediate and violent resistance. In each of these states both the police and the armed forces and civil society – in extremis – exist to protect the security of the state. Following the fall of France in June 1940 the British government made preparations to equip even civilians with the means to resist the Germans in the event of an invasion.

The idea of cargo containers filled with weapons sitting in the docks at Barcelona and Tarragona sickened me to my stomach quite frankly, but – and let’s not be naïve – every declaration of independence, almost without exception, requires the means and the will to protect the state.

Had Scottish voters been viciously beaten down during an independence referendum, and had – after winning the election – the response of Westminster been to arrest and imprison members of the Scottish government, and had Nicola Sturgeon been forced into exile as a result, I will admit I would be prepared to defend my country. This is precisely what we have witnessed unfold in Catalunya. Catalans, with a pro-independence majority in their autonomous community parliament, voted overwhelmingly in favour of secession from Spain. On the day of the referendum – a day that will live on in infamy for the Spanish state – during a violent crackdown, almost a thousand unarmed civilians were hospitalised as a consequence of the brutality of the military police.

Despite the violence and intimidation used against them the people of Catalunya went to the polls – remembering that it is the people and not the state that determines what democracy is – and voted for independence. On the back of this democratic decision the Catalan President, Carles Puigdemont, again asked for negotiations with Madrid; a request that was denied. Not once has the Spanish government agreed to talks with Catalunya on the subject of its independence. Rather, the response of Spain’s openly Francoist Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, was to maintain his insistence that the referendum was treasonous and seditious. Madrid gave Puigdemont an ultimatum: Return to legality or face the consequences.

On 27 October, without any prospect of arbitrated negotiations with Spain, the Catalan parliament in Barcelona voted on the ratification of the 1 October referendum. The twelfth legislature of the Parlament de Catalunya voted to accept the will of the people, declaring the independence of the Catalan Republic.

Spain’s reaction was to seize the state apparatus of Catalunya, closing its parliament and imposing direct rule from Madrid, and arresting and imprisoning – without bail pending trial on charges of treason – eight elected members of the government. Footage released of three Spanish police officers laughing and joking about the assault and rape of these political prisoners in Spanish prisons appositely demonstrated the contempt in which the Spanish establishment holds the elected representatives of Catalunya – and by extension then the people of Catalunya themselves.

President Puigdemont has fled to Belgium with what is left of his new government in exile, pursued by a European arrest warrant. It is now up to the courts in Brussels to decide the fate of democracy in Catalunya. Bearing in mind that this is a week and a day after the formal declaration of its independence, Spain’s actions cannot be thought of as anything but an invasion, an occupation, and a serious crime against democracy. Had this happened to Britain, France, or the United Sates a war – a real bloody war – would already be underway.

Scottish supporters of Catalan democracy and independence are rightly dismayed. In Barcelona the frustration has turned into outrage and anger. We are genuinely baffled by these events. Surely, people are asking on social media, this can’t happen in a democracy, in 2017. This is a glitch, we are saying to ourselves as though the year and the fact all of this has happened in one of these new-fangled democracy things make the slightest difference.

Our problem here is that we have persuaded ourselves that somehow – and no matter what year it is it is always the same – it being 2017 makes a difference to how power conducts itself, and we have become convinced democracy is somehow different from tyranny in the way hegemony operates. In this we are the idiots. Power is power regardless of the political trappings behind which it hides, and power – as is its nature – will always protect itself and it will do this by any means necessary. What we have seen in Catalunya, what we so nearly saw in Scotland, was power acting in the open.

Less than a week ago I was holding on to a rumour – one which has been shown apparently to be false – that persons in Catalunya had made provision for the defence of the state. The idea of cargo containers filled with weapons sitting in the docks at Barcelona and Tarragona sickened me to my stomach quite frankly, but – and let’s not be naïve – every declaration of independence, almost without exception, requires the means and the will to protect the state. If we are prepared to concede that Britain, Spain, France, and the United States would not hesitate to use the force of arms to defend their sovereignty, then we must accept that this also holds true for Catalunya – especially against a suzerain as aggressive as Spain.

Is the defence of the state “violence?” Personally, I do not believe that it is. It is not a crime under international law for a people to defend their land – even by military means – from foreign invasion and occupation. Self-defence is not “violence” in the ordinary sense of the word. It is of course the use of proportionate violence to protect one’s self or one’s property or indeed homeland from attack. We have the right both legally and morally to protect ourselves. As a state in its own right Catalunya and the Catalan people have a legitimate right now to engage in an armed struggle against Spain.

It is much to the credit of Catalans and the Catalan government that this has not happened. Their belief was that other European nations, that the European Union would defend their democratic choice. We now know otherwise. No European state – no state powerful enough, that is – will recognise the democracy of Catalunya, and so neither will the European Union. This teaches all of us a painful lesson: Even in so-called modern liberal democracies, in Europe – in 2017 – the means and the will to protect the state are necessary for independence. Had Puigdemont and his government known this before 1 October the situation we are in today might be a great deal different. Denying this is innocence verging on stupidity.

The truth is that Spain has narrowly avoided an armed conflict in Catalunya, and no country has done more to provoke a war in Europe in recent decades than has Spain in Catalunya. Thanks mainly, we can be sure, to the misguided trust of the Catalan leadership in the honest brokerage of the EU and the European states this has not happened. Yet, now having learned this lesson, we cannot be certain that any similar event will end so “peacefully.”

It goes entirely without saying that the last thing we want to see in Europe is another armed conflict, and one that will draw in outside participation – as Catalunya most definitely would. But, and given that I have already conceded that I would be prepared at this point to defend my own country in similar circumstances, I find myself unable to condemn an armed insurrection no matter how much I would rather a peaceful and diplomatic solution. The bottom line here is that in the real world not much has changed since 1914, 1936, and 1939; war, a là dear old Carl von Clausewitz, remains the continuation of politics by other means.

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Imprisonments send shockwave through Catalonia


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