By Phill McCoffers
As this issue of The Islander closed for press, we were less than 24 hours from a speech by Catalan president Carles Puigdemont in which he may, or may not have declared independance from Spain for his region and its 7.5 million citizens. As you read this, you probably have the advantage over me that you know what happened, or didn’t happen. Either way, it is yet another chapter in recent global history that builds a picture of a trend towards nationalism, that needs to be understood.
In the wake the horrors of World War II, many nations chose to band together, to build reliance and support with their neighbours near and far to ensure that closer ties reduced the risk of repeat conflicts. Organisations like the United Nations, NATO, and and the European Union can trace their genes back to those immediate post war years. Countries like Spain, Germany and Italy are also relatively recent constructions in the form that we know them today.
You would, perhaps expect that a modern, upwardly mobile generation for whom foreign travel, and residing abroad are common place would begin to lose their sense of place, and identify themselves as more international, but the reverse seems to be true.
The USA under Trump has stated intentions to withdraw from international agreements on climate change, remove itself from NAFTA, the North American trading bloc, and the man himself has previously been hyper critical of NATO and the UN.
Britain has voted to leave the EU and is currently wading through a two year Brexit negotiation that seems doomed to be beaten by the clock. Scotland voted against independence from the United Kingdom, but by a margin narrow enough to ensure that the issue remains alive. In the French general election in May over 10 million people, more than a third of the electorate voted for the anti immigration, anti EU, Front National, and just last month Germany returned Angela Merkel as Chancellor once again, but nearly 6 million, (12%) voted for Alternative for Deutschland, an eye wateringly right wing party, again anti immigration and anti EU, the first time the far right has had had a presence in the Bundestag in six decades.
Whatever has happened in Catalunya since closing for press it does seem that the independence cat is out of the bag in Spain, and if they, or possibly the Basque Country at some point do choose, and gain independence from Spain, they will also be leaving the EU, single currency, and the Schengen agreement simultaneously, which may well make Brexit look like a walk in the park.
These large institutions, whether they be countries, military alliances or trading blocs have, by necessity been a one way deal, if nations can pick and choose what, and when they join, and then change their minds and want out, the institutions themselves become inherently weaker, so once you join, the exits are sealed and there you shall stay, forever..except as we are finding out, forever is an awful long time, and a little hard to commit to.
The Spanish constitution is so inflexible that it seems to have taken a reasonable dialogue on the collective wish of Catalans all but off the table, so an ‘illegal’ referendum was held, and the constitution was defended by heavy handed police actions injuring nine hundred people trying to voice their feelings. Surely that can’t be preferable to talking it through. Many thought that enforcing the will of a government with state backed violence was not ‘a thing’ in Europe these days, but as we have seen, it very much is, in Spain at least, but these days this gets played out on Twitter accounts, and live TV, rather than behind closed doors.
The global trend toward nationalism needs to be viewed as just that, a global trend, rather than a series of unrelated events. The institutions against which these movements rebel need to be flexible, and open to dialogue, compromise and change in the direction of the collective will, not rigid in the face of dissention or they will find themselves isolated and obsolete. Even an elementary knowledge of political history tells us that the only constant is change, it has always happened and it is naive in the extreme to think that you can stop change by waving a treaty paper or police baton in the faces of those who seek it.