Spain's Crackdown in Catalonia Won't Stop the Push for Self-Determination

If anything, it will make independence more attractive.



As Catalonia prepares for an October 1 vote on whether to secede from Spain, the government has cracked down on the unauthorized referendum. Yesterday the country's high court announced it had arrested more than a dozen regional officials on charges of disobedience, abuse of power, and embezzlement. (It's unclear whether the embezzlement charges stem from the idea that the vote is a misuse of public money or if there is a claim of broader corruption.)

Catalan leaders say the raids and arrests have undermined the push for independence. But in the end the crackdown may well end up increasing sympathy for the secessionists.

The referendum faced long odds even before the government roadblocks: Polls show only about 40 percent of the region favoring independence. But a majority does want a vote. Spain's effort—animated in large part by a fear that other regions will follow suit with independence votes of their own—could only boost support for self-determination movements.

The doubletalk from the authorities isn't likely to help. "Don't go ahead, you don't have any legitimacy to do it," Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy told Catalans in a televised address. "Go back to the law and democracy. This referendum is a chimera." When you defend a decision to suppress a vote by calling it a return to democracy, who exactly are you going to persuade?

Spanish courts have repeatedly ruled it illegal for Catalonia to hold a referendum on independence, and earlier this month the Spanish Constitutional Court suspended the currently scheduled vote so the judges could hear arguments about whether it is constitutional. Catalan officials decided to hold the referendum anyway, whether or not the results would be binding. The national government responded by threatening to arrest 700 regional mayors if they went on with preparations for the voting. This week's crackdown followed.

European Union leaders have backed the Spanish government, though Reuters reports that this "belies some disquiet that his hardline tactics might backfire." Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland's pro-independence leader, has urged Spanish and Catalan leaders to resolve their differences at the negotiating table, not with police raids.

We'll see. The case for self-determination is clear enough: By reducing the distance between the governing and the governed, local rule could make officials more responsive and make it harder for majorities to lord over minorities. But local rule also makes central planning more difficult, and so the central planners who claim to be the standard-bearers of democracy tend to oppose it. In Spain, that opposition reveals that they're not so democratic after all.

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  1. But in the end the crackdown may well end up increasing sympathy for the secessionists.

    Seems plausible.

  2. Q: What do the Lincoln cultists think of Catalonian secession?

    A: The Civil War settled the question.

    1. Slave owners in Catalonia are just hiding behind the myth of local self-determination.

  3. When you defend a decision to suppress a vote by calling it a return to democracy, who exactly are you going to persuade?

    Right, everybody knows you delegitimize this sort of thing by categorically portraying the regionalists as white nationalists/ethnic purists.

  4. I see those Catalonian Nationalists are waving the old Red Yellow and Blue.

    1. From a quick glance I thought the flags were supposed to be flames.

  5. So, are these the good secessionists or will we have to tear down their statues in 10 years?

    1. Since hate crimes and hate speech have been banned since 1995 the answer is obviously “No.” Duh.

  6. Cut it out Catalonians. Quebec is watching!

  7. This is just the textbook example of how most governments respond once you start to lose the appearance of consensus. To hear that 40% of a region doesn’t want to be a part of Spain forever undermines the state’s authority

    This just reminds me of that great quip Rothbard has in Anatomy of the State: if we are the government, and thus anything a government does to an individual is voluntary on the part of that individual, then are people shot and killed by the government just committing suicide?

  8. Self-determination is racist! Oh wait, wrong country.

  9. I don’t think it’s commonly known that the EU dispenses favors (money) to ‘regions’ along with states. The payouts can be quite large, such that various regions maintain lobbying offices in Brussels (and I guess Strasbourg) to pitch the managers of the funds.
    What this means is that ‘regions’ such as Catalonia (yes, it is eligible: ki/Regional_policy_of_the_Eur opean_Union ) no longer have to rely on the national government for whatever handouts they can beg.
    Whether this policy is intended to foster the break up of nations is open to debate, but the incentives are certainly there.

    1. So much effort and time and money is put towards the appearance of unity, and I don’t understand why that is. Why is it considered to have such value to be part of a monolithic entity?

      1. “Why is it considered to have such value to be part of a monolithic entity?”

        1) The US taxpayer covers your defense costs, resulting in:
        2) 8-week vacations every year.

  10. I believe that Catalonian, like Scottish nationalists are more leftist than the nation they want to secede from and want more central planning. Much like if California or NY wanted to secede from the US; they want more autonomy so that their citizens have less.

    1. Pretty sure that isn’t universal. From what I can find out about the Kurds, they’re not hoping to get welfare from some other gov’t if they can get the Turks to leave them alone.
      Ditto the Uighurs from what I heard there. I didn’t hear any objection to Han ‘immigration’ (if you will), just Han governmental and military control.

  11. They didn’t expect the Spanish Inquisition…

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