Separatism in Catalonia sign of deeper malaise within Europe
A series of strikes and protests have disrupted the economic life in Catalonia, Spain’s wealthiest and most industrialized region. The protests come after Spanish police cracked down on Sunday’s independence referendum held in Catalonia region, which Madrid declared as illegal. Catalan authorities say around 900 people were injured after police raided polling stations, carrying away ballot boxes, beating up voters and shooting rubber bullets.
The EU and the European media, usually vocal about any perceived human rights violation in the farthest corner of the world, was uncharacteristically quiet over Spain’s crack down of the Catalonia vote in its own backyard. “It is telling that these shocking images didn’t even make the lead item on the BBC news and voters were described as protesters,” wrote the Daily Mail columnist Katie Hopkins.
Catalonia, an autonomous region in Spain, has long been pressing for secession from Spain. In early eighteenth century, the region became part of Imperial Spain as a result of conquest. The Catalan language and culture were suppressed by Spanish authorities, especially during General Francisco Franco’s 40-year-long Fascist dictatorship.
Around 90 percent of those who voted in the Sunday’s referendum chose to split from Spain. Despite massive police action to shutdown the referendum, more than 42 percent of the voters managed to cast their ballots.
The EU top brass refused to condemn Spain’s actions. British newspaper Daily Express covered the EU’s response:
Brussels today refused to condemn the actions of Spanish police in Catalonia after clashes between riot clad officers and unarmed voters left more than 800 people injured, some seriously.
The EU Commission faced a barrage of angry questions as it attempted to sidestep the issue of violence by Madrid-backed authorities in suppressing yesterday’s referendum.
Its chief spokesman [Maragritis Schinas] repeatedly refused to be drawn on whether or not EU officials felt the actions of Spanish police were disproportionate, saying he would “not engage in this sort of judgement”.
The EU’s silence over the events in Catalonia is in sharp contrast to its stance against Poland where it threatens to strip away the country’s membership within the union for implementing judicial reforms. Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, hailed by the New York Times as “the de facto leader of the European Union”, failed to take a stand as well.
UK politician Nigel Farage saw the EU’s tacit silence as a reflection of its own undemocratic character. Irish Times reported:
Nigel Farage (…) denounced the EU’s “turning of a blind eye” to the actions of the Spanish police in Catalonia on Sunday. And he said there was “not a dicky bird” on the issue today from Mr Juncker – all the evidence he needed for the undemocratic nature of the union. “Thank God we’re leaving”, he said.
The EU, primarily a Franco-German project launched in late 1950s to unify Europe, has instead drove deep wedges across the continent. Eastern and Western European countries are divided over the issue of open borders for illegal immigrants and migrant resettlement plans. The eurozone currency crisis continues to divide the prosperous North from the struggling South.
Even As Germany celebrates the 27 anniversary of its reunification this week, the Eastern and Western parts of the country have not been so bitterly divided since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Germany’s right-wing AfD party emerged as the second largest force in last month’s general election. The German newspaper Handelsblatt noted this schism in its today’s editorial, commenting, “On October 3, when Germans are supposed to be celebrating the reunification of East and West, the results of the recent election have some questioning whether it was a good idea at all.”
The separatism in Catalonia is a sign of a deeper malaise within Europe. Taking decision-making away from elected national representatives and handing it over to an unelected bureaucracy in far-off Brussels has triggered the rise of popular nationalist movements across the continent. The Party of Freedom (PVV) in the Netherlands, Front National in France, and Freedom Party (FPÖ) in Austria constitute the largest opposition blocks in their respective national parliaments. The crisis unfolding in Catalonia must be seen in this larger European context.
Video: UK politician Nigel Farage slams the EU for its silence on the violence in Catalonia
[Cover image via YouTube]
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