Wednesday, October 04, 2017

The Right to Decide

The events in Catalonia over the weekend have left me with a chill. A democratic country has prevented people from voting.

The government of Spain could have ruled, through the courts, that the vote was illegal and non-binding, then ignored the result. Legitimately. Judging by polls and anecdotal information coming from Catalonia less than half those who planned to vote would have voted for independence anyway.

By sending in their paramilitaries and extra police to prevent the poll taking place, the Spanish government denied the people of Catalnoia the right to decide their own future.

Since when did a government have the right to control areas where they are not wanted? In times past we called that colonialism.

The problems in Catalonia are not unique in Spain, the Basque area also wants autonomy and independence, nor are they unique in Europe. Wales and Scotland have, and want more, autonomy, Belgium is holding together two disparate regions while Italy has a very stark north/south split that has generated a relatively powerful movement in the north that wants independence.

In living memory we've had a war in Yugoslavia over this issue and, more peacably, Czechoslovakia split in two. The only recent European example of coming together was Germany, though that was a nation finally united rather than two nations joining as one.

The attitude of the EU towards the Catalonian poll leaves much to be desired. To call it weak is an understatement. Their attitude to the Spanish government's handling of the referendum is, to my mind, despicable.

Not forgetting that before, during and after the Scottish referendum the EU made it clear that an independant Scotland would not automatically become an EU member and several senior politicians have made it clear that Britain should be punished and made an example of so that other nations don't leave.

Very liberal.

In a fully open EU, why would a new democratic nation be a problem? If Catalonia or Scotland ruled themselves, why is that a big issue? The people are still part of the EU, the economy is still part of the EU, there is still free movement of people and money. There'll be another government at the top table but we already have 28, so what's another one, especially as the EU seeks to expand anyway.

Maybe the answer is a different problem altogether, but one that's as old as humanity: Empire.

A new modern nation, such as Scotland or Catalonia, both of which were nations in their own right 500 years ago, is a threat to those who want to control things from the centre. The British and Spanish governments fear a loss of influence and control, not to mention taxes, should those two nations become independent. The EU, it seems, fears a loss of control should there be more, and more independent, voices within its political boundaries.

Is that the reason it has sought to 'punish' the UK and has been muted in its response to the events in Catalonia? Has the EU become an empire in all but name?

It's too early to tell, but their actions are not promising.

When politicians seek to hang on to everything they have, a step towards dictatorship has been taken. Spain is in danger, the EU is in danger, even the USA is in danger.

I hope we are not seeing a repeat of the early 20th century, with the Western world dropping into dictatorship, but the signs are there. Vibrant groups in Europe and the US with openly fascist and dictatorial ideology are being tolerated by some in government and even winning seats in democratic parliaments. A ruling class so far removed from the people they are meant to be serving they have little idea of their suffering. Economic problems that leave most people struggling and many more in poverty.

Nor should we forget that the first three decades of the 20th century were the high point of Western empires, social darwinism and eugenics, economic inequality and many other social and societal ills. Extremism and violence breeds in circumstances like these, in times where people have nothing left to lose.

The EU and the democratic governments that are its members, for they are still democratic, need to look to the past and learn. If all they can do is try and hold on to power, then history will repeat itself, and the institution that was designed to bring peace to Europe will end up creating a civil war. A war that will be as brutal and as ideological as any of the past 300 years. Only this time there is the strong likelihood that, as the EU splinters, the nuclear, biological and chemical weapons that are held by its governments will be released and used by the centre and any other group that can get its hands on them.

Without giving regions and the people the right to decide, without overnments and the EU releasing some its centralised grip, Europe could end up like Iraq, Afghanistan or Syria.

Not a future I look forward to.

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