There exist two official truths about the events that will take place on Sunday, October 1st, in Catalonia. According to the Spanish government, there will be no vote in Catalonia. According to Catalonia's vice-president, however, a majority of the eligible voters will participate in the referendum that will ask the Catalans whether they want Catalonia to become an independent republic: Yes or No?
We will see who is right. I can't know for sure. I would bet that the Catalan folks are right, mostly because of the locality of the laws of physics. It seems clear that an overwhelming majority of the people on the territory want to organize a referendum and participate in it. And it's hard for some remote government (in Madrid) to enforce a very different scenario against the wishes of most of the 7.5 million Catalan people, their president, government, and others. So I think that they have printed some extra ballots somewhere – or they will print additional ones – that haven't been seized yet and the local people will simply make it insufferably painful for some non-Catalan enforcement officials to prevent the people from entering the schools and other polling booths.
Catalan farmers brought tractors to defend polling booths. Firefighters will pour water on the Spanish cops if needed.
Some polls could have indicated that close to 50% of Catalans could have been okay with the setup within Spain. I believe it's no longer possible to obtain such a balanced result now.
The central Spanish government has really acted in ways that look like those from the Franco era. You can believe that a referendum is unconstitutional but if you believe so, you have to interpret Catalan people's efforts to organize something they call a "referendum" as an inconsequential children's game they are allowed to play. You just don't have the right to confiscate their ballots, shut down hundreds of *.cat domains on the Internet, threaten them with jail, and seal schools just because you don't like the game.
They have the basic rights to express their opinion and play games even if you declare the outcomes of the game to be constitutionally irrelevant!
Folks in Madrid – well, I mean most of Spain outside Catalonia – obviously understand that most of the Catalans won't interpret the referendum just as a game, and that's why they are fighting against the game itself. I believe that the civilized public in the world that cares has recorded increasing sympathies for the Catalan secessionist movement. Civilized governments simply shouldn't suppress and threaten the local governments and the local nationalities in this way. The Catalans' freedom of speech is being eroded. By the systematic harassment of the Catalan elected representatives, the Spanish government is attacking the Catalans' right to practice democracy in general. Lots of people say it and lots of people agree. I surely do.
I wrote my previous blog post about Catalonia because I noticed that many of the patronizing attitudes by the politicians and citizens from the bulk of Spain resemble some of the most would-be authoritative attitudes of Czechs towards the Slovak secessionist efforts in the early 1990s – and I wanted to remind them that I, just like most of Czechs, simply believe that the arrogant patronizing Czechs were ultimately proven wrong. Slovaks often wanted to escape from the shadow of their "bigger brothers" and show that their nation is viable by itself. And by now, 2017, Slovakia has unquestionably proven that this basic statement was right – i.e. all the claims that Slovakia would be in deep trouble if it seceded were just hogwash.
Pedro, a Czechoslovak retro bubble gum.
Sadly, I was proven that the Spaniards are simply not comparably rational to Czechs. My remarks about Catalonia were challenged by approximately 10 Spaniards (plus one Portuguese with very similar views) on Twitter and my blog. I would say that not a single one among these people looked promising when it comes to a decent solution of the current tension in Catalonia. All these Spaniards seem to live within some fanatical box where the Madrid authorities are considered deities and the Spanish Constitution is treated as a Holy Scripture.
But that's obviously not how most of the Catalan people see it today – and that's the problem. The Spanish constitutional court, other pan-Spanish bodies, and even the very documents such as the Spanish constitution (with its article 155 which was exploited brutally in recent days) simply cannot be understood as fair, impartial arbiters to settle the disagreements between Madrid and Barcelona, if I put it in this way. The Spanish constitutional court and the Spanish constitution were created with the self-evident desire to place Madrid above Barcelona in similar situations and it's understandable that many Catalans simply don't like this whole framework too much. The Spaniards including Eclectikus generally fail to see this key problem. They just believe that their Madrid authorities and Madrid documents are some universal and eternal words of God. They seem to have zero wisdom, intelligence, and desire to reasonably solve the current situation – one that unquestionably shows that the Madrid-based institutions and the documents penned in Madrid cannot be considered as trustworthy sources of authority on the whole territory that we call Spain now – a territory that will be reduced within 48 hours if the referendum says "yes" (regardless of the turnout, as the Catalan authorities promised).
So it seems clear to me that the subsequent events will resemble those in Yugoslavia more than those in Czechoslovakia. I am not happy about it. Of course, I would love if people in Spain and Catalonia – and lots of other places where the co-existence is clearly failing – appreciated the profound wisdom of people like me ;-) and Czechs and Slovaks in general that has allowed us to dissolve the country in a non-violent, in fact, totally smooth way. But it's just a wishful thinking. Spaniards are extremely unlikely to do something like that because they don't want to. In their efforts to save Spain in its current borders, they are absolutely determined to behave like Franco or Miloševič or Brezhnev or worse.
Needless to say, I don't really care too much personally. If some people will be killed on Sunday, it will be sad but it won't really be my business. If another Spanish Civil War erupts, I won't go there to fight – although lots of Czechoslovaks and others actually came to Spain to fight the Spanish Civil War in 1936-1939 – and they were fighting on both sides. I am not that much involved, of course. But I am still disappointed that most people are unwilling to understand their differences and to rearrange the legal setup so that it's more pleasant to almost everyone.
Catalans could have been often satisfied with the degree of autonomy within Spain – there has been a pretty good weather over there for 4 decades. But the relationships have soured in recent weeks. The hostilities must have had an effect on Catalans' opinions whether their continuing life within Spain is desirable. The Catalans' separate identity has clearly strengthened. They are being robbed and they are being targeted. Other Spaniards like to think of Catalans as problem makers – who may deserve a punishment, too. Whether the punishment is adequate depends on your point of view. But the very fact that these ideas strengthen the Catalan identity is independent of your point of view. Catalans are experiencing a part of their history in which they're placed at the same side and this is one kind of the events that are building a nation.
On top of that, Catalonia pays too much to Spain. When it comes to the absolute total GDP, Catalonia is Spain's wealthiest region, beating Madrid by a little bit. Its GDP per capita is among the highest – but not quite highest. The net outflows from Catalonia to the rest of Spain – via taxation, redistribution, and government's spending – amounts to some €2,000 per year per capita, including infants. It's a huge amount of money. Given the fact that Catalans are at least a separate nationality, it's not surprising that they find it strange to subsidize other nationalities in this way.
Because most of the Catalans really don't like this overall magnitude of the financial outflows, you can't call this redistribution solidarity. It would be a forced solidarity but a forced solidarity isn't real solidarity. It's an oxymoron – or a euphemism for a theft. This kind of massive redistribution is just wrong, wrong, wrong.
Obviously, as a classical liberal of a sort, I think that substantial redistribution is almost always wrong. But within a nation, it's understandable. One nation is something like a family. The people generally consider their compatriots as someone who could have helped them, who lives and works together with them. Different people are specialized to do different things but some people can't work at all or there may be other reasons to redistribute the money from one member of a family or a nation to another.
But all these excuses for redistribution become much less justifiable when you talk about groups of people who don't really consider themselves one family or one nation or one demos. The big transfers from the Catalans to the full-blown Spaniards are similar to the imperial relationships between the colonial power and the colonies that were milked. It's understandable that the inhabitants of the colonies could have been unsatisfied at some points. Most of them couldn't really defend themselves against the milking because they were technologically and militarily inferior.
However, it's different in Catalonia because Catalonia is really more advanced than Spain on a per-capita basis. So this is really an example of a less developed nation – or a set of nationalities – that milks another nationality purely because of the higher number of Spanish voters that can effectively turn Catalans into a group of second class citizens who have to be obedient and pay. And it's just wrong.
One may have different opinions on the authenticity of the separate identity of the Catalan nationality. As I said, I think it's right to consider Catalans a separate nation and the degree of separation has certainly grown in recent weeks, I am convinced. But I think that the massive financial redistribution between regions with "somewhat different populaces" would be indefensible even if the populaces were "just a little bit different" ethnically.
The Spaniards often say that the separation of Catalonia is "ad hoc", it would be a new country "a la carte" (=one cherry-picks individual entries from a menu, suggesting that the border is arbitrary), and stuff like that. Well, first of all, it is ludicrous. Catalonia isn't an ad hoc territory and its independent republic wouldn't be one "a la carte". It is a region where most people speak – or would speak, if they hadn't been pressured by Franco – by a significantly different language, one that is closer to Italian to Spanish. And those very good reasons – differences between Catalans and Spaniards, and the histories of the nations – are the reasons why Catalonia has been recognized as an autonomous area.
Even if the territory were random, however, the massive redistribution would be a problem.
For you to be more impartial, just consider the hypothetical case of Prague. Prague has a substantially higher GDP per capita than the rest of Czechia – by a factor of two or so. Let us adopt the terminology of the folks of Prague – they use the word "countryside" for all of Czechia except for Prague. ;-) So Pilsen is in the countryside, too – I hope that you can already speak the Prague dialect. OK, now, Prague and the countryside obviously have the same tax rate for the income tax. Everyone would agree that a different tax rate would be unfair. We still have a 15% flat tax so far, thank God.
Nevertheless, because folks in Prague have a higher income, they also pay higher taxes – in the absolute sense – than the people in the countryside. They may dislike the redistribution – much of their money is probably spent outside Prague. I don't know the numbers but I do believe that there are outflows from Prague, that Prague is subsidizing the countryside much like Madrid and Barcelona are subsidizing the Spanish countryside.
Will the people of Prague secede from Czechia to be better off financially? Well, they don't seem to be eager to do so. Why don't they do such a clever thing? The first reason is that they know that they're really the same nation. The border of their city state would be too arbitrary and would divide many families. Lots of people would have to cross the border every day to get to work. Lots of the Praguians (maybe a majority) would be recent "immigrants" from the Republic of Czech Countryside. It just looks weird.
But it doesn't just look weird. Prague knows that it's entangled with the rest of Czechia. The countryside is needed to provide Prague with the food – and with electricity and other things. Certain things are simply not made in Prague. On top of that, the Prague city state would really be indefensible. Czechia has the nice and natural Sudeten mountains on the border. Once those were annexed by the Third Reich, the castrated Czechia became indefensible – and it was indeed a matter of months before the rest of Czechia was occupied by the Nazis, too. It took half a year for the leftover of Bohemia and Moravia to become the protectorate. (That's also a good reason why Israel simply cannot allow Palestine on the existing territory to be free to do anything with its military – that would mean an immediate existential threat for Israel. The geographic challenges of the fully castrated Israel are completely analogous to those of the post-Munich Czecho-Slovakia.)
Prague would be even more indefensible. In particular, we, the citizens of the Czech Countryside, could feel upset and we could fight with Prague. We would probably defeat them. Now, Spain would probably defeat Catalonia as well, you could object. But the situations simply aren't the same because the Czech fratricide and Prague secession is a silly cut through a family. On the other hand, the Catalan secession is a separation of two families – something that may abruptly be interpreted as two families shortly after you actually cut them.
The attempted secession of Prague would be a hardly sustainable exercise because all the details about the "location of the cut" would be ad hoc and unnatural. Millions of questions about "what and who belongs to Prague or to the countryside" would make the separation unsustainable. Soon or later, the two parts of Czechia would get reunited. Perhaps Prague would re-conquer all of Czechia, perhaps the Countryside would conquer Prague, but the outcome would be pretty much the same united Czechia we have today. The links and mutual dependence between citizens and companies in Prague and the Countryside are too dense and numerous. If they were violently cut, the costs would surpass the benefits.
But the links between Catalonia and the rest of Spain are much less dense and numerous. Catalonia is comparably self-sufficient as Slovakia or any country of a similar population. And if Spain wanted to invade Catalonia after the latter declares independence, it would at least partially look like a conflict between two nations. I think that even the staunches opponents of the Catalan independence would see that it's just unwise for Spain to wage war against Catalonia that has declared independence to recapture it. Why wouldn't Spain wage the same war against Portugal as well? When the distance gets large enough, people will ultimately get used to the separate de facto existence of two countries that simply try to peacefully co-exist much like any pair of adjacent countries.
All these war-like scenarios are so absolutely sad and unnecessary. Spaniards and Catalans are still very close. They have spent a lot of time together, in one country, and they should be friends. But the current dynamics within the Spanish union that tries to preserve itself at any cost are unquestionably making the relationships worse – and the worsening is rapid. That's another reason why the independence is a good idea, just like it was in the case of the dissolution of Czechoslovakia. The relationships may actually calm down and things can be better for everyone.
Spain has the brute power to keep Catalonia by force. But does it really want to do that? It will have to spend additional resources to keep that region. Spaniards' tires will be pierced by the Catalans, like Czech tires were sometimes pierced in Slovakia at a critical moment. Moreover, Spain will be losing the sympathies of a significant portion of the world public. Catalans may do lots of things to be sure that Spain doesn't get too much money from them. Do you really want to go in this direction of increasing hostility and ever more frequent spiteful actions? Can't you really see that the Czechoslovak example is a way better template for a solution of such problems?
In 1992, Slovakia also had some politicians that were considered ideologically problematic, to put it mildly, by most Czechs. Mečiar was a left-wing nationally emotional populist who was somewhat rightfully ostracized by other European countries during the first years of the independent Slovakia. But the separation of Czechoslovakia simply wasn't some harmful event that was done because of Mečiar. Mečiar wasn't a real driver of the dissolution. From the relevant viewpoints, he was actually a pragmatic politician. The desire for emancipation was "out there" and it has existed throughout decades and centuries and was teaming up with many politicians and parties. The same thing holds for Catalonia.
So I sort of know that the Spaniards are just not sufficiently sophisticated and wise to look at these things calmly, to see outside their narrow Spanish box, and to display some empathy. That much has been clear from the conversations. For all practical purposes, I have been interacting with a different biological species – yes, one that I consider inferior. But I simply can't resist to point out how much better the world could be if people and nations tried to be wiser and learn from the good examples and not the bad ones.