It’s safe to assert that human memory is very short. When the latest crisis in Catalonia broke out, almost no one remembered about Galician nationalism, the long and painful history of the Basque struggle for national self-determination, or that every Spanish autonomous community has its own supporters of further autonomy, expansion, and separatism. The conflict between national self-determination and resistance to Castilian Spanish rule is quite complex. The Basque experience is also relevant in modern times, and Madrid relies on it in its combined policy of forceful suppression and the ability to put loyal politicians in power in Catalonia.
It is noteworthy that Catalan separatism does not evoke much sympathy or support in the nationalistically-oriented Basque Country or Galicia. Alberto Núñez Feijóo, the head of the government of Galicia, emphasised the security threats inspired by the Catalan politicians and even spoke about the need to place such a tool in the hands of the government as Article 155 of the Constitution of Catalonia, implicitly advocating the introduction of direct rule from Madrid. The Chairman of the Basque Government is more sympathetic to the Catalan separatists; he has called this crisis political, and suggested that the Spanish government pursue legal solutions. He puts forward the idea that the Catalan question, essentially, necessitates international rules, or at least the intervention of European institutions. Íñigo Urkullu Renteria has long been positioning himself as a possible mediator in resolving the crisis, but his proposals have not generated a response either from the current or past Prime Minister of Spain; nevertheless, we must admire his persistence.
Outside of Spain, in Europe, it will be difficult for Catalans to find support. Problems related to regions seeking wider autonomy or even independence can be found in Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy and Romania. But even this isn’t what plays the decisive role. There is an understanding that any Spanish government, be it right-wing or socialist, will do everything to prevent the collapse of the country. But there is no understanding of what the rest of Europe should do in the event of a crisis. In any event, it is wiser to refrain from encouraging separatist sentiments than to face a difficult dilemma: whether to condemn the tough measures taken by the Spanish government or not. The nature of relations with Catalonia in the event of independence is also an unclear matter for European bureaucrats. The main reason that the Catalan separatists will not receive the slightest support from European institutions is that the idea of a multicultural, cosmopolitan Europe without borders and barriers is incompatible with nationalism. A week ago, on October 21, the European Parliament voted not to discuss the on-going violence against protesters in Catalonia. In general, this is not the best time to fight for independence or appeal to Europeans’ shared values or respect for basic human rights.
Russia usually looks at foreign examples of separatism through the prism of history: the collapse of the USSR, Yugoslavia, or the struggle to maintain constitutional order in the 1990s and 2000s. In the minds of Russians, this is a process that must reach a climax and be resolved in one form or another. According to this logic, the current situation in Catalonia should result in either independence or the suppression of autonomy. However, this would be a fundamentally incorrect way of posing the question. Nationalism and regional separatism can be seen as a kind of mutilation of the modern European state, but it is far from being fatal.
The current situation in Spain is complicated in that it combines several factors: a political crisis, discredited authorities, economic problems and ethnic separatism. The crisis of power, exacerbated by numerous corruption scandals reaching as far up as the royal family, has been going on for the past four years. The early parliamentary elections, to be held on November 10, will be the fourth attempt to create a majority government in Madrid since 2015. The cabinet of the current head of government, Pedro Sanchez, was considered weak by Catalan separatists, incapable of decisive action. It’s important to note that traditionally left-leaning attitudes in Catalonia were considered a strong argument in the dialogue with the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE). Only one thing was not taken into account – the internal problems of the socialists have already brought an end to dialogue with the Catalans and the search for electoral advantages in this region. Quite the contrary. Pedro Sanchez is a very ambitious, but not particularly strong party leader. Many expect his rule to end in fiasco and even fewer seats in parliament (as was the case after the 2016 elections). In the end, losing an election is not seen as a problem in a country plagued by chronic political crises where early elections proceed one after another, especially since the PSOE has no serious competitors on the left of the ideological spectrum.