TCS Daily

The Balkanization of Spain

By Jose Maria Marco - February 16, 2006 12:00 AM

An extraordinary experiment is being carried out in Spain. It has resulted in a lot of tension in Spanish society, as reflected in two articles that were recently published on TCS Daily (here, and here). This situation is somewhat difficult to understand, unless we take into account certain key aspects of Spanish democracy.

After the death of Franco in 1975, the main national political parties (the right-wing AP, the centre-right UCD, the Socialist PSOE and Communist PCE) reached a consensus in order to agree to a new set of rules to govern the political system. The most important were enshrined in the Constitution and in certain additional laws, including the electoral law.

The Spanish Constitution of 1978 restored the monarchy, which had disappeared in 1931, and re-established democracy and the rights of the individual. The Constitution of 1978 also opened the way towards a process of decentralization. Up until that time the Spanish state had been centralized, concentrating all power within the Central Government. The Constitution of 1978 raised the possibility of creating Regional Governments -- similar to the federal model established in the United States -- without establishing their full number or the powers they would possess. The process that began at that time has still not been completed. Seventeen Spanish Regions have been established and their governments have secured almost complete jurisdiction over matters such as health, public works, education and the environment. Some regions (Catalonia and the Basque Country) also have powers under the headings of public order and taxation. Spain is a federal country today, even though it is not referred to as such. It is a country based on a high degree of decentralization.

At the same time as a consensus was reached regarding a Constitution, an electoral law was also enacted. This gave priority to regional-based parties, so that the so-called nationalists, who represented -- according to their own claims -- a particular region of Spain, would not be left without any representation in Parliament. Today we find important nationalist parties in Catalonia, the Basque Country and Galicia. The electoral law does not prevent a national party from winning an absolute majority. In fact, PSOE won an absolute majority in 1982 and 1986, and the Partido Popular -- heir of AP and UCD, the conservatives and center-right -- did so in the year 2000. However, the law does not exactly facilitate an absolute majority, either. Furthermore, when a national party fails to achieve an absolute majority, there is an incentive for it to form a pact with the nationalists in order to govern the country. This is what PSOE did in 1993 and the Partido Popular did in 1996.

As far as the decentralization process is concerned, the measures adopted in some Spanish regions, especially in the Basque Country and Catalonia, soon went much further than expected. In Catalonia today, a child wishing to pursue his studies in Spanish in a state school cannot do so because there are no state schools that teach in Spanish. Education is provided only in Catalan; Spanish is taught as a foreign language, in the same way as English or French. (It is as if there were no schools in Florida offering an education in English, only in Spanish.) A student can denounce a teacher who fails to speak Catalan in class. Traders whose shop signs are not in Catalan can be fined. I am not sure whether the term totalitarianism is the word I am looking for here. But the undoubted fact is that Catalonia and the Basque Country -- the latter accompanied by the added evil of terrorism -- have carried out nation-building processes through the massive intervention of their Regional Governments. According to the new Statute of Catalonia (local Constitution), Catalonia is a nation, a different nation than that of Spain.

Why has this been permitted? For two reasons. First, because the national parties needed the support of the nationalists in order to govern the country and, second, because the idea of loyalty to Spain has been associated with the idea of dictatorship. Until a very short time ago, the Spanish national flag was virtually taboo. The very idea of being proud to be Spanish -- patriotism -- was considered shameful, as if this were the preserve of the extreme right. The Spanish flag has not appeared in any of the many demonstrations against ETA's terrorist actions. In fact, for a long time, the victims of terrorist attacks were buried at night and completely ignored by the public.

Things began to change when the Partido Popular assumed the reins of government in 1996. José María Aznar sought to bring the process of reforming the state to an end and to give Spain's government a definitive structure. It was not a question of re-centralizing power, but of concluding the process that began in 1978. In order to achieve this goal, the Partido Popular would have needed the cooperation of the Socialist Party. However, the Iraq War destroyed all forms of dialogue between the two parties. From that moment on, the Socialist Party embarked on a new course in order to win power: an alliance with the nationalists. In Catalonia, the Catalan Socialist Party signed an agreement with its governing partners. They all agreed not to reach any pact on any matter under any circumstances with the Partido Popular. The nationalist partners of the Catalan Socialist Party had reached another agreement with the ETA terrorists in order to avoid any terrorist attacks in Catalonia, and since that time, attacks have only taken place throughout the rest of Spain. Prime Minister José Rodríguez Zapatero, for his part, agreed to accept any new statute that was passed by the Catalan Parliament.

The result is that a weak Socialist Party governs Spain today, supported by former Communists and nationalists who do not consider Spain to be a single nation or who, at the very most, see the country as a confederation of nations. The experiment that is being carried out has a double dimension. On the one hand, it seems to have been designed to marginalize the Partido Popular. The grand agreements that used to be reached between the two largest national parties now occur between the Socialist Party and the nationalist parties, based on proposals that the Partido Popular considers unacceptable. In return for their support, the nationalists get almost anything they ask for. On the other hand, if the Statute of Catalonia is passed, the Central Government will have virtually no authority in Catalonia, Spain will no longer be a single nation and there is no telling what will happen to the country then.

We cannot rule out a process similar to that which has been witnessed in the Balkans. It is possible that, once the Spanish nation disappears, the monarchy will also disappear. A number of new and small nations will be confederated under a new form of government or they will become independent republics (the governing partners of the Socialists in the Regional Government of Catalonia are Separatist Republicans.) What is certain is that a super-interventionist economic model will be imposed by the nationalist governments. This will be a new nationalist and Socialist experiment.

The tensions that this process is creating in Spanish political life are enormous. It is not possible to dismantle a nation without violence, not even when the government leads the way.

From a European perspective, it is hard to find any similar case to the Spanish experiment. However, it could be that, as has occurred on other occasions throughout history, events in Spain provide a precursor of what will happen in the rest of Europe later on: the dissolution of European societies, societies that, after decades of interventionism, no longer possess the values required to fight against terrorist blackmail and fundamentalist ideas, whether they be nationalist or Islamist.



Spain is different
"Spain is different" is a slogan that was created to promote tourism to Spain in the 60s, during the Dictatorship. It was "invented" by Mr. Fraga Iribarne, Minister of Information (Goebbels-style censorship) at several Franco's governments, and founder member of the Spain's present far-right (not center-rigth) Popular Party. The slogan was supposed to “sell” that Spain is different, for better, than other tourist destinations. We are going to see that quite often that the difference that Spain offers is rather for worse.

The 89% of the democratically elected representatives to the Parliament of Catalonia approved a proposal for a new Estatute (regional constitution) of Catalonia. This proposal, that, according to Mr Marco is creating the risk of balkanizing Spain, is currently being negociated with the central government in an environment of noise, fury and hatred, that has been artificially created by the far-rigth media and political parties, namely the Popular Party, and that the writings of Mr. Marco knowingly exemplify and foster. First I’ll clarify that, against what what Mr. Marco suggests, the Catalan Parliament is not dominated by the EcoCommunists, that only have 9 out of 136 seats. True, there is also a party that is Republican and independentist, just as Jefferson or Washington were. Some of the proposals of the Catalan Parliament are:

- Regional legislation on how to elect representatives to the central parliament. None at present.
- Regions should be allowed to organise referendums. At present, any regional authority that calls for a referendum can be immediatelly imprisoned by courtesy of the Popular Party, that enacted an ad-hoc act on this subject with a special "dedicace" to Basques and Catalans.
- Regional legislation on trade issues in its territory. None at present, because it would allegedgly threaten the "unity of market" (?). What this means in a country that is a full member of the European Union and the WTO, and what is the interest of a region whose economy is strongly foscused on exports in breaking market rules is unclear and unexplained.
- Sales tax, income tax, special taxes on tobacco, alcohol and fuels, and on the benefits of businesses, to be regulated and administered by the regional legislation and authorities.
- Education to be organised and legislated by the regional authorities. At present, it is subject to national legislation, and is supervised by national authorities. Only its application is delegated to the regional authorities.
- The central state must accept the estatute that is approved by the regional parliament, as long as it respects the National Constitution.
- The economic contribution of each region to the nation must be made public. The central government says this is technically impossible. What the US or Germany have been doing for the last thirthy years does not seem to be possible in Spain.

I do not have to tell you, Americans, that all of your states are endowed with all of these rights, and have been freely exercising them for the last two centuries without threatening the existance of the US. These are the freedoms that Spain denies to its states/regions because they may create "balkanization". It looks like Spain is really “different”.

Let's now examine the proposal of legally treating Catalonia a "nation".

- The regional Parliament pretends Catalonia to have the same treatment that Wales, Scotland, England or Ulster enjoy in the United Kingdom. There, in Albion, the UK is the state, and the "four" are the nations that make up the state, as Mr. Blair recently reminded the BBC anchormen who had wrongly referred to the UK as a "nation". According to Mr. Marco and his likes, this would be the end of Spain. Why the United Kingdom is still alive, healthy and wealthy is something that Mr. Marco does not explain either, but "Spain is different."

By now, the only symptom of balkanization that can be observed in Spain is the first stage of an ethnic cleansing process agains all those Spanish citizens who are not of "pure Spanish blood": the presidents of several Spanish sports federations were obliged to resign in the past few months for being Catalan. The only challenger to the current presidency of the Spanish Confederation of Entrepenurial Organizations (CEOE) has been clearly told not to try it because he is Catalan, no matter that he is a full convert and feels much more Spanish than anything else; ethnic origin is first. A Catalan energy company that is trying to acquire a nationwide Spanish energy corporation has been warned by the President of the Community of Madrid: "We do not want foreigners to acquire such an important Spanish asset.". It goes without saying that these "foreigners" are Catalan, and, at least theoretically, full Spanish citizens. To many, all this reminds us the first stages of the antisemitic campaigns in nazi Germany. In a time when ethnical hatred and racism are severely punished in any civilized country they are given freeway in Spain, a few months ago against the blacks of the English football team, and today agains other Spanish co-citizens of Catalan origin. One more time "Spain is different." ... for worse.

In any case, political differences are not that bad between civilised people, but things change when Mr. Marco and his likes dare to write things such as : "It is not possible to dismantle a nation without violence". One more time "Spain is different". What was possible in Norway, Sweden. Denmark, Ukraine, Belarus, the Baltic countries, Slovenia and Slovaquia, a pacific separation, does not seem to be possible, if the need arises, in Spain. I cannot avoid to remark that Mr. Marco does not express himself as a democrat but as a Milosevic in the making. Sorry to say this, but when someone threatens to kill others, he must quickly identified and stopped.

Finally, Mr. Marco and his likes should perhaps explain why these demands, that are commonplace in many civilized nations, should start a "balkanization" process in Spain, why Spain is so different for worse from many civilised countries.

The Spanish egocentricsm
It is really frustrating to accept that despite many attempts Spainish people don´t see where their problem lies. Spain is still legally and politically a unitary state despite being nationally more heterogeneous that the United Kingdom. 90% of taxes are centrally collected and the central state can suspend all responsabilities transfered tp region-states. It is important to remeber that despite the Constitution was passed to modernise the country, an uprising in 1981 impede its development and today the question of federalisation of Spain is again unresolved, and if its not resolved will led to secession.

I totally disagree with the idea of Spanish as being socially excluded in Spain. In fact, I encourage anyone to visit Barcelona and notice that all speak Spanish, that kids to at least speak Spanish and then Catalan is spoken by some. Both at school and universities Spanish is still the main language in use despite Catalan is recovering its position after 40 years of being illegal as a result of a dictatorship.

I could go on like this, but my conclusion is that Spanish nationalist as the author of this article do not care about the facts and that debate with them will always be unsuccessful. People like this have never been in Catalonia or Barcelona, and have never tried to understand why some we don’t feel Spanish despite they could accept being part of Spain if the majority wanted to. They only read their own nationalists news and only care about themselves.

somewhere in your article...
you write: "Things began to change when the Partido Popular assumed the reins of government in 1996. José María Aznar sought to bring the process of reforming the state to an end and to give Spain's government a definitive structure. It was not a question of re-centralizing power, but of concluding the process that began in 1978. In order to achieve this goal, the Partido Popular would have needed the cooperation of the Socialist Party. However, the Iraq War destroyed all forms of dialogue between the two parties."
What a manipulation! Is it then not true than from 1996 to 2000 Aznar governed with the Basque and Catalan nationalists´ support? Was it not Aznar who agreed to increase the management of taxes by regional authorities from 15 to 25% just as the Socialist government today is agreeing to increase up to 50%? Worse, was it not Aznar who rubberstamped forever the temporary financial deal with the Basque regional authority, which I would argue is one-sided and would warrant some finessing? Please, stick to the truth if you want your arguments to hold.
The war in Irak did not come until much later. First, in 2000 Aznar won an absolute majority and as a result he showed his real face, completly marginalised the nationalists and we are still suffering the hangover from those four years.

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