What is going on with the Catalan independence?
A few days ago, one of the main Spanish newspapers, El País, leaked a selection of quotes. These quotes were taken from the Catalan regional government’s (Generalitat de Catalunya) secret draft version of legislation. The leaked documents indicated that if Catalonia is prevented from holding a democratic referendum on independence, the region would break away from Spain unilaterally.
As a former researcher of politics and human rights activist living in Barcelona, I decided to share my thoughts about the dangerous situation. But first, before you start throwing stones at me, I want to state that I write this article only as a political observer. For me personally it is really the same if Catalonia finally decides to break away or not.
What is a unilateral declaration of independence?
Most of you know what unilateral declaration of independence means. But just in case, let’s check it out.
A unilateral declaration of independence is made by a dependent state without the assent of the protecting state. The term was first used when Rhodesia declared independence in 1965 from the United Kingdom (UK) without an agreement with the UK. link
In other words, without a friendly agreement with Spanish government, Catalonia would break-up the official ties and contracts with Spain and the rest of the world unilaterally.
Hopeless poker strategy
Because I really hope that the Catalan government’s leaked strategy is just a bluff, let’s see the situation in the terms of a poker game.
In this last round of the world poker tournament of independence, Catalonia sits right to the left side of Spain (the big blind). The rest of the world is sitting in the other positions around the table and the U.S.A is shuffling.
The tournament has been really hard for Catalunya. During the game, round after round, the Catalans have lost chips to Spain (taxes). Together with Spain, they have also lost a lot of hands especially to Germany (workers). Catalans suspect a foul play and think that Spain has made secret alliance with the rest of the world against their interests. But Spain has lost already too many chips to win the entire tournament (depression).
In this end stage of the game, the antes (corruption) are too much for the Catalans. They don’t have enough chips to play for another round and they must go all-in. Spain is in a better place. They had a bigger stack in the beginning of the game. Now Spain sits on the big blind’s. They can relax, observe the betting round and react after everybody else has placed their bets.
Before the flop, Catalonia is dealing with bad cards (unilateral declaration). The poker faces on the Catalan politicians can’t hide the situation and they know it. They also know that the rest of the world and especially Spain knows it too. Spain is aware that Catalan has to bet all their chips at once and Spain will call.
If the Catalan government decides finally to go all-in, the rest of the world will fold (don’t recognize the independence). There is a long diplomatic tradition that foreign countries do not help break away countries politically, especially in cases where the declaration of independence is made without a mutual agreement and without armed forces.
In the end, when Spain calls the bluff, there will be a lot of disappointed and angry Catalans in the streets. There will be no winners.
Nationalism is a dangerous game
If the Generalitat holds on to this leaked strategy, it will only lead to a serious conflict. The members of the government, or at least their advisers, should know their history. There is not a single country in the world who has managed to get unilaterally independent and internationally recognized without war or armed conflict. I definitely don’t think that Catalan politicians are so talented that they could do peacefully something that has never been achieved before.
But it looks like that there is no solution in site. It is just a matter of time when a frustrated citizen (for or against the independence) pulls a trigger and hurts somebody. The Catalan politicians should understand, that breaking mutual agreements or even threatening to break them unilaterally, is bad news for the economy.
Unilateral declaration of independence would make Catalonia an independent country but a failed state.