Colombo Telegraph

Catalonia And Eelam: Any Parallels?

By Kumar David

Prof Kumar David

Confusing mixed signals from Catalan elections: Cataloniaand Eelam: Any parallels?

Catalonia held provincial elections on Sunday (25) at which the main issue was whether a referendum should be held within a few years to test if it should be independent from Spain and aspire for EU status as a separate nation. There are few parallels with a hypothetical Eelam scenario but secession issues anywhere in the world put everyone, on all sides, on the alert. Hence I will present here an analysis of the outcome and draw, but not overdraw parallels and anti-parallels with the Eelam hypothesis; more in respect of processes than outcomes.

The number one difference of course is that there has been no civil war and no recitation of mutual hatred between Catalans and other Spanish nationalities – pretty civilised chaps on both sides – and no ugly experience of terrorism, state or extremist sponsored. The election and campaigns were fair and peaceful with no rigging – another big difference! The issues were widely canvassed and debated; a very high turnout (for Catalonia) 70%, proves it. (Readers unfamiliar with Spanish politics may like to know that the armed separatist movement is elsewhere, the Basque Provinces).

The provincial elections were called two years early by the Catalan Provincial Prime Minister, Artur Mas, leader of the largest party in the assembly, the Catalan Convergence & Unity Party (CIU) since he calculated that anger with Madrid was high, mainly for economic reasons, and felt a “Give me a mandate to call a separatist referendum” slogan, would be a winner. CIU is centre-right and has acquiesced in EU dictated austerity policies implemented by Spanish Prime Minister Mr Rajoy and his Peoples’ Party heading the national government inMadrid.

Catalan train runs off the rails

Mr Mas’s gamble misfired; to some extent at least. The number of seats for his CIU party fell from 62 to 50 in the 135 member state assembly, denying him the decisive pro referendum majority he was seeking. But there is a twist in the tail. The more radically separatist, but leftwing, Nationalist Republican Left Party (ERC) took all the gains of CIU’s slippage, raising its number from 10 to 21. Two separatist parties also collected about a dozen between them. Hence four pro-referendum parties have between them secured nearly two-thirds of all seats. But they span the spectrum from left to right, and it remains to be seen if they can get together on a separatist agenda while clinging to widely different social and economic programmes. Mr Mas is weakened, and cannot lead a concerted drive for a referendum or for separation.

Two national parties also ran in the provincial poll; the Socialist Party won 20 seats and the prime ministers Peoples’ Party 19. As in India,Scotland,Italy and even Germany(Bavaria), regional parties are gaining clout in some parts of Spain. This is a new trend in parts of the world and whether the Catalan outcome will dampen or strengthen separatist sentiment in Scotland is hard to tell. Fortunately, in the UK, as in Spain, it will be tested in a civilised manner.

If the Rajapakses ever allow free and fair NP-PC elections – don’t hold your breadth – will an equally complex chutney of pro and anti devolution forces, and left and right parties, surface? (The TNA emerging the biggest, like the CIU). I think not; TNA dominance will be pronounced. The military jackboot and the Colombo regime’s daily repression have focussed Tamil support around their principal instrument, the TNA, and shut out space and light for other options to blossom.

The principal problem in Catalonia is more economics than identity; Catalans too speak Spanish, are Catholics and share the same cultural heritage.Catalonia(capital Barcelona, of F.C. Barcelona football fame) is half the size of Lanka, has a population of 7.5 million and produces a fifth ($320 billion compared to Lanka’s $60 billion) of Spain’s GDP. What has intensified anger is that Catalonia pays more to Madrid($21 billion in taxes and revenues) than it receives back in internal transfers as benefits. In austerity lashed Europe, in fiscally drowning Spain, Catalan anger about the economy is evident. But anger flowing from economic concerns does not run historically deep; it is unlike identity, which goes all the way back to the mists of time. What if the economy booms again (though that is very unlikely in the midst of a global and European New Depression)?

Mr Mas proclaims “I will consult the people within the next four years” (his term of office), but the outcome of his consultation will be inconclusive. Most people, except ERC supporters, seem undecided, whichever way they voted last week. The sentiment of the majority is no more extreme than the remark of a roadside TV interviewee: “I think we will be better off as a member of the EU than aprovince of Spain”. The contingent further consideration is that IMF and EU conditions are likely to make yearning for EU membership a red herring. Already there is talk in other parts of Spain of shunning Catalan products, and nervous capitalists are looking for ways to pull out.

Democratic versus authoritarian state power

The chief difference between the Catalan and the Scottish experiences on the one hand, and what Lanka has been through over decades, is the distinction between a democratic and a non-democratic state. The former two did not descend into terrorism and civil war because the structures of the state are democratic (in Spain after Franco) and there has been order and regularity in the consultation processes. There will be minimal disruption in transition if it ever comes to separation. Lanka was denied this option by a Sinhala-Buddhist structure of state power that rose to the helm in the initial post independence decades, and which of itself laid the foundations for an Authoritarian state which was consolidated through the recent racist civil war. This in turn evoked its Doppelganger on the Tamil side, and LTTE terrorism rose and flourished, side by side with state terrorism.

We are now at the doorstep of the next menace in this unfolding; the Rajapakse agenda to lay the foundations of an autocratic Corporatist State. It is still moderately early days and the juggernaut can be pushed back; defeating the witch-hunt of the Chief Justice will be a useful step in toppling the rollercoaster to authoritarianism. I have written about these matters in these columns previously and will close by saying how this impacts on the subject of this piece. The principal comment I offer is that there is a deep anti-parallel between Catalan and Eelam experiences which lies in process, not in ideology, ethnicity or historical identity. If Corporatism, god forbid, succeeds in subduing Lanka, unstoppable separatisms will revive among minorities, mainly Tamils. Soon this will embroil India.

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