Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Catalonia and the Desire to Win

This week, Carles Puigdemont was detained in Germany in connection with an international arrest warrant issued by Spain. Puigdemont was the former Catalan regional President and leader of the succession movement that failed last year. The pro-independence parties in the Catalan Parliament defined a Supreme Court order and went ahead with an independence referendum, which most loyalists sat out, declaring an independence that received no international support. Puigdemont and other leaders fled the country when Spain reasserted direct control of what had been a relatively autonomous region.

I don't know the ins and outs of this movement. I've been aware of the Catalan Independence movement for most of my life, but I don't have the background or understanding to really parse the facts of the issue. I tend to support movements towards independence on principle, but I'm simply ignorant of the specifics.

What interests me about this whole process is the civilized nature of the whole thing. Yes, there have been protests, a few riots, a little bit of physical violence, but overall this process of rebellion has looked very different from most fights for independence. Catalonia is trying to do things, if not by the book, at least with some respect.

Catalonia has its own language and culture and has long been at odds with whatever government happens to reign in Madrid. Support for true independence has never been more than a slight majority, with polls ranging all over the place. When Catalans make an argument for independence, it's largely on the basis of representation - Catalonia is a pretty rich area that doesn't get proper treatment from the national government. What's interesting to me is how the issues are really the same on both sides. Many Catalans feel they are a disrespected minority, but they've also got a large nationalist population within Catalonia who are scared of how they'd be treated in an independent nation.

This is the clarion call of democratic governments these days. The strongest case they have to make for their own existence is "to keep the mob at bay." Government presents itself as protector of those whose freedoms will be impinged by the will of the majority. We can debate the truth and value of that statement, but it does tend to be front and center in conversations.

In past situations like this one, war has been the answer. The side with the most power gets to make the rules, but that's precisely the opposite of how modern democratic societies present themselves, especially in Europe. The Catalan Independence leaders can't call for armed rebellion without looking a bit hypocritical (not to mention barbaric) and so they've tried to do things the "democratic" way - with civil disobedience, at least when necessary.

That this all comes sort of in the midst of chaos in the US is also fascinating. We've had discussions about gun laws that always involve an appear to our nation's founding, largely on the backs of regular people who took up arms to kick out a ruling power. American democracy came about in the most un-democratic of ways.

It's not as if either of these options makes much sense. Outside the benevolence of the Spanish government, it's unlikely Catalonia will get a democratic independence any time soon. In fact, the only way real independence ever happens without bloodshed is either outside nations coming to the aid of a separatists group (see South Sudan, which isn't really in anyone's "win" category, anyway) or it just becomes too costly or too bothersome for the ruling nation to keep ruling (most of the British commonwealth).

I've found the whole thing a quixotic case study in our desire to win. We like to get our own way - us and them (whomever us and them might be)- and we're generally far more prone to break our own rules if it results in us winning. When we believe we're in the right and the "other" won't or can't see it, we look for ways to shock them (or force them) into changing their mind.

It's an odd dilemma for the season of Easter, which calls and reminds us that great power is not overcome by greater power, but by patience and perseverance. I'm sure the current state of affairs is not what most in Catalonia would want to see, and there are certainly well-founded criticisms of how various parties have proceeded, but it's nice to know that somewhere we moved, if only slightly and certainly not entirely, away from games of force and power.

Everybody's playing by the same rules. As frustrating as that is for all involved, it's a sign that there might just be something more important in the world than winning. That's a lesson for all of us in this day and age.

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