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November 2, 2017 / Congau

The Double Standard of Catalonia

What is so special about Catalonia? Or rather, why is it not special?

There was a time when the European moral authorities eagerly supported secessionist movements referring to the holy right of self-government: Yugoslavia split apart actively encouraged by unbiased Western principles. The Soviet Union broke asunder, Czechoslovakia was divided. Kosovo has departed and even Scotland was allowed to hold a referendum on possible secession. Only in Spain is the current national laws perceived as more important than what used to be eternal laws of liberty.

Catalonia may or may not be better off without Madrid. Their cause may or may not be just, but whatever the arguments one precept must always prevail: Like cases shall be treated alike. If the case of Catalonia is the same as that of Croatia, the conclusions must be the same: Independence for both or for none.

Of course the acute analysts in the European capitals are ready to explain to us why the cases are totally different. Spain is a democracy and therefore any part of it is necessarily free already. But where did that argument come from? When has it been used before to deny separation of any piece of land from any other? Almost all of Europe is democratic now; does that mean that the shape of the political borders of Europe is irrelevant for the conception of freedom within those borders? Perhaps, but that is not what we have always been told. For Ireland to be free it must supposedly be separated from the UK although no one doubts the British democracy.

As always in politics, principles and moral standards are highly flexible entities shaped to fit the demands of the structures of power. Catalonian independence would be a disturbance to the EU machinery while the Yugoslav split-up, on the other hand, increased the Western sphere of control. Principles can be freely thrown around, now using one and then another. Standards are double and triple and their manifold uses adapt to the needs of the moment.

Whether Catalonia should or should not be independent is not my concern, but the Spanish handling of the crisis makes a mockery of what some of us thought was the meaning of democracy. But don’t worry, democracy is hereby redefined, and so it remains secure.

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