Saturday, August 17, 2013

Catalan Nationalists Side with Britain on Gibraltar Question, Shocking Spaniards

Border delays are part of the new cold war over Gibraltar, and Catalan nationalists are siding with London.
Once again in the “strange bedfellows” department: the main leftist separatist party in Catalonia seems to be siding with the United Kingdom in the dispute with the Kingdom of Spain over Gibraltar, a tiny British colony abutting the Spanish mainland which the Spanish crown ceded to the British in 1713 after a nasty war.  The Chief Minister of Gibraltar, Fabian Picardo, received a letter August 12th from the Republican Left of Catalonia (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, or E.R.C.) party, written in English and Catalan (Spanish translation not enclosed).  It read, in part, “We most sincerely regret the improper bullying and harassment that the Spanish government is applying on the citizens you represent.”

The Esquerra Republicana leader, Oriol Junqueras i Vies,
drapes himself in the E.U. and Catalan flags.
(Union Jack not pictured.)
The “bullying and harassment” refers to Spain’s recent escalation of its quixotic saber-rattling over “the Rock,” as the colony is known, including naval cat-and-mouse games in Gibraltarian waters, a renewal of the diplomatic war of words, and a punitive slowdown of the border-crossing procedure.  (Though both Spain and the U.K. are in the European Union (E.U.), the U.K. is not part of the passport-free “Schengen Area,” and Gibraltar implements laws in many ways as though it were a separate E.U. member-state.)

Ongoing territorial claims on Gibraltar are popular in Spain, despite the fact that they violate the Treaty of Utrecht and despite the fact that in two referenda, in 1967 and 2002, Gibraltarians voted nearly unanimously (98.6% and 98.97%, respectively) to remain British.  And of the minuscule number of dissenters, most were opting only for some sort of shared condominium with Spain, not annexation.  But Spain’s political mainstream and even the royal family are adamant.  Queen Sofía even gave Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee a miss last year in anger over Gibraltar (as reported at the time in this blog).

Gibraltar’s flag
The dispute over Gibraltar is somewhat analogous to that over the Falkland Islands, which are claimed by the Argentine Republic even though Falklanders have let it be known in a referendum this year that they overwhelmingly want to be part of the U.K.  (Only three people voted against the status quo—and they, too, were probably preferring independence to conquest by Argentina.)  Though the claims of the Argentine and Spanish governments have no legal basis and use geographical proximity as their only argument, they have nonetheless become pet causes of anti-establishment leftists in Britain, the United States, and elsewhere—extending to these situations familiar, and far better grounded, complaints about Anglophone meddling in the Spanish-speaking world during the colonial and Cold War periods.  The left-wing Guardian newspaper in England recently said that the continuing British rule in Gibraltar and the Falklands (which are, in fact, self-governing) “den[ies] the logic of history and geography.”  The Guardian seems to feel that history and geography carry their own logic which trumps democracy every time.  (For all its faults, the U.K. has a very clear policy that it will not attempt to hang onto territories where the majority reject British rule.)  Even the newly enthroned Pope Francis, an Argentine, calls the Falklands part of Argentina.  Then again, he also believes all that stuff about the virgin birth and turning water into wine, so his critical-thinking skills are not necessarily top-notch.

Pope Francis would like to dislodge Protestant infidels from Argentina’s near abroad.
The United Nations, though it is not taking sides, still keeps Gibraltar on its finger-wagging list of “non-self-governing territories,” even though Gibraltar is self-governing—one of many fictitious delusions on the U.N. list.  (This list was critiqued in detail in an article on this blog.)

Catalonia’s ruling nationalist party, the Convergence and Union (Convergència i Unió, or CiU) coalition, is also wisely staying out of the Gibraltar dispute while it heats up.  The E.R.C., keep in mind, is a far-left party.  It has only 21 of the Catalan parliament’s 135 seats.  It is also the one Catalan nationalist party which pushes for reunification with traditionally Catalan lands that lie within France (the so-called Northern Catalonia, in the Pyrenées-Orientales département).

The Catalan-speaking areas (shown in grey) extend into France.
But there is a history to these events.  The same Treaty of Utrecht that made Gibraltar British also abolished the autonomy of Catalonia and Valencia.  In fact, 350 Catalan troops participated in the 1704 conquest of Gibraltar by Britain, during the War of Spanish Succession.  Remembering this, one Catalan nationalist group has asked the autonomous region’s president, Artur Mas i Gavarró, to invite Picardo to a 2014 event marking the 300th anniversary of the Treaty of Utrecht.

Catalans also involved themselves in the first Anglo-Spanish tussle over the Rock, in 1704.
But there is also a modern political logic to the E.R.C.’s cozying to London, and it is a logic which may emerge into the political mainstream in Barcelona in the following months as Catalans prepare for a referendum on independence from Spain in 2014.  As reported at the time in this blog, the Spanish government said last year that it might veto any vote on Scotland becoming a member of the E.U., in case Scotland should secede from the U.K. following its own 2014 referendum (and once the question of whether it would need to reapply for membership is settled).  This raises the prospect of the governments in Madrid and London entering a mutual veto pact as a way of stoking Scottish and Catalan fears of ejection from the E.U., thus influencing their referenda.  Catalonia would be motivated to prevent that.  U.K.–Catalan trade is considerable, and there are cultural exchanges as well, if you can classify as cultural exchange the fact that there are whole resort towns in Catalonia full of fish-and-chips shops, English pubs, Daily Mail vending machines, and hamlets of vacation homes where only English can be heard—a new Mediterranean quasi-nation of sorts which it would be tempting to call Chavalonia.  Britain doesn’t really want Catalonia out of the E.U. any more than it wants Scotland out of it, so it makes sense for Catalan nationalists to emphasize and strengthen their ties to London, just as it makes sense for Scots to improve relations with Madrid.

Relations between England and Catalonia have not always been warm,
but they may be improving.
The question of Gibraltar will not be settled soon.  Most Spaniards still feel that it should be made part of Spain against the wishes of its residents, and mainstream Spanish politicians are always eager to cater to jingoistic bluster; hating the English is a national pastime.  But Catalans, starting with the fringe leftists, may be starting to realize that if they want Madrid to respect and recognize their people’s wishes, it would be hypocritical not to treat the wishes of Gibraltarians the same way.

[Also, for those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with a forthcoming book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas to be published by Auslander and Fox under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements, Independence Struggles, Breakaway Republics, Rebel Provinces, Pseudostates, Puppet States, Tribal Fiefdoms, Micronations, and Do-It-Yourself Countries, from Chiapas to Chechnya and Tibet to Texas.  Look for it some time in 2013.  I will be keeping readers posted of further publication news.]

1 comment:

  1. hating the English is a national pastime???????? .............All this blog is a joke.


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