Monday, 23 January 2006

Spain and this shambles of Franco's democracy

Just when you think you have seen it all, that this so-called democracy could not sink any lower, we have had to witness a call to arms by a top Army officer and a slap in the face of the Spanish nationalists (the right-wing Partido Popular) by The Economist and The Financial Times. Needles to say, the editorials of these two respected publications have been widely ignored by the Madrid-based Spanish media. It would be too humiliating for the narrow-minded Spanish media to report on them.

If you are not aware of the latest outbursts of our Spanish oppressors, just keep on reading.

On January 6th, the man in charge of 50,000 soldiers, made a speech in Seville warning that the Army may have to intervene in Catalonia. Sounds familiar? It does to us! The Spanish army has attacked Catalonia at least twice every century so I guess they don’t want to wait any longer…

This comes at the time that a new Charter of Autonomy for Catalonia is being discussed in the Spanish parliament in Madrid. This new Charter has been approved by 90% of the regional Catalan parliament in Barcelona. Only the Spanish nationalists of Partido Popular (yes they only have about 10% of the vote in Catalonia, despite their control of mass media) voted against it.

Primer Minister Zapatero, of the Spanish Labour party, promised during his campaign that his government would approve “the Charter approved the the Catalan Parliament in its integrity”. The fact that the Charter approved in Barcelona has been watered down in Madrid says it all about the integrity of the Spanish Labour party (PSOE). Again, this proves that no matter if they are from the left or the right, Spaniards are on a mission to suppress Catalonia’s wishes for more self-government, persecute its language and culture and squeeze the fiscal robbery for as long as the EU allows them. Oppression with a ‘Labour party’ smile, but oppression nevertheless. We will keep subsidizing Spain to the tune of 10% of our GDP. Robbery in a major scale, again.

Anyway, I digress. The rebellious General, and all the Spanish nationalists (whether left or right) are always quick to quote Article 8 of the 1978 Constitution.
This article reads “The Army has the duty to defend the sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Spain”.

This, my dear readers, is nothing else but a article institutionalising a ‘coup d’etat’ whenever the Army feels like it, granting the Army autonomy to decide when the “territorial integrity” of Spain is in danger. Forget any notion of the Army being ruled by an elected government or Parliament. This shameful article allows the Army to take matters into their own hands and suppress any attempts of self-determination by the Basque or Catalan nations through their elected representatives. That a so-called democracy has this veiled threat against its own citizens should not be allowed in the EU. Sadly, this is the state of affairs in Spain.

The anti-democratic general was arrested for 8 days (well short of the maximum penalty of 30 days) and dismissed from his post. Since then, other Army officers have come out in support of their colleague. Yet the labour party and its governement stay silent, overwhelmed by the indiscipline of the Army. But is anyone surprised? We are not. Defence Minister is Mr Jose Bono, whose father was a local fascist, a member of Franco’s Falange. There is a blurring line between left and right when it comes to democracy: as long as they hail from Spain, they can only be themselves if the attack Catalonia.

This is another example of how Spain is sleepwalking into another Balcans-like scenario. A Conservative Party (Partido Popular) spreading hate against the Catalans, with the invaluable help of the Church-controlled radio network (COPE, shame on the Vatican for allowing this most un-Christian radio station to broadcast such vile), the TV networks under their control, and the right-wing Spanish nationalist media. A recipe for disaster.

Franco could not defeat the Catalans or the Basques. Now modern Spain has other tools at its disposal (new technologies, the overwhelming power of the State) but we will keep on fighting for our rights. The going is getting very tough and we have to cope with attitudes, remarks and threats that woud be illegal in a true democracy (think of Canada or Belgium). But we will keep on fighting for our time will come. One day our time will come.

I attach below the two editorials by the FT and The Economist supporting our case for an update of Article 8, thus preventing the Army from threatening civil society.

Editorial of the Financial Times, 10th January 2006:

Hostage to Catalonia - But a rattled sabre fails to rattle a democratic Spain.

Most future historians will note with satisfaction that when Spain, three decades after the death of Franco and the supplanting of his dictatorship by democracy, was told by the commander of the Spanish army that the military might intervene if Catalonia was to get more self-governing powers, Spain was mildly shaken but far from stirred. General Jose Mena Aguado will go down in history as an anachronism.
The days of the military pronunciamiento are over. Spain is a confident and prosperous democracy inside the European Union, a cultural and economic powerhouse and an international citizen of standing. Its federal political system - despite tensions with the Basques and Catalans - must be accounted a success.
Yet in a speech last Friday Gen Mena referred to the Catalan regional government's plans to expand its powers as a repetition of pre-civil war history (he referred to the May 1932 debates on the Catalan autonomy statute). This is reactionary blackmail. Unhappily, the general is not entirely wrong when he claims Article 8 of the constitution empowers the army with defending the "territorial integrity" of Spain. Spain's democratic charter, passed in December 1978, contains flaws, recognised by many at the time. Article 8 was used by Francoist officers to justify their failed putsch of February 1981.
That era is over. But perhaps Spain's government(s) and people could usefully remind themselves of this. The government in Madrid, currently under Socialist management, is right to arrest Gen Mena. It intends to fire him, with the full support of the army chief of staff, and should make clear the same fate awaits any of his emulators.
The Catalan government - also currently led by Socialists - should tread with caution. It is within its rights to demand, for instance, tax-raising powers the Basques already have. Its demand that Catalonia be considered a "nation" reflects a cultural desire supported democratically by its people. This is not, per se, separatism; Article 2 of the constitution already recognises "nationalities" within Spain. Nor should its demand for greater judicial autonomy cause alarm so long as the supremacy of Spain's higher courts remains paramount.
But the Catalans, who pride themselves on being more European than the rest of Spain, should remember the principles of European Union solidarity. These include fiscal transfers from richer to less well-off regions. Why should that be right within Europe but wrong within Spain?
Spain's constitution should also be amended to spell out the supremacy of civil over military power. Unfortunately, the opposition Popular Party, still unreconciled to its ejection from power after the Madrid bombings of March 2004, seems to think Gen Mena has a point. That could represent a greater threat to Spanish unity than Catalonia's autonomy ambitions.

A Catalan kerfuffle - Spain and its regions
14 January 2006 - The Economist

The row over Catalonia's constitutional statute

It is better to talk about rather than just reject demands for more autonomy
WHEN a general talks of the army stepping in to uphold a country's territorial integrity, any democrat should worry. When the country is Spain, which emerged from Franco's dictatorship only 30 years ago and saw off an attempted coup as recently as 1981, the worries should multiply.
That is why Spain's government was right to arrest General José Mena Algado, head of the Spanish army, last weekend, after he said publicly that Catalonia's new constitutional statute, which gives it both more autonomy and recognition as a “nation”, might necessitate military intervention. He cited article 8 of the Spanish constitution, which gives the army a mission to guarantee the country's “integrity and constitutional order”. The Catalan statute, overwhelmingly approved by the regional parliament last September, is now being debated by the Spanish parliament in Madrid ()see page 40.
Spain's 1978 constitution devolved many powers that were centralised under Franco to the 17 “autonomous regions”, though it did so unevenly. The Basque country and Catalonia, which have the most autonomy, have long agitated for more; a sizeable minority in both regions wants to move towards independence. In the Basque case, debate has been disfigured by the violence of ETA, though solid police work has weakened this terrorist group. Yet most governments in Madrid have intransigently refused to consider any more autonomy for the regions, let alone to contemplate eventual independence. The willingness of the Socialist government under José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, elected in March 2004, to negotiate with the Basque country and Catalonia was a welcome change.
There are respectable arguments against Mr Zapatero's flexibility, even so. Nationalists will never be satisfied by concessions such as a separate judiciary or tax-raising powers; because they always ask for more, it might be better tactically to rule out even limited concessions. Besides, Mr Zapatero's negotiating position is undermined because, in Madrid, his government depends on the votes of left-wing Catalan nationalists; while in Barcelona, the Socialist-led regional government is in coalition with the same nationalist party. Moreover, there is a big financial problem. The Basque country and, especially, Catalonia are among Spain's wealthiest regions. Give them too much fiscal autonomy and they may pull out of the desirable process of transferring money from rich to poor parts of the country. Indeed, a wish to limit net transfers to Madrid has been a driving force behind the new Catalan statute.
Yet Mr Zapatero is still right to favour negotiations. The high-handed refusal of the previous People's Party government, under José María Aznar, even to talk to Basque and Catalan nationalists has merely served to stoke secessionist fervour in both regions. Other countries have discovered that the best way to defuse demands for independence may be to concede more autonomy and even, if need be, to recognise claims to nationhood. Now that they have their own parliament, fewer people in Scotland want a complete break from London. Quebec's demands for independence have to some degree been defanged by Canada's Clarity Act of 2000, which sets out a procedure under which Ottawa would negotiate with any province that votes for independence by a clear majority.

Clarity needed
Because it is the richest part of the country, Catalonia presents more problems than Scotland or Quebec, which are net recipients from central government. Yet since only a minority of Catalan voters seem genuinely to want independence, a bit of pandering to nationalist feeling could still work wonders, even if it involved accepting most of the new Catalan statute and, if necessary, changing Spain's 1978 constitution. Indeed, article 8 of the 1978 text surely needs amendment anyway to remove even the flimsiest excuse for a military intervention. A modern democracy should be capable of accommodating regional autonomy, and even a clear wish for independence. But it should never be intimidated by a general.


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