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Catalonia seen through Caucasus: Madrid reinforced independence with blood

On October 26, the independence of Catalonia can finally be proclaimed or finally not proclaimed. But regardless of the independence issue, Spain and Catalonia are at the start of the same path that all the other partially recognized or unrecognized territories of the European periphery passed 20-30 years ago.

It is even more surprising how clearly the scenario repeats itself and, what is also important, the mistakes of the metropolises do. Today Madrid, similar to the way it was in the 1990s in Belgrade, Chisinau, Tbilisi, and Baku, is nourishing a new idea of freedom.

In response to the declaration of independence by the autonomy, the central authorities in Spain are ready to introduce direct rule, dissolve the parliament, and dismiss the head of the government Carles Puigdemont and, possibly, even put him in jail.

All of these are tough, but political measures. The main mistake has been already made, even before the referendum: on Oct 1, the Spanish police abused power when dispersing peaceful demonstrators; as a result, more than 1,000 people were injured. Perhaps, if we compare these events to any of the processes that preceded the local wars of the 1990s, it seems to us that, in general, nothing terrible is happening yet. Neither do we know what will be ahead. But the idea underlying the ideologies of state-building is that the nation is a community of people suffering together; today it is already activated in Catalonia.

In principle, if we look at the experience of the majority of ethnopolitical conflicts of the end of the last century, we will see that it was the first acts of violence performed by authorities or clashes of the opposing sides that had wide response caused a crack in the relations that quickly developed into an abyss.

This, however, does not negate the uniqueness of each conflict and the understanding that its own phenomenon is eventually maturing in Catalonia, its own specific conflict with the center. But, again, the blood has already been spilled. This should not have happened. Blood is a kind of metaphysical basis of a cultural conflict, the memory of these events is needed for a society that grows a new ideology. Modern Spain is very different from the Eastern European states a quarter of a century ago.

If we consider the purely technological side of the conflict, we will note that, in particular, supporters of independence do not have a power cushion while having a colossal social base. We see a monopoly on the use of force in action, this monopoly belongs to Madrid and is an important and convincing argument for supporters of a single state. It is very difficult to imagine that supporters of independence would establish any alternative security institutions, as well as attempt to revise this monopoly, to create some kind of armed forces.

Meanwhile, all the stories of emerging post-Soviet states, their "working phase" began with the formation of alternative power structures, often as an instrument for elementary protection against bandits acting in the name of and on behalf of the metropole. In future, the struggle for control over the power resource (weapons, law enforcement institutions) for some time became a cornerstone in the struggle of supporters and opponents of the independence of a particular region. This phase preceded active hostilities.

In this sense, the current Catalan process, given the European realities, is unlikely to grow into such forms of confrontation, but its purely political character has already been abolished by the actions of the Spanish police in early October.

And the demonstrably peaceful character of the campaign for independence is a strategically advantageous position. History presents many examples when the "movement of the oppressed unarmed" with its might turned the course of history of the most important states.

Maybe it would be advantageous for Madrid that the movement for independence of Catalonia in terms of format resembled the blood-stained history of the struggle for the independence of the Basque country. Mutuality of crimes is the best way to desecrate any ideological doctrine.

Now, every political action of Madrid regarding the Catalan process will be considered already as having the prospect of using force. And this means that for the outside world "evil" in this story is exclusively the Spanish side.

Suppose that technically, thanks to the strength advantage of the central authorities Spain will win this round, the proclamation of an independent state will be postponed indefinitely. But globally, Madrid will lose even more. Because, as the Catalan example suggests and so does the history of conflicts in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus, it takes a long time for all these processes to develop and achieve the necessary ideological condition. Now the combination of internal and external factors may not allow completion of the state-building process, but all current victories and defeats will be put into the construction of an ideological myth, and in the next round of history, even 15-20 years later, all "excesses" of the center's policy will be a decisive argument in favor of declaring independence.

We cannot call the Catalan process an ethnopolitical conflict; the transformation of public space in Europe has moved to a fundamentally different level. There is no ground here for the conflict of identities, because there are no clearly expressed ethnic identities, this epoch is a thing of the past along with its values.

And thus it is interesting to observe the reaction to the developments in Spain from those countries like, for example, Armenia or Georgia, that experienced their own crises associated with the emergence of new states which were similar in form but completely different in content.

It is impossible to pack Catalan history in the ethno-cultural framework, and then from the point of view of a Caucasian observer, this conflict loses its logic. What can be argued about, if not about what language to speak and people of what nationality should be in power?

But in fact, the Catalan story deserves a more detailed study. It is about the importance of the ideological project as such, in its "pure" form. The fact is that the struggle for, in general, rather mundane goals and tasks can bring millions of people to religious exaltation and for this no rational reasons are needed. At the bottom there is only an ideological myth, but this is a workable construct.

Now it is not so important what the political results of the current campaign for independence will be. If one follows the logic of the Eastern European and Caucasian conflicts, the next stage is about to start in the Catalan process - it can be called the process of the emergence of a parallel civil identity of that part of the population which embraces the values of Catalan state-building. It does not matter whether the Spanish or Catalan flag will hang over the next few years or decades over their cities, for them it will always be Catalan. This is no longer a fissure, but it is a gulf between two parts of the population of one territory. This is a state of civil war, but in the form that it can be in modern Europe.

We observed a similar situation in Kosovo, in Abkhazia, i.e. the segregation of cultural and public space into zones depending on ethnic origin. Of course, this process here will not be as dramatic as it was in the above-mentioned Kosovo, but the idea of a "more honest, more just, more our own" space has already taken shape. And now for many years it will warm the hearts of a huge mass of Catalans.

But historically, after all, the ball is in Madrid’s court. It is up to the Spanish authorities to determine if the next level of violence will happen. Will they have their own Abkhazia-1989, or a new Zar tragedy as in South Ossetia? Back in the early autumn it seemed that in Europe in the 21st century there was no point in discussing such scenarios. But the events of the first days of October in Barcelona shook this confidence.

Anton Krivenyuk, specially for EADaily

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