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Can Spain Keep Together?

Jonas Parello-Plesner

In a post on Carnegie Europe, Judy Dempsey posed a the question “Can Spain Keep Together?” to a series of experts. Following is the response of Hudson Senior Fellow Jonas Parello-Plesner:

El sueño de la razon produce monstruos,” (or, “The sleep of reason produces monsters”) was inscribed by the Spanish artist Goya on his most famous etching. Today, Spain seems to have an equally dimmed sense of reason and has sleepwalked into a self-created nightmare.

October 1 was a sad day that fractured society. Still, Spain can keep together. It is a modern, enlightened, European democracy. My Catalan grandparents and father were repressed in the 1940s before they left Barcelona. Yet Franco’s Spain is in the distant past. Catalonia now has full respect for its language and mostly manages its own financial affairs. If Catalonia were to leave Spain, it would also leave the EU, only to start a cumbersome reentry process.

A few things to remember: the Catalan referendum wasn’t constitutionally mandated, as it had no agreement with Madrid. Secessionists rammed the referendum through the Catalan parliament, ignoring the opposition. If Catalonia is genuinely moving toward independence, this would be a bad start for its democratic tradition.

Furthermore, Catalans are divided. The result of the referendum was overwhelmingly in favor of independence, but it was mainly the galvanized separatists who voted. More than half of Catalans did not vote—including most of my remaining Catalan family. They are part of the silent majority who don’t necessarily want to leave Spain, but might want to leave Catalonia because of the lack of options provided by local politicians.

The use of force by police against recalcitrant voters seemed excessive. Madrid could have maintained the legal and moral high ground without a show a force. Equally, declaring independence now would be reckless. Both the Spanish and Catalans need to regain the rational middle ground to move forward together. Let’s hope they end the slumber of reason together.

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