It’s been a challenging time for the commentariat, with self-determination struggles breaking out in obscure parts of Europe. From Scotland to Catalonia, independence fights have pundits scuttling for the history books. Noble cultures, ancient grievances. The last time many people heard the word "Catalonia " it was on the cover of a screed by George Orwell. And just what was that Spanish Civil War about, anyway?
It’s not easy boning up on Europe’s fusty history, but if they didn’t dig deep into the ancient past, the pundits just might have to look at the more recent sort.
What if the crisis in Catalonia had as much to do with 2008 as 1978? With the crisis of capitalism, as much as the crisis of the Spanish constitution?
The roots of the Catalan crisis are culturally specific, but the fact that it’s breaking out now isn’t all that esoteric. Corruption has so corroded the relationship between the governed and their governments that all across the capitalist world, democracies are at breaking point.
Catalan independence comes in many flavors: some separatists are eager to rid their affluent region of its responsibilities to Spain’s poorer parts. Immigrants, it should be noted, weren’t permitted to vote in the independence referendum. Others, inspired by the progress of Barcelona under its community-organizer mayor, Ada Colau, imagine a region reclaimed, and remade from the bottom up, with free healthcare, quality education and decision-making by popular assembly.
Where the various independence tendencies and the iron-fisted Spanish Prime Minister meet is atop a political powder keg that’s far bigger than they are.
The Transnational Institute recently calculated that since 2008, some $792 billion has been lost to Europeans of all nations, spent on bailing out big broken banks and enriching a few financial firms, through obscure private deals brokered through central bankers not, legislators. In Spain, some 16 billion euros went from Spanish taxpayers to just one bank, Bankia, with no public vote. Deals like that make a mockery of Prime Minister Rajoy’s high minded talk about democracy.
And then there are the privatizations. Selling national public assets to private multi-national corporations have long been EU policy - even as the EU opposes Catalan independence on the grounds of preserving national integrity. Spain sold of its airports at prices set by and also, it turns out, for the benefit of the very same private firms which are advising on the sell-off.
One could go on. Corruption breeds contempt. The shame in Barcelona is that blood in the streets is getting more press in weeks than years of innovative policy have received, ever, and yet Barcelona’s progressive municipalization is also a response to old-school corruption. The past isn’t dead. It’s not even past, said someone. Let’s not let it obscure us to what’s happening in the present.