Bill Collier- The current government of the autonomous region of Catalonia has asked for, and called a referendum in support of, nothing less than independence from the Spanish crown. In its bid for total independence, the government has been strident and seemingly uncompromising, but when the time came for words and rhetoric to be followed with resolute action and resistance, the very men and women, led by one Carles Puidgdemont, who started this crisis offered indecisiveness and made no decision at all.
Given two choices, to call snap elections or to declare independence, and having called a meeting of the regional parliament with some fanfare, Puigdemont gave words, passed the entire matter to the parliament to decide, and did nothing. While the Spanish minority government under Rajoy and company has railed against the government ministers, including Puigdemont, even its invocation of Article 155 by which it means to administer the region directly and turn out Puigdemont and company, did not envision turning out the elected regional government. But thanks to the buck-passing of Puigdemont, the Parliament itself must now decide whether to declare full independence or to surrender, leaving every member vulnerable to repercussions they could have avoided if Puigdemont had been decisive.
Regardless of the aspirations of the people of Catalonia, which are in dispute, their government ministers, especially Puigdemont, have proven they lack courage and conviction. Yes, they are in a tight squeeze with no good answers, but their own actions and rhetoric have placed them in this squeeze. They walked up to this precipice on their own, and now they refuse to make a choice, to back off or plunge into the conflict. Instead of being leaders who shield the people they lead, namely Parliament and the citizens, they have pushed this crisis forward and then stepped aside and pinned the tail, as it were, on others.
When pushing for independence from a political state it is always necessary to count the cost first. One would have thought these so-called leaders would not have precipitated a crisis of these proportions, affecting so many millions of people without having done so.
Did they secretly arm and prepare the Mossos, their own regional police, to defend their new republic? Do they have other means of doing so? Do they have other foreign allies who will help them or recognize their new state?
We have heard they plan to resist the Spanish “invasion” and takeover in some Ghandi-esque manner. This is a bad misreading of Ghandi. His tactics of non-violence only worked because the British were unwilling and unable to use force, his opponents did not have the moral certitude that they even should be ruling India! The Spanish state, which has not truly and completely severed its fascist roots, is quite willing to use force and has no lack of moral certainty with respect to its rule over Catalonia.
Unlike the British, who faced increasing international pressure regarding their colonial empire, the Spanish state has, at worse, tepid reactions against and, overall, support from the EU and the world community for retaining control over Catalonia. Sympathy for Catalonian independence is blunted by the lack of certainty as to its popularity in the region, its potential economic and political impact on the EU, and the lack of moral certainty on the part of its instigators (as evidenced by their lack of firm actions).
It is a crime to foment a crisis which has serious negative impacts on your own people and then be unwilling to make decisive choices or take firm actions to resolve it. Puigdemont could have called snap elections, he could have attended the Spanish Senate session to potentially negotiate a compromise, or he could have agree swiftly on the referendum and ordered his regional police to protect his new Republic. Instead, he instigated a crisis and at the critical hour passed the buck to others, making people he could have shielded from repercussions vulnerable now to either the Spanish authorities (who were limiting their threats to him and his ministers) or to the populace who are clamouring for independence who might turn on a parliament that Puigdemont has saddled with a choice that was his to make.
In the end, Catalonia has been fomented into a thirst for independence and its leaders are refusing to either temper the thirst they have stoked or to finally take decisive action and declare independence. They have put the crowds on the streets and the regional parliament on the firing line, they are forcing them to both make this hard decision and face the full consequences, which the actions of the leaders who started this crisis could have shielded them from.
Puigdemont could have fallen on his sword, having realized the choice is violence or retreat, and called for snap elections or he could have resolutely declared independence and called on his Mossos and the people in the streets to back this up. In the first case, he could have taken the blame and prevented this crisis from going forward without betraying the aspirations of the pro-independence elements. In the second case, be could have followed through on his commitment and if the Spanish authorities really did act with force and prevail, he could have taken the blame and shielded others from consequences.
Were I to be Puigdemont, I would have counted the cost first. But even if I realized that I had miscalculated, I would have declared independence. Assuming this resulted in Spanish occupation and my arrest, at the least I would have kept the hope of independence alive and delegtimized the Spanish occupation, knowing that history has a way of providing improbable opportunities to seemingly lost causes. But I would have mobilized the Mossos and the people on the day after declaring the final results of the referendum, I would not have let this drag on.
Let’s be clear: Puigdemont instigated this entire crisis. He was its architect and designer. It is now obvious he did not count the cost, nor did he make serious preparations for the worse-case scenario. One suspects he knows he lacks overwhelming popular support, hence his reticence. But he should have known whether he truly has widespread popular support or whether he has the means to resist the use of force. He seems never to have even asked such critical questions, and he definitely has no answers.
It is still possible Puigdemont could take actions that change this current assessment, but regardless of that, his handling of a crisis he instigated has so far been meandering and indecisive and has only weakened his cause. He has done long-term harm to his own cause and he has disrupted millions of lives in a failed bid whose failings were caused almost totally by his own incapacity as a leader.