January 28, 2006
Catalonia, the northeastern region of Spain centered upon Barcelona, may gain additional autonomous prerogatives under a bill submitted to the Spanish Cortés (parliament) by Prime Minister Zapatero, a Socialist. In consideration for its distinct language and cultural traditions, Catalonia has enjoyed some degree of autonomy since 1980. Its drive for full independence during the 1930s was one of the main causes of the Spanish Civil War, and the lingering franquista sentiment within the armed forces casts a pall over Spain's otherwise thriving democracy. That is why a general who objected to the bill as contrary to the constitutional unity of Spain was fired. A government spokesman denied that Zapatero was pandering to fringe parties in order to keep his coalition together. See Washington Post.
Catalonia ("Cataluña," en español) is transparent to most Americans, but many famous Spaniards were born or raised in Catalonia, including artists Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró, and cellist Pablo Casals. Spain is rather like the United Kingdom in being an amalgam of regions with distinct traditions, each of which was joined to the larger country under unique circumstances, and with special understandings. For that reason, the suggestion that those countries adopt a federal system like the United States is not really appropriate, because the smaller units are not really co-equal, as are states in the U.S.A.
In principle, legislation aimed simply at facilitating the expression of multicultural diversity (!) should not be too dangerous. What worries me is that the proposed law may provide justification for latent grudges among the various parts of Spain, over who gets more and who gets less in return for the tax revenues they pay, for instance. As one example of this, I recently learned about the silly boycott of Catalonian products by people in other parts of Spain who resent special favors for Catalonia from our friends Montserrat and Josep. *(They kindly gave us the Angles-Català dictionary that allowed me to write the title above. Moltes gràcies!) This is a situation in which the conservative reluctance to upset the apple cart for fear of unleashing chaos is well taken. The comparison with the Quebec independence movement is certainly apt, but Spain has sharper internal divisions than Canada, and a history of political violence. Granting additional autonomous rights to Catalonia will certainly lead the Basque people to demand more autonomy for their region. (Recall that former Prime Minister Aznar initially reacted to the March 2004 Madrid bombings by blaming Basque terrorists.) To many observers, it is an irony that the modern world of global economic interdependence is fostering increased demands for political separateness. Or, it could be a case of one thing leading to the other. Prime Minister Zapatero's unduly harsh words toward the United States and his warm gestures toward the quasi-authoritarian regime of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela raise serious questions about his fitness to lead Spain. As he moves ahead with the Catalonian autonomy issue, I hope he proceeds with extreme caution, so as not to ignite a second civil war in Spain.
Thankfully, most Senate Democrats have realized that there is simply no objective basis for opposing the nomination of Sam Alito to the Supreme Court, so his accession is all but assured. (In anticipation of that, the question mark next to his name on the Supreme Court page has been removed.) Fears about what what the idea of a "unitary executive" implies seem overblown, from what I can tell. It's simple logic that the president, as chief executive, should be in charge of the executive branch, as long as he respects the statutory independence of agencies such as the CIA or BLS. The junior senator from Massachusetts, Mr. Kerry, indulged in a bit of paranoia by warning that Alito would grant permission to armed government agents barging into people's homes. In response, Donald Sensing reminds us about an ugly incident involving a tiny lad named Elian Gonzalez. Been there, done that...