Many foreign observers of the situation — perhaps most prominently the British author J. K Rowling — are expressing outrage at what they see as the Spanish government's repression of Catalans’ democratic rights. I've seen numerous tweets claiming that "Franco is back" or some other such poppycock. Here is my response to these people, which I will freely admit owes a great deal to the Spanish historian and political commentator Pío Moa, whose writings I have been reading with great interest for several years now:
1. The secessionist referendum that took place today is illegal — it violates the Spanish Constitution.
2. That fact aside, this referendum was not conducted in a fair and free way. There has been rampant voter fraud. There are numerous photos of the same individuals voting in multiple polling places.
3. At least one photo of an alleged victim of police brutality appears to show show red paint on her face… Also, separatists have circulated a photo of a bloodied child, claiming that he is a victim of today's police brutality. It turns out, though, that that photo is actually five years old and shows a victim of Catalan regional police brutality. Mighty weird, to say the least…
4. Franco is not back. Not by any stretch of the imagination. Indeed, if the Francoist regime had survived Franco in some form, the situation would never have developed to the tragic point we see today, with Catalonia on the verge of declaring independence. Make no mistake: what happened today in Catalonia is a direct consequence of 40 years of rejection of the Franco regime’s legacy.
5. Catalan separatists — along with other regional separatists, anarchists, and Communists — destroyed the Second Spanish Republic. Yet those who, claiming to be defenders of democracy, profess to be admirers of that regime are staunchly supportive of separatists, anarchists, and Communists.
6. When Franco passed away, Catalan separatism was a very weak political force, as were anarchism and Communism. Through its economic policies, thanks to which Spain was the fastest-growing economy in Europe in 1975, the Franco regime had effectively eroded the forces that had brought the Second Spanish Republic to its knees. When Franco died in 1975, Spain had a real chance of becoming a prosperous, peaceful, and stable democracy — by building on Franco’s achievements, not by brushing them aside.
7. That said, the Catalan separatist movement still existed when Franco died. The dragon was badly weakened but not slain. Because of their weak position, Catalan separatists in the 1970s did not publicly call for independence for Catalonia. Instead, they merely advocated autonomy for their region. But their ultimate goal remained secession. As their leader Jordi Pujol said at the time, “Today, patience. Tomorrow, independence.”
8. In his final testament, Franco warned the Spanish people: “Do not forget that the enemies of Spain and of Christian civilization are alert.” Unfortunately, his successors did not heed this warning. Ignoring the fact that the democracy they were building was made possible by Franco, they proceeded to completely destroy Franco’s legacy. Instead of preserving the unitary state they inherited from Franco, they proceeded to give autonomy to Spain’s various regions. They even allowed education to be handled by the local governments. It was through the education system that separatist enemies of Spain began to erode support for the unity of Spain, by teaching future generations of Spaniards to hate their country.
9. Liberal and conservative national governments alike lavishly funded these anti-Spanish local governments, while at the same time shunning Spaniards who continued to defend the unity of their country. Throughout Spain, the political class promoted the local and disdained the national. For instance, in Andalusia, the local government declared the late Blas Infante (a politician who revered the old Moorish caliphates that occupied Spain for centuries) “Father of the Andalusian Fatherland.” Just think about the implications of that phrase. In other words, the Spanish political class glorified the things that divided Spaniards and stigmatized the things that united them. Although Spanish governments at least fought the Basque separatist terrorist group ETA, this, too, changed — under the Socialist government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. Rather than fight ETA as a criminal organization, Zapatero decided to negotiate with them. In 2011, ETA agreed to renounce violence. In exchange, Basque separatist politicians began to receive generous government funding. Thus was a violent terrorist group rewarded with legitimacy in the eyes of the state (the implication of the negotiations) and with Spaniards’ tax euros (the result of the negotiations). This after ETA had been brought to its knees by the aggressive police actions of José María Aznar, Zapatero’s conservative predecessor. In other words, by negotiating with domestic terrorists, the Spanish state essentially legitimized domestic terrorism as a form of a political action. So much for the rule of law!
10. As a result of this anti-Spanish tendency, things got to a point where citizens who flew the Spanish flag were generally regarded as fascists (unless, of course, the Spanish soccer team was participating in some important international tournament — during such occasions, and only during such occasions, were displays of Spanish patriotism politically correct). The logical end result of all of this — giving autonomy to regions despite the separatist threat, placing the education system in the hands of separatists, and shaming Spanish patriotism — was increasingly emboldened separatists. Last year in Catalonia, things got to a point where people who wore clothing displaying a Spanish flag were liable to be beaten up by antifa activists. Even supporting the Spanish national soccer team was no longer politically correct in Catalonia. Only very recently, as a reaction against the separatist pressures in Catalonia, has there been something of a resurgence of genuine patriotism among the Spanish people.
11. To be sure, there is nothing wrong with promoting local culture — indeed, promoting and preserving local culture is very important, since without local traditions the nation is meaningless. But this must done in a patriotic manner, as opposed to a way that engenders hatred of the nation.
12. The magnificent economic legacy of Francisco Franco, and the weight of centuries of history as a unified state, are the only reasons Spain even exists today.
13. Having said all of that, the Spanish government handled today’s referendum extremely stupidly. If the Spanish government’s goal is to guarantee a Catalan secession and widespread international recognition of the new Catalan state, then the Spanish government couldn’t have planned it better. Having the police brutally attack people who are trying to vote is playing directly into the hands of the Catalan separatists. And the Catalan separatists knew this — this is why many separatists brought their children to polling places. They shrewdly calculated that pictures of police attacking women, children, and elderly people over a referendum would result in worldwide revulsion against the Spanish government and an outpouring of sympathy for the cause of Catalan separatism. In the face of such revolting images, what moral force do legalistic appeals to the Spanish Constitution have? None. What moral weight does one video of a Spanish police officer successfully convincing a Catalan separatist to get his child out of harm’s way carry, in the face of dozens and dozens of pictures of police brutality?
14. Using police force against voters was not the way to handle this situation. Instead, the government should have had the leaders of the Catalan regional government arrested for violating the Constitution weeks ago, when they announced their intention of holding the referendum after the Spanish Supreme Court ruled that the referendum was unconstitutional. That would have no sparked no great moral outrage, and it might have prevented the referendum from taking place. Instead, the government used police brutality against citizens who wish to vote (who are wrong, but are not really at fault here… remember, generations of Catalans have been indoctrinated in hatred of Spain). In so doing, the government has provoked widespread moral outrage — understandable and justifiable outrage, I might add. All the while, the illegal referendum took place, notwithstanding the government’s bizarre Baghdad Bob-like denials that the referendum occurred. Can Spain be saved from disintegration at this point?