When is democracy illegitimate?

Yesterdays attempted referendum for independence in Catalonia ended in violence on a level that was shocking to many, especially since it took place in a Western European country like Spain. The Spanish nation has been a democracy ever since King Juan Carlos I refused to take over after El Caudillo, as Ferdinand Franco, Spain’s fascist strong man, was known. King Juan Carlos I led Spain on a transition to constitutional democratic monarchy, something that endeared him to many Spaniards. Still Spain still bares scars from the Civil War 1936-1939 and the years of francoism. The Basques for instance have long struggled for independence, being culturally and linguistically different from the rest of Spain, a struggle that was made more severe being on the loosing side of the Civil War. The more radical Basques turned to terrorism in the form of ETA, Euskadi Ta Askatasuna – Basque Homeland and Liberty. Today the Basque nationalists have turned away from terrorism to a political struggle, mostly in the form of Herri Batasuna, a far left nationalist party. The development is quite similar to that in Northern Ireland where also the IRA, who are ideologically quite similar to ETA, the two terrorist organizations have cooperated in the past, has laid down arms and instead embarked on a peaceful political solution through Sinn Féin instead.

Catalonia as well as the Basque country has it’s own historical, cultural and linguistical identity, and given the part Barcelona played during the Civil War, that identity was held down during the Franco Era. That is why Madrid’s harsh response, not only proclaiming the referendum illegal, but also like Prime minister Mariano Rajoy publicly refusing that it even took place, and also sending in the paramilitary Guardia Civil that left over 800 people injured.


Of the abundant footage available online people injured where not violent rioters, but peaceful Catalans voting for independence. Reactions among leading politicians around Europe has been quite few, at least when it comes to the political repercussions other than the level of violence showed by Guardia Civil. However Ramón Luis Valcárel, the vice President of the European Parliament wrote on Twitter:

“-Today we have witnessed a nationalistic propaganda act, undemocratic; a coup attempt against Spanish democracy, and so a coup against Europe.”


This concerns me. Greatly. True enough, the Catalans attempted referendum is against the Spanish constitution. But the violent crack down from Madrid casts shadows from the sordid past and rather strengthens the Catalan’s cause. If Madrid had just said, go ahead, the vote is unconstitutional and as such it will not be adhered to, that would have been fine. But now what we are witnessing is rather more disturbing. Valcarél is saying that voting is a coup against Europe. Really? Brussels had no problem in supporting the coup in Kiev back in 2014 when the albeit corrupt but still democratically elected Yanukovych was ousted which as we now know triggered the Russian invasion of Crimea, and the latter’s referendum to secede from Ukraine to Russia, which was not accepted by the West, and ultimately triggered the civil war in the Donbass with considerable Russian involvement. Expressing support for the coup in Kiev that has led Ukraine into utter deluge Brussels had no problems with. Neither so with Kosovo seceding from what was left of Yugoslavia either. Some might argue that those were under different circumstances, true enough, the Catalan referendum was not held under a situation of clouds of war at the horizon. But the response from Madrid and Brussels are troublesome nonetheless because this shows the double standards in today’s Europe. Machiavelli wrote Il Principe under a different era, during days of the dynastic Italian city states. However his theories still bares validity even to this day, albeit under different shapes and circumstances. Apparently Brussels sees it fit to adhere to the proverb: “-The end justifies the means.” as long as things come down to maintain political hegemony for Brussels and it’s political agenda. EU-commissioner Jean Claude Juncker as on repeated occasions denounced referendums among the citizens of Europe. Why? It is quite evident, it is unlikely that there is popular support for the ultimate goal of a United States of Europe, Spinelli’s life long dream. It is from the same perspective that we must see Valcárel’s tweet.

Much of the West is today stuck in a narrative of identity politics. Being skeptical towards European federalism is frequently portrayed as being equal of being a xenophobic chauvinistic nationalist. There is however a great difference in being lets say a liberal conservative patriot and being a rampant chauvinistic national socialist. Being against the ultimate goal of the United States of Europe governed from Brussels is equal of running Moscow’s errands. The EU is often portrayed as a project of peace, and sure enough the Coal and Steel Union certainly was so. The Common Market also brought former enemies closer. Still, when war broke out in August of 1914 between Britain and Germany it was to world’s two greatest trading partners that went to war against each other. Unfortunately people tend to only see that parts of history that speaks for their narrative and the most dogmatic pro-Europe demagogues, like we saw in the case of Valcárel’s comment on the Catalan referendum, tend to brand those opposing as equal to traitors against the greater cause, i.e. the idea of “Europe”. But lets be honest, it was liberal nationalism that ultimately paved the way for democracy as we know it today. What would 1848 been like without liberal nationalism? The EU is seen as the guarantor of liberty, freedom and democracy. But does Brussels stand for democracy when it’s non-elected leader demands that no popular referendums should be held that could interfere with the project? Spinelli’s idea of how the ultimate goal of a federal Europe was to be imposed upon the probably unwilling citizens of the various states that make up the European Union was to step by step create a federation that no one would really see coming, even less withdraw from. Bear in mind that Spinelli was a communist and as such probably had quite a different idea what constitutes a democracy compared to say a liberal or a conservative. Thus Brexit came as a shock to Brussels. Those that supported Brexit were by definition labelled as ignorant xenophobes that really did not know what was best their own good, whether this was the case or not.

So, the heavy handed response to the referendum of independence in Catalonia coupled with the comments made by leading European politicians, regardless if you support the Catalonian referendum or not, that is, lets be fair, unconstitutional, really concerns me for the future of Europe. I admit, I am not a keen supporter of the idea of a federal United States of Europe, but things are becoming rather disturbing when voting and the strife for democracy are being seen as illegitimate..