Landschlacht, Switzerland, 9 October 2017
I was 24 and living in Ottawa, Canada, in 1989, when I read the news about the fall of the Berlin Wall that had separated West Germany from East Germany for a generation.
Above: Centre Block, Parliament Buildings, Ottawa, Canada
I would see remnants of this wall in subsequent visits to Berlin with my wife and my cousin in 2007 and 2008.
In 1999, I visited the De-militarised Zone (the DMZ) that still separates North Korea from South Korea.
In 2000, I saw the Green Line that separates North Cyprus from Cyprus.
I am a little over a half century old and in the past 50 or so years I have witnessed the independence of 18 African nations, 10 Caribbean nations, 14 Middle East or Asian nations, 11 European nations and 11 South Pacific nations.
I have watched dictatorships change into democracies and I have sadly seen some democracies devolve into dictatorships.
So I guess it feels quite normal to watch with growing fascination the growing movements of the Kurdish people of Turkey, Iran and Iraq and the Catalonian people of Spain.
As a man who has seen his fair share of historical events, though like most men of my socio-economic class living in the West mostly indirectly, I find it compelling to watch how nations develop from ideas to actual sovereign states.
And having grown up as an Anglophone in Francophone Québec, a province that has itself toyed with the idea of independence from Canada, I can´t say that I am unemotional in regards to this topic of sovereign states and what it is exactly that constitutes a nation.
I have always felt that it is more to the advantage of both Canada and Québec to remain together, as Canada, for all its faults has acknowledged that Québec is a distinct society whose language and culture must be respected within the framework that is Canada.
Québec, both economically and culturally, would be weakened should it attempt total self-reliance surrounded as they are by an Anglo North America, especially when considering the economic and military clout of the United States.
In regards to the desire of the Kurdish people to determine their own destiny, I cannot deny that I am partially sympathetic to their cause, for as reprehensible as the violence that has been used by some Kurdish factions has been (and it has been reprehensible indeed), the determination by the dominant powers that rule them to eliminate their culture and deny them their language and, in some dark chapters of the past, attempt their extermination, leaves me hopeful that through wiser leadership and true diplomacy the Kurds may one day create their free Kurdistan.
Above: One of the symbols used to represent Kurdish nationalism
(See The Sick Man of Europe 1: The Sons of Karbala and The Sick Man of Europe 2: The Sorrow of Batman of this blog for greater explanation and background of the Kurdish situation.)
But in regards to Catalonian independence I am on more insecure footing…
The Principality of Catalonia was a territory of the Crown of Aragon at the time of the Union of Aragon and the Kingdom of Castile in the late 15th century, which led to what would become the Kingdom of Spain.
Above: L´Estelada Brava, the pro-independence flag of Catalonia
Initially, Catalonia kept their own fueros (laws and customs) and political institutions.
Catalans revolted against the Spanish monarchy in the Reaper´s War of 1640 – 1652, which ended in Catalan defeat.
The end of the War of Spanish Succession was followed by the loss of the fueros and the imposition of the Nueva Planta decrees which centralised Spanish rule.
The beginnings of separatism in Catalonia can be traced back to the mid-19th century.
The Renaixenca (cultural renaissance), which aimed at the revival of the Catalan language and traditions, led to the development of Catalan nationalism and a desire for independence.
Between the 1850s and the 1910s, some individuals, organisations and political parties started demanding full independence of Catalonia from Spain.
The first pro-independence political party in Catalonia was Estat Catala, founded in 1922 by Colonel Francesc Macia.
Above: Francesc Macía (1859 – 1933), 122nd President of Catalonia
Estat Catala went into exile in France during the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera (1923 – 1930).
Following the overthrow of Rivera, Estat Catala joined the Parti Republica Catala and the political group L´Opinió to form Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, with Macia as its first leader.
Macia proclaimed a Catalan Republic in 1931, but after negotiations with the provisional government he was obliged to settle for autonomy, which lasted until the Spanish Civil War.
Following Franco´s death in 1975, Spain moved to restore democracy.
Above: The flag of Spain
A new constitution was adopted in 1978, which asserted the “indivisible unity of the Spanish nation”, but acknowledged “the right to autonomy of the nationalities and regions which form it”.
Independence parties objected to the constitution on the basis that it was incompatible with Catalan self-determination and formed the Comité Catala Contra la Constitució Espanyola to oppose it.
The constitution was nevertheless approved both in Spain and in Catalonia.
In 1981, a manifesto issued by intellectuals in Catalonia claiming discrimination against the Castilian language drew a response in the form of a published letter, Crida a la Solidarität en Defensa de la Llengua, la Cultura i la Nació Catalones, which called for a mass meeting at the University of Barcelona, out of which a popular movement arose.
Beginning as a cultural organisation, the Crida soon began to demand independence.
In 1982, at a time of political uncertainty in Spain, the Ley Orgánica de Armonización del Proceso Autonómico was introduced in the Spanish parliament, supposedly to “harmonise” the autonomy process, but in reality to curb the powers of Catalonia and the Basque region of northwest Spain and southwest France.
There was a surge of popular support against LOAPA.
During the 1980s, the Crida was involved in nonviolent direct action, among other things campaigning for labelling in Catalan only and targeting big companies.
Following elections in 2003, the Spanish government produced a draft for a new Statute of Autonomy.
The Spanish parliament made changes to the Statute, by removing clauses on finance and language and the article stating that Catalonia was a nation.
The Partido Popular, which had opposed the Statute in the Spanish parliament, challenged its constitutionality in the Spanish High Court of Justice.
The case lasted four years.
In 2014 the Spanish Constitutional Court ruled that the declaration of sovereignty was unconstitutional.
In 2015 the Catalan parliament passed a resolution declaring the start of the independence process.
In response Spanish Premier Mariano Rajoy said the state might “use any available judicial and political mechanism contained in the constitution and in the laws to defend the sovereignty of the Spanish people and of the general interest of Spain.”, hinting that he would not stop at military intervention.
Above: Mariano Rajoy, Prime Minister of Spain since 2011
In 2016, Carles Puigdemont, on taking the oath of office of President of Catalonia, omitted the oath of loyalty to the King and the Spanish constitution, the first Catalan President to do so.
Above: Carles Puigdemont i Casamojó, President of Catalonia since 2016
In late September 2016, Puigdemont told the Spanish parliament that a binding referendum on Catalan Independence would be held in 2017.
The question on 1 October 2017 was:
“Do you want Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic?”
The Spanish government said that the referendum could not take place because it was illegal.
The Spanish government seized ballot papers and cell phones, threatened to fine voters up to €300,000, shut down websites and demanded that Google remove a voting location finder from the Android app store.
Police were sent from the rest of Spain to suppress the vote and close polling locations, but parents scheduled events at schools (where polling places are located) over the weekend and vowed to keep them open during the vote.
Some election organisers were arrested, including Catalan cabinet officials, while demonstrations by local institutions and street protests grew larger.
The referendum was approved by the Catalan parliament along with a law which states that independence would be binding with a simple majority, without requiring a minimum turnout.
The Yes side won, with over 2 million people / 91% voting for independence.
The government of Spain opposes any Catalan self-determination referendum, because the Spanish constitution does not allow for a vote on the independence of any Spanish region.
The Catalan parliament passed a law declaring it would only follow Catalan law.
The Spanish constitutional court moved quickly to prevent a declaration of independence.
On 3 October 2017 Carles Puigdemont said that his government intends to act on the result of the referendum “at the end of this week or the beginning of next” and declare independence from Spain.
Puigdemont went before the Catalan Parliament to address them on Monday 9 October 2017, pending agreement of other political parties.
On 4 October 2017, Mireia Boya, a lawmaker of the Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP), announced that a declaration of independence would likely come after the parliamentary session on 9 October.
Felipe VI, the King of Spain, called the Catalan referendum “illegal” and appealed to the union of Spain and called the situation in Catalonia “extremely serious.”
Above: Felipe de Borbón, aka Felipe VI, King of Spain since 2014
According to Swiss national radio, the Foreign Ministry of Switzerland has offered to mediate between the two sides in the crisis.
So, here are the questions that remain….
Could Catalonia survive without Spain?
Above: Map of Spain, with Catalonia in red
What damage would the loss of Catalonia do to Spain?
Will a declaration of independence, which seems likely, lead to bloodshed?
It can be argued that a justifiable reason for a region to declare itself independent of a dominant government over it, is if the dominant force threatens the region´s domestic affairs in regards to how it determines its identity through race, religion, language or cultural traditions, and especially if the region´s economic or humanitarian needs are not being met.
I have insufficient information to decide whether or not the Spanish government has tried to suppress Catalan language, culture or traditions.
I do believe that Catalonia is strong economically as it stands now, but whether it is in Catalonia´s best interests economically to break free of Spanish rule…..
I am not so certain.
The irony of a people wishing to be free of a monarchy (although Spain is a constitutional monarchy much like Canada) on the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, and on the 150th anniversary of Canada´s own sovereignity as a confederation, is not lost on me.
Petrograd, (present day St. Petersburg) Russia, Monday, 27 February 1917
(Please read Canada Slim and….the Bloodthristy Redhead, the Zimmerwald Movement, the Forces of Darkness, the Dawn of a Revolution, the Bloodstained Ground, and the High Road to Anarchy of this blog for the background to the events below….)
With so much rampant anarchy unleashed on the streets of Petrograd, Duma (Russia´s parliament) President Mikhail Rodzinko and the other Duma members were at a loss as to how to deal with events that had taken them totally by surprise.
Above: Mikhail Rodzinko (1859 – 1924)
With Russia plunged into political uncertainty, the Duma at the Tauride Palace was a magnet for Petrograders all day.
Above: The Tauride Palace, St. Petersburg
By 1300 hours a crowd of thousands massing around the doors to the Duma was thick with “green uniformed and green capped students, many waving red flags and red bunting and listening to revolutionary speeches”, all anxious to offer their support to the formation of a new government and seeking instructions on what they should do.
What once was a graceful Palladian building of white colonnades, grand reception rooms and columned galleries, the Tauride Palace was now a rackety military camp of political hustling, where urgent meetings were held to establish a provisional government to take charge of the extremely volatile situation.
The Palace was full of troops.
“Everybody seemed to be hungry.
Bread, dried herrings and tea were being endlessly handed around.”
The mental confusion within the Palace was more bewildering than the Revolution outside.
The Palace seethed with tension and excitement, as regiment after regiment arrived and was “drawn up in ranks, four deep, down the length of Catherine Hall” (the main lobby and promenade of the Duma) to swear its allegiance to the new government.
Rodzianko addressed each of them in turn, urging them to “remain a disciplined force”, to stay faithful to their officers and return quietly to barracks and be ready when called.
In the semicircular main hall an enormous, mixed assembly of moderate and liberal members of the Duma met to organise themselves, under Rodzianko´s leadership, in the hopes that a reformed, constitutional government could yet be salvaged from the wreckage.
A twelve-man Provisional Executive Committee was eventually elected that evening to take control.
One of its first acts was to order the arrest of the members of the Council of Ministers – the Upper House of the Duma, the Tsar´s men – who met at Mariinsky Palace.
Above: The Mariinsky Palace
Some had already tendered their resignations, including Prime Minister Nikolay Golitsyn.
Above: Nikolai Golitsyn (1850 – 1925), 8th Prime Minister of Russia (1917)
Others had gone into hiding, and revolutionary patrols were now searching for them.
Even as the Duma members were establishing their own committee, elsewhere in Tauride Palace, a large group of soldiers and workers intent on nothing else than the declaration of a socialist republic and Russia´s withdrawl from the War (WW1) were meeting with the moderate Mensheviks and socialist revolutionaries, with the objective of electing their own Petrograd Soviet of Workers´ and Soldiers´ Deputies.
Their most immediate call was an appeal to citizens to help feed the hungry soldiers who had taken their side, until their supplies could be properly organised.
Petrograders responded quickly, welcoming men into their homes to warm themselves and be fed.
Restaurants offered free meals.
Old men were seen in the street “with large boxes of cigarettes, which they handed out to the soldiers.”
An unknown American encountered a very well dressed intelligent man, running breathlessly up Kamennoostrovsky Prospekt, “stopping a few moments every block to tell the great news….
Above: Present day Kamennoostrovky Prospekt, St. Petersburg
“The Duma had formed a temporary government.”
It was astonishing, colossal, not to be grasped at once or even half understood.
Tuesday 28 February 1917
A “tremendous mass of people in the square surrounding a truck packed with soldiers from which a Second Lieutenant was telling the crowd the news:
“Now it´s all right.
There´ll be a new government.
Do you understand?
A new government, and there´ll be bread for everybody.”
“I don´t think any man´s mind that night, except the very leaders in the Duma, could stretch fast enough and far enough to do more than struggle with the realisation of the simplest and most elementary fact of the Revolution – with the plain fact that there actually was a Revolution.”
“On the whole, it may be truthfully said that, so far as Petrograd was concerned, by Tuesday evening the Revolution was over.”
The train carrying the Tsar back to Tsarskoe Selo left Mogilev, its windows darkened, its passengers asleep.
On the train, Nicholas was virtually incommunicado.
Above: Russian Tsar Nicholas II (1868 – 1918)
Russia no longer had a government, and over the next crucial 27 hours or more, for all practical purposes, be without an emperor.
Nevertheless, when Nicholas reached Tsarskoe Selo the next morning he expected that General Nikolai Ivanov and his 6,000 front line troops were in place to crush the rebellion.
He could sleep easily.
His train was on schedule.
In consequence, with no government and a nomadic Tsar lost in a train, power in Petrograd passed to the Revolution, with the Tauride Palace home of a Duma that was no more.
The tsarist government was finished.
The Arsenal – the last rallying point of the old regime – had finally surrendered by 1600 hours when the rebels threatened to turn the guns of the Peter and Paul Fortress onto it.
The whole of the army in Petrograd had now thrown in its lot with the revolutionaries.
The Tauride Palace now housed a noisy mass of workers, soldiers and students, joined together in a Soviet.
The few hundred respectable deputies who backed the Duma Committee now jostled for places in rooms and hallways packed with excited street orators, mutineers and strike leaders.
It was chaos and would remain so for days to come.
Grave anxiety remained as to the future, with the struggle between the new Soviet and the Executive Committee of the Duma intensifying.
It was already abundantly clear that any power-sharing between the Duma and the Soviet would be extremely fraught.
In the midst of all this chaos, the young man beginning to stand out as the dominant figure was Alexander Kerensky, a member of the Duma Committee but also vice-chairman of the Soviet.
Above: Alexander Kerensky (1881 – 1970)
Bestriding both camps, Kerensky´s power was enormous.
The Committee had the better claim to government, but the members knew that in this Revolution they could only lead where Kerensky was willing to follow.
For the members of the Soviet, the Executive Committee represented the enemy: the old order of capitalists, the bourgeoise and the aristocracy.
At the same time, the Soviet had the sense to know that they were in no position to form a “people´s government” as their authority did not extend beyond the capital.
They had few if any among them the experience to act as Ministers.
There had to be a deal.
For the Duma men that meant securing the Tsar´s abdication while preserving the monarchy itself.
Nicholas would be replaced by his lawful successor, his son Alexis, with Nicholas´ younger brother Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich as regent.
Above: Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich (1878 – 1918)
Michael was a war hero, a cavalry commander holding Russia´s two highest battlefield awards, and he was known to be sympathetic to constitutional monarchy on the British lines.
The army held him in high regard and he would also be a popular choice in the Duma where he was widely trusted and respected.
But Nicholas had first to be compelled to give up the throne.
Trundling across Russia in his train, Nicholas had, as yet, no idea what would be demanded of him.
Landschlacht, Switzerland, 10 October 2017
When I view recent events regarding the Kurds and the Catalonians, I realise that here too, a century after the Russian Revolution…..
There has to be a deal.
But much like Nicholas on the train….
I have, as yet, no idea what will be demanded.
Above: Gathering in Zarautz, Basque Country, in support of Catalonian independence
Sources: Wikipedia / Steve Bloomfield (editor), How to Make a Nation / Tony Brenton, Historically Inevitable?: Turning Points of the Russian Revolution / Helen Rappaport, Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd 1917