Peter H. Salus
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
W.B. Yeats, “The second coming” (1919)
“I want a clear commitment from the state. Will the state respect the results that could give separatist forces a majority?” Carles Puigdemont asked on 31 October 2017.
But he wasn’t referring to World War I, but to the mess that he (with a lot of totalitarian assistance from M. Rajoy) wrought – not merely on the Iberian peninsula. In fact, I think Catalonia is merely another result of an event of 31 October 1517: the promulgation of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses.
Most people see Luther’s activity as religious, as a protest against the selling of indulgences, for instance. But I see it as an important step against the centrality of power, the Papacy.
Henry VIII was excommunicated Pope Paul III on 17 December 1538, another important break.
The Dutch Revolt (1566 or 1568–1648) was the successful revolt of the northern, largely Protestant Seven Provinces of the Low Countries against the rule of the Roman Catholic King Philip II of Spain, continuing the break-up between Catholic and Protestant, Philip’s Armada being a part of that conflict.
There have been a number of ruptures with remote authoritarian rule: the American and French Revolutions, the Greek War of Independence, the Sepoy Mutiny, the Boer Wars – all between 1775 and World War I. Of course, during that period, both Germany and Italy were unified, but the vast Spanish and Portuguese possessions in the Western Hemisphere became independent nations.
And the year after Yeats wrote, the UK sent the black-and-tans to assist the Royal Irish Constabulary on what George Bernard Shaw had referred to as “John Bull’s Other Island” (1904).
But let me skip to this century. In the US, the first non-European was elected president, then (as a reaction) the first moron; in Europe the rapid expansion of the EU with the avowed purpose of ever closer union, gave impetus to a revival of old national, ethnic and religious differences. South Sudan broke away; Russia re-occupied the Crimea.
On an electoral level, Scotland opted narrowly to remain part of the UK while the UK opted to separate from the EU. Canada elected its second-youngest PM, Justin Trudeau; France elected Emmanuel Macron, under 40; Iceland chose 41-year-old Katrín Jakobsdóttir, in New Zealand, the Labour Party’s Jacinda Ardern (37) is now PM. And in Austria, Sebastian Kurz (31) is tipped to become the youngest-ever chancellor.
These are all breaks with a largely gerontological political class. Rajoy is typical of the calcified inflexibility we associate with senility. As is Trump. As is May. As is Putin.
Returning to the Iberian peninsula, all the turmoil could have been prevented. In 1978 Catalonia voted overwhelmingly for the new democratic Spanish constitution that recognised Catalonia’s autonomy and language. The Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia, approved after a referendum, was contested by the conservative Popular Party, sending the law to the Constitutional Court of Spain which, in 2010, decided to declare non valid some of the articles that established an autonomous Catalan system of Justice, better aspects of the financing, the status of the Catalan language or the references of Catalonia as a nation. There were demonstrations in 2012. In 2013, Parliament asserted that Catalonia is a sovereign entity.
And here we are. Rajoy has called a snap election for December. Several Catalan politicians are in custody. Half a dozen are in Brussels, but have been “summoned” to Madrid.
Luther was right. Philip II was wrong.
“The centre cannot hold.”