On Sunday, October 1st, the authorities of Catalonia held a referendum, according to which the region can declare its independence from Spain. Ex-ambassador of Georgia to the Council of Europe Mamuka Zhgenti in an exclusive interview with Front News International told that such events can have consequences not only for Spain, but for the entire European Union.
Front News International: What can be the further consequences of the referendum in Catalonia?
Mamuka Zhgenti: The events of October 1st may have its repercussion not just on Spain, but on the whole European Union. Catalonia is one of the richest regions of Spain, with the economy close to that of Portugal and hence, it is one of the biggest contributors to the well-being of all the Spanish citizens. The so called referendum has been declared by the Constitutional Court of Spain as unconstitutional. Therefore, legally speaking Spanish central authorities had all the legal grounds to declare it as illegal and take preventive measures like those we have witnessed during last week, when the ballot papers and other voting related materials have been seized by the security services. The day of the referendum itself and its results could neither improve the legal standing of the independence supporters. First of all, due to the involvement of security services, in most voting stations the voting process was interrupted. Secondly, the vaunting electronic system was shot down. Thirdly, itself the counting mechanism is quite ambiguous and unreliable, as mechanism when “academics are counting the voting results” is quite a strange innovation. Therefore, legally speaking, the referendum day did not turn into D-Day for the pro-independentists and there is no legitimacy in it. Interestingly, even the Catalan leaders stated after the voting that “they now have grounds for independence, not because of the results (of yet uncounted votes), but for the reason of crackdown of population and use of disproportionate force by the central authorities”. However, politically and in terms of PR they have achieved some results. It is though difficult to say that these results would lead to Catalonia’s independence from Spain. Most probably not.
FNI: How will the use of force by Spanish law enforcers against voters affect the attitude of the inhabitants of Catalonia?
MZH: When is mentioned that politically Catalonian authorities scored some points, I meant that although the violence was observed from both sides, in similar cases it is mainly authorities and law-enforcers who receive the biggest portion of blame. The Spanish authorities even before the R-day deployed police forces in the region. However, these forces were not enough to shut down all the polling stations in such a large region as Catalonia. It is also interesting that Catalonian local police (MOSSOS) in most cases either did not take part in the operation and is some cases we have witnessed some incidents between the local police and special forces. Actually, one incident was recorded when the special forces were having troubles even with the local fire-fighters. Unless, Spanish authorities investigate these cases of violence and disproportionate use of force, the Catalonian cause will get more and more sympathizers inside the region and beyond.
FNI: In the event of the Puigdemont’s announcement of independence, who can recognize Catalonia?
MZH: I doubt that unilateral declaration of independence would produce any results. Frankly speaking, in a longer run, it could be even damaging for the independence movement in the region as I expect that in the case of declaration of independence, only so-called rogue, failed and non-existent entities like so-called Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Transdnistria and Nagorno Karabakh republics will become Catalonia’s main supporters. I doubt anyone would question that the membership in such company is neither advisable, nor productive.
Actually, in this context, although it is a custom in international relations not to rush in with conclusion, I was quite surprised that states in our region, like Georgia, Republic of Moldova, Ukraine and Azerbaijan did not yet come up with the open statements supporting the territorial integrity of the Kingdom of Spain. Within the EU, Spain is traditionally less involved in eastern partnership issues as it is more interested in EU relations with Maghreb countries or Latin America. This kind of a political support could have a positive influence on Spanish foreign policy towards the EaP states.
FNI: Will the Catalan authorities be criminally responsible after organizing and holding a referendum contrary to the decision of the Constitutional Court of Spain?
MZH: It is too difficult to speculate at the moment. Legally speaking, organization of illegal referendum is a crime. The use of excessive force by the police is a crime too. However, if one follows most recent European way of conducting domestic or international politics, radical measures are applied extremely rarely and with extreme caution. In the case of Spain, keeping in mind that the current government is a minority government, which keeps the power thanks to some regional political forces and namely, Basque nationalists, who would not be very keen to see this kind of persecution. Moreover, yesterday we saw that left-wing Spanish opposition leaders, who previously supported the ruling party in their approach towards the Catalan question, demanded the immediate resignation of Prime-Minister Rajoy. So, without having definite answer, as a lot will depend on how the situation develops from now on, it is still possible to say that we should not expect criminal persecution of those involved in the organization of illegal referendum. I believe, political dialogue is the only way out of this crisis.