Catalonia, Declaration Of Independence With A Caveat

The political crisis that had been brewing for years and culminated on Oct.1 is far from over
The political crisis that had been brewing for years and culminated on Oct.1 is far from over
Benjamin Witte

Backers of Catalonia's quest to break away from Spain had just eight seconds Tuesday night to savor the moment they'd long been waiting for.

"I accept the mandate of the people that Catalonia become an independent state in the shape of a republic," Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont said in a highly anticipated address before the regional parliament.

With those words, Puigdemont fulfilled his promise to follow-up last week's controversial referendum, when voters were bloodied and beaten by Spanish police, with a formal declaration of independence. Or so it seemed.

Just moments later, Puigdemont asked that the parliament "suspend the effects of the declaration of independence" for several weeks to allow dialogue with the Spanish government in Madrid.

So did he or didn't he? Depends who you ask.

Among pro-independence supporters gathered outside the building in Barcelona, it was ecstasy to agony all in the blink of an eye. Faces literally dropped, as a pair of Reuters photos published in the Spanish daily ABC attest.

For others, the yes-but-not-just-now independence declaration simply caused confusion, especially given how unwilling the Spanish government, under conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, has been to engage Puigdemont and his diverse alliance of separatists.


As the Barcelona daily La Vanguardia noted in today's editorial, the Catalan leader faced an extremely difficult scenario. Not wanting to let his base down, but wary of unduly antagonizing Madrid, he tried to find an "intermediary path." This third way, however, "managed only to generate disagreement and confusion." The daily warned that Puigdemont's biggest risk could be exacerbating divisions inside his own political coalition in the Catalonia parliament.

What is clear is that the political crisis that had been brewing for years and culminated, on Oct.1, in a brutal police crackdown on referendum voters, is far from over.

Nearly 2.3 million people managed to cast their ballots, despite the violence. And of those, approximately 90% opted for independence, the Catalan regional government reported. For Puigdemont and his allies, the mandate is clear. "We are not criminals, madmen or coup plotters, just ordinary people who want to vote," he said Tuesday evening, switching from Catalan to Spanish. "We have nothing against the Spaniards."

The Rajoy government says the vote was illegitimate from the outset, and notes that only about 43% of eligible voters participated. Either way, as the hundreds of thousands of people who turned out in Barcelona this past Sunday for a massive pro-union demonstration, support for breaking away from Spain isn't as cut and dry as the referendum result suggests.

After Puigdemont's quasi-independence declaration, the ball is squarely back in Rajoy's court. The question on everyone's lips now is whether he'll try to employ Article 155, a never-before-used constitutional mechanism that, due to the exceptional circumstances, would allow Madrid to impose direct rule in Catalonia.

Until recently, Article 155 was "almost taboo," the Madrid daily El País reports. "But it's now being thrown around by citizens and the parties with ease. Among constitutional law experts, the question is no longer if it should be used or not, but when, how and under what conditions."

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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