Top Catalan independence party fails to move the needle

You may recall my November 2014 post “Just 3 in 10 back Catalonia independence in ridiculous referendum” in which I broke down what the “80% for independence” recorded on a non-binding referendum sponsored and staffed by the Spanish region’s secessionist movement actually translated into real-world proportions. Ultimately I determined that only about 30% of registered voters — 1.6 million people — had actually showed up and voted for independence on behalf of 7.5 million residents.

We now have the results from this month’s regional parliamentary elections. While the turnout was much higher, a few facts jump out presenting a very similar picture all the same:
1. In September 2015 Catalonia parliamentary elections, 48% of those 77% who voted chose two parties supporting independence from Spain, handing them a “victory.”
2. In absolute numbers, this translated to just shy of 2 million votes for pro-independence parties. (The opposing 4 parties actually won slightly more votes than the two pro-independence parties.)
3. That’s less than 36% of all registered voters and barely more than a quarter of the region’s total population (7.5 million).

And the biggest observation of all?
4. The first-place party, really the same umbrella coalition behind the referendum, won 1.6 million votes and 29% of the registered voters.

Wow. That’s exactly the same as the November 2014 referendum outcome. 1.6 million and about 30% of registered voters. So all they’ve proven is that they are disciplined enough to get their same 1.6 million people out to the polls twice in 12 months. They didn’t grow their base at all over that span. They didn’t move the public needle on independence. And 65% of registered voters either voted for a party that doesn’t support Catalonia becoming independent or couldn’t be bothered to show up to vote at all because this doesn’t matter to them.

No wonder the Spanish central government doesn’t particularly feel compelled to negotiate with such a small and unpersuasive faction. In the final analysis, this “movement” so far remains less about Catalan identity and more about wealthy conservatives trying to keep poorer people in other parts of Spain from getting any of their money.

The feuding between [Prime Minister] Rajoy and Mr. Mas started in 2012 as a dispute over the financial contribution that Catalonia should make to a Spanish system that redistributes tax income from Catalonia and other wealthy regions to poorer parts of the country.

Mr. Mas then turned his frustrated demand for fiscal concessions into a full-fledged drive for independence.


Regional flag of Catalonia

Regional flag of Catalonia

3 Major Ethnic Minority Groups in Western Iran

Modern Iran traces its roots to ancient Persia and Persians remain a majority in the country. However, the country is home to many languages and ethnicities. Indeed, the share of non-Persians among Iran’s population, which totals 82 million people, is at least 39%, according to The World Factbook. Given that ethnicity can be a fluid concept, Iran’s non-Persian population might actually be closer to 50%. One indication is that only 53% of Iranians speak Persian. There are at least seven other languages spoken by a significant number of citizens.

All that being said, although Iran is thus a country of astounding ethnic, cultural, and linguistic diversity, Persians continue to dominate the country’s central government.

This brief report, produced by Arsenal For Democracy and The Globalist Research Center, covers three major ethnic minorities in western Iran today, examining their modern history and how their presence has affected post-Revolution relations between Iran and its neighbors. (Major western Iran minority ethno-linguistic groups not covered: Lurs, Gilaks, Mazanderanis.)

Map of selected ethno-linguistic minorities of Iran. (More info at Wikimedia)

Map of selected ethno-linguistic minorities of Iran. (More info at Wikimedia)

Arab Iranians

Arabs are a small ethnic minority in Iran. They account for only about 2% of Iran’s population. Some 1.5 million Arabs live along the Iraqi border in southwest Iran. Arabs have lived there since the Islamic conquest of Iran 12 centuries ago.

Much of the Arab-dominated border area is within the country’s oil-rich Khuzestan Province, the center of the brutal Iran-Iraq War. Saddam Hussein invaded and occupied it in 1980. He did so, mistakenly believing Arab-Iranians would rally to him after protests and riots there during the 1979 revolution. Instead, they fled the area until the new Iranian revolutionary military could regroup and counterattack by 1982.

Khuzestan remains poor and was never fully rebuilt after the war. Deadly clashes between Arab-Iranians and security forces break out on a regular basis, including several in 2015. Separatists also sometimes stage terrorist attacks.

Kurdish Iranians

Iran’s four million Kurds predominantly populate a mountainous northwestern region of the country. Accounting for about 10% of Iran’s population, they have long harbored separatist tendencies.

In 1946, the Soviet Union tried to establish puppet buffer states in northwest Iran, including a Kurdish state. It had occupied the area in 1941 to block Germany from capturing Iran’s oilfields. However, unlike in the case of Eastern Europe, this early Cold War partition proved short-lived, after the Red Army decided to withdraw, pursuant to the UN Security Council’s second and third resolutions ever.

There are also separatist Kurds in Iraq, Turkey, and Syria. In Iraq, some six million Kurds comprise roughly 15-20% of the population. In Turkey, 14.3 million Kurds make up 18% of the population. In war-torn Syria, the Kurdish population is probably between one and two million and accounts for a much smaller share. Syria’s government has sometimes supported Kurdish militants as a counterweight against enemies or rivals, including Turkey. The four major Kurdish populations, totaling at least 25 million people, live largely contiguous to each other across national borders. While this proximity sometimes encourages cooperation between separatist groups, they have also often been rivals for influence within the Kurdish nationalist movement.

The leaders of Iran’s Islamic Revolution of 1979 viewed Kurdish ethnic separatism as a serious threat to their ideology of unity through religion. Kurdish separatists, who had helped overthrow the Shah earlier that year, saw the revolution as the moment for independence and began seizing control of their communities. However, Iran’s revolutionary armed forces focused on crushing this major Kurdish rebellion as early as 1980, even in the face of Saddam Hussein’s invasion into the Khuzestan province. Violence between the state and Kurdish separatists continues intermittently, 36 years later. The Kurds’ integration into Iranian society has also been limited.

Azeri Iranians

Iran is also home to at least 12 million Azeris, a Turkic-descended ethnicity comprising 16% of the country’s total population. They mainly live in the Iran’s northwest border provinces, next to the former Soviet republic Azerbaijan. That country has nearly nine million ethnic Azeris among its citizens, who account for about 92% of its 9.8 million people.

While concentrated in the northwest, Azeris live throughout Iran in conditions closely resembling those of the Persian majority. Despite sporadic problems, Azeris are comfortably integrated into Iranian society and hold positions of power in the government and military.

The revolutionary government, while opposed to Azeri nationalist activity in Iran, has defended Azeri-Iranians from persecution, in contrast with its own actions against Arabs or Kurds. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2006 said, “Azeris have always bravely defended the Islamic revolution and the sovereignty of this country.”

Ethnic Azeris have been divided between Iran and Azerbaijan (formerly part of Russia and then the USSR) since 1828, when Iran was pushed out of the Caucusus by a peace treaty with the growing Russian Empire.

Both Iran and Azerbaijan are Shia-majority Muslim nations, of which there are only four in the world; the others are Iraq and Bahrain. However, Azerbaijan is largely secular in practice, in contrast with the public religiosity of Iran’s Islamic Republic.

During the post-Soviet war between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region in the early 1990s, Iran economically aided Armenia after Azerbaijan’s president suggested a desire to unify “Greater Azerbaijan.” This threatened Iranian sovereignty, since a majority of all Azeris live in Iran.

Iran’s regional rivals Turkey and Israel also formed lasting military and economic ties with Azerbaijan during the war.

Despite some continued bilateral tension, an unofficial strategic understanding has been reached: Iran will not try to spread Islamic Revolution to Azerbaijan, while Azerbaijan will not foster ethnic separatism inside Iran. Neither country’s Azeri population seems to be interested in pursuing such an option anyway.

How to break away

Six steps and conditions commonly shared by successful breakaway nation-states, as summarized from a new article in The Economist:

1. Assemble critical mass in a geographically compact/defined area.

2. Maintain a legitimate, ongoing claim to the area. Keep the separate culture alive to preserve legitimacy.

3. Take every opportunity to draw a border, even before independence or autonomy, and stick to it. This creates precedent.

4. Suffering is righteous. That which does not kill you makes you stronger. If you’re destroyed, that’s it. But if you hang on through violent oppression, you have an even better claim and motivation to achieve independence.

5. Use your diaspora. That one is tried and true. If your people are scattered by violence, leverage them (and their likely higher earning potential in places like the U.S.) to raise sympathy, funds, and foreign support for independence. They will be more hardline and inflexible than the people back home, which can be useful.

6. Wait for the super-state to begin breaking up before trying to exit the sub-state.

November 19, 2014 – Arsenal For Democracy 107


Topics: Catalonia referendum, Soccer politics (FIFA, German hooligans, FC Chelsea, and more), and Illinois corruption. People: Bill, Nate, Persephone. Produced: November 17th, 2014.

Discussion Points:

– What does the unofficial Catalonia referendum really mean for the region and Spain?
– Soccer Politics:

  • What’s next for FIFA after a bogus inquiry report summary?
  • Why are German soccer hooligans rallying against Muslims?
  • From Chelsea to Man City and beyond: Is big foreign money tainting the game?

– US midterms: Will Illinois Governor-elect Bruce Rauner survive a brewing corruption scandal?

Episode 107 (52 min)
AFD 107

Related links
Segment 1

AFD: Just 3 in 10 back Catalonia independence in ridiculous referendum
AFD: Against Independence for Catalonia

Segment 2

NYT: FIFA Inquiry Clears Qatar and Russia in World Cup Bids
France24: German football hooligans join far-right protests
The Globalist: Chelsea and Beyond: How the Rich Will Destroy Soccer

Segment 3

AFD: Who wants to be … a millionaire Illinois ex-governor?


RSS Feed: Arsenal for Democracy Feedburner
iTunes Store Link: “Arsenal for Democracy by Bill Humphrey”

And don’t forget to check out The Digitized Ramblings of an 8-Bit Animal, the video blog of our announcer, Justin.

Just 3 in 10 back Catalonia independence in ridiculous referendum

The headlines are blaring that 80% of Catalonians just voted for independence from Spain, but the real story is essentially the opposite. Consider these facts:

1. Only about 37% of the 5.4 million registered voters (less than 4 in 10) actually participated in the non-binding referendum. That’s not even 37% of the whole population, but just registered voters.
2. 80% of 37% is roughly 30%. That proportion is even lower (about 21%) when non-voters are factored in to the population count of the region (7.5 million).
3. This referendum was organized and run by over 40,000 pro-independence volunteers after Spain’s high court ruled an official referendum unconstitutional.
(Data Source: BBC)

A ballot campaign orchestrated, organized, staffed by, and managed from start to finish by one side is hardly a recipe for a representative vote. (For all we know, they discouraged turnout in anti-independence areas or made it harder to vote.) And even with all that going for them, they still only managed to get 30% of the voters to back them up.

They got the headline they wanted, but the underlying result is clear: Most Catalonians are not interested in the independence agenda being pushed by hardliners or the wealthy who want to “Go Galt” and stop paying taxes to support their less fortunate regional neighbors in the rest of Spain.

Map of Catalonia region within Spain. (Credit: Wikimedia)

Map of Catalonia region within Spain. (Credit: Wikimedia)

Against independence for Catalonia

The elites of Catalonia, the economically wealthy region that co-founded Spain, want to leave Spain and become their own country where they don’t have to pay taxes to help their less fortunate neighbors.

They are so determined to do this that they are blowing past every objection raised by the European Union and the Spanish central government and are forging ahead with a “non-binding” and “consultative” referendum, since their original plan for a unilateral referendum on secession was ruled wholly unconstitutional.

In a powerful op-ed in The New York Times — presumably aimed at rallying Americans against the Catalan separatist cause (before someone else makes up their minds for them) — Cayetana Álvarez de Toledo (journalist and MP from Madrid), Núria Amat (novelist from Barcelona), and Mario Vargas Llosa (Spanish-Peruvian novelist and 2010 Nobel Literature Laureate) lay out a multifaceted case for why Catalonia should not only not be granted independence but should not even be voting on it right now.

For one thing, it’s not very consistent with the values of democratic constitutionalism and rule of law, which the Catalan elite claims to be upholding, to stick it to the central government and the Spanish constitution — unlike, say, Scotland, which negotiated with the central UK government to hold a legal referendum on national status. For another, it just makes no justifiable sense historically or today, because they are an integral part of the formation of Spain and are not currently being legally or forcibly oppressed by the central state:

In their attempt to undermine the workings of the constitutional government, Catalan separatists have displayed a remarkable indifference to historical truth. Catalonia was never an independent state. It was never subjected to conquest. And it is not the victim of an authoritarian regime. As a part of the crown of Aragon and later in its own right, Catalonia contributed decisively to making Spain what it has been for over three centuries: an impressive attempt to reconcile unity and diversity — a pioneering effort to integrate different cultures, languages and traditions into a single viable political community.
It’s true that Catalonia was a particularly fierce battleground during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), with brutal atrocities committed on both sides, and that the region faced some of the most severe reprisals under Franco’s regime. For many, the wounds still have not healed, and they fuel the fires of the separatist movement.

But the advent of democracy brought official recognition to Spain’s distinctive cultures, and set the foundations for the autonomy the Catalans enjoy today. Catalonia has its own official language, its own government, its own police force. Catalans endorsed the Constitution overwhelmingly: 90 percent of them voted yes in the referendum of Dec. 6, 1978. The millions of tourists who flock to Barcelona every year, drawn by the beguiling blend of Gothic and Gaudí, attest to the vigor of Catalonia’s culture. The claim that Catalonia’s personality is being stifled and its freedoms oppressed is simply untrue.

It’s also a disturbing step backward, away from the progress Western Europe has made toward transcending petty differences and the destructive powers of extreme nationalism:

Exiled from the European Union, economically impoverished and socially divided, the 7.6 million Catalans would be subjected to an extreme form of nationalism we Europeans remember all too well. Millions of lives were lost in the nationalist frenzy that tore Europe apart during the 20th century.

Are we to sit back and watch the European Union relapse, fall prey to ethnic prejudices and become a fragile cluster of chauvinistic nations rather than a vigorous union of democratic states? Are we to relinquish individual rights and the rule of law to the new nationalists and populists?

Nationalism effaces the individual, fuels imaginary grievances and rejects solidarity. It divides and discriminates. And it defies the essence of democracy: respect for diversity. Complex identities are a key feature of modern society. Spain is no exception.

That divisiveness is particularly troubling when one realizes how many dual-identity or Spanish-identifying people live in Catalonia despite the flag-waving, drum-banging of the elites who are trying to distill out a pure nationalism where one doesn’t exist. They will not just rip themselves out of Spain’s culture and economy if they declare independence, but they will also be taking with them a lot of unwilling Spanish Catalan citizens, many of whom don’t speak Catalan as a first language. By some accounts I’ve seen, that might even be half or more of the regional population.

This is a dangerous and disturbing project by wealthy elites and perennial axe-grinders that is fueling a lot of nasty, hyper-nationalist behavior, which Europe and Spain should be leaving behind and not returning to.

Flag of Spain

Flag of Spain

100th Episode! September 24, 2014 – Arsenal For Democracy 100


Topics: Implications of the Scotland no vote, ADA non-compliance in higher ed, 100th episode celebration. People: Bill, Nate, Persephone. Produced: September 21, 2014.

Discussion Points:

– What are the implications of the Scotland referendum outcome for the United Kingdom and other European separatist movements?
– Why aren’t colleges and universities doing more to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act?

Part 1 – Scotland:
Part 1 – Scotland – AFD 100
Part 2 – ADA Compliance, 100th Episode:
Part 2 – ADA, 100th Episode – AFD 100

To get one file for the whole episode, we recommend using one of the subscribe links at the bottom of the post.

Related links
Segment 1

Boston Globe – Opinion: On education technology, college lobbyists are keeping disabled students behind
USA Today: U.S. Justice Department sues Kent State over student’s therapy dog
CentreDaily: ADA football parking changes off to rocky start

Segment 2

BBC: Madrid opposes Catalan referendum
Financial Times: Alex Salmond brushes aside the foreign policy facts for Scotland
AFD: April 14, 2014 – Arsenal For Democracy 80, Part 2: European Nationalism


RSS Feed: Arsenal for Democracy Feedburner
iTunes Store Link: “Arsenal for Democracy by Bill Humphrey”

And don’t forget to check out The Digitized Ramblings of an 8-Bit Animal, the video blog of our announcer, Justin.