Àlex Calvo: ‘Spain will be strongly, very strongly, tempted to resort to force against Catalonia’

  • We asked Alex Calvo, international relations professor at European University, his views on the high tension between Catalan, Spanish police forces

12.03.2013 - 11:48

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The last few days have seen strong tensions between the Mossos d’Esquadra, Catalonia’s national police force, and Alicia Sanchez-Camacho, the leader of Spanish ruling party PP’s Catalan branch. Claiming she no longer trusted them, the Loyalist politician announced that she was renouncing her protective detail, asking instead Spain’s national police to provide a replacement. She also accused the director general of the Mossos of interfering in the investigation over private security firm Metodo 3. We asked Alex Calvo, international relations professor at European University, his views on what was going on.

—What do you think about the current tensions between Spanish and Catalan police forces?
—First of all, we should be careful not to mix what Spanish politicians may be doing with the position of rank-and-file Spanish Police officers deployed in Catalonia. The former see Catalonia slowly move away from their reach and resort to dirty tricks, in a desperate attempt to keep what amounts to their last colony. These dirty tricks include a smear campaign against Catalan institutions, including, above all, the Catalan Police. The reasons are clear: the Mossos are the most visible symbol of Catalan sovereignty. After all, the main determinant of sovereignty is the monopoly on the legitimate use of force in a given territory. Without a doubt, the Mossos are currently the main state structure in Catalan hands. Furthermore, they are the embryo of the future Catalan Armed Forces.

On the other hand, concerning the rank-and-file members of Spain’s National Police and Civil Guard (a constabulary-type police force) in Catalonia, one can find a bit of everything. Many are to a large degree integrated and try to keep away from controversies, sticking to their jobs. They may by and large prefer that Catalonia remain inside Spain, but they are not ready to commit war crimes to secure that objective. Feeling Spanish is one thing, being ready to stand accused before an international court and spend long years in jail quite another. Not everybody is ready for martyrdom, the Alpine Redoubt was after all a myth. More than that, many have already decided or will end up deciding, to stay in Catalonia after independence. Catalan Police already contains a number of former Spanish Police officers.

—What are your views on the Spanish Government’s desire to see its police forces become more visible and active in Catalonia at this particular juncture?
—This is part of what some English-language media have rightly labelled “mutual fatigue”. Catalans are fed up with the regional government system, for a number of reasons. These include not being able to fly direct to New York, take a train to Paris, or participate in Airbus or the F-35 consortium. This is on top of the discrimination against our language, the inability to lay down and implement our own policies in some key areas, and the loss of 8% of our GDP every year. Having said that, we must be realistic and objective and understand that Spaniards are also fed up with us and with regional governments. They find the powers of the Catalan Government (Generalitat) excessive, cannot stand the public use of our language, and fear that even self-professed Loyalist Catalans secretly harbour pro-independence feelings or may go for sovereignty if they have the chance.

This mutual fatigue has led to a crossroads from which only two paths follow: a return to a unitary Spanish state and the death of Catalonia as a nation with its own personality and culture, or the recovery of Catalan sovereignty and subsequent split from Spain. Federalism is a dead end because there are no Federalists in Spain.

—Why does Madrid deem it so important to get a more visible public presence for its police forces?
—This is part of their efforts to recover “lost ground”, that is the powers that they devolved to Catalonia after Franco’s death. On a symbolic plane they want to make it clear that Catalonia belongs to Spain. At a functional level, they want to reduce the Mossos to a folkloric agency, a tourist attraction, to later take them over. Something that Madrid found very annoying was to see the Mossos take part in a number of international operations against organized crime and to jointly train with police forces from other countries. This makes Catalonia more visible as a country and reinforces the prestige of our police.

—How could these tensions among police forces have an impact on the self-determination process?
—Tensions are tightly linked to the self-determination process. If Catalonia finally holds a referendum, the Mossos d’Esquadra and local police forces will play a key role in guaranteeing security and preventing incidents. If the Catalan Parliament ends up issuing a declaration of independence, an option which looks increasingly likely, they will have to guarantee security during some very intense days. In that period, Catalonia will have to negotiate the recognition by other states and Spain will be strongly, very strongly, tempted to resort to force. At that stage it is very important to prevent a bloodless “coup” by Spanish forces allowing them to take over Catalonia without making too much noise. If, on the contrary, they have to openly employ force, international pressure on Madrid will be strong enough to stop them.

Let us not forget that Spain is unable to repay her national debt without Catalonia, and since she is part of the euro zone, Madrid cannot print any money. Therefore, they will have to recognize Catalan independence in exchange for Catalonia taking up a portion of their national debt. If Spain falls, she will bring down the whole of the euro zone with her, something that the European Union and the United States cannot allow. However, to reach this point, it will be necessary to resist for a few days.

—What do you think about the role of Barcelona’s local police force, the “Guardia Urbana?
—Although not much mentioned these days, it is in charge of some key tasks, such as providing personal security for the mayor. In the event of a crisis, it must guarantee his ability to stay in touch with the outside world. In both a referendum and a declaration of independence scenarios, the Guardia Urbana will be called to play a significant role.

—To what extent are the police forces being politicized?
—I am bit reluctant to call it “politicization”, since it is not related to party politics. We have entered a stage where both Catalonia and Spain are increasingly acting in terms of national projects. Divisions among parties are quickly giving way to two blocks. One defends a recovery of Catalan sovereignty, or at least the chance for the people to decide on it. The other struggles to keep Catalonia under Spain. Since Catalonia currently has no armed forces, and on the Spanish side resorting to them would not look too good on CNN, the clash is mainly taking place at the police level.


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