Today I spoke at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia in Barcelona and it was quite an interesting start to the day. Some 200 people came to the day-long workshop in the heart of the Catalonian independence movement. If you're watching international news at all, you know that Catalonia is trying to separate from Spain in a bloodless revolution.
People who speak Spanish cannot understand people who speak Catalonian. That's important to appreciate. So one of the ways Catalonians assert their independence is to conduct things in their language, not in Spanish. All Catalonians know and understand Spanish, but not the other way around.
Catalonia is the northeast portion of Spain with Barcelona as its center. Of course, I was assigned a professor to interpret for me, who spoke Spanish. Within a couple of minutes of starting, I could tell something was amiss. The folks in the crowd who understood English said the professor was not interpreting anything, but rather, he simply was giving his own speech.
I don't understand much Spanish, but even I could tell that he didn't seem to be saying what I was saying, know what I'm sayin'? The murmuring grew in the crowd with snickers and things going off the rails. What I learned later was the head of faculty realized the professor was completely over his skis and so they put out a plea to the crowd for anyone who could interpret to please step forward.
The wonderful professional interpreter I had the first time I came to Spain, Ana, happened to be in attendance and volunteered to do the heavy lifting. Immediately the room lit up as she performed flawlessly and energetically. The room had both radical separatists and radical non-separatists. I've conversed with both in the day I've already been here and it's a fascinating discussion because it digs into the never-ending tension between centralized governance and localized governance.
This is the same the world over and it's not going away soon. As we've watched the breakup of the old Soviet Union and the new states like Bosnia and Slovenia--tiny countries--get autonomy, it begs the question about what is too small for self-governance. The folks on M street feel like city hall is ramming centralized policy down their throats. The folks in Greenville think the county is running policy down their throats. The folks in the city or county think the state is tyrannical. And the states routinely think the federal is overstepping its authority. And so it goes, each jurisdiction feeling bullied by the one that's one size bigger.
In general, it seems to me like folks should be able to break off into more autonomous units if they want to. Of course, eventually the unit gets too small for autonomy, but who is to arbitrate what that size is? Some countries are far smaller than Catalonia. Greece is going through a separatist movement right now.
It begs the question about the American civil war and why I believe the south should have been left alone. Does that mean I condone slavery? No, not by long shot, but had it not been for abolitionist absolutism and zealotry, the proposed buy-out of the slaves would have ended it without half a million lives lost. Other countries abolished slavery without blooodshed; only America failed to follow suit.
Isn't it interesting that folks who want choice, diversity, and individuality are often the first to assert centralized control over a separatist faction. One of the folks I talked with today said that the Catelonian movement was wrong because the European Union was about inclusiveness rather than division. But if inclusiveness means giving up regional governance, then all the European countries in the EU should quit being individual countries.
At some point, people need to be trusted to self-govern, to self-organize and to work out their problems themselves without bullying or self-righteous intervention. That applies to all sorts of things. Right now in Spain alternative wellness practitioners are being harassed by government agents. But what if I want to go to a quack? Should I not have the right to go to the quack of my choice, as a consenting adult? You can't remove these separatist movements--including the historical ones--from the larger reality that they mirror our views of practical personal freedoms and self-organization.
Can you imagine a United States, a Confederate States, and Cherokee Nation, Sioux Nation, and Apache Nation all creating a mosaic of friendly nations in a North American alliance?