Spain, Scotland, Kosova: The Height of Hypocrisy

Stephen Schwartz

Stephen Sylejman Schwartz

PRISHTINA – On February 2, the London Financial Times published an article titled, “Spain promises non-interference on Scotland,” by Tobias Buck in Madrid and Mure Dickie in Edinburgh. The journalists wrote, “Spain has no intention of interfering in Scotland’s push for independence and is willing to consider an eventual Scottish application to join the EU as a separate state, the [Spanish] foreign minister said… Madrid has long been among the most vocal opponents of separatist movements in Europe, reflecting its struggle to contain secessionist pressures in its own region of Catalonia. Spain’s internal problems have prompted speculation it would block a bid by an independent Scotland to rejoin the EU.
José-Manuel García-Margallo, foreign minister, told the Financial Times: ‘If Scotland becomes independent in accordance with the legal and institutional procedures, it will ask for admission [to the EU]. If that process has indeed been legal, that request can be considered. If not, then not.’ he said. While he refused to comment directly on whether Spain might veto Scottish accession to the EU after an independence vote, he insisted the cases of Scotland and Catalonia were ‘fundamentally different.’ ”
I read the article with stupefaction, then with outrage. Spain has, it seems, admitted that Europe includes two classes of nations: those meriting independence if they desire it, like the Scots, and those who should be denied their independence, even when it is recognized, as in the case of Kosova, by 107 member countries of the United Nations. Spain has refused to accept Kosova’s sovereignty.
Do the Spanish consider the process by which Kosova was liberated illegal? Kosova was freed by military action on the part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), with participation by the Spanish. Indeed, it has been claimed that Spanish air force jets were the first to bomb Belgrade in 1999. The Spanish military was then included in the administration of Kosova. These decisions were hardly seen as illegal.
The comments by Margallo come soon after action by the Netherlands to block Albania’s candidacy for membership in the European Union. On this issue, economically-depressed Spain and the rich Dutch are united: they must, it appears, guard the gates of Europe against Albanian invasion.
Further regarding Margallo’s arguments, can the question of Scotland be distinguished from that of Catalonia? Similarities are more obvious, beginning historically: Scotland lost its independence in 1707, and Catalonia, as part of the kingdom of Aragon, was subjugated by the Castilians in 1714.
Still, differences between the two are undeniable. Scotland is more disadvantaged economically than Catalonia. The Scots are deprived of income from their oil assets in the North Sea, while Barcelona, the Catalan capital, hosts the annual Mobile World Congress, a major technology fair.
And Scotland was robbed of its ancient Celtic culture; of 5.3 million Scots residents, only 1.5 percent speak Scots Gaelic, according to the authoritative Ethnologue website on language statistics. By contrast, of eight million ethnic Catalans, seven million speak the Catalan language, or almost 90 percent.
Scots are the most dispersed people in the world. Following a brutal English policy of forced expulsion in the 19th century, known as the “Highland Clearances,” Scots comprise only 4.4 million in their native territory, with 6-11 million in the U.S. and about 5 million in Canada. Catalans have only rarely “exported their sons.” It might be noted, however, that the Spanish colony of California was founded in the late 18th century mainly by Catalans and Mallorcans.
Do the Spanish despise the Kosovars? Given the Muslim majority in Kosova, we could blame fear of Islam for Spanish opposition to recognition of the Kosova Republic, but neither Spain in general nor Catalonia in particular have manifested the hatred of Muslims seen elsewhere in Europe.
Are the Spanish resentful of Albanian transnational cultural unity? Linguistic identity has remained strong among Albanians and Catalans alike. As the Albanians are divided between Albania proper, Kosova, Macedonia, Mal të Zi, South Serbia, and Greece, so the Catalans are split between Catalonia and the autonomous regions, in Spain, of Valencia and the Balearic Islands, with parts of Aragon and Murcia, as well as the independent micro-state of Andorra and the department of Rosselló in southeastern France. Like the Albanians, with their colonies in Sicily and Calabria, the Catalans have a remnant that survived “beyond the sea,” in L’Alguer, on the Italian island of Sardinia.
Albanians and Catalans are otherwise alike. The Scots may vote this year, in the independence referendum scheduled for September 18, 2014, to leave the United Kingdom. Catalonia will vote in a comparable balloting on November 9, 2014. While indicators of a Scots majority for separation are rising, I doubt the Catalans will vote for full independence, although I have always supported Catalan national aspirations. That is because the Catalans are the most anti-militarist people in Europe, and will never, in my opinion, adopt a military budget or apply to join NATO, as we can imagine an independent Scotland might do.
Scots have spilled their blood in defense of England on many a field far from their home. Catalans, like Albanians, do not boast of serving their oppressors in battle – whether Castilian or Slav. Rather, Catalans, like Albanians, always supported guerrilla combat against their overlords. The Catalans have figures like Francesc Sabaté Llopart (1915-60), who fought with arms in hand against the Franco regime, in the manner of the immortal Qerime Shota Galica (1895-1927), and so many other Albanians.
Like the Catalans, Albanians defend their cultural heritage, particularly in literature. That provokes irritability among the Spanish, since public schools in all of the Spanish “autonomías” or regional authorities have adopted curricula reflecting local achievements rather than the domination of Castilian culture. Centralists in Madrid do not like the primacy of a great Catalan classic, Tirant lo Blanch (published in 1490), over Don Quixote in the schools, just as Serbian-dominated Yugoslavia prohibited Gjergj Fishta’s classic Lahuta e Malcís (The Mountain Lute), which celebrates Albanian national unity, and forced Kosovars to study the violently anti-Muslim Mountain Wreath by the Montenegrin Njegosh.
Still, Albanians are stigmatized by vile stereotypes, exemplified by the repellent Taken films, on which I have written in Illyria and elsewhere, in collaboration with the UK-based Albanian academic Gëzim Alpion. These are absent in the Catalan case.
I believe the Catalan grievance would be satisfied if the region were granted a tax concession enjoyed by the Basques for many centuries. The Basques collect their own taxes and send a share to Madrid, while Catalonia labors under centralist financial levies from Madrid, much as the former Yugoslav republics and autonomous entities (including Kosova) suffered from financial control by Belgrade.
In conclusion, Spain has made its choice – to support discriminatory Western European attitudes against those I consider a “nation of the future” – the Albanians. Nevertheless, we who love Albanians may have our revenge, if peacefully. Many of the beaches of Spain, which are a major economic resource, are polluted and no longer attractive to tourists (in this respect Catalonia’s Costa Brava offers a worthy example of environmental protection, when contrasted with disastrous conditions elsewhere.) The coasts of Albania are immaculate, with bright sands and clear, warm waters. The castles of the Albanian lands have yet to be discovered by many visitors, although more come every year. The cafes of Tirana and Prishtina are bustling and diverse.
Let us make of Kosova and other Albanian lands a beacon of civility, liberty, and hospitality – the latter an essential Albanian value – that will leave Spain behind, with or without Catalonia, and ashamed of its primitive bigotry. But let us also not forget who stood with Kosova, and who refused to do so, but in a display of gross hypocrisy, bestowed their political favor on Scotland.