A two-for-one comment on the Catalan referendum and the German migration problem
Yesterday, on the night of the Catalan independence referendum, Noah denkt™ felt a strong urge to add its voice to the ample commentary about Spain’s inapt response to that regional vote. A day later on Oct. 2, however, this German-based project faces itself with the question of how can it reasonably mingle into domestic issues in other countries when it hasn’t addressed the disastrous rise of the far-right (AfD) in its home territory (see the German national elections of Sept. 24)
THE RISE OF GERMANY’S FAR-RIGHT
Now, obviously, we could hide behind our EU-citizenship here and argue that Spanish domestic matters are EU-matters too. But that would still dodge the AfD-issue which clearly warrants a forthright response as well. The reason why we haven’t given our two-sense on this yet has to do with the fact that we still haven’t found a viable solution to the massive refugee crisis that Germany and Europe are being confronted with. There is no doubt in our mind that the rise of the AfD in Germany is a consequence of the large and disorderly intake of asylum seekers in the summer of 2015. Obviously, this intake has put a strain on social coherence in Germany. Not only is it difficult to see how such a serious number of people originating not just from other countries but from other continents can be successfully integrated into German society; but it’s equally unclear whether the asylum seeking process was the right conduit in the first place to address the Facebook migration reality. Hence, we are left in this matter with the underlying question of what the concept of humanity and humanitarianism actually requests of post-modern civilized societies. The Pope obviously argues that religious and humanitarian convictions dictate that all emergency migrants should be welcomed with open arms in Europe irrespective of the integration challenges that such an open access policy entails. Legal scholars (and AfD supporters) on the hand maintain that the asylum law refers to political persecution by state agencies only and that not any ole’ emergency can constitute a legal basis for granting asylum. In this conundrum Michel de Montaigne (1533 to 1592) may remind us that the adepts of Greek stoicism regarded the inclination for compassion and pity as reprehensible; instead they were willing to help the afflicted when being made aware of them but always insisting on not being emotionally affected by the victim’s plight. (Michel de Montaigne: The Essays, Chapter one, see: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/3600/3600-h/3600-h.htm#link2H_4_0019)
Noah denkt™ is inclined to take its cues from Stoicismin this matter. We share the belief that meaningful help can only be granted if it’s done without a bleeding heart since the latter would only abuse of the victim’s pain in order to thereby remedy the rescuer’s personal trauma experiences in the past.
What all that means in practice though for dealing with people who attempt to cross the Mediterranean on ramshackle boats without having suffered systematic persecution by state authorities in their home country is a different matter. Should they be rescued and taken back right away to the African shores? Does due process really require an honest personalized evaluation of each individual’s request for political asylum complete with a right to appeal to the courts if the first step evaluation does not produce the migrant’s preferred result? Or is it thirdly fair to hope that a new immigration law would slow the flow of destitute people to Europe and thereby avoid humanitarian disasters on the Mediterranean Sea?
Of course, governments have already trimmed down the due process requirements for repatriation of rejected asylum seekers. And new immigration law concepts are already being discussed in most European countries including Germany. Nevertheless, the underlying humanitarian question which the spectacle of desperate migrants raises continues to be philosophically and ethically unanswered. In this moral quagmire, Noah denkt™ has so far rejected to take a position arguing that if the Pope cannot get it right how can this outfit possibly aspire to achieve just that. But we also have to recognize that our failure to take sides in this debate is jeopardizing the continuation of this project. This is why we have now decided to join the ranks of those who call for the introduction of a new immigration law, a more rigorous repatriation of rejected asylum seekers and a trimming down of the due process requirements for the evaluation of asylum seeking petitions. We don’t like that but the rise of the far-right in Germany (of all countries!) requires some policy adjustments. If they will ultimately resolve the bigger issues is another matter though. But let’s take this step by step and leave the remainder of this article to the Catalan issue instead. After all, there is a humanitarian element in this debate as well.
THE CATALAN INDEPENDENCE REFERENDUM
It seems to us that if you didn’t really understand up until now why Catalans are so adamant about gaining more respect/autonomy and/or independence from the Spanish state, the images of Spain’s Guardia Civil using rubber bullets against otherwise regular Catalan voters may have provided some answers here. The spectacle which the Spanish Federal Police offered to an international audience on Oct. 1, 2017 was a disgrace not just for Spain but for the entire European Union. It may well have been that the Catalan government was hoping to produce this kind of images when insisting on following through with its uneasy referendum in the first place. The fact however that the Rajoy government has fallen into this trap speaks to the latter’s lack of sensitivity, adroitness and flexibility in this matter. And it is quite likely that it is the very same heavy-handedness which we have seen yesterday from Madrid which has over the centuries and in recent past reignited Catalonia’s desire for independence in the first place. It is, therefore, a huge disappointment for everybody who loves Catalonia and Spain alike to see that Madrid once again made the same mistake and insisted on orthodox legalism when subtlety and nimbleness would have been required.
From a Northern European perspective it is hard to see now how Mr. Rajoy whose pro-austerity policies we have otherwise staunchly defended over the years can stay in power without calling for snap general elections. Clearly, the sad images of riot police tearing Catalan women by their hair cannot be processed in a business as usual manner. Serious soul searching is now called for and it seems to us that the European Union has a role to play here.
When decrying robust police tactics in this case, Noah denkt™ is well aware that our project was way more generous with rough police tactics when commenting on the use of tear gas by German police against protesters of the Stuttgart-21 construction project. So some readers may be tempted to argue that our stances are contradictory here. But they aren’t. The Stuttgart-21 dispute was about the construction of an ambitious new train station. There wasn’t a historically charged background to this. No cultural minority felt marginalized here. And no rights of national recognition were being trampled upon. So the intent to defend the law was in deed quite unambiguous then. This unambiguity however is not as manifest in the case of Catalonia. The Rajoy government is not just defending the law here, it is also defending the reach of its own power. The legality argument is therefore not only about preserving the spirit of law but also a convenient vehicle for Madrid to safeguard its own interest. That is why less fervor in the application of the legality argument would be very much warranted.
Likewise the Catalans should understand that their political class is still not experienced and mature enough to lead Catalonia into a prosperous independence. Whenever Noah denkt™ has had the opportunity to listen to Catalan leaders speaking to an international audience in their own native language the eventual voice over by a challenged interpreter made the entire presentation seem like a third-world experience. And it is the provinciality of Catalan leaders which is ultimately to blame for that. A mutually satisfying middle ground along the erstwhile Zapatero plan should therefore be found by both parties to smooth the tensions between Madrid and Barcelona. And please, just do it for the benefit of all of us.