19 SEPTEMBER 1931, Page 6

Federal Spain ?


SOMETHING more than the ebullient joy of a popular fiesta marked the celebration last Friday (September 11th) of Catalonia's fete nationals. Until the establishment of the Republic such rejoicings were frowned upon and even officially held to be seditious. On this occasion, however, Colonel Macia and members of the Generalitat as well as the municipal authorities of Barcelona took an active part in the proceedings and " demonstrated " with patriotic fervour. They probably intended this as a gentle reminder that the Republic has not yet done justice to Regionalist aspirations, that the Catalan problem, in particular, remains in a state of suspended animation. It was the anniversary of the assault of Barcelona by Castilian troops under King Philip V. of Bourbon in 1714, which suppressed Catalonia's independent personality. In the war of the Spanish Succession the Catalans " backed the wrong horse," Charles of Hapsburg, and from that moment began a rigid administration of Spain as a unitary State. Not indeed that " invertebrate " Spain was made so entirely through its subjection to French influence. The central- izing tendency was already there by reason of the pattern of religious unity laid down by the Catholic Kings. From the fifteenth century onwards the cherished divisions of local autonomy, regional and municipal, were swept away in the Imperialist tide ; leaving behind them, however, a force of tradition which buoys up powerfully every modern current of self-determination. This mediaeval tradition, apart from historical and geo- graphical evidence, makes it necessary to consider the claims of those who would make of the new Spain a federalist State. All who know Spain concur in holding her up as the example of a country where local patriotism —la patria chica has never been submerged. True, there was, under the Monarchy, no serious demand for political autonomy outside Catalonia. And the Catalans themselves, until recently, did not so much prate of their ancient independence as complain of their unhappy lot as a " persecuted minority "—during the Dictatorship of General Primo de Rivera with some reason. But behind and beyond the demand for " freedom " is a growing consciousness among the Catalans that they are the standard-bearers of the true federal tradition obliterated by four centuries of an " alien " Monarchy.

During the last three months Spain's constitution- carpenters have been fully employed. There was first of all the draft prepared by a Juridical Committee witl, Senor Ossorio y Gallardo as chairman, a distinguished lawyer and democratic conservative who, though remain- ing in theory a Monarchist, despaired of saving Alfonso XIII. and played an important part in the evolution of the Republic. This draft maintained the unitary frame- work of the old Monarchist State, but provided for a measure of regional autonomy where three-quarters of the inhabitants of contiguous provinces were united in demanding it. It was not at all the kind of constitution which was expected by ardent Republicans, and the Government simply took note of it, commending to the Cortes the task of drafting another more radical document.

The Parliamentary Committee was chiefly concerned to reinforce those of the original measures which were directed against the power'of the Church. Its draft made no change in the provisions defining the structure of the State (unitary, not federal), and in the general debate which was concluded last week the Deputies tried to avoid this thorny subject. Don Jose Ortega y Gasset alone, the most perspicacious perhaps of the Republic's intellectual 'councillors, remarked on the anomaly of pro- viding autonomy for certain regions and leaving the rest of Spain as a centralized State. He foresaw in this un- equal distribution of the strains the pull of forces calcu- lated to undermine the whole structure, and his opinion is shared by a growing number of unprejudiced Spaniards.

Meanwhile Basques, Galicians and Andalusians, as well as the militant Catalans, set to work on independent Statutes which look forward to a federal Republic of Spanish peoples and reject the idea of a State on the French model. The Statute drawn up by the Society for Basque Studies provides for a " free State "—including Navarre—each province of which shall itself be self- governed : the Basque State to have its own judiciary, civil administration, armed forces, its own regime for communications and harbours, &c. Since, for reasons of high policy, even the Monarchy had left to its Basque subjects a certain degree of autonomy, such as the right to collect its own taxes, these demands are not exorbitant. As a result, however, of the more radical measures pro- posed in the Cortes against the Church, they were later supplemented by a demand that the Basque State should make its own adjustment of relations between ecclesias- tical and civil powers and contract a separate concordat with the Vatican. Basque " Nationalism " has always derived some of its strength from Clerical survivors of the old Carlist cause, and in the Basque Provinces alone has there been any really strong rally to the call of the Catholic Action party which is defending the Church's privileges and the religious orders.

The Galician Statute is similar in character but com- mits public services generally to the Federal State. The " Statute of the Catalan Provinces "—drawn up by the Generalitat Government, submitted to a referendum which gave, of course, tumultuous approval, and then presented to the Cortes in Madrid—is an imposing docu- ment. The Magna Charta of Catalonia announces an autonomous State, but it is otherwise so framed as to satisfy reasonable opinion. Customs, excise duties and State monopolies are recognized to be matters for the Federal Government. The Catalonian State, however, would levy its own income tax. Banking, stock exchange business, the railway system and civil aviation, law, judicial administration and public order are specifically reserved to the autonomous State. Relations between Church and State do not come into prominence, but it is noteworthy that the demand for a separate Concordat occurs in another unofficial Statute brought out by the nio Catalanista, and subsequent events have sub- stantially strengthened the feeling that this charter was a far too moderate expression of the Catalan's desire for " Dominion Status." The question of educational ad- ministration and the use of Catalan in schools and law courts had already been settled. A fortnight after the Republic was inaugurated, the Provisional Government- published an emergency decree which satisfied these minimum demands for cultural autonomy. The fact that Senor Marcelino Domingo, Minister of Education, is himself a Catalan, and was clostly identified with their protests against the Dictatorship, made this plain-sailing. It was swallowed quite cheerfully too by non-Catalan opinion. On the subject of labour control, however, there is bitter dissension. The Socialists, who are the backbone of the central Government, have an oppor- tunity of " downing " the rival Syndicalist organization —to which the bulk of the working population of Cata. Ionia belong—that is not likely to recur. The turbulent elements in Barcelona are capable of stirring up such a campaign of violence as to wreck the Catalans' hopes of a definitive political settlement with Madrid.

For, let there be no mistake, distrust of Catalan ambitions has revived since the first flush of Republican enthusiasm. The Catalan, with all his qualities, hai never been popular in the rest of Spain. It is the fear that Catalonia might dominate in any loose confederation of Spanish " nations," like Prussia in the old German Reich, that has more than anything else given to federalists a sense of frustration. That non-Catalan opinion is at present " on edge " is undoubted. So far the boycott of Catalan goods has not amounted t) much, but it will develop at the first hint of " direct action " by the Catalanists. There was no little resent- ment at the refusal of Catalan deputies in the Cortes to join in the vote of confidence accorded to Seilor A1cala-Zamora's Government. It is generally thought, too, that the power wielded by the Sindiccdo Unico over Colonel Macia himself bodes ill for future stability. People are naturally haunted by the memory of the terrorism in Barcelona in the early post-War years, which was only checked by the brutal methods of General Martinez Anido. Above all, friction has been generated by the divergent interpretations of the Pact of San Sebastian, the agreement reached by the united Republican forces working for the overthrow of the monarchy. Your Catalan takes it for granted that, in Colonel Macia's own words, " the fulfilment of that pledge was to be and is acceptance by the Cortes of the de facto position in Catalonia." Not for nothing did Senor Macia and his merry men seize the symbols of power and proclaim the Catalan Republic on April 14th, several hours before Spain itself became a Republic. The other view, which is widely held throughout the rest of Spain, insists on the sovereignty of the Cortes, on Parliament's right to modify the Statute of Catalonia to suit the final form of the Constitution of Spain.

We are in the presence of much the same psychological impasse that has bedevilled Great Britain's Indian problem. Most of those whose cry is " Independence " are already thinking in terms of equality of status (ride the recent misunderstanding between Mr. Gandhi and Lord Willingdon on the implementing of the Delhi Pact) : Englishmen, on the other hand, while perfectly willing to try and meet Indian aspirations, are emphatic that " self-government," or even only a measure of it, has to be conceded by Parliament in London. With good will on both sides there is actually no reason why Spain's hoary " Catalan problem " should not soon be out of the way. This psychological conflict, however, is the key to any solution. In itself it is a powerful recommendation for a bold federal or rather federalist experiment. Basques, Galicians and the others could no doubt be placated by the measure of " social autonomy " contemplated in the unitary constitution that at present holds the field. No one familiar with the previous history of the Catalan question would suggest that the turbid waters of Catalan " nationalism," on the other hand, can be thus drained away.

The Government.and the Cortes will probably remodel the present draft so as to canalize Catalan energies, in a bid for a future Spain bearing some resemblance to present-day Switzerland. " Not federal but federable " is the demand of all Spaniards who are looking ahead, confident in the stability of the Republic. And a future Commonwealth of Iberian peoples is the ideal, a political conception which, like the British Commonwealth, is likely to have the best possible influence on the emergent international community.