Geopolitical Notes From India
M D Nalapat
THE European Union is lavish with its advice to countries, especially those that in the past were colonies of one or the other European power. Human rights is a subject brought up again and again, for example in the case of the Rohingyas, for whom Oxford University has sought to erase Aung San Suu Kyi’s decades of battle against military dictatorship for not taking in Rohingya refugees. The university removed even a portrait of the leader who set aside family and friends to serve years of house arrest and harassment rather than compromise by escaping to the UK, the country that was home to her husband and children. Churlish behaviour, especially in the context of so many from that university holding important positions in the same UK Govt that refuses to take in any Rohingyas, while demanding that countries much poorer open their doors.
Nor is there any rush to admit at least a few tens of thousands of the 600,000 Rohingyas who over the past year have been forced to relocate from their earlier homes as a result of strife. There seems no intent to even admit a few hundred of these unfortunate people, despite the reality that their lives would be spent in some squalid slum were they to be settled in South Asia, in contrast to the high-quality council houses that they would be entitled to in the UK. Indeed, it must be said that a rising proportion of such housing is now being allocated to those who have migrated to the country from trouble spots, even though the numbers are still far below those in, for example, Jordan or Turkey Given that the European Union has free movement between its internal borders, it ought to make little difference whether Catalonia were a separate EU member or remains part of Spain. It is clear that the government in Madrid does not have the sensitivity or the will needed to ensure justice for the disaffected Catalan minority in Spain.
After the disgraceful resort to force by the Spanish police over what remained an entirely peaceful vote for freedom, it is clear that the overwhelming majority of the Catalan people wish to be separated from Spain. The only reason why Madrid does not agree is that the rest of Spain wishes to continue using the wealth of Catalonia for itself, whereas an independent state would retain such revenues, except that share which would go to the EU. It is solely for the sake of the extra cash that it gets from Catalonia that the Mariano Rajoy government is willing to use force to subdue the Catalans. For national boundaries have very little significance vis-a-vis other member-states in a “boundaryless” EU.
Catalonia has the resources both human and financial to be a viable economy, and given the overwhelming support for self-rule expressed in the independence referendum, the EU needs to ensure that the wishes of this talented people needs to be granted. Spain itself may find that such a separation would do it little harm, and that it may become a more cohesive country as a result, with a political structure free of any ambivalence towards Spanish nationalism. Generalissimo Francisco Franco ensured that his DNA entered that of the Royal Family of Spain. While the King of Spain appears to be a perfect gentleman, the same cannot be said of his excitable Prime Minister, especially after his ego was puffed up because of the degree of warmth and praise shown by the individual holding the most consequential job in the world. Donald John Trump.
What took place in Catalonia reinforces the complaint of its people that they are being treated as second-class semi-citizens by the Spanish-speaking majority. Catalonia wishes to be free, and if the EU’s protestations of respect for human rights and democracy are worth anything, Brussels would ensure such a transfer of authority from Madrid to Barcelona. The Catalans should not be treated as shabbily as the Kurds have been. That nationality has been the strongest bulwark of NATO and its members for decades, and yet badly treated. Neither the US nor the EU wish to anger the GCC and other Arab states by supporting the call for an independent Kurdistan out of Iraq. The reality is that both Iraq as well as Syria are broken, and a partition is the only way out of the present civil war.
This conflict is overt in Syria and latent in Iraq, where the Sunni, Shia and Kurd regions have mentally separated from each other. In Syria, the Kurdish region, the locations where Wahabbis are in command and the rest of the country (which remains under the control of Bashar Assad) are separate enclaves in all but name, and a formal partition is called for there as well. As for Turkey and Iran, the Kurdish regions in both need to be given a high degree of autonomy, else separatist movements may gather steam. Unfortunately, at present it seems that neither Tehran nor Ankara appreciate the need to ensure that Kurdish people who are their citizens should be given rights and freedoms rather than repression.
Given the assistance offered by the Kurds, including in the fight against IS (where only they are an effective force against Daesh), it is an even bigger disgrace than the stony face shown to Catalonia by the EU that Brussels is doing nothing to prevent the Kurds from remaining victims of discrimination. Baghdad and Damascus will need to accept the inevitable and give the Kurds in the two countries the freedom that this ancient race has earned through its moderate ethos and its fighting prowess against Wahabbi extremists. The EU needs to look at itself and its moral imperfections before lecturing others about such matters.
—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.
Geopolitical Notes From India