As a citizen of a country that has been barbarically targeted by ethnic separatist terrorism for decades, I often find myself intrigued by separatist movements around the world.
The recent Catalan independence venture was swift, animated and direct, yet at the same time clumsy and ultimately unsuccessful.
By some people's standards, the Catalans gave up too easily. Meanwhile, some Turks, all with straight faces, went so far as to suggest an armed struggle, encouraging the Catalans to take up arms against Madrid. Any call for a civil war is criminal and utterly ignorant. Forming an audience for bloodshed is also vile and inhuman. These warmongering criminal minds better learn that as far as Spanish civil wars go, Madrid wins.
Like Catalans, other Turks wondered why the EU had not intervened on behalf of the separatists, or at least showed some sympathy by sending weapons and ammunition. Well, the EU does not usually organize arms shipments to trouble spots, although some member countries do send weapons and tactical gear as gifts. They also provide on-sight training in the guise of humanitarian missions. Turing blind eyes to black market arms purchases and illegal shipments is also common. But in the Catalan case, the EU arms market was curiously quiet. Perhaps this is partly because Spanish territory is well covered and monitored by the central government and its intelligence services have long been keeping an eye on possible arms shipments.
So why did not the Catalans launch an armed insurgency and start a fight they would surely lose and ensure that Madrid's powerful NATO military would flatten Catalonia?
At the very least, some in Europe were hoping that the Catalan police Mossos would use their weapons against Madrid. A 17,000-man force certainly has weapons, and probably harbors quite a few hardheaded fanatics willing to use those weapons. But they did not. The most violence we saw so far was carried out by the Guardia Civil's truncheons, gas and rubber bullets on the day of the referendum.
The Basque Freedom and Liberty (ETA) experience seems to have been good training for Spanish institutions to curb illegal arms shipments and derail black market arms purchase attempts. Now, any large order or even price-check for a few machine guns in the black market is enough to raise alarms in the intelligence community.
What would 850 rifles do?
Actually, it appears that the Catalans somewhat tried buying new and powerful weapons for Mossos about a year before the independence referendum. The Madrid media shared this info a few days after the traumatic vote when emotions were high.
Reports implied that the separatist Catalan government wanted to increase the firepower of the local police force by ordering military-grade weapons.
The media stopped short of accusing the separatist Catalan government of an armed rebellion, and it still cannot be proven that this arms purchase order was in fact preparation for armed conflict.
What do we have to go by? Quoting unnamed Spanish authorities, reports claim that in December 2016, the Catalan government attempted to buy 850 high-powered guns and 5.4 million rounds of ammunition. However, this shopping list was sent to the central government for approval. Barcelona's request went to the Spanish Defense Ministry, which immediately asked why the Catalan government needed these weapons. Reportedly, a response never came and so the order never moved any further.
Now there is some talk that the weapons were to be used against the jihadist terrorist threat. However, this pretext would not fly, as drivers on wheels staged the worst terrorist attacks in Spain. It seems Madrid was apparently worried that the separatist Catalan government was trying to build an elite army and chose to stall and then later buried the request.
Could this be an innocent inventory upgrade? Madrid says the Catalan government did not request any new weapons a year earlier in 2015, which is also the year separatist leader Charles Puigdemont was elected president. In 2014, the Catalan government requested 200 9mm submachine guns and 50 5.56mm rifles, but reports do not indicate if this order went through.
In a more recent attempt in April, the Catalan government had reportedly tried to acquire some 500 hand grenades, but the German manufacturer apparently tipped off Madrid about the order.
In an ideal world, an arms manufacturer warning the central government about shady purchase requests would be a common practice in counterterrorism. Alas, we do not recall any arms manufacturers warning the Turkish government or blocking shipments to terrorist gangs that target Turkey. On the contrary, the Turkish government faces numerous obstacles in acquiring the most basic weapons and counterterrorism equipment. Still, there is a solution: Turkey started advancing its own defense industry, and that is a good thing.
Overall, the story of Catalans seeking weapons does not add up. While Catalan independence claims have been around for over 300 years, they seem to have only decided to purchase weapons in 2016, and in the end sought independence through a referendum in 2017. Weapons and referendums do not mix.
Another contradiction is the Catalan police force is 17,000-strong and the best they can come up with is 850 high-powered rifles. Also, they are asking Madrid to supply them. This is quite an unconventional method of an armed rebellion – asking the central government's permission for the guns of the revolution, and, who knows, maybe even asking the central government to pay for them.
One has to accept that in today's Europe, no group would be able to buy a few hundred high-powered rifles, even illegally, without raising alarms.
Guns: A right or privilege?
The Catalonia case also underlines the importance of legislating strict gun laws and airtight implementation. Spain has very strict gun laws, and given the Catalan saga, these laws are strictly implemented
The E.U.-compliant Spanish constitution from Dec. 27, 1978, does not prohibit gun ownership. However, laws are restrictive. Primarily, only the state has the right to use arms. Citizens need to prove that they need these guns and can be trusted with them.
In terms of legal interpretation, civilian gun ownership is not considered a right but a privilege granted under legal conditions. For instance, gun licenses for personal protection are restricted to individuals who can prove that a real danger to their security exists. Automatic weapons are also kept away from civilians.
Now, the U.S. is just the opposite. If the Catalan crisis took place in the U.S., a civil war would have started within minutes, as everyone in the U.S. owns a gun or two. The cruel reality with guns is that if they are available, they will be used.
Still, we have to give credit to the Catalans. While many did not want to secede from Madrid, those who did took the peaceful path. Secession by peaceful means may sound like a contradiction, but the attempt's peacefulness should be applauded. Catalan separatists did not use weapons, no matter what. While this is commendable and reasonable, it was mostly irresponsible outsiders who were speculating the need for an armed rebellion in Catalonia. During spectacles, the audience always demands extremes, as they have nothing at stake.
From another perspective, Madrid has an army, navy, air force and the Guardia Civil while Catalonia has nice restaurants, especially in Barcelona. So even with 850 rifles and a lightly armed Mosses, which by the way also harbors pro-Madrid officers, a rebellion would not have succeeded. The latest Catalan adventure has failed because its leadership failed to read the domestic and international signs that all said: Don't.
Most importantly, Catalan nationalism galvanized and inflamed Spanish nationalism while fracturing Catalan society. Spanish nationalism in the end has more weapons. So is the game over, or are we just in an intermission? If so, we may not stay for the second half.
* Tv 24 commentator, Istanbul