The Ties that Unbind

Written on February 22, 2008 by Rolf Strom-Olsen in International Relations

Rolf Strom-Olsen


Canada and Spain may not be countries that share an overabundance of things in common, but politically they face some of the same challenges. Both the Spanish and Canadian brand of federalism must contend with the aspirations of linguistic and cultural minorities for greater political autonomy, including outright independence. The presence of political movements promoting Quebecois, Basques and Catalan independence requires that Canadian and Spanish politicians, especially Prime Ministers, master a tricky pas-de-deux that finds the right course between political accommodation and national unity. I am guessing, therefore, that Messrs. Harper and Zapatero were about equally unsettled this week at the unilateral declaration  of independence by the Kosovar Parliament.

Spain’s quick decision not to recognise this latest creation of the cultural and political debacle we used to call Yugoslavia has gotten a lot of attention, with Miguel Angel Moratinos’ firm denunciation of the move in Brussels making headlines around the world. Indeed, Spain’s de facto role as the leading independent voice against Kosovar independence (Russian and Serbian opposition being, shall we say, partisan) led to the rather uncommon site this week in Belgrade: Spanish flags being waved by Serbian nationalists at their demonstrations. With friends like these….

The timing of the Kosovar declaration is undoubtedly uncomfortable for Spain’s two main parties, and especially the PSOE which must now take its relatively "softly-softly" approach to Spain’s linguistic communities into the upcoming national election. Indeed, Spanish opposition to Kosovo independence was practically a foregone conclusion due to the timing of the independence declaration if nothing else.

And what, you may ask, is that hiding behind the Spanish government’s proverbial coattails? It could be the Canadian government, which so far has had precious little to say about the issue. Let the Spanish raise the ruckus seems to be the thinking. Canada has already had a debate over what we call UDI (unilateral declaration of independence) a decade ago when it emerged that Quebec independentists had a plan to push a declaration of independence through the legislature. The question is still of considerable relevance. Pundits have been weighing on both sides, including this on-target comment from an important pro-independence figure in Quebec:



"The case of Kosovo clearly demonstrates that the essential factors in the creation of a state are the will of the population of the territory concerned and the attitude of the international community. The predecessor state does not necessarily play a decisive role in such matters."


That is probably true, Spanish & Canadian remonstration aside. However, Federalists can point to that question of the "will of the population." Whereas there was clear and overwhelming support in Kosovo among the majority  ethnic Albanian Kosovar population (representing over 90% the population), there is no such corresponding mandate in either Quebec or the Basque Countries. And nor is there ever likely to be.


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