Update on the spread of tyranny in Europe: Turkey & Spain

Summary: Dr. Torrance Stephens looks at the rise of tyranny in Spain and Turkey, as they both forcibly quash opponents. It is quietly spreading, abetted by the complacent silence of the developed nations. What nation will it spread to next?

Catalonia flag of independence
A man waves the ‘Estelada’, the pro-independence Catalan flag, while balloons fly during a meeting organised by the Catalonia National Assembly on 7 Nov 2014 in Barcelona, Spain.

Spain and the Erdogan Playbook

By Torrance Stephens at his website, 21 September 2017.
Reposted with his generous permission.

Over the past decade many have openly complained about the brutal and authoritarian political moves of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.  From his alleged supplying of ISIS jihadist in their effort to assist in the overthrow of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and his helping them to smuggle oil from Iraq and Syria to world markets, to the way in which he dealt with the failed coup attempt against him by arresting his opponents, and closing all their affiliated institutions. There is also the referendum he won to serve both as head of government and the head of state at the same time. However even before this, many came to learn and understand his ruthlessness through his interaction with the Kurdish minority of Turkey, their political representation the Halkların Demokratik Partisi (HDP) and more notably, the Kurdistan Workers, party.

Recently he detained two leaders of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish HDP along with many others accusing them of being supportive of the Kurdistan Workers party (PKK) and spreading propaganda. Instead of addressing the vile hazardous actions of ISIS, Turkey under Erdogan has selected to go to war with the Kurds and has been on a continuous exercise attacking Kurdish militias in Syria and bombing Kurdish villages in the region. This is Turkey and how the Turks and Erdogan express their fear of Kurdish independence and self-determination for an ethnic group that make up between 15% and 25% of Turkey’s population (8 to 9 million) with an equally long and storied history.

Now let us imagine a similar ethnic group both in number (6 to 7 million) and disposition with an equally long and storied history (1100 ACE), however they comprise 28% of the population. Like the Kurd’s they have their own language and seek to be independent, and practice self-rule. Moreover, as in the case with the Kurds, they have faced continuous opposition for having such a desire and even more so for promoting the use of suffrage to determine such. This group of people since then has had many local elected officials arrested by the state government, with the regional police force under orders to arrest mayors if they refuse to appear for questioning by the state investigating their desire to hold a vote for independence.  In addition, the nation’s constitutional court has suspended the prosecutor of the region and central authorities have taken over all spending.

Catalonia map

Although this ethnic region of the nation is responsible for more than 20% of the more than 1 trillion-euro economy, the state central government has threatened to take away all its spending and budgetary authority.  This is Spain and this is how the central government in Madrid and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy express their fear of Catalonian independence and self-determination.

Historically, Catalonia is not a part of Spain just as Kurdistan was not a part of Turkey or Iraq.  This isn’t a new proposition for as in both cases war dictates who draws the boarders of conquered, occupied or colonialized nations. This was true with Catalonia as it was with Turkey, Iraq and Kurdistan after the Ottoman Empire’s defeat in World War I and both nations’ modern borders being demarcated in 1920 by the League of Nations via the Treaty of Sèvres.  However, just as in Turkey, likewise the Spanish government consider holding an independence referendum illegal and that such a vote would be in violation of the Spanish Constitution. To accentuate his point, the federal authorities have arrested scores of local politicians, seized tens of thousands of ballots and are continuously trying to block the official web site for the independence referendum.

It appears as if Spain under the direction of Prime Minister Rajoy is following the script designed and practiced by Erdogan word for word and action by action. Just this week in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, Turkish President Erdogan warned that an independence referendum among Iraqi Kurds would have serious consequences. He stated, …

“Steps such as demands for independence that can cause new crises and conflicts in the region must be avoided. We hereby call on the Iraqi Kurdish Regional Government to abort the initiative they have launched in that direction.”

Not to be out done in dictatorial prowess, Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy and his Constitutional Court has not only suspended the Catalonia and legislature but has also blocked all and any measures taken by the pro-independence Catalan government.

Catalan vote advocate. By Tomas Hirst
Catalan vote advocate. By Tomas Hirst.

These strong-armed tactics of intimidation did not end there. The Constitutional Court also levied fines of up to €12,000 a day on members of the Catalan electoral board and Prime Minister Rajoy defends detaining accused separatist politicians for promoting “civil disobedience” and acting “profoundly antidemocratic.” Rayjoy has also ordered all Catalan mayors to appear before the state to answer questions about the move toward independence, however the majority have declare exercised their right to remain silent before the court.

One consistent perspective presented by the Spanish authorities is that the referendum would be unconstitutional because all Spanish citizens would not be able to vote.  This is strange since the Spanish Government along with other western nations supported the 1991 Kosovo, Slovenia and Croatia referendums for independence in which Serbian’s were not allowed to vote, nor did they make this sort of argument when the South Sudan was created without all Sudanese not being allowed to vote. In fact, since this time, the Spanish Government has recognized 26 new states the majority which were established independently (a unilateral referendum) of the input of others since that time.

Then there is the issue of when did this become unconstitutional. Some have advocated that the Spanish Constitutional Court’s decision to strike down key elements of the 2006 Catalan statute of autonomy was the actual unconstitutional action that has resulted in what is happening between Spain and Catalonia presently.  Since then, like the big neighborhood bully, Spain has refused to even talk or discuss anything regarding politics (including possible Catalonian succession) with the people of Catalonia and instead forced its opinions and decisions on the citizenry of Catalonia by fiat (speaking of undemocratic).

I used to believe that one of the foremost tenants of democracy was self-determination. The people of Catalonia think in this vein or else they would not have (through their vote) given the Parliament of Catalonia a mandate for a Proclamation of Independence. Spain and Rajoy may need to find another path of action, for the more they stay on this road, the more they become the mirror image of Turkey and Erdogan.


About the author

Dr. Torrance Stephens has had a fascinating career as a professor, scientist, poet, author, and public intellectual. He has testified before Congress HIV/AIDS and recidivism in the African American prison population and lived in Africa while conducting research.

Torrance Stephens

Dr. Stephens received his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Morehouse College, his master’s degree in educational psychology from Atlanta University, and his doctorate in Counseling from Clark Atlanta University. He completed postdoctoral work with the International Foundation for Education and Self-Help, with a fellowship emphasis on international health. He did additional postdoctoral work with the Department of Education and the West African Research Association, with an emphasis on epidemiology.

Dr. Stephens has worked as a Research Specialist at Morris Brown, a Research Specialist at Wholistic Stress Control Institute Inc. of Atlanta, and Africare International in Nigeria. He was a Research Assistant Professor at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health, teaching social behavior and public health, social statistics, and public health theory. He is now in the Adjunct Faculty of the Department of Psychology at Clark Atlanta University.

Dr. Stephens’ interest in African American male health is reflected in his numerous projects, presentations, and publications. See his professional publications at Google Scholar. and ResearchGate {Source.}

His articles have appeared in many publications, including NOMMO, Creative Loafing, Rolling Out, Talking Drum, and the North Avenue Review. See his books (his two most recent appear below). See his website. Follow him on Twitter as ThoughtCrime.

For More Information

For more about the struggle in Spain —

  • Debating Catalonia” at Jacobin — “Izquierda Unida MP Alberto Garzón debates the Catalan independence referendum with the CUP’s Pau Llonch.”
  • Crackdown in Catalonia” at Jacobin — Podemos MP Manolo Monereo discusses the road from Spain’s political crisis to the standoff over Catalan independence.
  • Catalonia’s right to self-determination” by Pter Bush in The Times Literary Supplement.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about Spainabout Turkey, and especially these…

  1. Stratfor looks at the Caucasus: A Crucible for Conflict.
  2. Stratfor: generals strike for tyranny in Turkey. Why they failed.
"Butter Brown" by Torrance Stephens.
Available at Amazon.

Two of Torrance Stephens’ books.

Butter Brown
“A look at the world through the eyes of African American men.”

From the publisher…

“In these powerful stories, Torrance Stephens takes readers into the psychological purview of the African American male psyche. Butter Brown presents eight stories of black men living both in concert and against the grain of the western world that consumes them.

“A nimble story teller, Stephens paints a lyrical picture that is beautifully suggestive and inventive. This collection contains 16 stories that display the author’s evidently adept talents in multiple genres including comedy and erotica. Stephens’s writings breathe with emotion that is often acute and cynical.”

Brilliant Dumb
“Politics, culture, and and Jactitation in the Age of Obama” (2014).

"Brilliant Dumb" by Torrance Stephens.
Available at Amazon.

From the publisher…

Ignorance Is Strength. These words comprise one of the statements observed by Winston on the pyramid of the Ministry of Truth and are the national slogan of Oceania in George Orwell’s “1984”. They are what writers call a paradox. From a utilitarian purview, a paradox is a vehicle by which a writer can communicate self-contradictory truisms that on the surface appear absurd yet effectively demonstrate combinatorial disjunction.

“In other words, like math, a paradox explains a least common denominator albeit at times contradictory, deduced from apparently acceptable and valid thesis.?


17 thoughts on “Update on the spread of tyranny in Europe: Turkey & Spain”

  1. The analysis is way off the mark. Comparing the Spanish government with Turkey’s shows an utter lack of knowledge about the current constitutional, legal, and realpolitik situation in Spain.

    Spain has separation of powers, actions taken by the central government are pursuant to court decisions, the aim is to avoid the Puigdemont government abuse of the rights of a sizable group of Catalans which doesn’t want to find itself dragged out of Spain by an alliance of very corrupt political parties which joined forces as “Junts Pel Si” in the last elections, together with hard core communists belonging to CUP.

    During the last parliamentary elections the Junts pel Si and CUP managed to get 52% of the popular vote, and even though they have made a deal to form a government, the budget and other motions needed by the executive to make things work was passed only because non secessionist parties (Populares, Ciudadanos, and Socialists) voted to support JPS (CUP, being hard core communists, are mostly focused on separating Cataluña and eventually ruining its economy to cause upheaval and violent revolution).

    In recent weeks the separatist forces (JPS and CUP) voted TWO laws, one to have a referendum on secession, the other to proceed with full separation from Spain if the referendum yielded a simple majority for secession. These two laws were passed by running over parliamentary procedures which require debates be allowed and those opposed to the proposed law be given the opportunity to express reasons why the proposed legislation should not be passed.

    Thus the referendum law, which is plagued with violations and was passed violating parliamentary rules (the ruling alliance didn’t want the public to hear reasons why the minority parties opposed the bills) was challenged in court by several parties. This in turn led to preliminary court injunctions which ordered the Cataluña executive (Puigdemont) to stop all moves to hold the referéndum and secede. Thus the bulk of police actions are pursuant to court decisions.

    Referring to the population of Cataluña as a separate “ethnic group” is ludicrous, either the author is ignorant or is building a falsehood, either way, the comment doesn’t have a leg to stand on. Approximately 1 million residents are inmigrants, the two largest groups are latinamericans (240000) and Moroccans (211000), other large groups come from Rumania and Pakistan. The official statistics I’ve found don’t show “native born” versus “non Cataluña Spaniards”, therefore it’s hard to tell how many are “natives” of this hypothetical ethnic group.

    I could go on writing several pages demolishing this post, but I think I’ve written enough to show you the contents are based on a flawed analysis by an outsider whose writing is to be kind, not worth putting in your blog.

    1. Fernando,

      “Referring to the population of Cataluña as a separate “ethnic group” is ludicrous, either the author is ignorant or is building a falsehood, either way, the comment doesn’t have a leg to stand on. Approximately 1 million residents are inmigrants, ”

      So when 13% of a population are immigrants, referring a region by the ethnicity of the other 87% is “ludicrous”? Good to know your ruling on that matter.

  2. “Historically, Catalonia is not a part of Spain just as Kurdistan was not a part of Turkey or Iraq”

    This seems false from my understanding of history of the regions. Catalonia has been part of Spain since the late 1400s, and The Kurds were under the Ottoman Empire and then Turkey under Ataturk for quite a long time.

    Last time regions in Spain wanted to seperate it caused a Civil War. Not the only reason but it did play a factor (Basque Country & Catalonia from my memory wanted independence, from Spain as a whole in 1936)

    Also from a Nation-state perspective why would you dissolve your country

    1. Asta,

      “This seems false from my understanding of history of the regions.”

      It’s an analogy comparing the two regions, and so quite correct.

      (1) Nationality is not a binary concept. Under the Constitution of 1978, Catalonia is an autonomous community of Spain, and is designated as a nationality by its Statute of Autonomy

      (2) Under the principles of the US — and since WWI, the West and (to some extent) international law — consent of the people is required to be part of a nation. that was the basis for the Kosovo, Slovenia and Croatia referendums. Catalonia was conquered, and frequently rebelled until 1714.

      “Last time regions in Spain wanted to seperate it caused a Civil War.”

      That’s not an accurate description of the Civil War. It was ideological in nature, not a primarily driven by regional factions.

  3. I forgot two small items: current polls show those opposed to secession are a larger group than those backing secession. This means the central government may not see a quick referendum as a means to end the current hassles.

    However, there is no constitutional article nor properly passed law AT ANY LEVEL which allows a political faction to hold a quickie referendum, and afterwards secede. Thus the courts have to issue injunctions – and as it turns out, the majority of court decisions, as well as the prosecutors, parties filing the complaints, the police arresting those who violate court injunctions, etc, are Catalans.

    Furthermore, the party that’s more rabidly anti secession is Ciudadanos, which happens to be led mostly by Catalanes opposed to secession. Ciudadanos is currently maneuvering to have elections called, because it knows the majority is opposed to secession, and thus they expect to win more seats in the Catalan parliament. Taking a more long term view, the anti secession faction realizes polls have ups and downs, and other regions are watching closely. The region which happens to be extremely worried is Andalucia, which has historically been left behind (a result of being the last region reconquered from the Muslim invasion and the brain drain suffered when Jews were expulse, plus the emigration of thousands of the ablest younger children to the Americas in the 16th-18th centuries).

  4. “Catalonia was conquered, and frequently rebelled until 1714.” This is not my understanding, and not what is described in the wikipedia article linked. Catalonia (or Aragon) was joined with Castille by marriage to create Spain, of their own accord; and gradually lost its institutions by being on the losing side of internal Spanish struggles, especially the War of the Spanish Succession (which ended in 1714) where they supported the losing side for the throne of Spain; it was not a rebellion against Spain.

    Also, one problem I have with this article is the simplistic Spain vs Catalonia tone. Spain has multiple nationalities with their own language and strong independent parties, and the Basques have spoken on the side of Catalonia. The secession of Catalonia could lead to a disintegration of Spain; there’s the issue of what other Catalan-speaking regions will do if Catalonia leaves (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catalan_Countries), the Basques are likely to want to follow Catalonia to independence, and I would say that the Galicians will at least discuss it. Then there’s the issue of mixed language regions, like Navarra or Aragon. I think that the independence of Catalonia would cause a huge mess in Spain, which is why I can understand that the Spanish don’t want to leave this issue to Catalonian voters alone. Maybe it’s time for Spain to dissolve in the different nationalities want, but I think that there is a strong argument that it should be a shared decision in all Spain.

    Also, the article looks over the fact that Catalonia itself is evenly divided between pro- and anti-independence (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catalan_independence) and that Puigdemont proposed a declaration of independence if he gets even a simple majority. So I think this would be messy even inside Catalonia.

    1. Joan,

      “This is not my understanding, and not what is described in the wikipedia article linked.”

      The Wikipedia article describes the frequent rebellions until 1714.

      ” one problem I have with this article is the simplistic Spain vs Catalonia tone”

      I suggest you try writing a thousand words about a complex subject. You’ll find that it is simplistic. Or you can write long articles about such matters that nobody reads.

  5. Sorry, Editor, but you have no clue about Catalonia.

    – “Catalonia was conquered, and frequently rebelled until 1714.”

    Catalonia was never “conquered”, and did not “rebel” against Spain in 1714. They were fighting explicitly for Spain, but just for one of the candidates on a War of Succession (not secession). The same case as other regions of Spain.

    The Spanish Constitution was voted in 1978. In Catalonia by 90,5% favorable, with a turnout of 68%. The mean in Spain was 87,8%, with a turnout of 59%.

    The US Southern States did rebel against the Union. Do you consider them as “conquered”, and the US as a “tyranny”?

    Texas vs White:

    – “When, therefore, Texas became one of the United States, she entered into an indissoluble relation. All the obligations of perpetual union, and all the guaranties of republican government in the Union, attached at once to the State. The act which consummated her admission into the Union was something more than a compact; it was the incorporation of a new member into the political body. And it was final. The union between Texas and the other States was as complete, as perpetual, and as indissoluble as the union between the original States. There was no place for reconsideration or revocation, except through revolution or through consent of the States.”


    I guess your thesis could be: indissoluble + perpetual (except through revolution or through consent of the States) = tyranny.

    Then, I can agree. Spain is a tyranny exactly in the same sense the US is a tyranny.

    1. plazame

      “Catalonia was never “conquered”, and did not “rebel” against Spain in 1714. ”

      Catalonia did frequently rebel — was crushed (the meaning of conquest). They rebelled against the Bourbon dynasty 1706, supporting the claimant backed by Austria, England, and Holland — and were punished severely when the Bourbon’s regained control. Looks like the Bourbon king’s don’t agree with you. Whether you consider this rebellion against the ruling dynasty or Spain is an interesting debate I will leave to people who care about such things.

      “Do you consider them as “conquered”, and the US as a “tyranny”?”

      Yes, the South was conquered. They certainly considered it to be conquest. Many in the South still do.

      As for your comment about tyranny, that makes no sense. You don’t appear to understand what the author is saying. I suggest you re-read it, more slowly.

    2. Editor, I don’t care about what the author is saying. There are a lot of people saying a lot of things, mostly stupid — as is nearly always the case. And I can’t get an answer from the author. So, I didn’t even read his article.

      With you it’s a different situation. I can ask you what could Spain do to avoid being a “tyranny”, and whether your solution applies to the US. You choose not to answer, and that’s fine with me. Just what I expected. No answer. No more questions, your honour.

      Catalonia, and many other parts of Spain (all of them) did frequently rebel. As much as nearly every part of England, France, Italy, Germany … and the US. In your opinion, does this establish a “right of statehood” or sovereignty?

      Note: the only kind of rebellion which could be relevant is against the sovereignty. It is not the situation here.

      We have a very simple problem. Do you have a theory or system for this kind of mess, or you prefer to choose case by case (ad hoc) to achieve some goals? Putin’s goals in this case.

      Note: The UN and the European Union do have a system for such cases. They don’t agree with the secesionists, and they agree with Spain and her Constitution.

      – “Whether you consider this rebellion against the ruling dynasty or Spain is an interesting debate I will leave to people who care about such things”

      So, you are not interested in knowing whether what you think is right or wrong. Rather peculiar, but, so sorry, the leaders of the rebellion wrote documents stating clearly they were fighting “for the freedom of Catalonia and the whole Spain”.

      Yes, they were punished severely … if you think the substitution of a medieval system for a modern one (french style) was a “punishment”. Are you a fan of the Middle Ages? Good to know.

      As an anecdote: Casanova, the leader of the rebels, continued very freely his successful career as a lawyer after the “punishment”.

      To the point. Spain is a tyranny as much as the US is a tyranny … unless you bother to answer the question (your system). They call it logic.

  6. We can even think a bit about this very interesting problem. What do you need for a nation / state not being a tyranny? From your answers, I may guess:- The consent of the people.

    You support the principle of nation / states “a la carte” depending on the changing moods? I may agree, but then the US is a tyranny. And the world would be a chaos. With lots of fun, but a bloody chaos.

    Do you support a consent expressed through History? Good luck with that in Catalonia. Show me when they expressed a desire for secession from Spain, if you find a single instance, and I’ll show a whole load of the opposite desire. And then, the US would be a tyranny, though Spain not.

    – The “ethnicity”

    Define ethnicity. If you look for genes, you won’t find different genes in Catalonia. By ethnicity you mean a language? Good luck with that:

    First Language (mother tongue) in Catalonia:

    – 31.0% Catalan
    – 55.1% Spanish
    – 2.4% Both

    First language of use (what they mostly speak) in Catalonia:

    – 32.4% Mostly Catalan
    – 53.5% Mostly Spanish
    – 8.0% Equally both

    This are Catalonian Governement’s numbers (run by secessionists)


    So, what would be your system to avoid a tyranny in Spain, which could also apply for the US?

    1. plazame,

      You appear to have a binary view of tyranny. It’s a bit more complex. It can spread in a society. There are infinite shades of grey. As for the rest, you are not responding to what the author wrote. If you disagree, state what the author said and your grounds for disagreement.

      As for your analogy between the US and current events in Spain — when have such assertions of Federal power occurred in the US? Only during the Civil War, during which Habeas Corpus was suspended under Article 1, Section 9 of the Constitution — allowing Lincoln to throw opponents (including city leaders) into jail. That was an armed rebellion, which I don’t see in Catalonia today. It’s not a useful analogy.

    2. – “It’s not a useful analogy.”

      Imagine the Congress of Texas calls for a secession referendum with a procedure against the laws of Texas and the federal law, stating the sovereignty of Texas if they win, no matter how tiny the turnout.

  7. OK Editor, I read the essay. Or half of it. It’s what I imagined. A bunch of lies mixed with the cheapest demagogy.

    Yes, I could demolish it point by point. Very easily. But it wouldn’t be short. For instance:

    – “Historically, Catalonia is not a part of Spain just as Kurdistan was not a part of Turkey or Iraq. This isn’t a new proposition for as in both cases war dictates who draws the boarders of conquered, occupied or colonialized nations. ”

    Define “colony”. Look at Catalonia. You could hear the laughs even Patgonia. In which sense is Catalonia different from any other region of Europe? The author has an immense ignorance.

    Yes, the language. All regions of Europe had their own language. Maybe 500 of them. The fact that Spain maintains more regional languages than other nations in Europe does not suggest a tyranny, but a more respectful State on this regard. Maybe it was stupid, who knows?

    This is why you need a system. The author’s system is cheap rhetoric and lies. What is your system for this kind of situation?

    1. Editor, I did not write a single word in rebuttal of the essay. I stated quite clearly I was (1) addressing your answers to other comments and (2) asking for a general system for this kind of mess. And, yes, there is a system and a theory. You just happen to ignore it, or you don’t care.

      I am very sure you lost interest in my comments … when I demolished the essay with a single example. Wow, thanks for sharing.

      I just happen know the author’s lies before he writes them. It is not something he has discovered or thought by himself. And yes, addressing his points one by one would have needed about five times the number of words he has used. That’s exactly the trick of demagogy. The trick of logic is going to the knot of the problem.

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