Spain is redefining the modern state in a way that may be instructive for the resolution of instability and violence in failed states. Fictive states like Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Burma, Lebanon, Zimbabwe, DR Congo, Nigeria, ; and bankrupt or shaky states like Nicaragua, Kenya, and Algeria are populated by many different nations that either contend with each other, conflict with the state idea and-or seek independence from the state.
Spain is a multi-nation state formerly held under ridged control by Generalismo Francisco Franco’s regime from 1936 until his death in November 1975. A constitutional monarchy Spain is governed as a parliamentary democracy. It is the ninth largest economy in the world. In the Spanish Constitution of 1978 political parties organizing post Franco Spain decided to transform what had been a highly centralized dictatorship into what would become a decentralized state–thereby addressing tensions over dictatorship, nationalism and separatism. All of these forces powerfully arose as in Spain after 1975.
Under Article II of the new Spanish Constitution self-government and autonomy of nationalities is expressed in this way:
The Constitution…recognizes and guarantees the right to self-government of the nationalities and regions of which it is composed and the solidarity among them all. (Spanish Constitution 1975, Article II)
Each of the autonomous communities exercise broad executive and legislative authority through their own regional government and their own parliaments. Power distribution differs from one autonomous community an another as defined through the “autonomy statute” (estatuto de autonomia).
While there are tensions between the different polities, there are institutions created to resolve differences. Seventeen distinct autonomous communities comprise the distinctive political identities making up the Spanish political system:
Catalonia, Aragon, Navarre, Basque Country, Catabria, Asturias, Galicia, Andalusia, Valencia, Estramadura, Castile-Leon, La Rioja, Murcia, Castile-La Mancha, Canary Islands and Balearic Islands comprise the seventeen autonomous communities.
Spain demonstrates the most substantial example of the principle of subsidiarity (The principle states that matters ought to be handled by the smallest competent authority in a system of polities.) Fairly and thoughtfully negotiated between different political and cultural interests in Spain, a system of evolving subsidiarity has strengthened Spain’s social and economic structure while providing a political system that realistically reflects the cultural and political realities of a multi-national state.
Most all of the autonomous communities in Spain are Fourth World nations. In particular I point to Catalunya, Galicia Navarre, the Balearics, Canaries and Basque Country.
The different political and cultural interests in Spain are evolving a successful political model for a 21st century state that should inform similar circumstances in failed and shaky states. Iraq’s Kurds may forgo their long term commitment to independence (thus reducing potential tensions with Turkey and Iran) if the principle of subsidiarity becomes fully instituted as the present Iraqi constitutions seems to suggest. Most importantly, the United States, as the occupying power, should move to facilitate and broker the autonomous status of distinct tribal and other national groups. This is not simply “federalism.” This is a recognition of the self-governing authority of nations in Iraq.
Nigeria is a state slowly spinning out of control. Not much different than Spain in structure and history, Nigeria would benefit from the principal of subsidiarity where all parties enter into equal party negotiations to define the structure of autonomous regions. Biafra and Yaruba already appear ready to assume regionally defined autonomous powers. The principle of subsidiarity would naturally continue to be applied all the way to the very most local of communities.
A weak central government is not a formulae for collapse, but as Spain demonstrates, maintaining powers of defense, foreign affairs, international trade and inter-nation economic regulation and public safety are powers sufficient to maintain central authority and a sustained and growing economy.
England was not fearful of the Spanish example when negotiations were undertaken to promote self-government in Wales and Scotland. The lesson learned has now been applied to Northern Ireland as well.
As the Catalans describe themselves (the first time in 1992 when they hosted the Olympic Games), “Catalunya is a country in Spain.” Biafra could be a country in Nigeria. Kurdistan could be a country in Iraq. Miskito Yapti Tasba could be a country in Nicaragua. Canada, United States, the Philippines, Peoples Republic of China, Russian Federation and so many other states could learn the lessons of Spain and give us all a more productive, creative and peaceful world. It seems the idea of the “state” that originated in 1648 Europe is now finally maturing into an idea that the rest of the world can really use. A country in Spain? Hmmm, a good idea for 21st century states.
(c) 2007 Center for World Indigenous Studies
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