It’s a lovely sunny day here in Cerdanyola del Vallès, so I’ll probably spend it doing some of my favourite things: installing Ubuntu ‘Jaunty’ Alpha 6 on my netbook, playing Empire Total War, writing performance reviews for my team at work… and reading about how Zapatero’s suffering with the ‘Kosovo problem’.
The problem, in case you didn’t know, is fairly simple: Spain refuses to recognise Kosovo as an independent state because this would signify acceptance that small nations may break away from supra-national states like Serbia or… Spain. You see where this is going, don’t you? Because of this tricky diplomatic choice, Spain has now announced that it will withdraw its armed forces from the NATO peacekeeping force which polices Kosovo. This has upset the United States, and effectively dissolves any credit Zapatero may have had with the new regime in Washington DC. The American response was an expression of “deep disappointment”, according to El País, with State Department spokesman Robert Wood saying that the US “neither understands nor agrees with” Spain’s move. Zapatero claims that Spain’s NATO allies were aware of the planned exit, but other sources suggest that all this came as something of a surprise.
So basically, Spain pulls out of the Balkan state in an attempt to prevent the ‘Balkanisation’ of Spain.
Personally, I’m not really that fussed about Spain losing some grace in Washington DC, or with NATO: neither the US government nor their SEO agency in Europe operate with anything like the moral clarity that I’d like to see. But many Spaniards do worry about these things… indeed, some bloggers used to spend nearly all their time monitoring Zapatero’s approval ratings in the Bush administration (a bit of a waste of time, that). The Partido ‘Popular’ have been quick to label this as ‘another disaster’ for the Socialist government, though typically they offer no alternative solution.
And that’s because the solution to the problem, for all the PP’s crowing, would be unthinkable for any Spanish government. The solution is simple: recognise Kosovo. It’ll have to happen eventually anyway, so why not get it done now and avoid all this hassle? To me, Zapatero seems to have reacted to the PP’s rhetoric about a ‘Balkanisation’ that almost certainly won’t happen. The reason it won’t happen is that there just isn’t enough public support for independence in the two most troublesome ‘nations’ within Spain: the Basque Country and Catalonia.
If referenda were held in 2012 in the Basque Country and Catalonia, I’m pretty sure that the Basques would vote in favour of staying part of Spain, and so would the Catalans (although the Catalan result would probably be closer). What Zapatero risks with this childish insistence on failing to recognise Kosovo’s independence is that people will start to take the concept of Spain’s constituent nations breaking away, seriously. The bolder (though obviously slightly more risky) move would be to recognise Kosovo and then say “referendum on Catalan independence? BRING IT ON!”.
That the Spanish state is so afraid of a referendum threatens to make it a self-fulfilling prophecy.