By Drs. Tsegezab Gebregergis
The old-fashioned Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, has set a deadline of October 19 for the independence-seeking Catalan nationalists to renounce their independence declaration. He has also seriously threatened to dismantle the Catalan autonomy and impose direct rule from Madrid.
These unwise measures and ultimatums being announced by the Spanish rulers against the independence-minded Catalan nationalists starkly remind this writer of the ill-advised and very costly measures that the Emperor of Ethiopia took in the 1960s to crush autonomous Eritrea and impose direct rule from Addis Ababa. The Emperor did so despite the timely, sharp and wise advice he was given by G K N Trevaskis, one of the former civilian administrators of Eritrea under British rule.
At the end chapter of his book, Trevaskis gave the following prophetic and incisive advice to the unenlightened rulers of Ethiopia: “… The temptation to subject Eritrea firmly under her own [Ethiopian] control will always be great. Should she try to do so, she will risk Eritrean discontent and eventual revolt, which, with foreign sympathy and support, might well disrupt both Eritrea and Ethiopia herself. Though an autonomous Eritrea has admittedly unwelcome consequences and implications for Ethiopia, her need for a loyal and stable Eritrea far transcends any inconvenience a federal relationship may impose upon her. It is to her own interest as well as to Eritrea’s that she should insure that the Federation survives in the form its authors intended. The future of the Federation, and indeed of the whole group of young countries in North East Africa, is likely to be affected by the course that Ethiopia takes. She has acquired a great responsibility (Eritrea – A Colony in Transition 1941-1952, pp.130-131).
However, as could be expected, the medieval rulers of Ethiopia turned a deaf ear to this timely and constructive advice. And sooner rather than later, the Emperor of Ethiopia illegally absorbed Eritrea and declared it one of the 14 provinces of the empire of Ethiopia.
And in response to the expansionist and annexationist policy of the Ethiopian government, in 1961 the Eritrean nationalist forces were forced to resort to armed struggle to regain their denied national rights and human dignity. Indeed, in May 1991, the huge Ethiopian army stationed in Eritrea was militarily defeated by the heroic Eritrean freedom fighters. Thus, by undercutting Eritrea’s independent status,
Haile Selassie chose a policy of bloody confrontation and, by doing so, alienated all Eritrean nationalists. As a result, Ethiopia paid one of the highest prices in the entire history of the region.
In the opinion of this writer, Trevaskis’s admonition to the Ethiopian rulers is also directly applicable to the rulers of today’s Spain. Indeed, the best and wisest political avenue available to Mr Rajoy, the Prime Minister of Spain, is to resolve the Catalan issue by aiming to win the dispute through persuasive rational argument, not by attempting to crush the Catalan rebellion, imprisoning its legitimate nationalist leaders and bringing Catalonia under the direct rule of Madrid.
The reckless and anti-democratic decision by the Ethiopian rulers to retain Eritrea as part of the Ethiopian empire at any cost, and to suppress the Eritrean people’s aspirations for independence, did not and could not thwart the legitimate right of the Eritrean people to declare independence on the basis of the 1993 referendum.
Likewise, considering the fact that the majority of Catalans have clearly shown their desire to gain independence from Spain, the aggressive approach of the Spanish government to stamping out these independence sentiments will only inflame the Catalans’ determination, just as it did in the Eritrean case.
Thus, to a rational thinker, it is obvious that Madrid cannot force five million Catalonians in the 21st century to remain part of Spain, just as Addis Ababa could not succeed in forcing six million Eritreans to remain part of Ethiopia.
Consequently, Prime Minister Rajoy is well advised to drop his threatening deadline and to propose instead that Catalonia enters into democratic dialogue without threats and preconditions. For, after all is said and done, the Spanish government must recognise the right of the Catalan people, as enshrined in the UN Charter, to determine their own political future without interference.