The Pyrenees are a formidable geographical barrier, the terror of would-be conquering armies approaching from north or south. What they are not is a formidable cultural barrier. Basque culture in the far west and Catalan culture in the far east transcend them and have done, peaceably, for millennia.
The national frontier of today results from the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659, when a line was drawn through the mountains by the imperial states based in Paris and Madrid. To tidy things up. No need to consult the locals.
The provinces to the north-west are now within France’s département of Pyrénées-Atlantiques, with its capital at Pau. Those to the north-east form Pyrénées-Orientales, with its capital at Perpignan (Perpinyà in Catalan).
Basque nationalists have long claimed their lost lands as part of a free Euzkadi: an idea expressed in the formula 4+3=1 (4 Spanish provinces, 3 French provinces, 1 nation). And the Catalans are no more content with the status quo than the Basques.
France is having none of it. The European Free Alliance reported this week that a French court has banned the area’s political movement, the ‘Committee for the self-determination of Northern Catalonia’, on the grounds that it represents a threat to the territorial integrity of the French State. That’s how France survives, not by consent but through injustice. It’s a paranoid, police state, and always has been. The Revolution changed nothing of any substance. The real revolution is still awaited.
French regionalists are still smarting from a territorial reorganisation law that rejects the rights – indeed the very existence – of Alsatians, Basques, Bretons, Catalans, Flemings, Occitans and Savoisians. An inclination towards separatism would be a reasonable response. France’s swift reaction against the Catalans is a warning that freedom of association in pursuit of democratic aspirations will not be tolerated. French democracy, such as it is, is State property and not to be trespassed upon. It does not, and cannot, belong to the people. You can say ‘Je suis Charlie’ as much as you like, but you can forget about ‘Je suis Catalan’.
If Europe is such a beacon of democratic light, as it keeps informing the Russians, just how does France get away with it? It’s certainly a pariah state by European standards; only Bulgaria and Greece are as obstinate and repressive in denying the objective existence of national minorities on their territory. But Europe’s laws are crafted by an imperialist cabal: we have explained before that the European Convention on Human Rights offers no protection against those determined to enforce long-redundant state boundaries. Separatists do not have human rights as others do. What does that say about how they are viewed in law?