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Publish Date : 21 October 2019 - 00:23  ,  
News ID: 6301
TEHRAN(Basirat): Peaceful marches, a general strike and violent unrest have convulsed Catalonia, in Northeastern Spain, this week after a group of Catalan leaders received long prison sentences.
A Tale of Two Protests

On Monday, Spain's Supreme Court convicted 12 politicians and prominent activists for their part in a 2017 push to declare Catalonia an independent republic. Nine of the leaders, including the former vice president of the Catalan government, were sentenced to between nine and 13 years in prison for sedition. Four of them also were charged with misuse of public funds. Yet while many Catalans are outraged at the central government in Madrid for the harsh crackdown on the independence movement, the huge demonstrations have obscured deep divisions in Catalan society.

The issue of Catalan independence is one that has never been far from the heart of Iberian politics for a combination of historical, cultural and economic reasons. Catalonia's grievances against Madrid are, in a legal sense, a wholly internal matter. The same is true of Hong Kong. Hong Kong is not a disputed territory, but one which incidentally has far more autonomy within China than Catalonia does within Spain.

Critics of the independence drive often point to Spain's 1978 constitution, which says Spain is "indivisible" but it gives Catalonia some administrative and legal powers as an "autonomous community." For obvious reasons, however, both the riots in Hong Kong and more recent developments in Catalonia are making international news, but major Western media outlets have reported the stories in very different ways.

By objective standards, Spain has been consistent in its treatment of separatist political leaders from Catalonia. The combination of public humiliation of Catalan officials, formal disqualifications from holding office, and lengthy prison sentences have made pro-independence Catalans feel supremely agitated. As Madrid has never given way to Catalan agitators, this is unlikely to change. Incidentally, both conservative and socialist-led Spanish governments have taken a remarkably similar line against Catalan separatists.

In Hong Kong, one sees an inverse issue. No one in Beijing nor in Hong Kong's autonomous legislature has proposed a reduction in Hong Kong's autonomous status under the "one country, two systems" for governance. By contrast, Madrid has, in the recent past, suspended the sittings of the autonomous parliament in Barcelona at will.

Another difference is that whilst Madrid is not giving any way in terms of heeding the grievances of the Catalan demonstrators, Hong Kong's assembly has killed off the proposed “fugitive bill” that was the self-described original catalyst for protests this summer.

And yet, in Hong Kong, once the demand of the protesters was met, the situation quickly escalated into full-scale riots even though logic would dictate that the opposite ought to have happened. Thanks largely to the ongoing support from the US and Europe, the rioters continue to target civilians, government property, the police, private property, and train stations throughout Hong Kong.

Dangerous weapons have been found on the Hong Kong rioters whilst some of the ringleaders have been photographed with Western political and diplomatic officials – thus suggesting highly irresponsible and unlawful foreign interference into China's internal security and development.

By contrast, the international community, including the European Union, has remained largely silent on the Catalan issue in spite of the fact that the protests continue to be carried out by unarmed and primarily peaceful demonstrators. Meanwhile, Hong Kong's increasingly violent rioters are portrayed by Western media outlets as virtuous when no cause in the world could justify arson, assault, and in some cases, torture.

Ultimately, violence solves nothing in politics because, by definition, violence is the antithesis of a lawful political system. Because of this, it is highly irresponsible for Western media outlets to portray riots in Hong Kong through rose-tinted lenses. In reality, no riots are a positive development.

Many businesses in Hong Kong have suffered greatly from the riots whilst news about the closure of some of Catalonia's major tourist locations and international sporting events due to events on the ground, is a grim testament to the fact that street agitations have uniformly negative economic consequences. With this in mind, it is reckless for external forces to encourage strife in either place. Instead, external observers ought to quietly encourage calm and respect for peace and dignity.


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