Posts Tagged ‘Democracy’

A Human Chain Towards Independence…Once Again?


24 years ago today, on 23 August 1989, approximately two million people joined hands to form a 600 km long human chain linking the three capitals of the Baltic States – Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia – in their drive for the freedom they had lost 50 years earlier, when the Soviet Union occupied their territories after having gained agreement with Nazi Germany to divide Eastern Europe into “spheres of influence”.

The Baltic Way

The “Baltic Way”, as the human chain became to be known, is an impressive example of a peaceful claim for freedom and democracy. It has also been the inspiration for “The Catalan Way Towards Independence” which the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), a civil society organisation committed to working towards the creation of a new Catalan state, is organising for 11 September 2013 – the same day that, 299 years ago, Catalonia lost its sovereignty and democratic institutions. The aim is to form a human chain of approximately 400 km starting in El Pertús (northern Catalonia), following the Catalan coastline on the ancient Roman Via Augusta all the way to Alcanar in southern Catalonia. But the ANC also wants to extend the “Catalan Way” beyond the borders, with the aim to reach Catalans and friends of Catalonia which are outside of the country and to make the world aware of what’s happening in Catalonia. It has therefore organised small scale human chains which take place between 1 August and 11 September in more than 80 cities worldwide.

After last year’s peaceful mass demonstration, which took 1.5 million people to the streets of Barcelona claiming for Catalonia’s independence, the “Catalan Way” initiative is the second mass participation event organised by the ANC. It responds to the growing disaffection between Catalonia and Spain. Pro-independence sentiment in Catalonia has grown significantly during the past few years, as the Catalan society, the longer the more, does not see fit anymore within the Spanish state. A clear turning point for getting to the current situation was the Constitutional Court’s ruling from June 2010 regarding Catalonia’s autonomy statute, which significantly trimmed Catalonia’s self-rule aspirations in areas such as language, justice and taxation. Other factors, such as the Spanish government’s reluctance to negotiate a new “fiscal pact” for Catalonia, the central government’s language policies aimed at undermining Catalonia’s successful “language immersion” model, and politicians and Spanish army members suggesting that the armed forces should consider invading Catalonia if it attempts to get its independence from the rest of Spain, only reinforce the trend towards a growing pro-independence movement in Catalonia.

On 11 September 2013, a little more than 24 years after the “Baltic Way”, the world will witness a new human chain. It might well help to pave the way for Catalonia to become a new independent state.

Image “Catalan Way”: © carlesvg (found on
Image “Baltic Way”: © allenalb (found on

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Flaws in Spanish Democracy?

The Spanish case is often referred to as a model of a successful democratic transition. After the civil war of 1936-1939 and the subsequent Franco dictatorship until 1975, the Amnesty Law of 1977 and the new constitution of 1978 contributed to a peaceful transition to democracy. But two developments are causing flaws in it: (1) the politically motivated campaign against Baltasar Garzón, the well-know judge of the Audiencia Nacional (the Spanish high court handling terrorism, genocide, and organized crime), and (2) the crusade against the Catalan autonomy statute.

Image by iasecas (Found on special peculiarity of the Spanish judicial system is its principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows the Audiencia Nacional to pursue cases of human rights abuses, drug trafficking, and terrorism outside of Spain. And although the universal jurisdiction has recently been limited to cases in which there are Spanish victims or those charged with crime are in Spain, Garzón achieved considerable international successes. The most noted one is certainly the indictment of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and his arrest in London in 1998, where he remained under house arrest for more than 500 days before returning to Chile following his release on humanitarian grounds. There, he faced legal action for human rights abuses, but was never convicted. Garzón also forced Argentinean President Néstor Kirchner to end a general amnesty for the military junta after investigating human rights violations committed during the “dirty war” of 1976-1983. In Spain itself, he is highly recognized for his relentless pursuit of ETA, the Basque separatist organization terrorizing the country since the early 1960’s. But today, the General Council of the Judicial Power, Spain’s constitutional body governing all the judiciary of Spain, suspended Garzón from his post at the Audiencia Nacional. Read more…

Essay: An Analysis of Colombia’s Democracy

See my essay “An Analysis of Colombia’s Democracy” from November 2008 published on e-International Relations.

This paper focuses on the question whether the emergence of democracy in Colombia can be explained based on the assumptions of the ‘sequentialist’ or ‘preconditionist’ theories as suggested, amongst many others, by Fareed Zakaria or Edward Mansfield and Jack Snyder, or if, by contrast, the views of ‘gradualists’ or ‘universalists’ such as Sheri Berman or Thomas Carothers are more indicated to explain and analyze Colombia’s democratic past, present and future.

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Sweet Sour Colombian Democracy

Image by Arnaud Carlos Andrès Vittet (found on

Democracy has had a hard time in the past few years in some parts of Latin America. In Venezuela, Hugo Chávez has turned a once liberal democracy into an electoral autocracy. Various constitutional reforms undertaken since he took power in 1999 almost guarantee him a de facto presidency for life. Followers of his “21st Century Socialism” in the region, such as Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua or Rafael Correa in Ecuador, seem to have similar goals of perpetuation of power. In the case of Colombia, President Uribe’s intention of running for a third term, which is not provided for under the current constitution and therefore would require a constitutional change to be approved by popular referendum, was widely criticized. It was seen as yet another attempt of a Latin American head of state—although of opposed ideological convictions with regards to the proponents of Chávez’ “Bolivarian Revolution”—to concentrate too much power in too few hands. But Colombia, a country with strong democratic traditions[1], has once again proven to be a democracy with functioning institutions and separation of powers. The constitutional court turned down a law, which would have allowed a popular referendum about the possibility for President Uribe to run for a third consecutive term, as being unconstitutional.

Throughout his two terms (2002-2006 and 2006-2010), Uribe has enjoyed an overwhelming popularity of around 70% amongst the Colombian population—a unique figure among its Latin American neighbours, attributable to the Colombian society’s fatigue with regards to the high rates of kidnappings and homicides, as well as to the failed peace talks with the FARC during Andrés Pastrana’s government. And would he have the opportunity to run for a third term, he would most certainly win the elections. But Uribe, despite his known aspirations to be re-elected a second time and in an act of democratic statesmanship, immediately said to accept and respect the decision of the constitutional court. Read more…

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