Catalan Referendum Animates Flemish, Leaves Dutch Cold

Flemish media are overwhelmingly sympathetic in their coverage. The Dutch show little interest.

View of Antwerp, Belgium, March 28, 2014
View of Antwerp, Belgium, March 28, 2014 (Visit Flanders)

The Dutch aren’t sure what to make of Catalonia’s independence bid. Only in the last few days have their news media started paying attention to what’s happening in the region.

Flemish media are more interested. Maybe because they have pragmatically managed their differences with the French-speaking Walloons for decades and are wondering why the Catalans and Spanish can’t do the same?

Dutch indifference

You might expect the Dutch could sympathize with a people yearning to be free of Spanish rule, but aside from my own op-ed in the NRC newspaper this week (in which I argue Rajoy’s intransigence has radicalized the independence movement), there hasn’t been a lot of analysis or opinion.

The national broadcaster NOS is providing daily updates of the situation, but they are matter-of-fact. Although their correspondent in Spain, Rop Zoutberg, does wonder in one story if Mariano Rajoy was wise to choose repression:

It’s the separatists who are helped by the heavy-handed intervention of the Spanish police, because it only aggravates the Catalans.

Most of the major newspaper coverage has been neutral.

Flemish sympathies

The view could scarcely be more different from Flanders.

There, the regional prime minister, Geert Bourgeois, has criticized Spain’s “political and legal show of force” and called for international mediation.

Mark Demesmaeker, a European lawmaker for the ruling Flemish nationalist party, wonders in an op-ed for Knack magazine why the EU will censure Hungary and Poland for their antidemocratic policies but not take Spain to task.

The European Commission … is allowing a tsunami of Spanish lawsuits, fearful of the consequences of a tsunami of Catalan democracy.

The Flemish newspaper De Morgen is among the most sympathetic. One of its editors, Bart Eeckhout, writes that Spain seems determined to relive the trauma of the Franco era. Pedro Brugada calls on Europe to stop Spain’s attempts to circumvent democracy.

A more nuanced take comes from Bart Haeck. He argues in the business daily De Tijd that while Spain is adding fuel to the fire, the Catalans have not thought their secession plan through:

What’s happening in Catalonia is a reckless political adventure that brings to mind the worst moments of the Brexit campaign.