‘For freedom and the republic’: tribunes and Catalans in flight

Last week, Europe’s attention was focused on the sudden appearance of Carlos Puigdemont and other Catalan leaders in Belgium on 31 October, in the wake of calls for them to be prosecuted by the Spanish authorities for rebellion, sedition and the misuse of public funds. After several more days of confusion, along with the detainment without bail of other Catalan separatists back in Spain, on 5 November the group handed themselves in to the Belgian authorities, who will decide whether or not to implement the European Arrest Warrant issued for them. To the infinitely complex question of Catalan demands for independence is added the prospect of a legal dispute between two EU countries.

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The dramatic flight of Puigdemont and his colleagues has echoes of events in Roman history at the end of the 50s BC. Julius Caesar had spent this decade mainly campaigning in Gaul, extending Rome’s empire and earning the loyalty of several legions, while other politicians back in Rome witnessed long-established political checks and balances gradually dissolve and placed their hopes in Caesar’s former political partner Pompey the Great to keep order without taking undue power for himself (at one stage he was chosen as consul – the Roman state’s highest office – without a colleague, which was unprecedented in the republic’s history).

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