Col·lectiu Emma - Explaining Catalonia

Tuesday, 22 january 2013

English

Drawing a Road Map for Catalonia


A new regional government is now in place in Catalonia. Like many other administrations in Europe these days, it will have a hard time providing an adequate level of services to its citizens while it strives to help a battered economy get back on the right track. With an added handicap: it has to deal with a Spanish government that won't make either of these tasks any easier. Never mind that Catalonia is a productive society and a vital contributor to the State's finances. The central government retains control over the public purse and deals out or withholds funds mainly as a way of furthering its own political agenda. And every message coming from Madrid shows that it plans to make full use of this leverage to curb the Catalans' freedom of action, combining the financial stranglehold with relentless attacks on their language and culture, including the educational system, in an effort to erase all signs of their collective personality.

In these circumstances, it is not surprising that a substantial majority of Catalans should at least doubt the convenience of remaining a Spanish province. This was made clear by the results of the November 25 election, in which holding a popular referendum on independence was the winning coalition's central promise. As of today, the idea has the support of almost two-thirds of Parliament, confirming what earlier opinion polls had been indicating: regardless of their eventual choice, around 80 per cent of Catalans agree to be consulted in a public vote on the option of disengaging themselves from the political entity to which they now belong.

The last election provided some clues about the Catalans' state of mind, but in order to find out exactly how many have given up on Spain, there's no alternative to asking them a straightforward question in an official ballot. This appears to be the sensible way to go: it's consistent with the views expressed by several international experts and it's also the line taken in the parallel process that is under way in Scotland, which has been endorsed by the UK Parliament and government.

Over in Spain, however, everyone is steadfast in rejecting this possibility. In a rare display of accord, virtually all political groups and most of the public opinion manufactured in Madrid are united in denying Catalans the right to speak on the matter. Of course, the Spanish establishment simply dreads that if the people are allowed to pronounce themselves there's a good chance that they will go for separation. But there's a more fundamental reason that goes beyond the fear of losing. Historically, and down to the present day, Spain has always refused to acknowledge the fact that Catalans are a people with a distinct national identity and that, as such, they are the subject of collective rights. Admitting that they can be consulted in an official referendum would imply a recognition of these rights.

For lack of a better argument, the 1978 constitution is raised as a shield to rebuff the Catalans' claims or brandished as a weapon to threaten them with if they'd choose to overstep its narrowly-defined limits. Despite its questionable origins under the shadow of a forty-year dictatorship, this text is treated as sacred scripture by the defenders of the Spanish faith –once they've given it the spin that best suits their interests. This irrational posture can't be kept up forever. The world knows that no law, no matter how exalted its title, can be invoked to thwart the will of a people. And everyone in Spain is aware that in present-day Europe an act of democratic expression can't be prevented on a legal technicality, and even less by the threat or use of force.

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There is among all sectors of Catalan society a growing feeling of weariness with Spain. And a clear awareness that, as part of Spain, their nation is going downhill fast at the same time that it's being deprived of the instruments needed to stop and reverse the decline. More and more Catalans have come to realize that their future as a people will be in jeopardy unless they take decisive action sooner rather than later.

The ruling coalition has now an unambiguous mandate to go ahead with a process that could lead to separation from Spain. Together with other political groupings, it has already begun to draw a road map to a fuller sovereignty. To kick off this process, a formal declaration affirming the Catalans' right to decide about their future is expected to be passed by a large majority of Parliament on January 23. The next step will be getting down to work on the details of a transparent and inclusive plan for a popular referendum on independence.

The Spanish government would be well advised not to interfere with this process if it wants to salvage its credentials as a democracy. In fact, it's hard to see how it could obstruct or ban the referendum without resorting to unacceptable methods which would do no end of harm to a State that is already discredited on other fronts. So one can only hope that all obstacles will eventually be overcome and that the people will get a chance to speak.

At the end of the day, what the Catalan people decide in a free and responsible manner should be honored by all –in Spain and beyond. If a large enough majority opts for some form of separation, Spain should honestly acknowledge its failure to integrate Catalans in its political project and respond in good faith. And so should Catalonia's other neighbors, by paving the way so that the new country can take its rightful place in the continent's economic and political framework and start making its contribution to the wider European project.


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Col·lectiu Emma - Explaining Catalonia

Col·lectiu Emma is a network of Catalans and non-Catalans living in different countries who have made it their job to track and review news reports about Catalonia in the international media. Our goal is to ensure that the world's public opinion gets a fair picture of the country's reality today and in history.

We aim to be recognized as a trustworthy source of information and ideas about Catalonia from a Catalan point of view.
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Col·lectiu Emma - Explaining Catalonia