Col·lectiu Emma - Explaining Catalonia

Sunday, 7 august 2016 | Translatin


“Freedom for Catalonia”: understanding Catalan pro-independence movement

By Garam Kwon (Institute of Cultural Studies, Seoul National University)

Garam Kwon

TRANSLATIN (32, Octubre 2015)

Institute of Cultural Studies, Seoul National University

In this article, I explore why and how Catalan people’s claims to achieve independence are organised into collective actions during the past five years. I have been following up the Catalan pro-independence movement from 2013 by conducting ethnographic research around the city of Barcelona and I have published a part of my analysis in Translatin (No. 32, Oct, 2015), a webzine issued by Institute of Latin American Studies from Seoul National University, South Korea. The following is the summary of this analysis.  
My observation of this movement in the latest years tells me that it is truly difficult to trace the sole motive of this mobilisation and it is inappropriate to describe this movement as a mere response upon European economic crisis as many observers and writers have been describing. Rather, the Catalan pro-independence movement could be better understood by taking the internal context of Spanish politics into account as well, especially that of how the Spanish State has been dealing with multiple 'nationalities' existing within its territory ever since the 'transition' to Spanish democracy. Ironically, many Catalan independentists I could met in the field considered that the independence of Catalonia was not the best political option since its process is too costly and less effective. In fact, they have long been yearning for making 'fit' themselves with the Spanish state as far as their political right as a nation could be properly guaranteed. However, it seems that the Spanish Supreme Court's ruling on the Catalan Autonomous Statute in 2010 frustrated Catalan people and they turned their backs on the Spanish State. Upon this decision, many Catalans who had voted in favour of the Spanish Constitution in 1978 expecting a future amelioration of the political status of Catalonia expressed their disappointment by saying, “the transition has never occurred in Spain”. In this context, for many Catalans the Court's ruling was not just a simple denegation of Catalan people's right but also an event symbolising the failure of readjusting Catalano-Spanish relationship in post-dictatorial Spanish society. Any further attempts to understand the Catalan independentism should not disregard the significance of this incident.

At the centre of the Catalan pro-independence movement, there is Catalan civil society as a core agent leading this political mobilisation. Catalan civil society operates on the basis of 'associacions'(associations), voluntary gatherings of local citizens with similar cultural or political interests. Both the Neighbourhood Movement in the 60s-70s and the 92's Olympic Games in Barcelona are historical examples of Catalan associations' vividness and in the field of current pro-independence movement various local associations and related local networks work as a solid ground to further it as well. For example, Assemblea Nacional Catalana (Catalan National Assembly), one of the leading independentist organisations in recent years, is built upon local assemblies whose members are ordinary residents of each district. Assembly based decision-making, peaceful protests referring to Catalan tradition -i.e. Castellers (Catalan human towers)- and street campaigns based on its own political agenda are typical landscape of the Catalan pro-independence movement made by Catalan civil society. This political dynamic contradicts the theory that this mobilisation is being led or manipulated by specific politicians or political parties. Rather, it demonstrates that Catalan civil society as much as institutionalised politics constitutes a multiple reality of the Catalan independence movement with its own voice.

By saying this, I do not mean to idealise the Catalan pro-independence movement itself. The reality of the Catalan pro-independence movement experienced at the suburban area of Barcelona where the majority of population are immigrants could be different from that of the aforementioned independentists. Assemblies are not always ideally working, procrastinating important political decisions and generating unofficial hierarchies between participants in decision-making process. However, I also believe that Catalan independentists have their own right to be heard from their own perspectives. It seems that many of the discourses and information regarding the Catalan pro-independence movement find themselves cozy with those of the State, which is falsely considered as the only legitimate provider of criteria in understanding the 'Catalan problem'. In a world where political sovereignty is mainly represented via nation-state, claims from stateless nation such as Catalonia are not only considered as minor but sometimes as 'illegitimate'. To better understand the intricacy of the Catalan process, however, it is necessary to come out from this 'State fetishism', relativising its discourses and observing the politics of power behind the discursive dominance of the State.

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