Col·lectiu Emma - Explaining Catalonia

Wednesday, 22 january 2014

English

2014: Time for outside actors to help steer the Catalan process?

Catalans have set off on a road that could lead to their nation's independence from Spain. The reasons they advance for wanting to take that road – historic, cultural, economic, social and political – have been thoroughly explained and are increasingly recognized as valid in many quarters. For some, the decision to seek an alternative to the present political arrangement was made only after all proposals to help reshape the state as a true "nation of nations" had been met with rejection, often with the added grievance of a humiliating treatment. And, lately, with a hardening of the other side's positions and a drift back toward illiberal policies calling to mind a dictatorial past that Spain was supposed to have overcome. Many feel that failing to act now would mean accepting the subordinate role reserved to Catalonia in the Spanish order, today and in history, and ultimately giving in to Spain's design of complete assimilation.

Catalans have now drawn up a plan of their own, and so far they have been giving the world an example of how things should be done. Patiently, taking action only after their proposals had been repeatedly turned down. Inclusively, relying on the strengths of all segments of society and not rejecting anyone on any grounds. Peacefully, coming out in hundreds of thousands into the streets to declare their determination, showing no hostility to others and spurning every form of violence. Democratically, with their elected representatives acting on the people's wishes rather than dictating an agenda from above, and managing to bring together unlikely partners from the right and the left in a wide coalition. Responsibly, with most political forces – excluding only those that excluded themselves from the beginning – working to reach a deal and drive the process forward. And with an open mind: even now, the Catalan leadership is offering to explore with their Spanish counterparts every option of a negotiated agreement rather than going for a rash unilateral move. If this doesn't have all the markings of a velvet revolution, what does?

2014 will be a crucial year for Catalonia. All signs – the balance of political forces in Parliament, the consistent results of every opinion poll and the impressive demonstrations, not to mention the lack of credible alternatives on the unionist side – point to the fact that a tipping point has been reached. A majority of Catalans want a real change, and their representatives have pledged to provide the means for them to determine the direction that this change should take. Their proposal – and the obvious way to dispel all doubts about the Catalans' intentions ¬– is a referendum on the issue, much like the one that is planned for Scotland in September. No one beyond Spain's borders is seriously questioning the legitimacy of that course of action. And yet the Spanish establishment – with the government and the opposition united in an unsettling show of intransigence on this point – is hell-bent on preventing it. This is how things stand at the beginning of the new year – in an awkward impasse.

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Up to now, the official line in international circles is that the Catalan situation is Spain's internal affair. Everyone's aware, however, that whichever way things play out the consequences won't stop at the border and that, if allowed to drag on, the present uncertainty will be damaging to all – in Catalonia, in Spain and beyond. If the Spanish side keeps refusing to budge and if every proposal coming from Catalonia continues to be blocked on a technicality or simply ignored, some form of involvement by third parties may be required to break the deadlock. The good offices of external actors could indeed help Spain reach its own tipping point. Much as they resist the idea, the people there no less than the politicians will have to come to terms with the fact that, paraphrasing PM Cameron's words about Scotland, Catalans can't be kept in Spain against their will.

A measure of quiet diplomacy is probably all that is called for at this stage. Foreign actors who have a definite clout over a cash-strapped and politically bruised Spain may want to use that clout to nudge its politicians into doing the sensible thing. There have already been a few public hints to that effect, and probably more than a few private ones as well. But, even this early in the game, a stronger signal would not be out of order. Especially to ensure that there is no foul play – and, one would hope, no violence – on the part of those who feel that their interests may be threatened by the Catalans' choice. And it should also be clear to all that things have reached a stage where any attempt to sideline the Catalan people – by denying them their right to speak, by strong-arming their leadership or by trying to fix a last-resort deal behind closed doors – won't help solve the problem but only postpone it and compound it. The only acceptable outcome from a democratic perspective at this point is a vote, and the immediate goal for all should be helping to find a way for Catalans to have their say. And then, if they do indeed decide that they want their own state, it will be everyone's responsibility to watch over the ensuing process in order to guarantee that it is the people's freely expressed will that carries the day.


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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