Is Catalonia’s bid a fad or a fixture?

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Just recently I have read about and been in contact with a number of English, American and European observers of the Catalan sovereignty issue who seem confused. They are not sure if they are faced by a momentary fad, fever or frenzy that time will “cure” or by a prospect of severe and lasting change. In some cases I have been able to politely suggest that the comfortable pro-independence majority in the Catalan Parliament might be indicative of quite a solid phenomenon, as are the seven or eight years of massive street marches which, incidentally, are showing no signs of flagging. Be it as it may, I think that some fresh on-the-spot views on the Catalan issue might be welcomed here and there.

May I start by saying that one is often confronted by an aversion to the Catalan cause by individuals who see it divorced from a will be have a world “in which we are linked together”. Attractive though the notion may be, I can’t help thinking that such ethos is all too often used to legitimize a concept of “oneness” which is not always free of suspicion. “Oneness” is just fine just as long as it doesn’t mean ruling out the rights and feelings of “minorities”, as often occurs. For example, is the form of “oneness” offered by Spain to Catalonia a comfortable option for Catalans? While I am sure most of them are delighted to blend in with European standards and reap the benefits of common interest, there is little ground for hoping that they will be accepting forming part of Spain in the future. As several observers have noted, Catalonia has already gone beyond the point of no return. It is hard to imagine a future in which most Catalans see Spain as a place offering any form of guarantee for fairness, justice and equal chances. Suffice it to say that nine hundred of Catalonia’s 950 local councils have so far supported Catalonia’s right to independence.

As I say, some see this as a passing fad. Yet what has the experience of recent years proved? The impact of the 2010 ruling by the Constitutional Court that struck down key issues in the renovated Catalan Statute of Autonomy cannot be overlooked. Some may insist it was an accident of history and that time may cure those grazes. Some even think that Catalan “seny” (common sense) will take the day and that this will enable things to “sort themselves out”. But the surveys do not bear this out.

What most enlightened Catalans see as the way of “sorting things out”, is independence. This hardly surprising because Spain’s two leading parties, unlike Westminster in the Scottish issue, opted long ago for a consistently hard line to curb Catalan demands. The political and economic ill-treatment of Catalonia has been evident even to the eyes of many non-nationalists, a perception echoed by several international media in recent times. Nowhere have the seductive charms displayed by Cameron in Scotland been deployed by Spanish politicians, in power and opposition alike (PP and PSOE), with regards to Catalonia. Threats, abuse, impeachment, the judicialization of the political sphere, constant disrespect for Catalan institutions, repeated cases of ill-treatment of Catalan-speakers and attacks on the Catalan language have been the only answer Catalans have been offered. The fact that many of the trappings of Franco’s Spain are also present makes matters worse. Many Catalans feel it is a scandal that little has been done to repair the lot of those suffering repression. Over one hundred Republican victims still lie unidentified and unhonoured in mass graves along the roadsides of Spain.

Other sceptical observers of the Catalan issue also seem to suggest that the problem is entirely economic. Again, may I express my doubts here. One cannot forget that since the days of the Conde Duque Olivares (17th Century), Spanish politicians have sought to criminalize the Catalans by casting a grim “money-grabbing” image of them (as so admirably described by historian García Cárcel). Little has changed today. The truth is that Catalonia has contributed three times as much as Europe to Spain’s treasury. Funding Spain means that Catalonia’s education and health departments are offering worse services than many poorer regions of Spain are. Furthermore, the fact that support for independence is truly across the board, affecting left and right alike as well as many citizens of non-Catalan origin, clearly discards this opinion. We are talking about a problem that is much closer to governance, dignity and efficiency than money.

Today 80% of Catalans want to be consulted over the possibility of creating a new country of their own. Many are utterly convinced that Spain will not allow this to happen. It is a lesson that has been learned in the last thirty years. The master classes given by Spanish presidents since José María Aznar have been especially productive in this sense. Catalans from every walk of life have reached the conclusion that Spain has little, if anything, to offer them. The fact that Madrid completely rules out self-determination -displaying grotesque authoritarian antics in doing so- simply strengthens their perception.

Significant was a letter published by six internationally famous Catalans (Pep Guardiola, Josep Carreras, Joan Massagué, Jordi Savall, and professors Xavier Sala i Martin and Pol Antràs) in 'The Independent', in October 2014. They pointed out that many Catalans have “lost all faith” in Spain and that the right to self-determination is no longer a question of independence alone, but one of “dignity and democracy”. Spain has had thirty years to show acceptance and respect for the national identity of the Catalan people. And that chance has been repeatedly and utterly squandered.

by Toni Strubell i Trueta

Former Catalan Parliament Member

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