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The clock keeps ticking in Catalonia

Article del Col·lectiu Emma


With less than four months to go until November 9th, the scheduled date for a referendum on independence in Catalonia, those advocating for a negotiated solution – the so-called “third way” – seem to have lost the battle.


In an attempt to secure a compromise that could hold the State together, representatives of influential interest groups in Catalonia, many of them with economic ties to the Spanish public sector, had been pleading with the powers that be in Madrid to make an offer of a better financial arrangement and a larger measure of self-government for Catalans. Respected international voices have also been urging a change of attitude from Spain along the lines followed by the British government regarding Scotland – allowing a referendum in Catalonia and then forcefully campaigning for a “no” vote.


Spanish President Rajoy appeared to be listening to those voices when he finally agreed to a meeting with Catalan President Mas. Thus far he had been approaching the matter as a game of who blinks first, taking it for granted that his Catalan counterpart would give in and announce that he was calling off the referendum. But this is not about leaders or personalities. Mr. Mas will come to Madrid representing not only his party or his government, but also a wide parliamentary majority, hundreds of civil-society organizations and over three-quarters of the Catalan population, all of them backing the idea of a referendum  – including some who might end up voting “no”. His deal with the Catalan people includes putting to a vote any agreement that may be reached with the Spanish government. He has, then, a clear mandate to officially convey to Mr. Rajoy what everyone already knows: that a huge majority of the Catalan people want a chance to exercise what they consider an inalienable right and vote on the shape of their collective future.


For the Spanish political establishment – on that point the ruling party is supported by most opposition groups – this is a deal breaker, and Mr. Rajoy has since rushed to cool down everyone’s expectations. Just in case, two self-appointed opinion groups have immediately stepped forward: those from the left to reiterate a vague proposal of constitutional reform in which some Catalan positions might be taken into consideration; over on the right, the hardliners of Spanish nationalism have sternly warned Mr. Rajoy against any gesture that could be interpreted as a willingness to start a dialogue with Catalonia.


One of those groups is at least going through the motions of offering to talk, while the other doesn’t even bother to hint at a way out. But, much as their respective styles differ, the two currents representing the majority opinion in Spanish society agree on the essential point: it is up to them to set the limits of what Catalans can expect from Spain. Consequently, they both reject the possibility of a vote. Catalonia’s future, their argument goes, is a matter for all Spanish citizens to decide. The deception is flagrant: since Catalans are a minority in Spain, this would mean that they are and will be forever outvoted and in someone else’s power. Unsurprisingly, it’s a principle that Catalans will not accept.


There are no signs that in the short weeks until November 9th the positions will change in any meaningful way. Catalans are determined to stand their ground. Their peaceful and thoroughly democratic stance is hard to counter and can’t be ignored. And the Spanish establishment is turning the obvious solution – the simple act of voting, the defining principle of democracy – into a problem.


And yet, short of declaring martial law and sending in the special forces – a course of action that would definitely destroy Spain – the State’s institutions don’t have the power to stop what has become an irreversible tide in favor of a profound change. Even if President Mas could be persuaded to backtrack on his pledge to let the Catalan people speak on the issue, or – if worse comes to worst – somehow forced out of office, the extent of popular discontent with Spain is such that the drive towards independence would only grow stronger.




In a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal, Spanish Finance Minister Cristobal Montoro dismissed out of hand any chance of a compromise, saying that Spain wasn’t prepared to reinvent itself in order to meet the Catalans’ demands. He’s totally missing the point. Regardless of what Catalans eventually decide about themselves, Spain does need to reinvent itself if it wants to avoid sinking deeper into economic and political irrelevance. The Catalan issue is only one among several that it will have to face sooner or later. Paradoxically, it could be the perfect starting point on a long-delayed road to change. By letting the Catalan people vote – and perhaps set off on their own – Spain has a good opportunity to build a political future on more rational grounds, not simply for the benefit of Catalans but for its own sake.


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

Document elaborat pel Col·lectiu Emma


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.

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.


Altres idiomes: castellàfrancèsalemanyitaliààrabportuguèsholandès i esperanto.


Versió catalana

Els catalans han iniciat un camí que els podria portar cap a la independència de la seva nació respecte d’Espanya. Els motius que addueixen per voler emprendre aquest camí   – històrics, culturals, econòmics,  socials i polítics – han estat explicats a bastament i cada cop hi ha més sectors que reconeixen la seva validesa. Alguns han pres la decisió de buscar una alternativa a l’actual marc polític quan han vist que totes les propostes per contribuir a reformar l’Estat fins a convertir-lo en una veritable  “nació de nacions” són rebutjades, sovint amb el greuge afegit d’un tractament humiliant. I, últimament, amb un enduriment de les postures de l’altra banda i amb una tendència a retrocedir cap a polítiques intolerants que recorden els temps passats de la dictadura que se suposa que Espanya ha superat. Molts pensen que no actuar ara voldria dir acceptar el paper de subordinació que l’ordre espanyol establert reserva, actualment i al llarg de la història, a Catalunya i el resultat final seria sucumbir al pla d’assimilació completa elaborat per Espanya.

Ara, els catalans han dissenyat el seu propi pla, i fins ara han ensenyat al món com s’haurien de fer les coses. Amb paciència, actuant només després que les seves propostes hagin estat rebutjades reiteradament. De manera inclusiva, confiant en les forces de tots els segments de la societat i sense rebutjar ningú per cap motiu. De manera pacífica, sortint al carrer centenars de milers de persones per declarar la seva determinació, sense mostrar cap hostilitat envers els altres i rebutjant qualsevol forma de violència. De manera democràtica, ja que els seus representants electes actuen conforme als desitjos del poble en comptes de dictar el programa des de dalt, i aconseguint unir socis improbables de dreta i esquerra en una àmplia coalició. De manera responsable, amb la majoria de les forces polítiques – excloent només les que s’han exclòs elles mateixes des del principi – treballant per aconseguir un acord i tirar el procés cap endavant. I amb una mentalitat oberta: fins i tot ara, els líders catalans s’ofereixen a explorar amb els seus homònims espanyols totes les opcions d’un acord en comptes de tancar-se en banda i fer accions unilaterals. Si això no té tots els elements d’una revolució de vellut, llavors què és?

2014 serà un any crucial per a Catalunya. Tots els indicis – l’equilibri de forces polítiques al Parlament, la constància en els resultats de totes les enquestes d’opinió i les impressionants manifestacions, per no parlar de la falta d’alternatives creïbles per la banda unionista – indiquen que s’ha arribat a un punt d’inflexió. La majoria de catalans volen un veritable canvi, i els seus representants s’han compromès a posar els mitjans perquè decideixin cap a on ha d’anar aquest canvi. La seva proposta– i la manera òbvia d’esvair tots els dubtes sobre les intencions dels catalans ­– és un referèndum sobre la qüestió, molt semblant al que està previst que tingui lloc a Escòcia al mes de setembre. Fora de les fronteres d’Espanya ningú qüestiona seriosament la legitimitat d’aquesta manera d’actuar. En canvi, les institucions espanyoles – amb el govern i l’oposició units en una demostració inquietant d’intransigència sobre aquest aspecte – s’entesten a impedir-ho. Així és com estan les coses a principis del nou any – en un punt mort ben complicat.

Fins ara, la resposta oficial en els cercles internacionals és que la situació catalana és un assumpte intern d’Espanya. Tanmateix, tothom sap que independentment de la manera en què es desenvolupin els esdeveniment, les conseqüències no s’aturaran a la frontera i que, si es deixa que s’eternitzi, la incertesa actual serà perjudicial per a tothom – a Catalunya, a Espanya i més enllà. Si la part espanyola no es vol moure i si se segueixen bloquejant per raons tècniques, o simplement s’ignoren, totes les propostes procedents de Catalunya caldrà alguna mena d’implicació de terceres parts per tal de desfer el punt mort. Els bons oficis d’actors externs podrien ajudar realment Espanya a arribar al seu punt d’inflexió. Per molt que es resisteixin a la idea, la gent d’allà i també els polítics hauran d’acceptar el fet que, parafrasejant les paraules del primer ministre Cameron sobre Escòcia, no es pot mantenir els catalans a Espanya contra la seva voluntat.

Per ara probablement només caldria una certa dosi de diplomàcia discreta. Els actors estrangers, que tenen una influència evident sobre una Espanya econòmicament entrampada i políticament tocada, podrien fer servir aquesta influència per empènyer els seus polítics a fer una cosa sensata. Ja hi ha hagut algun gest públic en aquest sentit i probablement també uns quants en privat. Tot i que, fins i tot en aquests primers moments, potser també convindria un toc d´atenció més seriós. Especialment per garantir que no hi hagi joc brut – i, esperem, que no hi hagi violència – per part d’aquells que creuen que els seus interessos es poden veure amenaçats per allò que triïn els catalans.

I també tots haurien de tenir molt clar que les coses han arribat a un punt en què qualsevol intent de deixar de banda el poble català – negant-li el seu dret a parlar, aplicant tàctiques intimidatòries als seus líders o intentant alguna maniobra d’última hora a porta tancada – no ajudarà a resoldre el problema sinó que només l’ajornaria i l’agreujaria. L’únic resultat acceptable des d’un punt de vista democràtic en aquest moment és una votació, i l’objectiu immediat de tots hauria de ser ajudar a trobar el camí perquè els catalans es puguin expressar. I llavors, si realment decideixen que volen un estat independent, serà responsabilitat de tothom vigilar el procés subsegüent per tal de garantir que prevalgui la voluntat del poble expressada lliurement.