Disclaimer: My English is far from perfect, and very rusty as I've hardly used it these last months.
OK. Last year I said I was not going to be involved in Spanish/Catalan politics again. I do not feel I have a say anymore in stuff going on here. After all, this is no longer my legal residence.
Anyway, due to the massive demo that happened a couple of days ago in favour of Catalan independence, in the National Day of Catalonia, and everything I've seen take place surrounding the demo, I have felt compelled to speak up. This time, however, I will (try to) do so as an 'observer', instead of as someone affected by it.
A couple of years ago I was absolutely against independence. As in, anything remotely similar to it I disliked. This has changed, though. I am more of a neutral person now. I feel both Catalan and Spanish, as I did before, but now, because I don't live neither in Catalonia nor in Spain, who cares?
I do. I care because I love my land. I would not live here for the world, but this is home and I love it. Which is why I am trying to analyse whether independence would bring good or bad to Catalonia. Of course, I am not going to say what Catalonia has right now is good. That would be an outrageous biased lie. All I want to do is establish the lesser evil.
In doing so, I have arrived to a conclusion. Independence might be favourable, a greater degree of self-government is certainly a must, but it cannot be done this way.
If it is done this way, all Catalonia will get will be a divided, sectarian society. To some extent, sectarianism is now stronger than it used to be, that is for sure, but I don't want to be so naïve as to say "all past times were better". Anyhow, since the crisis began, support for independence has been growing, and right now, at this point, it is not known which part of society (secessionists or unionists) would win a possible referendum. This is a remarkable achievement for secessionists because until a few months ago they were clearly a minority. A very big and important minority, but a minority nevertheless.
The thing is, and this is very important because it is perhaps the only thing in which all Catalans agree, they are tired with the current political climate and they want it to change. Secessionists want Catalonia to become independent, and they are certainly succeeding in their propaganda as very senior figures in the Catalan political arena are vouching their support for the cause of independence. These include Artur Mas, the president of Catalonia. His party was pro-Catalan but not pro-independence. Until last year, that is, when it went further and added full Catalan sovereignty to its manifesto. Unionists, or rather, all not in favour of secession (they must not necessarily be unionists), on the contrary, want Catalonia to stay in Spain. Some, albeit these are very few, want the Spanish government to step in and rule Catalonia directly. Some others want it to stay the way it is, and some others want a greater degree of devolution, perhaps a Catalonia within a Spanish federal framework.
A few years ago this division was not so. A minority wanted independence, a minority wanted Spain to have greater a say in Catalan affairs, but a very important chunk of the population simply did not care. They did not know what could be best, so they actually did not care.
Right now, in the current option, not caring is not an option. If someone does not care, they will be accused by secessionists of being a unionist and by unionists of agreeing with the secessionists. Propaganda campaigns are being more massive than ever, on both sides. This is obviously leading to a polarisation of public opinion. In politics ignorance is not bliss, or at least it should not be. But it seems it is starting to be, and very ignorant people who have no idea of what they are talking about took part in Tuesday's demos. Both on the massive pro-independence demo in Barcelona but also in the smaller anti-independence demos that happened in many town hall squares all over the country. Politics is fought on secession/union issues and not on left/right issues anymore.
This leads to a 'you are either with me or against me' climate all over the place. In other words, there is no longer such a thing as a Catalan society. Secessionists' view is "you cannot possibly be a good Catalan if you don't hate the Spaniards/don't want them to leave/you feel Spanish". Unionists' view is "you cannot possibly be a good Spaniard if you feel Catalan, because they're a bunch of angry people demanding the break-up of the great Spanish state". I know this sounds a bit extremist, but Catalan people are slowly moving towards these two poles. The only thing all Catalans agree in is that the current state, the status quo, is terrible and must be changed.
Now, let's assume, for the sake of analysis, that a referendum is held (I cannot possibly accept another way of achieving independence, such as declaring it outright, as some parties suggest). What would the result be? Well, technically, I do not care. It would not at all matter whether more people voted for independence than for union or vice versa. What is clear is that such result, no matter to which end it swings, would be tight. Which in turns leads us to assume a very large proportion of Catalans (whether or not they are Spanish passport holders) would be unhappy with the result. In the worst-case scenario, riots would happen and a police intervention might be needed. Maybe the army. In the best-case scenario, there would be unrest and uncertainty about the future. Many would leave: if union is outvoted by secession, some would leave because they do not want to leave Spain. If secession is outvoted by union, some would leave because it seems logical Spanish would rule Catalonia tighter in such an event and they would not want to live in such a place. In both cases, many would leave because it is quite obvious that political unrest would be greater, and many people just want to live quiet lives with no place for such unrest.
No matter what happens, then, it is quite clear that current paths to political change lead to sectarianism. I should think anyone accepting a political change as big as this ignoring the break-up of its society is a fool. Secessionists and unionists alike.
Catalan identity has been largely created in the last 150 years. Before that, Catalans used to be Aragonese, French or Spanish. Catalan was obviously the language of the land, but French or Spanish were used as fashionable languages by the elites, since the late Middle Ages. This all changed in the late 19th century, though. Modernism heavily changed Catalan society, made it more cosmopolitan, and Catalan identity and language started to be entrenched. It is during this period when a Catalan standardised ortography is created by Pompeu Fabra, and when sardana, the national Catalan dance, is created by Pep Ventura, unifying different popular dances across the territory. During the Second Republic period the largely autonomous Commonwealth of Catalonia is declared, but it all disappears after the Civil War. Francoist Spain was based in the ideal of a New Spain, whose motto was "One, Great and Free". It wasn't free at all and it wasn't that great, but sure as hell it was one. All languages other than Spanish were outlawed, regions were suppressed and a centralist almighty government was established.
This is largely to blame for today's current political climate. During the Transition (this being the period between Franco's death and the establishment of democracy) power was transferred back to the regions. First, to the regions who had pre-war power and historical reasons to claim some degree of self-rule. Among these, the Basque Country and Catalonia. But later it was decided that all Spaniards should be equal like the French, and the Coffee for all policy. Autonomous communities were created out of the blue, given anthems, statutes and legal powers, for the simple reason that other regions had them as well. Some say the Spanish system ressembles a federal system, but I don't think it does. In a federal system divisions decide to unite their sovereignty to suit the interests of all. In the Spanish system, however, a united sovereignty decides to create divisions to suit the interests of the central government. Spain has always liked doing things shabbily.
For a couple of decades it all went well, but it obviously could not work well. For a number of reasons.
Firstly, artificially created identities hardly ever work. At least, when they are so similar to one another.
Secondly, many institutions were doubled and even trebled. Much, much, much money being wasted for no reason.
Thirdly, nationalities with historical rights think they have a right to claim more. They do not want artificial identities to claim the same rights as them, so if the others are given these rights, they will claim more.
In the case of Catalonia, the trigger was probably pulled when the new Statute of Autonomy was drafted in the mid-2000s. It probably sought too much for what it could have got that day. People were outraged. Secessionist Catalans because it was too little, unionist Catalans because it was too much, and non-Catalan Spaniards because it definitely violated the Spanish Constitution. And bang, hatred started. Secessionists started hating Spain because they felt oppressed. And Spaniards started hating Catalans because they felt they were asking for too much, so they boycotted their products and anti-Catalan propaganda started to become common. Anti-secessionist Catalans, by then a majority, found themselves in the middle of this: accused by both sides, they obviously started to change. It would be foolish for a Catalan to agree to a Catalan boycott (even though some did!), so more and more Catalans started to back independence, or at least moved their opinions in this direction.
This has been growing over the years, and aggravated of course by the current economic climate. The BBC covers this, worringly enough placing the news in its Africa section, but nonetheless explaining the economy-driven support for secession.
Secessionists argue that Spain is stealing Catalonia's money, unionists argue that way too much money is wasted in secessionist propaganda and doubled institutions. Ironically enough, both are right. Catalonia is definitely fiscally mistreated by Spain, and at the same time a big part of Catalonia's deficit (which has existed for a long way before the crisis) is caused by doubled institutions and costs of self-government which could be avoided, or at least, re-structured.
This all looks very messed up. Some might say there is no possible solution to this, given the circumstances, but the idealist in me tells me a solution is possible. Of course, this would require compromise, and Catalans and Spaniards alike have always had a remarkably disliking for anything smelling to the slightest compromise with anyone else.
In one scenario, things are done like they have been done until this point: badly. Propaganda is ever more widely used as a political weapon, and more and more people are convinced to align with the secessionists. When the secessionist elite feels there is enough support, it will lobby for a referendum. A referendum is won, and the cogs in the independence machinery are switched on. This would pose many problems, as secession is currently considered unconstitutional. But I am sure something would be done about it, if an adequate amount of pressure through lobbying is exerted.
I believe this would bring about more harm than good. I want to particularly point out two ways in which Catalonia would be harmed.
The first way is what I've said before, about sectarianism and a broken up society. Civil unrest, many fleeing the newly-established country, etc. This is definitely bad, and it would definitely happen. Catalans with different independence views have hardly any will to unite, and independence would definitely not change this. Many unionists would leave, fearing a life as second-class citizens or some sort of discrimination. Many secessionists have argued an independent Catalonia would be open to all Catalans, and I will not put this in doubt, but also undoubtedly some citizens would fear of this and, as a majority of Catalans have relatives elsewhere in Spain, quite a few of them would leave.
And, more importantly, the second one, would be related to the European Union. Even though Brussels officials have stated secessionist movements within a member country are none of their business, the European Commission has already interpreted European law and said a possible seceded Catalonia would stay out of the EU. This is very important. The EU has brought about many, many benefits, and I would say no Catalan can say they have not benefitted from being part of the EU. But if it is chucked out, the Catalan economy would be destroyed. EU-wide common external tariffs would probably affect Catalonia, and if it could establish itself in a position similar to Norway, it would not have any EU subsidies nor any say in EU policy, whilst it would definitely have to abide it.
Secessionists foolishly say accession could then be negotiated. Of course it could be negotiated. But this also poses problems: time and support. Time, because all things being well, negotiations would take at least 5 years. In the middle of so huge an economic catastrophe as we are now, this would be absolutely disastrous. And support, because new member states must be approved unanimously. Germany would not probably support Catalonia (a weaker Catalonia and a weaker Spain are not in Germany's interests). There are also reasons to believe France and the UK would not support Catalonia either, to discourage their home secessionist movements from trying to follow Catalonia's path.
It might happen, Catalonia staying in the EU and there not being problems, but common sense tells us this is not really bound to happen. In market eyes, both Catalonia and Spain would be weaker, and in the current situation this would be disastrous for both.
In a second, less-likely scenario, propaganda finally turns the tide in favour of the unionists. It would be foolish to assume the status quo would be respected. The Spanish government would definitely want to avoid this happening again. Perhaps it would not go as far as going back to Francoist prohibitions, but it would definitely mean less autonomy for Catalonia. All further attempts to achieve greater autonomy would be interpreted as secessionist and consequently crushed. Catalans have worked very hard to achieve the good bits of Catalonia's current status, and it should definitely not be lost. The rest of Spain should therefore be worried about Catalonia right now, because less autonomy for Catalonia would probably mean less autonomy for all other regions in the country.
In other words, no matter what happens, both Catalonia and Spain are to come out of it worse off. So what can it be done about it?
I do not like being pessimistic, and I think there is a way out. It is obviously hard, of course, and it will probably take longer than a few years, but it can be done.
Firstly, right now Catalans and Spaniards alike should put all their efforts in uniting to get out of this economic situation. Catalonia demanding €5bn from the Spanish government is a short-term solution, but enough to delegitimate Catalonia's secessionist claims, in Spanish eyes.
So they should leave secessionist and hate politics aside and focus on getting out of this. Both sides would have to make concessions, and this is not really bound to happen. But dreams are free, aren't they?
Secondly, once Catalonia is out of the danger zone, economically, it should claim from Spain a greater degree of autonomy. A fiscal pact so Catalonia can administer its own money would be a perfect way of starting this process. Maybe establishing a federal Spain with Catalonia being a federated state within Spain would be beneficial, but this would of course take negotiations and debates. And time.
Thirdly, something which no one likes should be done. Waiting. A few years of waiting should occur, and see how the new, more autonomous system is working out for Catalonia. Propaganda should be discouraged on both sides, as waiting cannot be tied to civil unrest.
Next, if a federation seems to be working just fine but Catalans still want more, then and only then talks for independence should begin. It would take compromise from both Spain and the Catalans to negotiate secession terms with Brussels, of course, as everything should be crystal clear before proceeding with the last step.
The fifth and last step would be a referendum. It is foolish to even consider declaring independence without respecting the people's will and mandate. Whether this referendum would involve only Catalonia, also the rest of Spain or also Brussels would have to be established then. Personally I think Spain should have a say in it, for it to be legitimate, but it should be up to the Catalans to determine what passport they want to hold.
If the referendum result was no, then the federation could be preserved. If the result said yes, then guarantees should be made for civil liberties by both sides. As I see it, Catalans should be able to preserve both citizenships, and all Spaniards who decided to move to Catalonia or had links with Catalonia should be given Catalan citizenship too. At least at first, both Catalan and Spanish should be kept official languages, or at the very least, the right to express oneself in Spanish should be respected.
But of course this is all too theoretical and perhaps utopic.
All I know, as a Catalan and a Spaniard who loves his land, is that if Catalonia and Spain continue in this path, things are going to end very, very badly for all of us. And I would not like seeing my land shattered by ignorance and ignorance-led hatred. If Catalans do not unite for more than an agreement to hate each other, it does not matter whether we are self-ruled, or ruled by Spain or by Germany.