Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Catalan Inpendence? Coming Sunday Brings Us the Answer

Almost five years have passed since we moved to Catalonia and I do not think that a single day has gone by without me having heard (at least in blogs) some kind of call for independence.

I work hard to understand my adopted country, by learning the languages - for practical reasons first Spanish and only afterwards Catalan - and by carrying out hobby studies of local politics, culture and history. Piece by piece do I begin to understand these Catalans who make such efforts to define who they are since they are tired of being confused with Spaniards. But to one crucial question I have no answer: Do Catalans want to have their own state? Due to an unholy alliance between the major parties on the Spanish and Catalan levels - let alone on totally different grounds - there have not been any referendums on independence.

On the central level, both Zapatero's socialists (PSOE) government and the conservative PP opposition would say that referendums on sovereignty are the exclusive competence of the state and then refer to the Spanish Constitiution, written in the years immediately after the dictator Franco's death. Autonomous regions, such as Catalonia and Euskadi (the Basque country), simply do not have the right to do so. With a Spanish perspective, this is about a principle in order not to create precedents for the future. The question must not be asked even though opinion polls usually show that the majority of both Basques and Catalans want to remain in Spain.

In Catalonia, the local socialists branch (PSC) would probably not talk about the constitution but rather about the coexistence (convivència) of right and left and of unionism and minority nationalism, on which modern Spain has been built and therefore must not be put at risk. PSC favours a more federal Spain - certainly not independence - but the current wording of Catalonia’s new autonomy charter (estatut) hints that they defend the right to decide - el dret a decidir – as a principle.

Some who absolutely do not hesitate in claiming this right is the biggest Catalan nationalist party, CiU, and in the international arena they find support in the first article of the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. That the CiU has never proposed referenda on independence is, above all, due to demographic realities. Currently, the question would receive the wrong answer and that would, in turn, send the wrong message to the Spanish nationalists and weaken the catalanism.

In this way, Spanish and Catalan politicians have avoided letting Catalans vote on independence. As I said in the beginning, the friction between Barcelona and Madrid has been constant since we came here, so I will not pretend to have seen that a change was coming; that the grass roots, all of a sudden, had had enough. This summer's events in Arenys de Munt could have become an isolated phenomenon but, on the contrary, more and more referendum platforms are being created (last week, Vilanova’s neighbour town Sant Pere de Ribes joined the group).

On December 13, Catalonia will hold its first relatively comprehensive referendum on independence. Regardless of how it goes, the platforms have already achieved one of their goals: the question is not forbidden any longer. A large missing piece of my personal integration puzzle will finally fall into place.

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Relaterad posts on this blog:

- The Voting Procedure for the Catalan Referendum on Independence
- Catalan Independence and Yet Another Neutral Swede
- Catalanism is Not Independentism
- The Referendum in Vilanova – Highly Interesting or Utterly Boring?
- December 13, Catalonia Holds a Referendum on Independence
- Arenys de Munt – the First of Many Catalan Referenda
- Can Catalonia Hold a Referendum om Independence?

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Technorati tags: Barcelona, Catalonia, CiU, Estatut, Independence, PSC, PSOE, Referendum, Spain, Vilanova,


Tom said...

It's not really remotely comprehensive though, is it? If Barcelona and its largest suburbs don't take part, then what's the point?

We all know that if Catalonia's future were decided by small rural towns and villages, independence would have been declared 20 years ago.

Also, I'm not sure what you mean by "the question is not forbidden any longer" - ERC, Catalonia's 3rd party has *always* campaigned on a pro independence platform: it's their main policy.

And yet, this is not an official referendum.

The 'question' is in exactly the same place it was when I arrived here 7 years ago... and to be honest, it doesn't feel like it's going anywhere.

All that said, I hope you enjoy Sunday.

Erik Wirdheim said...

Hi Tom,

First of all let me thank you for commenting. I love to be challenged, not only when it is done by well-informed people, like you.

Let me start by admitting that I look forward to the coming Sunday and honestly believe that surprisingly many people will vote. Maybe I am too naive, but I see something very encouraging in the fact that platforms like 'VNG Decideix' are made up not by politicians, but by people from different organisation usually not involved in politics. That is good for society, no matter how this ends.

I also firmly believe that there is a before and after Arenys de Munt in Catalan politics. For example, CiU:s Mas and Puig have probably always been 'independentistes', but at least I have not heard them pointing it out in public before.

I agree that Esquerra has always advocated independence. The point which it was my intention to make is that, until now, it has been forbidden to ask the question in a referendum.

The Barcelona referendum will be held next year. If you are interested, please, refer to Avui or El Punt. LaVanguardia seems to avoid commenting on this movement.

Guy Hedgecoe said...

Hi Erik, I am a journalist in Madrid and would very much like to talk to you as soon as possible about Sunday's referendum. My email is
Please get in touch if you are able!
All best, Guy Hedgecoe