Monday, 21 December 2009

Was the December 13 Referendum a Historic Day for the Catalans?

The second round of the Catalan non-official referendum on independence is over. As of now, it appears that there are three more to come; two small ones in February and April, respecitively, and then a larger one. The last one is to include Barcelona and it seem that the date has been postponed for organization purposes. During the past week we have seen very different conclusions from what happened here on 13/12. The only thing they have in common is that they all affect what will happen next.

That there would be conflicts after the referendum could be felt in advance, but at least I was surprised by how quickly and intensely they bubbled up. When, on Monday evening December 14, some of its leaders reached Agora - a debate program on Catalan TV3 - they had already begun to asserting their own positions and to accuse each other of trying to use the event for personal benefit.

No matter how right these people might have been in their allegations, they should not have been spread to the media; that was an insult to the thousands of volunteers who had been crucial to the process. These leaders have subsequently realized that their infighting jeopardized the whole movement, but by then some damage had already been done.

The problem with the outcome is that it was so unclear: It is true that 94.9% voted in favour of a sovereign Catalonia but the voter turnout was only 27.4%. While the coordinating group for the referendum stubbornly maintains that this was a success, the Madrid based press has called it all a failure.

To claim that the figures reveal that Catalonia wants to be independent, as some have done, is not honest. What the yes side would be more right in celebrating is the fact that, in the municipalities which have voted, the share of independentistas in the population extends far beyond the voters of ERC – the so far the only party in the Catalan parliament which advocates an independent state.

Even more important to remember is how we humans evaluate performance based on our expectations and that the hope for a high turnout increased substantially during the last few days before the referendum. From having been a matter covered in detail only by the openly Catalan nationalist press like Avui and El Punt, the initiative suddenly made it to the front page of LaVanguardia Barcelona based but written in Spanish – and at the same time international media intensified their coverage. Partly this was because Joan Laporta - who is likely to enter into politics when his term as the president of FC Barcelona is over – made a tour from Tarrega to Vic, calling on his fellow countrymen to vote yes. It was in this late boost of attention the coordinating group revealed that they hoped for a voter turnout of 40%. They were probably fooled by the hype.

On the local level in Vilanova i la Geltrú the same thing happened. As late as Thursday December 10, the public notice boards of the town were dominated by VNG Decideix's neutral reminders about the referendum while CUP was the only party which had put up posters for a yes. Then, on the Friday, our local newspaper Diari de Vilanova dedicated its first three pages to VNG Decideix and at the same time the JNC (CDC's youth organisation), ERC, Reagrupament (the new party for an independent Catalonia which Joan Laporta might possibly lead) and some smaller groups started to encourage people to vote yes. At least I was mislead and interpreted the explosion of activity as a sign of a growing interest. Having said that, let me stress that the no-side was never tempted to campaign but kept with their strategy not to legitimize the referendum.

To evaluate the local platforms in a fair way, I would turn back the expectations to the levels we saw a few weeks earlier. If I remember it correctly, one representative of VNG Decideix once said that anything above 7.000 voters was an acceptable result for a non-official referendum. In the end, 8.515 Vilanova inhabitants went to the polling stations. Even more successful was the platform of Sant Cugat del Vallès which estimated that 10% of the population would vote, but reached an actual turnout of 25.5%.

All in all, my conclusion is that those Catalans who had hoped for a majority for independence, now have to admit to themselves that most of their neighbours did not see this referendum as a historic opportunity.

Nor did this day become a serious warning to the Catalan political class from citizens fed up with corruption scandals; a historic reaction which I – naïve as I am – was hoping for.
Having said that, December 13 was undeniably a day when the world had its eyes on Catalonia and followed an independence movement which, in a peaceful manner, challenged the state. No matter how democratic the process was when the Spanish constitution came about, in a modern open society the Catalans can, at least, count on international media support if, one day, they would agree to go their own way. To me that is a historical experience, not only for Catalonia but for geographically based minorities all around the globe.

- - -
As a detail, I would like to add that I am convinced that the discrepancies now exposed among the leaders of the referendum movement do not depend on the outcome – a higher or a lower turnout could have lead to the same or even stronger reactions. From a perspective of organization dynamics you can - if you want to generalize – say that Swedes and Catalans are each other’s opposites: Swedes prefer to reconcile and reach consensus, while Catalans rather split into factions than compromise with their principles.

- - -
Technorati tags: Catalonia, Independence, Spain, Vilanova


Florenci Salesas said...

A goog analyse. Next day to the referendum, Mister Zaragoza appeared in the tv saying that the referendum was OK but voted just a minority of Catalans. That's true. Just about a 25% of Catalans voted Yes, in fact. But do you know which is the amount of % Catalans voted PSC, the party is now governing? only a 15%. In las elections, about a 549% of Catalans just didn't vote. The most voted party was Convergència that ranked less than 18% of total possible voters. Even all the tripartit voted altogether make a bit under the 25%. Then, compared the Yes voters in the non-ofiicial referendum, people who voted in it reached an amount of voters even one point above the coalition in now governing in Catalonia. That means that even 25% is not a good result it would represent a massive absolute majority in normal elections therms. And knowing that in some towns - there are places when people didn't know where to go to vote, because the lack of money and information... and the laziness of the voters for geting information, of course - and that immigrants were allowed to vote and those never have that right in a normal consult, I think the success is spectacularly high.

Now, it started - at least! - parliamentary discussions about the possibility of banning that stupid thing clled "corridas de toros" because only 180.000 signatures have benn get from people like me, I admit. Everybody is admired at this. Me too. But it seems that 200.000 in just an amount of people that only represents the 10% of the total population of Catalonia (700.000 to 7.000.000) is watched as a ridiculous question.

I think not only ERC or CUp voters went to put their paper with a Yes. I am not a voter of those parties and if I could I would voted a Yes with all my energies.

I am amazed that thos % numbers I commented you - that are a simple but true mats question - haven't benn commented in any tv or journal debate I read or watched.

A pleasure to read your articles.

Sorry my fast comment, I have to go now! Have a nice day.

Erik Wirdheim said...

Hi Florenci,

Yes, believe it or not, I am for the first time answering on your many comments ;-)

Let me therefore start by asking you to excuse me if I, at least so far, do not give much priority to this side of blogging.

Here is a Lavanguardia article with an analysis of the participation which I think is similar to yours:

You are of course right that not only ERC- and CUP-voters took part December 13. I know several people who are close to CDC Vilanova who did. However, with the good job done by "VNG Decideix" I consider it sad that the number of voters was below the amount of people who vote for either ERC, CUP or CiU in, for example, municipal elections.

I am aware that a very big share of CiU does not want full independence, but these people could have voted no or in blank. From my perspective, by not voting they missed a unique chance to vindicate the right to decide (el dret a decidir). And I am quite confident that you agree with me here.