Monday, 21 December 2009

A Historic Catalan Referendum

Did the Catalans on December 13, set a new world record in democratic self-organization? Personally, I think that this might be the case.

In two months and without public support did volunteers create an election organisation which stretched over 166 municipalities (municipis) and made 193,000 people simultaneously go out and vote on one and the same issue.

On the day of the referendum, I observed the events on the ground in one of Vilanova i la Geltrú’s 11 polling stations, and the memory which I will keep is how normal and calm everything felt. The polling stations were totally improvised, yet I believe that most of those who voted felt that the process was equally serious as in official elections. The big fear that the extreme Spanish nationalist of the Falange would appear did not come true, but neither did the small ones, such as difficult IT problems which could have hampered the identification and thus made it possible to vote more than once.

The people who worked in the polling station all made a professional impression. More than once I did hear how were told things which were anything but beautiful, simply because they stuck to the rules and did not let anyone vote who had not brought all necessary documents. Meanwhile, they stoically endured the cold that swept in from the door which was left open throughout the day to make voters feel welcome. In Vilanova we are spoiled with a benign climate, but this day was an exception - not only was it cold but it was raining as well.

For someone like me, who has social science as a hobby, this was a unique experience. At a time when the modern democracy was perceived as too static an institution, a part of the population in a developed Western European country decided to create an alternative forum for decision-making; self-organized and almost entirely without hierarchies. What a subject for political scientists and organizational theorists! And for cultural historians with a focus on the Iberian Peninsula: Is this not the opposite of the victim mentality from which sometimes even the Catalans themselves say that they suffer?

Warm thanks to Vilanova’s local referendum platform, VNG Decideix. In a time of political distrust you have shown the inherent strength of open society and democracy.

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Interestingly enough, the evaluation of the individual platforms becomes more sensitive by the fact that they were all self-organised in a bottom-up structure. Since nobody on the central level can assume the responsibility of the individual platforms, the work of these can hardly be questioned without that coming across as criticism. That, I assume, will slow down the learning process for the coming referenda.

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Technorati tags: Catalonia, Independence, Spain, Vilanova

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