Europe Politics

Why not? Catalonia’s independence seen from Europe

mapa_catalunyaWhen I left Barcelona for the first time in 1998 to go to Paris, Catalunya was rarely known as a place where identitarian feeling was strong and culture thriving. Very often, my language, Catalan, was known as a Spanish dialect and our claims of autonomy taken lightly, as part of our folklore, in comparison to the violent separatist movement in Basque country.

In all this time since I left my country, more than 10 years, things have changed. News about what Jose Ortega y Gasset called “the Catalan problem” (el problema catalán) have regularly appeared in international media. Something I was not accustomed to. At the same time, a Catalan government more assertive in claiming the position of the Catalan language, and in extending the presence of Catalunya around the world came into power in 2003.

Today, I feel that popular knowledge in Europe about the “Catalan problem” is growing. Yet, this doesn’t mean that it is shared, understood or supported. Reactions are normally related to national experience. French see it as a cultural movement that has to be squashed before it becomes political. Germans do not understand why we want to have more autonomy, let alone independence, when we are not persecuted or repressed like the Kosovars, or we were not forced to live together by the communists like the Slovaks (forgetting Czechoslovakia was founded after World War I). Italians compare our identity to the myriad of dialects and cultures of which Italy is composed of, therefore they see us as just an annoyance which needs to be ignored. Belgians differ depending on which side of the community divide they are in: Flemish being more knowledgeable of the situation (though not necessarily understandable, that depends on which side of the political spectrum they are in), and French speakers (not necessarily Walloons) having a position closer to the French, though without the squashing. British have a rather pragmatic approach based on action, that is, until we don’t do anything about it, it is irrelevant for them. And so on.

Tomorrow, Sunday 13, 700,000 people from 167 towns all around Catalunya will participate in a referendum organized by civic groups, without the support of public institutions or political parties. What started small, with a referendum in Arenys de Munt, a small Catalan town, on September 13 has gradually, but quickly, become the main political issue in Catalunya. From the bottom, this democratic movement has been growing and taken momentum in unexpected ways (wiki page in Catalan about the referendums).

In order to begin understanding what’s happening in Catalunya we need to (at least) go back to 12 April, 1931. That day the local elections in Spain gave an important victory to the republicans (anti-monarchists), including Catalan nationalists in Catalunya. Immediately after, the Spanish monarchist government fell. On April 14, the King Alfonso XIII left the country and the II Spanish Republic was proclaimed. What is often ignored outside Catalunya is that the leader of Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya , the winner in the elections in Catalunya, had already proclaimed hours before the Catalan Republic within the Iberian Federation. Those like Le Monde who argue that this referendum is the effect of “nationalist rhetoric fueled by regional institutions” are damn wrong in thinking that this is a new phenomenon. Catalans have felt their difference for many centuries, the only thing that changes is the opportunities they have had to express them and fight for them…

10 replies on “Why not? Catalonia’s independence seen from Europe”

Hi Alex,

I must disagree with you post. What is going to happen tomorrow is a demagogy achievement, not a democratic one. Let’s see the facts:

– The organizers of the “referendums” ( wrong name, as there is not law to approve or reject ), allow voting of 16 years old peope. In a legal consult, people must be 18 years or older.
– They also allow immigrant vote. Weird thing, people who can’t choose the President of the Generalitat can vote for the independence of Catalonia.
– However, the people who has the legal rights ( the rest of Spaniards ) can’t vote !
The consults will take place in 164 towns … of 964
– By the way, they say that a 36-40% of participation is a success. In that case, I say that a no participation of 36-40% is a success, too. Which means, that both opinions can be right … at the same time !!! 🙂
– The question of the consult is a bit cheating: “Do you agree that the catalan nation becomes an independent democratic and social State of rights within the European Union ?” ( a quick, but hopefully good enough translation of “Està d’acord que la nació catalana es converteixi en un Estat de dret, independent, democràtic i social, integrat a la Unió Europea?”:
– If Catalonia becomes an independent state, it will have to negotiate their membership in the UE. It was Spain the state that became a member in 1986, the new political entity, Catalonia, will have to negotiate from scratch as it didn’t exist at that time.

On the other hand, when you say, Alex, that they don’t have the support of public institutions or political parties, well, let me say a pair of things:
– How can public institutions possibly support something that is against the state of rights ? Weird thing: to become a “state of rights” they start by breaking the law: a lot of citizens that have the right of give their opinion can’t do it.
– Two of the most important political parties, CDC and ERC, have given their support to these consults.

Finally, I couldn’t agree more with Le Monde. This is the result of decades of education on Nationalism ideology. As a proof, I can show your last statement: “Catalans have felt their difference for many centuries, the only thing that changes is the opportunities they have had to express them and fight for them… “

Concerning the first part of the statement, “Catalans have felt their difference for many centuries”, well, an average Catalan person lives between 65-85 years, so it’s unlikely that any Catalan person can feel any difference ( from who, by the way ? ) for centuries. I know, you are talking about a group, not about one person but … it was a funny way to express that your statement suggest that all the Catalans think the same thing and even worse, that we are a unicelular body rather than individual ones.

Concerning the “difference”, what are you talking about? Oh, no please, don’t tell me that the “difference” is the Catalan language. Is this the only important thing, really? So, Ireland shouldn’t be independent, as English is, by far, the most spoken language, while Irish Gaellic is spoken by a minority. Are you talking about the Catalan society or economy ? Well, this is probably true, there, are some differences between the Catalan society and the society in the rest of Spain. But that is not due to some “esence”, it is due to bigger economical development, and the reason for that is another and long story ( that we may well discuss in another post 🙂

Thanks for your attention to my looooong reply. By the way, I agree with your post titled “The social benefits of online piracy”, well argumented !

@josé luis, fantastic comment. I must say that in a way it complements pretty well my post, from a different look though 🙂

Let me answer some of your arguments/points:

1. On the youth and immigrant vote. Yes, indeed in the current system these groups cannot legally vote. But this, as you correctly say, is not a legal referendum. It is a “popular consultation”, which in English should still be translated as “referendum”. Therefore, the current electoral laws do not apply to it. It is a political action. As such, one can introduce novelties to claim different rights, including voting rights to young people under 16 and immigrants. In my opinion, this is good. I would like to see the current electoral system giving these people so important a right in a democracy.

2. On the Spanish right to vote. In any referendum of independence or self-determination you ask the community living in the territory that will be eventually secede for the vote (e.g. Quebec). This is obvious, for otherwise it would make no sense if what you are asking is the will of the people who are making “the movement” towards secession. If we’d ask the Serbians about independence in Kosovo, or the Canadians about Quebec, or the Russians about Georiga, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Ukraine, there will be an obvious result, which would not represent the political reality, but the submission of a minority to a majority. You don’t ask the majority for the will of minority. You ask directly the latter.

3. About the numbers for success, yes I agree with you that they are pretty low. As I see it, there are just being cautious. In any case, I don’t thing it is good to think as political parties do, in terms of winners and losers. Politics is more complex than simple binaries. Therefore, yes, I think you can have two “winners”.

4. “If Catalonia becomes an independent state, it will have to negotiate their membership in the UE.” Indeed, but I wouldn’t see any problem in this. Besides an eventual veto by Spain, the rest of the member states would perfectly understand that they cannot leave a rich 7 million state in Western Europe outside the EU. It wouldn’t be good for them. And it wouldn’t make much sense.

5. About the support by political parties. When I say they haven’t received any support, I mean they haven’t got any funds or organizational support from them (or public institutions) in the organization of the referendums. Indeed, there are parties that are bandwagoning and giving their “moral support”, but this is unavoidable and probably positive. Yet, there is not direct involvement from them in all this process.

6. You say “to become a “state of rights” they start by breaking the law”. First, they are not breaking the law. The “abogados del Estado” (state attorneys) stopped the process they started against the consultation. For as Josep Sànchez i Josep Manel Ximenis, two of the proponents of the referendum have said (

“hem estudiat la llei i coneixem els 4 punts que no podem infringir: La consulta no ha de ser impulsada per una administració pública, no podem utilitzar el cens públic, no podem anomenar la iniciativa ‘consulta popular’ o ‘referèndum’ -i aleshores li vam dir ‘consulta a la població’- i el darrer element fa referència a l’edat dels votants, majors de 18 anys segons la llei espanyola i majors de 16 a la nostra consulta”.

And second, even if they would infringe the current legal system that wouldn’t mean they are against a state of rights. This would mean that they are agains the “current legal system” (the Spanish one).

7. Finally, about my last sentence. I agree with you that it may be understood as I am suggesting “that all the Catalans think the same thing and even worse, that we are a unicelular body rather than individual ones.” But this is not what I meant. What I meant was that there is a Catalan identity shared by many people in the current territory of Catalunya and, even, beyond (Valencia, south of France, Balearic Islands), that has been present for at least 300 years in various forms and often in contraposition to the Spanish state. Obviously, this identity is not felt equally by all people. Yet, it is not the product of an institutional campaign promoted by nationalist elites, as many argue. This was my point.

Again, thanks for a fantastic comment which I enjoyed reading. And please keep coming back to read more about Catalunya, online piracy and more 🙂

José Luis,

First of all, you have the typical Spanish point of view of a Castillian Spanish person. It is a shame since Spain could have been a great state to live in if you guys weren’t the way you are. However, thanks to that attitude us the Catalans will soon enjoy a much better position as a new state within the EU. On the other hand, I urge you to study history since Catalunya is much older than Spain and Catalonia never became part of it by free will but rather after a succession war, you guys never suceed in wanting people to join your Spanish project because all your arguments are always irrational and based on right of conquest and downright violence.

Secondly I urge you people to give us Catalans reasons to stay inside of Spain instead of trying to scare us with made up stories about how Catalonia will fail as an independent state that are never argumented with real data, while there are solid studies that say we’ll become one of the most dynamic and rich areas in the EU the day we get rid of Spain.

On the other hand, in case you had any doubt Catalonia will automatically be part of the EU since all catalans are already EU citizens and kicking a territory out of the EU is not contemplated in any EU legistation and in any case since Spain will also be a different entity then it would also be kicked out and would have to reenter.

Even though this is an absurd situation if that was the case then Catalonia would meet all the requirements to reenter the EU but the same could not be said of Spain.

Visca Catalunya!

David, Albert,

Teniu el típic comportament dels “Catalans de la Ceba”. Yes, I’m Catalan. A ashamed Catalan because “els meus paisans s’han begut l’enteniment”. 95% of my argurments wrong ? Well, I’ll have to talk to my teachers on Politics at UOC. People in my country Spain ( and this includes Catalonia, of course ) needs urgently two things: more education in Politics & Democracy and in History.

It’s 8.15 am in the morning, and I have to go to work. But I shall respond to the comments of my “paisans” properly, the above parragraph is just a flavour.

And thanks to Albert Ribó for your comments, we may well disagree, but “lo cortés no quita lo valiente”.

Visca la democràcia, encara que sigui espanyola, no a la demagogia, encara que sigui catalana.

I think the best spanish living in catalunya can do is go back to spain and let Catalonia alone. Most definitely you are of spanish descent. Your colonnial minority is annoying. Let us alone for Christ sake!

Fuck Catalonia!!!

I will be the first to travel to Catalonia and purge that Spanish Province of its anti-Spanish sentiment in no time.

Viva Espana!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!11

The majority of people living in Catalunya do not want independence.
Unfortunately the popularity of this idea is mostly due to the biased education system of the last 30 years. There are many young people who shout for independence that have absolutely no idea why they want it or what the consequences might be.
The Catalan people should stop looking backward and try to move forwards with the rest of Spain.
Considering most ‘Catalans’ have parents or family from other parts of Spain, I think they have just as many similarities as differences with people from other regions. Why not celebrate both?
Politicians are entirely to blame for the rise in Catalan nationalism – abusing the pride people have in where they are from for their own benefit.
I feel sorry for many Catalanists – they are being used as tools by the rich and powerful.

Vull un estat independent pel be economic i cultural dels meus fills. Soc imigrant amb 4 fills en Bcn, es repugnant l’espoli fiscal qu’Espanya ja imposa els meus fills. No soc catala, no tinc la paciencia dels catalans, esperar 300 anys mes per la dignitat no entra en el meu sistema.
Vull qu’Espanya ens torni el botí de l’espoli amb efecte retroactiu. Si faig extorció a un veí durant un temps i em pilla la poli, em demanan que torni tots els diners, no nomes l’ultim botí..
Visca la dignitat, visca l’independencia de Catalunya i retorn retroactiu de l’espoli fiscal.

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