Hundreds of Catalan separatists gather to protest in front of the Catalan Economy Ministry. September 20, 2017. Barcelona, Spain. Matthias Oesterle/Zuma Press/PA Images. All rights reserved.
“Being in a minority, even in a minority of one, did
not make you mad. There was truth and there was untruth, and if you clung to
the truth even against the whole world, you were not mad.”
– George Orwell, 1984
Catalonia may be closer than ever to being
independent, but it is increasingly far from embodying the democratic evolution
that many of its supporters would have us believe. The secessionists have used
a slim majority to approve the referendum and transition law, without any
regard for legal safeguards, reports from their own legal services, the constitutional
order and standard democratic norms. The images of a half-empty parliament during the votes, while a MP removed the Spanish flags left behind by members of the opposition as a sign of
protest, illustrates how the secessionist movement and democracy have gone
their separate ways.
With the full support of the president of the Parliament, which should be impartial but acts as another member
of the cabinet and finds it difficult to put behind her past as a secessionist
activist, they opened the door to convene a unilateral referendum to ratify their
project of secession. Mariano Rajoy´s government affirms that, after what was determined
by the Constitutional Court, it will not allow for the referendum to be held. But
as the 1 October nears and appeals for dialogue make no progress, we appear to
be witnessing a train wreck, or rather, a train crashing against the wall of
Just ends can never justify unjust means
It is important to recognize that nationalism often emerges
from the perception of a historical humiliation suffered by those who feel strongly about their belonging to a homeland.
But the sense of humiliation alone cannot explain the sharp increase in support
for independence in Catalonia – from 15% in 2009 to 41% in 2017. A severe economic crisis, some obvious mistakes from
the Spanish government, a populist narrative blaming Madrid for every failure and a well-oiled propaganda machine offers a better – and more plausible – explanation.
Catalonia may be closer than ever to being independent, but it is increasingly far from embodying the democratic revolution that many of its supporters would have us believe.
The nationalists have actively sought a sufficient
majority to declare themselves independent. But they didn’t
attain it in 2012, when
thousands of citizens demanded a nation of their own and its president came
forward, stating that he had heard the voice of the people and called for new
elections, to guide them as a messiah towards freedom. But they lost 12 seats.
Nor did they obtained a majority in 2014, when they organized a referendum, declared
illegal and turned unofficial, as only 33% of the electoral census participated. Neither
did they achieved their electoral objectives in September 2015, after the
thirds elections in five years, although
instead of recognizing it, they decided that less than 48% of the votes were
more than enough to open the doors for independence.
Although 61% of Catalan are against a unilateral referendum and only 41% want Catalonia to be independent,
nothing seems to dampen the secessionists from going to the last instances to
impose their will. Ramming the referendum and transition law through Parliament
may have successfully provoked Madrid and opened the floor for populist
manipulations of what democracy is and
what it isn’t. But this new and definitive mistake has also deprived the
secessionist movement from any legitimacy it may have ever had. For in democracies, ends, however righteous they
may be, can never justify unjust means.
A half-empty Parliament is the perfect representation
of what is happening in Catalonia. It´s true that the secessionists have 72
seats – majority stands at 66 – but it is also true that they have less
than 48% of the votes. With this parliamentary majority they can legislate,
approve budgets, debate and win motions, and, if they fail to please their constituency, after their term citizens can decide again which majorities and minorities they
want. But those decisions that are irreversible, those that affect the future
of a country – and the future of millions of citizens – for many generations to
come cannot be imposed by less than half of the electorate. Even so, in this legislature it became clear that the
Catalan authorities only seem interested in putting
a stamp of popular approval through demonstrations in the street on a
secession that they have decided on, without taking into account what the majority
of its citizens have expressed in the polls.
For in democracies, ends, however righteous they may be, can never justify unjust means.
Referendums are not a democratic tool per se. They can
be easily manipulated, they are asymmetric and end up falsifying the multipolar
reality that conforms society. If their promoters win, the result is irreversible. If they
lose, we´ll vote again. You only have to look at what happened in Scotland and what the nationalists want to do. They lost the referendum, but if they had won, there would be no reversal
or another referendum, even if the majority were to change, as often does in free
and democratic countries.
Thus, not every decision reached by a majority rule is
necessarily democratic. Checks and balances and separation of power exist for
many reasons: one being to avoid that decisions that can negatively affect
minorities are approved. That´s why the procedure to reform the Constitution,
the law of laws, requires a qualified majority and differs from the procedure
required to pass a simple bill. That doesn’t make it less democratic. It makes it democratic.
Pro-independentist members of the Catalonia Parliament celebrate at the end of the parliamentary session. September 6, 2017. Barcelona, Spain. Jordi Boixareu/Zuma Press/PA Images. All rights reserved.
Celebrating a unilateral and unconstitutional self-determination
referendum, in these circumstances, would be to go against what parliamentary
democracies and legal and agreed referendums represent. It would violate international law, international principles, domestic law and even autonomic law. If it doesn’t meet
the formal requirements required by a serious
consultation, how can we speak of a democratic referendum?
A political solution must place reality above
The polarization that surrounds this process raises
many questions, but asserts one thing: this process will leave a very ugly
scar, a divided society, winners and losers.
Mr. Rajoy should resist the urge to suspend
Catalonia´s autonomy by applying article 155 of the Constitution. This would fall right into the
secessionists plan, fueling the misinformed notion that Catalonia is
being repressed and feeding the
narrative that the blame
was, is and it will always be in Madrid.
The polarization that surrounds this process raises many questions, but asserts one thing: this process will leave a very ugly scar, a divided society, winners and losers.
But, although this is not the what many believe, the
reality is that Catalonia is a free society. Emotion and reality do not always
go hand in hand. But Catalonia manages its education policy, its hospitals and its
public services. It has its own police, its own media. Catalonia
is not Kosovo; it´s not exiting a war. And it has not been invaded by a foreign
army; like Ukraine.
Spain, contrary to what has been voiced by Mr.
Puigdemont – Catalonia’s current president – it´s a democratic state. Being one requires you to safeguard the coexistence
between all members of society and protect the freedom of every citizen. Not
just those that think like you. His government has ruled only on behalf of half of Catalans,
which he considers his own. But what is at stake is the coexistence between
Spaniards. And between all Catalans. The voice of a Catalan citizens waving the
Spanish flag is just as important as the voice of the Catalan citizen waving the Estelada – the secessionist flag – yet, one will be classified
as Catalan, even a good Catalan, while the other will be classified as a bad
Catalan, or not even as a Catalan.
The voice of a Catalan citizen waving the Spanish flag is just as important as the voice of the Catalan citizen waving the Estelada.
Fortunately, far more unites us than divides us. The terrible attacks this summer in
Barcelona should serve to
remind us that we live in open, fairly inclusive and free societies. That we want
to live in peace and, that, we will oppose those who want to impose their reason
over us. Is in these societies where we want to keep on living. Catalans should
be allowed to vote, but within the law, not like this. In fact, they have voted
38 times since the restoration of democracy. Laws and electoral procedures
exist to protect citizens from arbitrariness.
Spain is not attempting to gag 7.5 million people by
force, as Mr. Assange suggested in Twitter. And it’s certainly not afraid to hear what they have
to say. What the Spanish government is afraid, like everyone that believes in Democracy,
is of those that claim to champion freedom, human rights and the rule of law,
while they undermine it and twist it in their favour. Democracy, wrote Albert
Camus, is not the law of the majority, but the protection of the minority.