I’ve been following international press coverage on Catalonia for many years, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more poorly researched or worse written article than the one in your latest issue by Eliza Gray titled “What Catalonia’s Vote Means for Europe”.Monday’s vote is a declaration of intent, not a declaration of independence; the difference is important. Indeed, such a declaration was promised and announced by each of the pro-independence parties in their electoral platforms and should come as no surprise after they won a majority in September’s elections.
What does come as a surprise is the author’s misunderstanding of the origins of the current situation. The independence movement does not come from a “tussle” between Spanish PM Rajoy and Catalan President Artur Mas. In fact, it originates in Catalonia’s insistence on a better relationship with Spain as embodied in the efforts to negotiate a new Statute of Autonomy back in 2005 thanks to cooperation between the PSOE in Madrid and their PSC counterparts in Barcelona. However, those efforts were thwarted and the Catalans were left with the impression that no matter how carefully they played by the rules, Madrid will never keep its end of the bargain. I detail these developments in a recent article in the Irish Times.
I won’t even get into the numerous so-called “experts” that the author mentions in the article but does not name. I will advise the author to consult the European Commission on the topic of Catalonia belonging to the EU and remind her that just recently they noted that any so called expert opinions were simply that, “personal opinions”, and that the European Commission has made no official statement on internal expansion.
The author’s most egregious statement, however, may be characterizing the independent movement as “aggressive”. The truth is that the Catalan people have been mobilizing in larger and larger numbers since 2006 in favor of having the right to decide their own political future, but, and this is the most salient point, in a completely democratic and peaceful way. Indeed, the Catalan National Assembly has now spearheaded four demonstrations in a country of 7.5 million people of between 1 and 2 million people four years in a row in which the atmosphere was civic and festive; not a single window was broken, not a single trashcan was burned. The Catalans are committed to democracy and to peaceful expression. They deserve to be heard and they are determined to be heard.
When the Spanish State refused the Catalans to have any sort of vote on independence—even a non-binding, non-official, volunteer-led “participatory process” was suspended by the Spanish Constitutional Court!—more than 2.3 million Catalans responded by peacefully taking to the polls in that volunteer-led referendum a year ago on November 9, 2015 and 1.3 million of them signed a petition in favor of democracy that last week was presented to the Council of Europe. And in order to have an official vote on independence, the parliamentary elections of September 27, 2015 were cast as a plebiscite, with a yes vote for the pro-independence parties being interpreted as a yes vote for independence. In those elections 48% voted Yes and only 39% voted No. The current parliament considers itself to have a democratic mandate to pursue their electoral platform, as they are doing tomorrow, November 9, 2015.
Finally, Gray’s conclusion that Catalonia’s demands for democracy undermine the European Union are cynical indeed. I don’t see Spain or any other EU Member State offering up its own sovereignty to the EU in the name of unity. The only thing that threatens Spain is its unwillingness or inability to recognize and appreciate a peaceful, determined democratic people that is no longer willing to remain silent. Catalonia is, has always been, and will be in the future a net contributor to the EU both financially and culturally. The EU will be happy and lucky to have us. Perhaps Spain with its trillion-euro debt, corruption-riddled government and compromised press might take a look in the mirror.
International Commmittee Chair, Catalan National Assembly