Is Catalonia going the way of Slovenia?
Spain’s restive northern region is talking of independence. But besides the political obstacles, the legal ones are substantial.
When, at his party’s congress on March 28-29, the former Catalan president Jordi Pujol exclaimed that “we live in a state that has no Constitution”, he touched the nerve of a Catalan nationalism that has become increasingly belligerent. It’s a nationalism that openly defies court sentences it believes threaten the nation it claims to represent, such as the Constitutional Court’s ruling on the region’s Statute of Autonomy (or Estatut) in 2010 or more recent ones by the Supreme Court related to language use in Catalonia.
No wonder that at the same congress, Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya (CDC) adopted a strategy that, even though it avoids the word “independence”, strongly argues for secession.
One had to wonder, however, what effect such an absence of the rule of law must have on the citizen, for whom the law means protection, first and foremost against any arbitrariness on the part of the government. What does Pujol’s disciple, Catalonia’s current president Artur Mas, intend to replace Spanish law with? Or will he keep the people in a legal limbo?
The coordinator of CDC’s strategy paper and Catalan government spokesman, Francesc Homs, has now addressed issues of legality in an April 22 interview with Catalan newspaper Ara: “In legal terms, before a law of the Parliament of Catalonia that hypothetically contradicts a law of the Spanish Parliament the Government [of Catalonia] will follow the legality of the Parliament of Catalonia. And we will not be told that it is not legal what we are doing, because we defend that we are a nation and we understand that the democratic will expressed peacefully by a people is above everything.”
Having followed the breakup of Yugoslavia, it’s tempting to remember how differently things were done in Slovenia. This might be a difficult comparison, but it is precisely the differences that count. The first one, that Spain is a democracy whose Constitution was approved by referendum, while Yugoslavia was a dictatorship whose four successive Constitutions emanated from a one-party system, tells the story of which legality one can legitimately rebel against, and which not so much.
Secondly, the Constitution of the old Socialist Republic of Slovenia was “based on the right of every nation to self-determination, which also includes the right to secession”. Catalonia’s Estatut offers a different situation, in legal terms: “The self-government of Catalonia is based on the Constitution, and also on the historical rights of the Catalan people…”.
Thirdly, Slovenian citizens were never exposed to any legal void as a result of the democratisation process. From September 1989 until the declaration of independence on June 25, 1991, a series of amendments were made to the Slovenian Constitution that bit by bit replaced federal legislation, culminating in the so-called “independence amendment” XCIX of February 22, 1991. Thus independence was, with a referendum in favour, not only possible. It was also legal.
What the Catalan government offers are no duly approved legal measures that would change present legality according to the expressed will of the people, but a spokesman with law studies who stops at the simple claim of “we are a nation” to describe what, for lack of a better word, is the legal philosophy of his government.
But the comparison with Slovenia, a country Catalan separatists themselves have often liked to see as mirroring their own situation, can and must continue. The document with which Slovenia declared its independence did not leave any doubt about the territorial ambitions of the new state: the borders were not to be changed. And there are Slovenian minorities in neighbouring states.
The Catalan vanguard
Catalan separatism, on the other hand, is trying to unify all Catalans in one country, and it is in this sense much closer to Serb rather than to Slovenian conceptions about statehood. Mas himself last year voted for independence of the “Catalan nation” in an unofficial referendum that understood the term “nation” in its most ample sense, including every territory where Catalan is historically spoken.
However, those parts of the “nation” that are outside of Catalonia were only asked about, but not asked; the referendum was only organised in Catalonia proper. An indication that separatists see Catalonia as a kind of vanguard, the part that goes independent first, and other parts should follow.
Mas is presently cultivating a certain ambiguity and making everybody guess what he is really aiming for: a new fiscal pact with Spain – or independence itself. It is nevertheless his own actions and the words of his closest associates that do not point towards a very promising future, or present for that matter. With regards to both its internal and its external organisation, Catalonia under Mas is at odds with principles that are the backbone of democracy as we know it.
One thing is certainly similar: as in Yugoslavia, ethnic disputes are taking place against the backdrop of an economic crisis.
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Published: Apr 23 2012
Category: Featured, Politics, Spain News
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
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Tags: catalan independence, Constitution, independencia cataluña, Slovenia, spain, spain economy, spain news, spain politics, spanish economy, spanish news, spanish politics, Yugoslavia