The spotlight has been thrown on the Catalan region once again, following its request for an economic bailout from Madrid. But how are its nationalists expected to react to current developments?
“The rushing Pequod, freighted with savages, laden with fire, […] seemed the material counterpart of her monomaniac commander’s soul.” (Herman Melville, ‘Moby Dick’, 1851)
”We want the great majority of the people of Catalonia to embark with us on this voyage to Ithaca.” (Artur Mas, March 24, 2012)
What does Catalan premier Artur Mas really want? Is it a fiscal pact with Madrid that leaves this region in control of its own taxation system? Or is it independence, the threat of which he is using to try to wrestle the fiscal pact from the central government?
It is as if his real intentions were inside a closed box. The uncertainty he fosters allows for all kinds of projections, depending on the desires or fears of the beholder. So much so that the hopes are to influence the outcome by ways of observation.
Meanwhile, a new separatist organisation called the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) has begun a March towards Independence, to culminate in a large demonstration on September 11, the Catalan national holiday. On the eve of the fiscal pact negotiations with Madrid, scheduled to begin September 20, Mas wants to piggyback on this protest by asking the people to come out in force and show their support for his fiscal pact proposal, which would accommodate Catalonia within Spain.
Mas himself will play the statesman and not appear at the demonstration. Many of his ministers have already confirmed their attendance, and his own party has thrown its weight behind it. Thus the demonstration will send two mutually exclusive signals. Success will be claimed equally by both the ANC and Mas.
These phenomena can only be understood counter-intuitively; they look like something straight out of quantum physics. The solution lies not in choosing one or the other option. It’s in both, simultaneously.
The stepping stone to independence?
From the more practical standpoint which the Spanish government has to take, it might seem that Mas let the cat out of the bag long ago. He has always described the fiscal pact as a crucial step in his overall effort for “national transition”, which in turn leads to “the right to decide”, a euphemism for independence.
Independence is not only a political, but also an economic effort. One that Catalonia, now officially being bailed out by Madrid, cannot shoulder. Should Madrid, they must wonder there, give Catalonia the keys to the treasury vault, effectively financing the secession they are trying to avoid?
On the other hand, a great number of the Catalan citizens who today flirt with independence do so out of economic concerns, the perception that too much money is transferred out of Catalonia towards poorer regions: the so-called “fiscal deficit”. If this should change, so would the demographics of separatism.
These conditions will force both Madrid and Barcelona to find some common ground. Actually, and in contradiction to his otherwise defiant either/or stance, Mas has already hinted at a possible third outcome. In the July 25 session of the Catalan parliament that approved the proposal for the fiscal pact, Mas said that “with half of the fiscal deficit we now are suffering we would not have a deficit and there would still be money left to avoid some of the cuts we have had no choice but to apply”.
At that level all is relative, and Mas might return home presenting half a fiscal pact as a success. Been there, done that in 2001, when he was Jordi Pujol’s conseller en cap, a position akin to regional prime minister.
Not achieving the maximum might even help Mas to remain in his private Planckian world, from which he can continue creating a universe that will forever keep him in power, while the ANC – like a kind of political dark matter – will persist in laying out a roadmap for this universe.
“Wiping out the border”
Which is funny, because the ANC has its own quantum issues. Quite literally: quantum means how much. None of the posters publicizing the ANC’s March towards Independence, intuitively understood as relating to the Spanish region of Catalonia, shows this region. Instead, some display all Catalan-speaking territories (Catalan Lands), while others depict a reduced version of that Greater Catalonia, consisting of the so-called Principality, i.e. Catalonia in its pre-1659 borders and thus reaching into France, plus some chunks of Aragon. The ANC has also come up with the slogan “let’s wipe out the border” with France.
There are at least three definitions of what Catalonia is. In the nationalist sense (which is a fitting oxymoron here) all are equally valid. But making a choice for either of them right now looks impossible. Catalan separatism, too, lives in Schrödinger’s Catalonia, which allows for all of the above options to exist simultaneously. If the ANC made a choice, everything would collapse into a real, palpable world.
Catalan separatists might not like this real world. Any of those Catalonias, if ever independent, would have to guarantee the borders. A later expansion would be highly unlikely. Both international law and demographics indicate that only the smallest of the three has any chance of becoming a new state. Still offering enough room to swing a cat, but – who likes to be called a traitor? – simply too much realism for an ethnocentrist ideology like this to even consider it.
It’s an ideology many Catalan politicians have grown to rely on in two opposed ways. As their base and as their bogeyman. Both. Simultaneously.
It is therefore not surprising – but still quite worrying – that among separatists, voices are growing stronger which propose achieving independence not by referendum, but by declaration of the Catalan parliament. Look at Kosovo, they say….
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