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Schrödinger’s Catalonia

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?


Artur Mas.

Artur Mas is at the helm in Catalonia, but which way is he heading?

“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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Published: Sep 5 2012
Category: Politics, Featured, Spain News
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18 Comments for “Schrödinger’s Catalonia”

  1. Mr. Mas wants to stay in Spain, while most of Catalans want to leave that francoist state. And it has been for Mas very easy to claim for a very big demonstration for his fiscal pacte knowing that a very big demonstration for catalan independence was already in the kitchen. Simply an opportunist. Now claims Mas for a big demonstration to affirm the catalan nation, which is simply ridiculous to do such a call on a separatist demonstration.
    Why does Mas want to remain in Spain? That’s the question. Unconfessable matters can be the only reason, because of course is it not only fiscality problems what Catalonia suffers from Spain. It is mostly the anti-catalan feeling that reigns in Spain, what makes Spanish keep on trying to make Catalan language disappear by invalidating all laws from the Catalan Parliament and the other Catalan speaking regions (València and Balearic Islands).
    In the same way that within a marriage when one of the partners is unemployed the other one pays gladly to maintain the unemployed, so would it be with catalans. But Spain is like the unemployed that believes that his “partner” (see how Catalonia went up to be part of Spain, from 1714) must pay for everything while hating the partner… They probably believe that once Catalans are Spanish they’ll keep paying for everything but gladly.
    For more information about the francoist state of Spain, see

    • Thank you, Toni.

      I wished one could post a comment on the Helpcatalonia site as freely as, for instance, here.

    • It’s not clear what Mas wants. I’d say that either:
      1- He wants to stay within Spain, and is using the threat independence to increase the odds of his fiscal pact or other concessions going through.

      2- He does wants independence. But for that he has at least two problems:
      2a: His party is in a federation with Unió, which is openly opposed to secession. In order to push for independence the parties will probably need to separate (perhaps in the next elections, whenever they happen).

      2b: If Catalonia secedes now, she will almost certainly be instantly bankrupt, and stay so until she can build the necessary infrastructure to collect taxes. Those will be greatly diminished due to the boycotts and general chaos. Mas wants to avoid that, probably by unilaterally building a Catalan tax agency after the fiscal pact fails. Meanwhile, the failure of the pact, the continued precariousness of Catalan finances and the attempts at centralization from Spain will continue to rally support for independence. It will be slow and painful and very infuriating.

      Me, I hope it’s the second case. I’d prefer parliament to call for a referendum now and declare independence quickly when it succeeds, but that would be chaotic and (even more) painful and very un-CIU-like.

  2. There are many things wrong with your post Toni. I would just like to clear the main ones up for you.

    1) Spain is no longer a Francoist state. Hasn’t been for at least 30 years. Though I admit, there are still fascist scattered pockets of power/thought leftover from those years, unfortunately. Thankfully they should die off in a couple of decades or so.
    2) Catalonia was part of Spain waaay before the horrible Nueva Planta decrees in 1714, and arguably even before the unification of the crowns in 1469 (as part of the Españas). In fact, without Catalonia the original Spain wouldn’t even exist anymore. I suggest you read up on your history (not on the bull-crap the Catalan secessionists brainwashed you with in school).
    3) Similar to the previous point, Catalans ARE Spanish, always have been. They may not be Castilian but they are definitely Spanish. They only way for them to stop being Spanish would be after they’ve gained independence. Not before.

    *sigh* If only the Catalan secessionists actually fought their case in a responsible, truthful and dignified way… then I might actually agree with them!

    • Well, well… here is a topic thrown arround many times… Yes, Catalans were part of “las Españas” since Ferdinan and Isabelle joined their kingdoms…Now, please notice the plural on “The Spains”… it was the equivalent of a ConFederate state. Hence, the Catalans were Spanish and Catalan language was Spanish (just like all other languages which were also Spanish). It was in 1714 when they eliminated the “Other” Spains and kept only the Castilian Spain. Now, only Castilian is Spanish, and it is this kind of Spain which we don´t want to belong to. Although I did not like Zapatero, he did say something very ture (although enfuriated many, simply because of its truthfulness): Spain is a discussed concept and should be discussable… A Federal Spain would be a place were many Catalans would feel comfortable, where they could decide if in their state the Catalan or Spanish is the primary language, where the Solidarity towards other states would be either limited, or supervised to asure the good usage of funds…etc… But a centralist Spain, which fights infrastructures like the “Mediterranean Corridor”, is definetively not a hospitable place to be… I hope this helps shine some light to the issue… I love Spain (I married a Sevillana), I just don´t feel it as my country…

      • Erm, and your point is? I’ve already explained that the original meaning of Spanish was not a synonym of Castilian. When Catalans say they are not Spanish, what they actually mean is that they are not Castilian. When you say you do not feel ‘Spain’ as your country, what you are really referring to is Castile. All I am asking for is a little bit more clarity in the use of terms. Otherwise you leave yourself wide open to accusations of lying and manipulations. In actual fact, my personal desire for Spain is that of a federal state, perhaps one along the lines of the UK which is a country made up of 4 different nations. However, I don’t see very many Catalans fighting for that at the moment. You can’t hear anything at all past the Independentist roar that seems to be enveloping everything in Catalonia at the moment.

  3. Yes, that would be nice indeed. We catalans are not perfect too…

    Let me add what I see I forgot in my precedent comment, about Spain invalidating and changing Catalan and the other two catalan speaking regions’ laws. I ment there laws protecting catalan language: starting by the LEC (Llei d’Educació de Catalunya, law regulating Catalan schools), to the famous Estatut which became “Estatutet” (“Little Estatut”) after being “cleand up” by the Spanish Parliament, Senate and finally Constitutiomnal Court, even when this law had been aproved by the catalans in referendum.
    And now that I’m completing my comment, I have to think as well in other laws not having to do with our language but with our way of organizing our lifes, they have changed a law that regulates our business hours. And now they are preparing a law that will change how we organize our own whole markets. No need to say that the laws that our Parliament makes are made about subjects that are our competences, and changing our laws from Madrid is just ignoring the laws that are already and still running.

    No need to speak about all the crazy works that are the spaniards doing about high speed trains. Trains that are not needed at all, and despite the fact that we catalans are cutting the budget in the health care. Spain it is just a ridiculous land, and Artur Mas is a ridiculous catalan who makes his political moves putting the interests of his party and those who finance it before the eneral interest of the land…

    • My understanding, Toni, is that the Constitution of a country is above all other laws, and even above the will of the people, especially when it’s only part of the people of that country, expressed in a referendum that does not explicitly challenge that Constitution.

      In fact, similar phenomena -i.e. that one jurisdiction overrides another- you can find also in the European Union. Indeed, the EU has declared national laws of its member states invalid. So what you find in Spain you might find, if ever any of the many proposed Catalonias becomes independent, in the EU.

      There simply is no total independence. And let me remind you also of two other basic facts. One is that the Spanish Constitution has been approved in referendum, unlike many others. The second one is that the rule of law is not some arbitrary whim within the political game of power. It exists fundamentally to protect the citizens. And that’s why it deserves respect.

      By simply declaring that because you don’t like certain laws or court sentences they should not be valid you do a great disservice to your own people. To your very neighbour.

      • candide, The Constitution was drafted to satisfy not only the democrats, but the francoist… after 40 years of dictatorship anything would look good… It is not a democratic Constitution, as the Nation of Spain is above its citizents… bad analogy the one in Europe. Can you imagine that a country wants to abandon the EU and the other countries would tell the country that the rest of Europe is the one that has to decide on them abandoning the union… No, a country does not need to “ask” permision to abandon the EU… Besides, in the Constitution it is the Army that guarantees the union of Spain, not its components (hence there is no free asociation, but “right of conquest”)… If you want me to go a bit further in why your demand for respect is hipocratic please look that in Spain, there is no separation of powers (executive, legislative, and judiciary)… was it not Jefferson who said “If a law is unjust, a man is not only right to disobey it, he is obligated to do so.”

        • As you address me directly, I will reply.

          The Spanish Constitution is available online in both Spanish and English.

          For those who read it, it is obvious that the nation is not above the citizens. If it were as you say, Spain would a be fascist state and certainly not a member of the EU.

          Quite on the contrary, this Constitution speaks of the nation as the political entity comprising everybody, while recognising the different “peoples” and “nationalities” that live in it, protecting their languages as an essential part of the “cultural patrimony”of the whole state.

          From the Preamble: “Protect all Spaniards and peoples of Spain in the exercise of human rights, their cultures and traditions, languages, and institutions.”

          Anybody who has visited Spain has seen that these are not just words, but that this is living reality today.

          Catalan nationalism, however, has it that there is only one “proper/own language”, or, as it is also called, “national language” of Catalonia. It is in this sense much more centralist than the Spanish state, and much less culturally sensitive in it’s strife for “un sol poble”, “one single people”.

          The mission of the army must, first of all, be understood in the context of it being under civilian control, which is normal in any democracy. Secondly, its mission is that of an army in democratic states such as Germany and the US. It has no powers of its own, which is what you insinuate.

          The term “conquest” does certainly not appear in the Spanish Constitution.

          I am sorry that I’m not getting into discussing the division of powers. Your stance on the issue is leading nowhere.

          I will point out, however, that it is easy to see if a law is unjust. Jefferson referred to British law, so keep in mind that the colonies had no representation in London. This is not comparable to the Spanish situation.

          MLK used similar words, but he was fighting for both constitutional and human rights. Both are today quite well codified. You cannot seriously tell anybody that the Spanish state is continuously violating its own Constitution and/or human rights.

          You want Catalonia to split away from Spain. Very well, so do please explain which Catalonia you are talking about. The EU members you draw upon in analogy have well defined borders.

  4. I see some interesting exchange of points of view. I think that catalans will take their own decisions in the end. I only wish that they’d do so based upon correct information. Here in Andalusia we’ve got no anticatalan feelings as a whole. We try hard to survive and have no time for these issues. Information that comes from Catalonia tells us that there is more or less the same. The linguistic and territorial conflict is mainly politically spread, far from the daily citizen worries. Rupture would cause unpredictable effects in bilateral relationships, in social and economic grounds. And these would have serious repercussions upon daily citizen live. I pity, I would say. Because when I was younger, so much younger than today, I grew older – even in then old franchist state – with an admiration for Catalonia, the gates of Europe. This feeling could be drammatically broken. Good morning!

  5. The Parliament of Kosovo declared the independence. Yes, like the Parliaments of Ukaine, Czecoslovakia, Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania did.

    Oh, and I think the US Parliament, years ago, took such as a decision about that.

    So, why is it supposed Catalan Parliament can’t?

    • It was not the parliament of Kosovo that declared independence, that would have been against international law, more precisely against UNSCR 1244. It was members of the Kosovo Assembly acting in personal capacity. And don’t forget that Kosovo did have a referendum in 1991 which, however unofficial it was, did lend some legitimacy to the independence process later on.

      The other cases you mention were within a historically very different context. There’s one from long ago, 1776. Then there’s one born out of the end of the Great War and the St. Germain Treaty. The Baltic republics were in the eyes of some illegally occupied by the USSR, and in their cases like in that of Ukraine, a certain emergency situation existed.

      With all that I’m not saying that the Catalan parliament can’t declare independence. I’d simply prefer that it did so with some legitimacy, which might result from elections or, preferably, a referendum; following the footsteps of Slovenia or, at least, Kosovo on that matter. (Certainly, I am only mentioning Kosovo to show that even unofficial referenda can garner respect. The rest of the Kosovo experience is nothing one would like to repeat.)

  6. Catalonia belongs to all spaniards since more than 500 years ago, if Catalonia should get independence, there are a lot of other regions in Europe with a much shorter history inside a main state (Several in Germany, UK, Italy, etc..), so please can we start firts with any of those regions before Catalonia?
    Anyways , if Catalonia is demanding independence, I have have to ay they wrere never independent in history neither a kingdom, so they should return to where it belongs: the kingdom of Aragon, which has a much more importance and history than catalonia. But then any spaniard vote counts the same as that of mister Mas…

    • Thanks Lorenzo. When applying this approach, one could end up with the scenario that a great majority of Catalans have expressed their will to form a separate state, but are not able to do so because an overall majority of Spaniards disagrees. Do you think that one can realistically expect Spain to continue functioning under such circumstances?

  7. It seems now the ambiguity is clearing, and a new independentist Mas has emerged. There’s so much to say about what lies ahead, but I’d like to add the following mini-sketch of the future, from a separatist viewpoint. It assumes that “fiscal pact” negotiations go nowhere, moreover that the Madrid government refuses to modify the constitution in any way.

    BEST CASE – Catalan parties with clear and democratic manifesto for independence gain a mandate for independence in Catalan elections. They schedule a referendum with a clear yes/no question and a programme for the prospective state that guarantees existing cultural rights (bilingualism) and renounces any claim for other territories (goodbye Catalan Lands). Concurrently, negotiations with the EU allow a form of “associate/transitional membership” of Europe to go on. Other negotiations resolve doubts of NATO, EU and UN member states. Despite some feeble protests, Spain lodges no serious objection. An economic compensation deal is worked out between Barcelona and Madrid. By 2015 full independence could be proclaimed, by 2018 CAT becomes a full EU (UN, NATO?) member.
    WORST CASE – Spain stalls every moment of the way, on the assumption that when economic recovery occurs, the fuss will die down. The Catalan elections are officially suspended but go ahead anyway. The independence referendum is imputed by Madrid as illegal and undemocratic, and they get an International Court of Justice ruling to this effect. When Catalonia proclaims independence, it becomes a pariah state, recognised by nobody. Spain gets heavy and insists that Spanish law and fiscal rules are applied, and backs this up with force. Catalonia is now in the dilemma of forcibly confronting Spanish authorities and security forces or backing down to allow Spanish law to be applied on their independent soil. France, alarmed by the claims to Rousillon, supports Spain completely. Armed standoff… or worse.

    Politics being the art of the possible, rather than of the ideal, the real future history of Spain and Catalonia will most likely fall between these two extremes.

    • Somewhere in between, Murph, lies the domino effect. If Catalonia goes, so does the Basque Country. (The “Greater” versions of both reach into France.) This could mean that Spain changes a lot, not only re borders, but in its internal distribution of power: a radicalisation of the Spanish political landscape.

      A democratic consensus, so well established in other countries, but difficult to attain in Spain and by now basically non-existent in Catalonia, would serve as a safeguard against such eventualities. Ultimately, that’s what a democratic consensus is for: to prevent the worst.

      That’s the fire that is presently being played with.

    • Originally I thought your implied comparison of Artur Mas with Captain Ahab, leading his crew to inevitable destruction, was strained and overdone. Now I’m not so sure. I guess we’ll have to wait and see what independence programme CiU comes up with, and whether it recognises realities like human rights, international law and electoral common sense.

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