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Catalonia goes Kosovo

The political crisis sparked by pro-independence sentiment in the northern region is heading towards an impasse. Swift action is needed to prevent Spain – and Europe – from suffering the consequences.


Barcelona's 2012 Diada.

The 2012 Diada celebration in Catalonia. Madrid and Barcelona are on a collision course. Photo: / Sergio Lainz

One of the most memorable moments in world literature is when Captain Ahab nails a doubloon to the mast of the Pequod. Gold is a good argument, especially in desperate times. In Catalonia, the gold is the taxes, the nail is the term “fiscal deficit” (or “Spain steals from us”) and the mast’s new sails have “independence” written all over them.

Money now being the driving force behind Catalan separatism does not take away one iota of its ethnic dimension. The referendum that is now envisaged, and to a lesser degree the upcoming regional elections, will split Catalonia between those who feel Catalan and those who feel Spanish. Both factors combined, the rise of nationalism in an economic crisis can have dire consequences.

Catalan premier Artur Mas is taking the challenges head-on. Maybe a little too much, and not without a self-serving element. In the early elections he has called, his nationalist bloc CiU hopes to increase its seats in the regional parliament. He himself, having said that he will not run for another term once Catalonia’s “national objectives” are met, is gaining biblical status. He is the new Moses.

The epic of the moment should not blind one to the fact that present Catalan separatism is neither democratic nor peaceful. Its leading organisation, which supervised the massive demonstration on September 11, is the Catalan National Assembly (ANC). The ANC’s institutional arm is the Association of Municipalities for Independence (AMI), which today represents more than half of Catalonia’s municipalities, and counting.

This, however, is not the kind of democratic representation one would wish for. Led by the mayor of Vic, CiU member Josep Maria Vila d’Abadal, the AMI relies solely on decisions made by the municipal councils of each of its members. Many rank-and-file members of CiU have cooperated in these decisions, together with more radical parties such as ERC and SI. But no municipality on earth has any authority over state borders.

Hence no municipality in Catalonia has any mandate to push for independence. Indeed, the AMI’s lack of legitimacy contradicts the ANC’s credo that the people have to decide in referendum. It is a blatant abuse of power, born out of the necessity to create an apparent majority for independence after the unofficial referendum of 2009-2011 had only attracted some 20 percent participation. The AMI municipalities are not only dedicating part of their time to the promotion of the creation of new borders, they also pour public money into it.

The ANC and AMI, however, provide Artur Mas with a plan B should his attempts to organise an official referendum – i.e. one that would be sanctioned by Madrid – fail. Mas has said that he would have a referendum nonetheless, knowing that the ANC had already announced that it would conduct one in 2013, based on the AMI structures. The ANC’s demand that the government of Catalonia and so-called “civil society” should work hand in hand would be fulfilled.

Not only is the democratic legitimacy of any referendum tarnished by the dealings of the AMI, the very objectives of independence do not point towards a very promising future. Some municipalities – again only relying on the votes of their local councils – have recently declared themselves “free and sovereign territories”. So did Vic under its mayor and AMI president Vila d’Abadal. With a notable twist: it demanded that “the new Catalan State include among its objectives the achievement of the political reunification of the Catalan Lands”.

Spain and “Greater Catalonia”

The idea of a Greater Catalonia, which has so far characterised Catalan separatism, is going from fringe to mainstream, at the same time that the main Catalan nationalist parties that make up CiU move towards separatism. Irredentism is becoming one of Catalan nationalism’s main objectives.

Many of those who would today vote for an independent Catalonia would do so in order to keep more tax money at home, expecting the cuts in social services and education Mas’s government has applied over the past year and a half to be revoked. Apparently, this group of citizens, so crucial to achieve independence, is now being led towards an even wider conflict with Spain about territories such as the Balearic Islands and Valencia. It’s a conflict that would even include France, into which a Greater Catalonia would extend, as there lies so-called “Northern Catalonia”.

Similarly, a Greater Kosovo would extend into southern Serbia (the so-called “Eastern Kosovo“) and Macedonia. The international community, which actually governed Kosovo at the time the Kosovo Liberation Army expanded into “Eastern Kosovo” and started a brief war in Macedonia, drew conclusions that may now be applicable to any irredentist movement. They come in the form of two articles of the Kosovo Constitution.

Article 1 (3) reads: “The Republic of Kosovo shall have no territorial claims against, and shall seek no union with, any State or part of any State.”

The other article is number 5 (1): “The official languages in the Republic of Kosovo are Albanian and Serbian.” That’s a bold move after what the Serbian regime under Slobodan Milošević did to the Kosovo Albanians, and all the more applicable to Catalonia, where one of its three official languages, Spanish, is banned from being used at public schools as a language of instruction and thus, for the sake of “social cohesion”, reduced to the level of a foreign language such as English, both of which are being taught 2-3 hours a week.

The domino effect

Human rights and political stability would be the guidelines of an international community, led by Europe, that might soon have to moderate between Madrid and Barcelona. Especially because of the probable domino effect: if Catalonia becomes independent, the Basque country might follow suit. And there, too, nationalism lays claim over further territories both in Spain and France. What would become of Spain after losing some of its most prosperous territories is anybody’s guess, but the term “political radicalisation” does come to mind. The effects on the whole of Europe would surely not be positive.

Voices on the Spanish far-right have already started to demand military intervention in Catalonia, and although the government is most certainly not on this track and is in any case bound by its membership of the EU and NATO, it has not shown much sensitivity towards its citizens in Catalonia either. It might not use the military, but it has already announced it will use everything else in its power to prevent Catalonia from breaking away.

Both Madrid and Barcelona are on a confrontational course, and both Mariano Rajoy and Artur Mas seem to believe they have no other option under the present circumstances. Whether or not this is brinkmanship is a moot question, because they are both playing with nationalist feelings that are easy to conjure, but difficult to control.

An international effort might very well serve to let both leaders keep face while it suggests a solution that lets Catalonia keep a fair share of the taxes raised there while imposing respect for human rights and the commitment to regional and international stability.

It is again time to stop the radicals on both sides. In Kosovo it took a war, or two, to come to this conclusion. This time it would be better to learn from history and act early.

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Published: Oct 3 2012
Category: Politics, Featured, Spain News
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
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62 Comments for “Catalonia goes Kosovo”

  1. Un Candide c’est celui qui ne sait pas qu’il ne sait pas

  2. Anti Scottish comments stirred up by the right wing press in the UK have fueled Scottish nationalism. Rajoy and the PP should learn from this and defuse the situation through diplomacy and a little subtlety.

    • I totally agree! They should first of all take a stance against “their own radicals”, and then stop throwing the Constitution at the other side as if it was log of wood. This is as little a way to address the real political issues as is the jumping on the separatist bandwagon by Mas and CiU.

      • yeap, what is a constitution but a piece of flammable material, to burn when we don’t like it. this is one of the reasons i think you have a touch of dilettantism. take a stance to their own radicals? whatup, having problems with freedom of speech? no surprise here, seem to have one with constitutions as well. And please explain your compatriote above, there ain’t no parallels whatsofckgever between Scotland and Cataluña, historical, cultural, political or otherwise. I like to see him speak of it when Scottland make a claim for the Paisos Escoceses, solely based on the use of celtic languages

  3. I very much disagree with your contention that “The idea of a Greater Catalonia, which has so far characterised Catalan separatism, is going from fringe to mainstream”. I don’t see any of that happening, the CiU bloc which will probably come out in the majority from the next elections has never stated this as their aim, and if pressed will certainly reject it. Your argument that these irredentist claims will become Catalan policy is alarmist in the extreme.

    I also very much doubt that the Generalitat will use the ANC/AMI “referendum” as their own, or associate it in any way with their own planned referendum. Mas craves legitimacy and he knows this is not the way to go. His referendum will be overseen by UN observers or similar, in order to give it democratic credentials, and will not be handed over to a bunch of rebel councillors.

    Finally, education. The Spanish language content in Catalan schools is more than enough to get a good result. According to the last PISA tests (2009), kids in the Basque Country and Catalonia got much better scores in Spanish language reading comprehension than those in the Canaries, Balearics, Murcia, Ceuta/Melilla and Andalucia, all of which scored lower than national average in Spanish skills. Linguistic immersion doesn’t mean poor Spanish – quite the reverse in fact.

    • Murph, you have raised three points I’d like to reply to for the sake of making my argumentation clear:

      Ad 1: I accept that I might be alarmist on his point, but all my observations point to a rise in pancatalan ideology. Consider, for instance, the fact that even moderates such as Eduard Voltas -who a few months ago took a prominent stance in favour of the use of Spanish in Catalonia- are for Greater Catalonia.

      I consider irredentism to be dangerous, not only because it has historically led to expansionist wars -I do not believe that any Catalan separatist would ever go to war over Greater Catalonia-, but also because of the domestic effect. It hardens the position of the opponent and it creates expectations among one’s own people that, if not met, can cause upheaval. It is therefore irresponsible, apart from anachronical.

      Ad 2: If Artur Mas cannot have the referendum on independence officially, it is logical that he will have it unofficially. I have myself suggested that an unofficial referendum is indeed a solution that would even be legal, provided it is not organised by any public administration. In a comment to my last article “Schrödinger’s Catalonia” I have pointed to the precedent of Kosovo 1991, precisely.

      The problem is that while the ANC offers an unofficial referendum, one of its main parts that should be used to conduct it, the AMI, could also be its own worst enemy because it represents undue involvement by public administration that would lead, again, to such a referendum being illegal. We don’t know how this conundrum will be solved, but the problem of legitimacy already exists. What a hypocrisy that bodies of public administration (the AMI municipalities), that have no authority over a matter, take this matter into their hands without consulting the population, while on the other hand it is precisely that kind of consultation, on this very matter of independence, that forms the core of the whole present debate.

      International supervision as you demand -and as I do too in a more general fashion- cannot take place without Madrid’s consent, and then it would be an official referendum. I wanted to cover the eventuality of an unofficial referendum.

      Ad 3: Yours is entirely the argumentation of the proponents of monolingual immersion, and it is besides the point. (We did have another exchange yesterday between Spanish Minister of Education Wert and Catalan spokesperson Homs along these very lines.) The point is Human Rights, which establish not how well a system achieves its educational goals, but the mere right to live one’s own culture (Article 27 ICCPR) and thus, in conclusion, to receive education in one’s native language.

  4. Why do you say in your article that Catalan separatism is not peaceful?

    • For two reasons, one domestic, one foreign. The abuse of power as exerted by the AMI municipalities is, in my opinion, against their obligation to maintain domestic peace. And the territorial claims against other entities, be them states or other regions…. I think that one’s a no-brainer.

      • Very few Catalan politicians embrace those claims you talk about, and the few that do embrace them, have always stated it is something that would depend on the will of the population of those territories. The number of Spanish politicians that have territorial claims over Gibraltar is greatly larger, while they just ignore the massive rejection of such ideas among Gibraltar citizens. Does this make Spain a not peaceful or violent country?

        • Pointing out that the “reunification of the Catalan Lands” would only be brought about by a democratic vote in those territories is a subterfuge that will become entirely untenable if Catalonia becomes a state, bound by international obligations such as to respect the territorial integrity of its neighbours. And how little credibility the argument of “the will of the population” has can already be observed right now by what the AMI does.

          Gibraltar, tiny and far removed from the centre of Europe, is already a source of constant tensions, and Spain had to take a lot of the edge off its claims and end its obstruction of Gibraltar to be allowed into the EU. That tells a lot, doesn’t it?

          Mind that I have not used the word violence, and I do not say that not peaceful automatically means violent.

          I do have the feeling that you are using the very Spanish fallacy of “y tú más”, meaning that one excuses bad behaviour on one’s own side by pointing at bad behaviour on the other. Let’s be serious.

          • Well, my argumentation was not about “y tú más”. On the contrary, my believe is that though it’s not rare for states and would be states to have territorial claims (Spain was just an example), such claims have very little weight among today’s Catalan secessionists, and will have even less weight in the future because, as you say, if Catalonia becomes a state it will be bound by international obligations.

          • Ok, thanks for getting that out of the way, Juan. I’m glad I was wrong re the “y tú más”.

            As to the gist of your argument, I’d suggest a common political position in Catalonia that explicitly makes the move away from irredentism and/or deauthorises it. I think this would be of advantage for Catalan separatism/nationalism.

  5. DISCLAIMER: Readers should be aware that Candide, the anonymous author of this article, is a citizen of the former Yugoslavia who stated in his own twitter account: “I want to leave no doubt that it is my own Balkan experience that has brought me to oppose Catalan separatism.” Only taking into account his political ideology, one can understand such delusional claims such as Catalanism not being peaceful and democratic. Also, the creation and use of the word “Pancatalanism” (used by Candide in his reply October 3, 2012 – 11:35 am) is currently practiced by Far-right groups in Spain, such as former Francoist cells in Valencia.

    • Disclaimer? You’re fun! That’s quite a combination of public statements presented as great revelations and wild guesses presented as facts. Sure, I worked in the Balkans, so if I speak of Kosovo (or Slovenia, as I did in another article here) it comes on that background. Thanks for pointing it out.

      Even though I oppose Catalan separatism (let me add “the present form of”, as we have more space here than on Twitter, where the full tweet was made longer by addressing it to two persons) I do not oppose independence per se. You can see that much even in this article. In any case, this is not an opposition that results from any political ideology (which one would that be, pray tell?) but from my own observations and conclusions, which I take the liberty of sharing with the public.

      And, really, “Francoist cells” also use the terms “and” and “or”, and they don’t own them either.

      • Indeed, is a public warning given your choice to distort reality while hiding behind a nickname. Is it a guess that you had a Yugoslavian passport? Did you not admit to it in your personal blog? One thing is having “worked” in Yugoslavia and, another rather different is “being from” Yugoslavia (and being opposed to Catalan separatism).

        Francoist groups create a specific derogatory term (politically charged) that is only used in Extreme-right political forums and media. How you came to endorse the use of this word and point of view does warrant an explanation.

        By the way, your sentence “I do not say that not peaceful automatically means violent” goes down in history as the most incongruent statement I have read in this webpage. Claiming that Catalanism is “not peaceful” is, quite simply, defamatory.

    • Ah well. Yesterday 9th October, in Valencia the Catalan “Solitaritat per L’Independencia” was not claiming for the “Catalan countries” formed by Catalonia. Catalonia Nord (What do French goverment think about this matter?), Balear Islands too, may not be defined as Pancatalonian. Well. what can be expected from a Nacional Socialist movement?

  6. Why is my comment awaiting moderation when you have published two since it was submitted?

    • It has been approved now. If other comments were published already, it’s because it wasn’t the first time those commenting had left comments so they went up automatically.

      • Thank you Mr. Hedgecoe. Now, please let me ask you: how come you publish articles written under pseudonyms that, rather apparently, distort reality by vilifying a democratic and peaceful emancipation process?

        • Well the short answer is: we don’t. We do, however, like to publish a range of opinions on issues, when they are well expressed and sensible.

          • I respectfully disagree.

            What is your policy when it comes to publishing articles written under pseudonyms?

          • We’re not bothered about people’s names as long as they write interesting articles which are well written.

          • Sensible? Is it “sensible” to state: “Catalan separatism is neither democratic nor peaceful.”? Wow!

            Peaceful means the absence of war or violence.

            Let me reiterate my doubts about your publishing policies. Slander behind anonymity should not make it as a cover story.

        • North American, I hope you don’t mind my asking: if you’re so against “slander behind anonymity”, why do you resort to it so much?

  7. This hokum about ‘I didn’t say violence, I just said not peaceful’ goes right to the heart of your very rotten argument. This is yet another article in which you appear perversely eager to up-talk the unrealistic threat of violence. This has been the theme of your blog and articles on this website for some time. And yet you never adequately respond to the fact that the Catalan independence movement is 100% peaceful and impeccably democratic.

    Candide, you and a tiny minority of Spanish right-wingers are the only ones who are constantly talking about potential violence. You seem eager to be seen as the man speaking truth to the nations and yet you’re constantly misleading people.

    To spread fear, uncertainty and doubt in the way that you do is both unhelpful and intellectually dishonest. And in a debate like this, we need less fantasy and more fact.

    • Well, Tom, even if you disagree about my view of what is peaceful or not, and I do understand your point here quite well -the huge demonstration on September 11 was indeed peaceful (and festive), and so are the people here in general- the problems do not go away.

      The idea of Greater Catalonia remains on the agenda. The AMI does what it does, and that is not democratic. See, I can imagine a separatism that creates a new state (I’ve actually seen such a thing before) and that does not say: “By the way, we’d also like to take more territories with us in the future.” (That I have seen too, and its effects, albeit under much different conditions.)

      I can also imagine a civic movement that is truly that, and does not need to be pushed by politicians from within the structures of power. Wouldn’t that be nice?

      Do I up-talk the risk of violence? That question haunts me every day. But I also have to wonder if others are not down-talking it. So how to get a grasp on this? There is clearly an ethnic element, there is clearly going on a lot of manipulation on either side, the more extreme elements on the centralist side have uttered threats. This is no cozy scenario.

      Let me put it this way: those who want to put their people through this better do so in a way that is, as you say, impeccably democratic. Because they’d need to be right before anything else.

      This is not happening so far, I’ve indeed seen this coming for the past few years, and all down the line instead of improving tactics and adapting aims to reality separatist organisations have chosen to insist on their errors, and it is frightening. At this point I think an international involvement is necessary.

      • Candide, while I think that you try to be honest with what you write, I think Tom’s comment is right on. The breakup of a country is a high level conflict involving millions of people, so there are many different people and organizations spinning around it. Some do things better than others, but I don’t think that changes the fact that, in the overall, this movement is peaceful and democratic.

        I can accept you will not agree with me, because weather I down-talk the risk or violence or you up-talk it, is just a matter of perception. What worries me is that I can’t help to wonder if by up-talking the risk of violence and by questioning the overall peaceful and democratic nature of this movement, you are actually providing the one single justification that could be used by the only one side that could turn this into a violent conflict. Catalan separatists, no matter how wrong or how right they are, do not have such capacity.

        Understand I am not implying you ought to not speak your mind. Your opinions are very welcomed to this debate. I just think that because of the complexity of the situation, we should all be very picky with the words we choose and fit to the facts as much as possible.

    • I think you’re laying the stress on Candide’s unfortunate choice of words (“present Catalan separatism is neither democratic nor peaceful”) to accuse him of characterizing separatism as violent, which he does not do anywhere else in the text. Curiously enough, you focus your criticism on the violence issue but you don’t provide a single argument to refute his explanation on why he considers that the movement is not entirely democratic.

  8. A movement tha is based on “decissionism” (i.e.: I know that most of the people don’t share my ideas, but I’ll use all my power at hand (education and media, basically) to try to change the people’s opinion according to my thesis (that the “others” are inferior -if they don’t live here- or simply do not exist -if they live here-) is the basis of nazism. That’s the basis of Catalan nationalism, and, of course, of Mr Mas.
    I tend to think that “North American’ shares those thoughts for one of two reasons: either he speaks out of romantic notions about nationalism (this is not the XIX century, buddy) or is polluted by the dogmas of Catalan nationalism, for any reason.
    I agree with Candide notions on “Pancatalanism”. It’s there (enter into the FB page “Catalunya t’estimo” for more information).The educational aspect regarding marginalisation of Spanish is also a fact, and something that’s been going on for decades.
    Another bif issue that should be taken into account is the huge difference in the perception of nationalism between the Barcelona province (which holds 70 per cent of the population) and elsewhere in Catalonia. We’re reaching a civil confrontation if the escalation follows.

    • The Godwin’s Law Challenge has a winner!

    • Dear Weicher. Fully agree with you. Even more far, as you stated “70% of the population is leaving in Barcelona Metropolitan Area”, we could also ask for the Independence from Catalonia as they are stealing from us. What is the sense of an empty Airport at Lleida, Why in Tarragona should they have the future project of thematic park “Barcelona World”. Do they pay royalties to the citizens of Barcelona?, and so on… We want Barcelona independence from Catalonia… Yeah. 😉

  9. I have been reading some of your posts with quite a lot of interest, in spite of your ideologically conditioned attacks on what you call “Catalan nationalism”. I don’t want to be too long. Let me just point out three fallacies that you repeat once and again, perhaps hoping that by hammering them they will become true:

    1. Catalan “nationalism” is about the Greater Catalonia. This is just plainly false. While there might be some groups calling for the Països Catalans this is an old idea which a majority of so called “catalanists” (what you will call “nationalists”, knowing pretty well how badly this word sounds in foreign ears) have already forgotten about. But you keep on taking it as a majority position in order to instil fear in your readers. Shameful.

    2. Catalan independence is about money. Once again, this is a new mantra of yours, which is plainly false. While obviously the financial crisis and the discriminatory tax system in Spain are important reasons for the recent surge in the independence movement, to pretend that that movement is all about money is like pretending that the independence of the United States was also about taxes, just because the Tea Patriots were angry for that reason. You are just missing the whole point. Or perhaps you are not missing it but you are trying everyone else to miss it, in order to keep pursuing your own agenda, under the guise of an enlightened and concerned foreign citizen. Frankly, you are sounding everyday more like Dr Pangloss than Candide.

    3. Catalan independence is a nationalistic movement. Once again, you have missed the point or are trying to mislead everyone. The independence of Catalonia is at present a transversal and civic movement, which goes well beyond the “ethnic” component that you stress every time in your articles. It embraces people like me, Castillian native speakers, as well as people from many parts of the world who now live in Catalonia and aspire to be able to rule themselves democratically instead of being ruled by a distant and discriminatory government somewhere else, whether in Madrid, in Brussels or in Moscow. I think this is what every European, and indeed every inhabitant of the world, wishes also for him or herself. So please stop intoxicating everyone with your nationalistic ghost mongering.

    With this article, however, you have gone too far into this fear discourse. By equating Catalonia to Kosovo (and highlighting all the bads of the Kosovan nationalism, while forgetting or understating all the bads of the Serbian nationalism) you are consciously misleading your readers. Catalonia is certainly no Kosovo, as you, who seem rather clever, surely know. And Spain is certainly not Serbia either. Unfortunately for the guardians of the large-state orthodoxy and other doomsayers like yourself, the independence of Catalonia or Scotland is not going to be bad for Europe or for democracy, but actually very good.

    I have argued in much detail why this is so in the books I have recently published, both in Catalan and in English:

    De la indignació a la nació (Catalan):

    Habitat: The Ecopolitical Nation (English):

    So I will not bother you here with the details. If you are interested you can read about them in this webpages or in the bookstores.

    In your Cataloniawatch website (watch? Should you perhaps not have assumed an Orwellian instead of a Voltairean nickname?) you claim to be “Observing how democracy got lost”. I am afraid we are all observing how YOU got lost.

    • Please, Ignasi, if you see reason to criticise what I say, then do first know what I say. I have not claimed that nationalism is about Greater Catalonia, but that separatism is. Virtually all separatist parties and NGOs understand the term “Catalan nation” in that Pancatalan way -ERC, SI, Sobirania i Progrés and also the ANC, to name just a few main ones. That’s in the programs and manifestos. Most recently there is starting to be a shift, which I have outlined in paragraph 9 above. Very telling also the quote in paragraph 8.

      Catalan independence is now much about money, I have never said the contrary. Many people from all parts of the political spectrum have joined the independence movement, motivated by economic woes and a hope for a better economic future. This is undeniable, I’ve said so before, I’ve said it in this article, but I also point out that the organisations that lead this protest are those I have just mentioned.

      And just to be very sure about one essential part of their ideology, let me quote from the Declaració Fundacional (Founding Declaration) of the ANC, which, let’s really keep that in mind, is now the main mover and shaker providing some kind of platform that unites all other separatist organisations: “[Constatem] 6. Que el Parlament de Catalunya ha ratificat en diverses ocasions que Catalunya és una nació (cal entendre, conjuntament amb els altres països catalans), i que no renuncia a l’exercici del dret d’autodeterminació.” [We note] 6. That the Parliament of Catalonia has on various occasions ratified that Catalonia is a nation (to be understood as jointly with the other Catalan lands), and that it does not renounce to exercise the right to self-determination. Source

      Mind that I do not call this a majority position among the population, indeed I am calling this “fringe” precisely because this element is not of much importance to the population, yet I am not criticising the population (which would be preposterous) but the organisations that lead it.

      I am sorry that I don’t use the term “catalanist”, as I would not use the terms “germanist” or “kosovanist”. Speaking of Kosovo, I have certainly not drawn on that example to highlight any “bads”, but to point out which standards the international community applies to settle ethnic or national conflicts.

      • Oh, sorry Ignasi, I might have misread your point on the importance, or not, of money; hence the second paragraph of my reply.

        If you say that it’s neither about money, nor about (any form of) nationalism, then what is it about? Self-rule, plainly? But isn’t self-rule simply a mechanism to achieve such concrete goals as making decisions about one’s tax money and to protect one’s own culture and way of life, i.e. to safeguard one’s own national interests? If I call (part of) that “nationalism”, don’t blame me as if I was badmouthing anything: it’s the correct word, and it is what the two parties that form the governing CiU call themselves.

    • Mr. Ribó, you’ve made it clear enough that your personal separatist stance does not stem from ethnicism or nationalism. It does you credit. But if you are really against ethnicism and nationalism, perhaps you should condemn them instead of ignoring them or scolding those who denounce them.
      Because they are there, Mr. Ribó. Perhaps they’re not at the core of the Catalan separatist movement, but they do exist. Heribert Barrera has recently received a posthumous medal and will have a street named after him, in spite of the overtly racist remarks he made during his later years. Pujol wrote in derogatory terms about Andalusian immigrants in a book for which he later had to apologize, but more recently he has cast immigration from other countries (especially from Latin America) in a negative light (not to mention remarks made by his wife Marta Ferrusola). Gerard Quintana has been trashed by many people just for appearing on TV speaking in Spanish to his family (years before, he had stones thrown at him by angry Sopa de Cabra fans because he sung some songs in spanish). Marta Alòs, a member of Parliament for CiU, accused Catalan athletes who of competed under the Spanish flag of “botiflerisme” i “traició”.
      These are just a few examples of worrying attitudes. Perhaps they are not representative of the Catalanist movement, but they haven’t been sufficiently condemned by other separatists. So please don’t shoot the messenger. And don’t turn a blind eye on this. It does your cause no good.

      • Dear Candide and Estrany,

        First of all, thanks for your replies and arguments. Let me first start with Estrany’s claim. As you say, I have publicly argued that the Catalan nation (or any other nation) should not be ethnically based. Furthermore, I claim (it’s all in my books) that it should not be civically based either. I cannot get into a long argument here, but the whole civic-nation vs. ethnic-nation distinction, which was put forward by Hans Kohn and has been used to make unsustainable distinctions between “Eastern” and “Western” nationalisms, is just not a justifiable one. Under this ideological distinction, some nationalisms, i.e. those that have a state to back them (France, Spain, US), present themselves as “civic” and disqualify minority nations within their territory as “ethnic”, “tribal”, etc. Look, I don’t know you and I don’t know how far both of you are ideologically invested in all this. But if you are serious about being objective, you should not play the game of this dychotomy and attack Catalan nationalism as ethnic while absolving, say, French, Spanish, English or German nationalism as mere “constitutional patriotism” and all this kind of euphemistic nonsense. But as I say, I have argued everything in much detail in my two books.

        Having said this, of course there are so-called “Catalan nationalists” who are bigots. I have never denied that. Just as there are “French nationalists” who are (Marie Le Pen, to give just a very prominent example, but the list would fill up your webpage very quickly) or “Spanish nationalists” who are (once again, please check the news any single day, it’s full of them). So please, be equanimous. If your aim is to disqualify Catalan nationalism because a part of it is ethnicaly based, racist, etc., do the same with all other similar nationalisms (all of them, in fact).

        Having said that, and turning to Candide’s arguments, let me remind you that the word “nation” is a very disputed one, with so many interpretations and readings that everything seems to fit inside. In my book, I have written that the nation is like the church, which accepts everyone under its wing. So you can always take this or that pronouncement from someone in an organisation or a group to make a false argument about the whole organisation or the whole group claiming something. This is just propagandist’s tactics and does not show any respect or interest in truth.

        Of course, I am not claiming to have the truth, far from it. What I am saying is that the movement for the independence of Catalonia, including the Catalan National Assembly, which you, Candide, misjudge severely, is mostly democratic, tolerant and open to peoples from all origins (for goodness’ sake, within the CNA there are even sectoral organisation of “immigrants for independence” or “castilian speakers for independence”, etc.). If you see the picture that has been in many newspapers lately, you will see, besides many “estelades” (the independentist flag) a green, crescent moon flag. I am not sure, but it seems to me it is the flag of a group of Pakistani living in Barcelona and asking for the independence of Catalonia. It’s just an anecdote, but quite telling of what the movement is all about. In any case, depicting this movement as ethnic bigotry and a fight for Greater Catalonia and all that is just false.

        Of course, I insist, a movement that draws milions of people is bound to have interests of all kinds and motifs of all kinds. But at this stage in history, I think what draws us all together is the aspiration to rule ourselves. I tell you, we are not puppets of Mr Mas or the ANC. We are mature individuals with the same right to self-rule as any other group of people in Europe and on the planet. On that, I think most Catalans agree. And that is what is driving this movement, beyond political interests, discourses, etc.

        Sorry if I have not been very eloquent. I am trying to answer you on the run. Frankly, I am not too sure about your reasons for this campaign, Candide. On the one hand, I have the impression that you really think what you write and you have strong reasons to be against the self-determination of Catalans. I cannot discuss these reasons because I don’t know them, but in any case I deem them to be respectable. On the other hand, though, you tend to see reality in such a biased way and be so selective in your treatment of it that I wonder if it’s your ideology that blinds you or your are purposefully fighting a war with all the weapons you can find, regardless of what happens to the truth.

        In any case, I appreciate you putting forward rational arguments and defending them, even if I don’t agree with many of them.

        • Thanks, Ignasi, for allowing us a lot of insight into many relevant things.

          Your claim that I am “against the self-determination of Catalans”, though, is not correct. I judge, as you yourself suggest, Catalans by no special standards. So if anything, I’d like to see independence come about -and any new state created- in accordance to those standards.

          If you see any “campaign” on my side, this is it.

          • Then I might have misjudged you, my apologies.

            On that “campaign”, we can fully agree.

          • Thank you, Ignasi. This is important.

            So here are IMHO the issues to be treated in such light:

            -What borders should an independent Catalonia have?
            -What status should the Spanish language have in an independent Catalonia, i.e. what would be the rights of its speakers?

            Regarding as a given that it will be a democracy, with European integration and all, these are the two basic questions that I find should be answered before any referendum takes place.

            And I’d also have two rather practical questions:

            What to do with the AMI?

            And: Is an economic crisis really the right moment for, as Artur Mas calls it, “our process”?

        • Mr. Ribó:

          I am against all forms of nationalism, since I consider it to be a highly irrational ideology that draws people away from enlightened values. And that, it goes without saying, includes Spanish nationalism. That’s why I’d never reprove anybody for criticizing Spanish nationalism, or deny that threats of Spanish nationalists like Vidal-Quadras or some members of the Government are worrying.
          But I do find a peculiarity in Catalan nationalism: that, unlike Spanish nationalism, which is usually endorsed only by some right-wing crackpots, Catalan nationalism is politically correct among Catalan politicians, intellectuals and the media, both left and right of the political spectrum. It’s extremely hard to find criticism against ethnicist comments made by outstanding nationalists. I really think that in other countries, the awarding of a medal to a notorious racist like Heribert Barrera would have caused some uproar. But not here. And not because of some intrinsical flaw in Catalan society, of course, but because, since Catalanism fought against authoritarianism under the Franco regime (and still fights against milder forms of centralist authoritarianism), there’s the general idea that Catalanism can in no way become authoritarian too. That’s the common misconception that I think has not been properly addressed.

          • I think you are missing my earlier point. Spanish or French nationalism is not just a matter of a “some right-wing crackpots”. It is a mainstream ideology. The only difference is that it comes under the robes of “civic nationalism”, and thus fools many people. Just walk around Paris and tell me how many French flags you see. Or read, Michael Billig’s Banal Nationalism for many useful examples. And if you want decorated bigots take a look at the list of the Légion d’Honneur. I insist, do not make the error of assuming that an accomodated nationalism is not a nationalism any longer. This is just an ideological game. As for your “enlightened” values, I have to say that they often tend to be as irrational as the “irrationality” they pretend to overcome. Here, I would recommend Adorno and Horkheimer, for a start, or Habermas. Anyway, this is a long discussion. I think we need to move away from the enlightened vs. irrational discussion. Nationalism is much more complex than these easy dychotomies.

          • I was not talking about harmless forms of nationalism (ie. flags and such), but about more aggressive manifestations, such as the ones I mentioned before (please note that by aggressive I do not mean necessarily “violent”). They are definitely not mainstream in any country I know, including Catalonia. But I think here they are TOLERATED by the local establishment, and even endorsed by some of its members. The way you insist on playing them down does nothing but confirm what I’m saying.

          • Look, I am not downplaying anything. And your claim that in Catalonia this form of aggressive nationalism are tolerated is just in your mind, I am afraid. The only example you have given so far is the case of a man (Heribert Barrera) making what you call racist or xenophoboic statements. All right, I will not enter into whether the premise is true or not. Let’s take it for a true claim. Does the fact that someone making such statements means everyone else is tolerating them or even endorsing them? I am afraid the logic is just faulty. As I said before, the fact that someone relevant, even someone who has received a distinction in a society makes racist or xenophoboic stataments does not mean that the whole society is tolerating xenophobia or racism. if that were the case there would be no society escaping your criticism. For some reason, though, you hold that Catalonia is exceptional in that respect. I am afraid the only reason why Catalonia is exceptional in that respect for you is because you have a prior ideological commitment to make it so.

            If you back your claim with some convincing evidence, I am willing to discuss it with you. For any Barrera’s comments you put forward, however, I will give you ten comments from Catalans organisations and persons, such as SOS Racisme, Arcadi Oliveres or Iniciativa per Catalunya (just to name a few, none of which I personally endorse or have any connection with) who have defended at the same time the independence of Catalonia and condemned in the strongest of terms xenophobic or racist attidudes.

            Of course, in Cataloinia we have the right wing extremists of Plataforma per Catalunya,which only represent themselves and are on the fringes of everything. This is exactly the same situation as in many other Western societies, and I would claim that Catalonia is particularly open and tolerant of foreign immigration, much more than many societies around us. Just to give you a figure, there are now around 12% of people living in Catalonia who have been born outside of Spain. If you add the people born outside of Catalonia, that would make around 30% (I am guessing this last figure). Tell me how many racist incidents there have been in the last five years or so in Catalonia. And I don’t mean someone spitting nonsense on TV. I mean attacks on immigrants, racist discrimination, and so on.

            I tell you, if you find a society with such large immigration and so little racial conflict anywhere in Europe, I would be surprised. To claim that Catalonia’s mainstream is racist or xenophobic or tolerates these attitudes is just preposterous. And please don’t make arguments from what you call “my silences”. If you want to convince anyone of your grave accusations, prove them, and not just with circumstancial evidence. Otherwise, we will have to conclude that you are just blinded by your own preconceptions.

  10. I don’t like to self-quote, but I have dealt with precisely these issues in my book “De la indignació a la nació”. In p. 310 (I am translating to English on the run, sorry it’s not a perfect translation):

    “The Catalan National Declaration, in any case, should clearly state the model of state, the constitutional principles, the institutional transitory framework and the aims for the future that a sovereign Catalonia would have, so that it can serve as a reference for an eventual referendum on independence. In this sense, it would be very important for the Declaration to position itself without ambiguity on some of the key points that generate suspicions amongst Catalans: (1) the linguistic rights of Spanish speakers in an independent state (according to the principles of the habitat-nation, Spanish speakers in Catalonia should have their linguistic rights guaranteed under conditions similar to the current ones, even if Catalan becomes the official language of the new state), (2) the legal statute of those Catalans that do not want to become part of the new political community (these persons and their descendants should be able to maintain, if they so wish, an irrevocable statute of permanent resident which guarantees them the same rights as any other inhabitant of Catalonia, except perhaps in the sphere of political participation, which could be restricted to voting in the local elections), and (3) the relation of the new state with the “Catalan Countries” (the independence of Catalonia, according to the principle uti possedetis juris of international law, should be explicitly decoupled from similar processes in other Catalan-speaking territories, even without denying the possibility that in the future, if there are adequate circumstances, some of these territories, such as North Catalonia, may decide through democratic and generally-accepted means to merge into the new state).”

    Please don’t misunderstand this last principle. It is asking to explicitly decouple Catalan independence from any other process in any Catalan-speaking region or territory. But obviously, in the future the inhabitants of a territory, for example after they have achieved statehood on their own, might be able to decide democratically to join the other state. I explain at more length in my book that this is not necessary for the existence of any of these states, but it is a democratic principle that could solve many issues in disputed territories and enclaves throughout Europe. It should be a basic rule that the different disputed territories should decide by themselves if they want to be independent, part of one state or another. So Catalonia should also abide by this rule, under all circumstances.

    As for timing, why is the economic crisis not a good time? On the contrary, I think Catalan independence would be good, not only for the economy of Catalonia, but also for the economy of Spain, which could focus on reorganising internally, saving a lot of wasted resources in nonsensical administrative structures and identity wars that carry nowhere. I hope to see soon a new, more cohesive Spain (perhaps without Catalonia, Euskadi, Galicia, Andalucía, Balearic Islands and Valencia), much better structured and sure of itself. This Spain, with Madrid as a dynamic economic hub and capital, could have a much healthier economy and solve many questions that right now are blocked due to the Imperial mindset and the ideology of the large state.

    In any case, all this is explained in my books. You will find it all here

    I feel I have already written too much!!! Thanks for your attention.

  11. Ignasi. One thing. “As for timing, why is the economic crisis not a good time?” Because you don’t have enough money to build the necessary infrastructure to support a state. As long as Catalunya needs EU funds to pay its current bills, I don’t see how it can declare independence and expect support from the rest of Europe. It seems to me there needs to be a plan to turn around the economy first, otherwise any additional revenue gained will be spent on creating this state when it needs to be invested in the economy to help people who are really struggling right now.

    • Jeremy. You seem to think that an economy is just a matter of money in and out. Actually, it is much more complex than that. For starts, one of the reasons why markets are wary of lending money to Spain, and also to Catalonia, is because they don’t see a good future ahead. There is no single world economy who does not depend on credit, not a single one. The US would collapse tomorrow if markets would feel that it will not be able to pay its obligations. It’s all about trust. Catalonia right now has not lost much of its economic potential, but it’s not able to tap the markets, because it’s linke to the Spanish tax and distribution system. An independent Catalonia would be a much better value for investors than the current regionalised and dependent Catalonia. So I have no doubt that Catalonia would have enough resources, both in the short and the long term, to build its state structures. And you should not forget the positive synergies that will be generated in a process of independence, as people have an aim forward. Of course, there are also negative economic aspects to it (possible boycott from Spain, etc.). But I think that, at the end, the sum will be positive. If you want to be a doomsayer, then please try to be objective.

      Not only that, but I feel that Catalonia’s independence will be positive for Spain’s economy as well. For one thing, the markets will see a more stable country, without so many territorial uncertainties. Secondly, it will be able to restructure its regional organisation, which is currently a real mess due to the conflicting national struggles. Thirdly, it will be able to develop its own economic structures, leaving behind the dependence on subservient industrial “regions” like Catalonia and the Basque Country. So overall, economically, it will be good for Catalonia and good for Spain. In the short term because many uncertainties will be cleared and the economic prospects will gain coherence. In the long term, because these economic prospects would be able to turn into effective realities.

      So there is no economic argument against the independence of Catalonia. On the contrary. The argument is in favour of it.

      • Ignasi, the argument that even Spain would be better off if Catalonia became independent can be heard and read these days in Catalonia. You have extended this argument to other regions, in a move similar to what I call the domino effect. You say that it would be better for Spain to be without Catalonia and the Basque Country, and also without, as you said in a comment before, Andalusia, Galicia, the Balearic Islands and Valencia.

        That is roughly 36% of Spain’s territory and 58% of its inhabitants.

        • Precisely Candida, and that would bring Spain much closer to what I call a “habitat-nation”, which is the most efficient geopolitical model in the current world. Just tell me, off the top of your head, the most efficiently run countries in Europe (in terms of GDP growth, social statistics, political stability, etc.). And then add the number of inhabitants and the surface area. You see the point? I sound like an advertisement, but everything is explained in detail in my two books. See the links above.

          • Honestly, Ignasi, I can’t tell you that. This is your point, only you can make it. And you are much more prepared to speak about such things than me. I’m just, at best, a political analyst.

            You, in turn, have a diploma in Political Sciences and a doctorate in Philosophy.

          • You know that doesn’t count for nothing. I am not claiming to have any authority just because I have a diploma, far from it. And I am not rating anyone’s opinions for their qualifications but on the opinions themselves. And you do that too, I think. So let’s leave personal information out of this, especially considering that there’s a big asymmetry in this area here. In any case, to make a long story short.

            Would you say that Danemark, Switzerland or Finland are unlucky countries because none of them reaches 8 million in population. Would Spain be poorer if it had that kind of demography? I don’t think so. On the contrary, it would probably be richer, more stable and better managed. The problem here is not “nationalism” but the ideology that backs up the large nation-states. That has been truly bad for Europe and enlightened people like yourself should stop supporting that kind of logic, which is just based on power and size, not on reason.

            Anyway, sorry if I don’t answer. I love a good debate, especially in a hostile environment where I get thumbed down so much. But I have to move on. This is becoming too distracting!! Thanks for your attention. And I am looking forward to read more of your interesting articles. But please try to be more balanced on the Catalan question. We are not asking for anything that most Europeans do not want for themselves, the capacity to rule ourselves in the context of a more united, more democratic and more equitable Europe.

  12. I am not impressed by Mr. Ribo’s arguments – or by his qualifications (that he is a master in the jargon and arguments of his field does not mean he is free of bias, look at Mas-Colell). It seems to me that the viability, or not, of Catalunya as a separate state is secondary to the deplorable means the separatists have been using to achieve their dream. And this is made more serious by the fact that the separatists have been and are in power in Catalunya. I strongly disagree that nationalism – by its very nature exlcuding – is or has been (in democracy) in power in the Government in Madrid.. This I know, is central to the spin of Catalan nationalism and needs to be refuted repeatedly. There have been more or less , and for a long period none at all, conservatives in Government in Madrid but none that have used violence or agression or attempted to exclude any part of their population, including the catalans. Flag waving and expressions of enthusiasm for one’s country can hardly be classed in the same lot, as they do no harm to anyone.
    On the other hand, for the last 30 years I have witnessed all of the above here in catalunya.
    Violence. Catalunya once had its own terrorist group, Terra Lluire, which disbanded, while some of their members went into politics where they met with some success in secondary positions. Since then physical violence has been largely, though not entirely ,under control. I’m talking about the physical attacks and death threats against Cuitadans and their supporters, Rosa Diez at the University etc. i.e. people who had the capacity to be a serious threat to the nationalist dogma. While the Cat. Gov. didn’t perpetrate these crimes they certainly tolerated (encouraged?)them by not condemning them and by not directing the police to intervene. I personally think that this violence is latent still, which is why so many use pseudonyms or refuse to speak out at all.
    Agression. This is perpetrated by the Cat. Gov. on roughly 60% of their own population. By not allowing Spanish as a vehicular language in the schools, by using the schools to indoctrinate the young , by fining businesses , randomly, for using Spanish only for their signing, by subsidising, with public monies, all the local press so that people no longer find it easy to have a balanced or truthfull access to information, and democracy is effectively deprived of one of its pillars. By not obeying the Law repeatedly,(voted for overwhelmingly by the Catalan people in it’s day – which is not to say it can’t be changed, but that should be worked for from within the Law), , the Catalan Gov. is undermining the other pillar of Democracy, Justice.
    It has taken the Catalan nationalists 30 odd years to get to the level of support they have today, which has never been greater but is still a very long way from any sort of majority interest in independence (the last series of “referendums” was almost a joke,) but they haven’t finished yet, and where the “sentiment” didn’t get them very far, they’ve now thrown “money” into the pot….if it were true, it might be a good reason for wanting independence, though never an excuse for the systematic discrimination and manipulation of their own people.

  13. One inch to the ground

    This lady, Candide, just forgot go mention, that Catalans are easy to be identified by luminiscent horns when lights are off.

    Jesus Christ, the article is more fiction than Batman!

    • One inch, mmm,….anyway, perhaps if you got up off the ground, wiped the dirt from your eyes, you might find arguments for your point of view…
      (sorry, I just couldn’t resist!)

  14. As I see it, almost anywhere could declare themselves independent. It’s possible.
    On an idealogical level it matters not at all that the flow of human history is to ever larger groups, and seccession would be a step backwards. Idealogically it’s a step that could be justified -if the population were suffering.
    Ergo, the Catalan people need to suffer. And the Catalan Gov. is obliging them on this point, only they are pretending it’s “madrid” who’s wielding the whip.
    To guarantee that people can go to vote (in a referendum or election) freely and with access to the information necessary to be informed, is not possible at the moment in Catalunya. This is, in my opinion , the only real argument. And it’s one that disqualifies the democratic process here. Catalunya no longer has the conditions necessary for Democracy.
    The nationalist Cat. Gov. may as well go ahead and declare independence unilaterally, as they’ve threatened. It would be more honest than keeping up this semblance of democratic process..
    Having said all that, I have to say that I don’t believe that Mas etc. wants independence. Not at all. It’s obvious that this clamour is necessary for them to be able to draw people’s attention away from the (finally!) emerging cases of corruption involving almost all the parties and catalan bourgeosie, and their dreadful management of the region, which has left Cat. bankrupt. But independence would leave them naked, broke, and worst of all, accountable.
    I think they are just fashioning a bigger stick, with which to threaten the rest of Spain. (while they continue looting their own region)
    The only “problemillo” is that these small fanatical parties and “civil” groups they’ve been using to fan the flames, might actually take it seriously and force a confrontation.

  15. I don’t support Catalonia’s separatism but i would like to see that happen and would like to see European-two face-hypocrite-Union’s reaction. They though Kosovo will be ‘the unique case’ but obviously they were wrong, and now many countries will soon or later face the same problem. Greetings from Kosovo, Serbia

  16. I’m not sure whether we can really blame the economic crisis on the surge in separatist support as much as the election of the PP. When we moved here, I didn’t have much sympathy with Catalan separatism, since the Catalan part of PSOE had a very strong voice in the central government.

    The tables have really turned against Catalonia now, effectively being ruled by a political party that has negligable support in the region. Not only that, but a significant fraction of the PP actually hates Catalans and does its best to humiliate them at any opportunity. When Aznar starts talking about “recentralization”, everyone knows this means Catalonia.

    Interesting also that the two most decentralized regions, Navarre and the Basques have weathered the economic downturn the best.

  17. Dear Ignasi:

    Regarding the topic about the pancatalanism (or lack of) in the catalan parties, here goes a small sample:

    It looks like, from all the parties with some sort of support for the very euphemistic “right to decide”, the less pancatalanistic is CiU, mentioning in its program the support to cooperate in regards to culture, links to the “rest of territories of Catalan language”. The other parties are much more explicit.

    Sorry to bring this bad news to your otherwise eloquent diatribe.

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