The independence of Catalonia

The event they promise will bring the far horizon close is conjured as provoking Spain to delegitimize itself in the eyes of the international community.

February 5, 2017 21:31
4 minute read.
NOT JUST yet. People hold Catalan flags during a protest last year.

NOT JUST yet. People hold Catalan flags during a protest last year.. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Ten years ago the Catalans’ unease over their hollowed- out autonomy reached a tipping point as more and more of them opted for independence instead, a ground-breaking move since self-government inside Spain had always been Catalonia’s aim during the past five centuries, two brief independence periods under France’s protection excepted (1641-1659, 1810-1812).

This powerful grass-roots pro-independence movement scared the mainstream “catalanist” parties: it was not controlled by them and affected a waxing number of their voters, tempted to search political alternatives.

Catalanist parties tried then to extract some moneyed concessions from Spain but failed, so they took back control, venting through government-organized- non-governmental-organizations to make people believe they had embraced independence as a real aim, not merely as a dream, and sought to remain in power by riding the back of a pro-independence tiger to be reduced into a tamed pet, his teeth and claws torn off.

Thus these parties dust off the centuries-old Catalan threat to opt for independence unless getting a better deal from Spain, a crude blackmail for concessions: independence is not a real aim but a mere instrument of extortion.

A successful bluff needs the opponent to fold, but an unimpressed Spain didn’t, called it, and won the hand just applying the laws via the judiciary.

This game of chicken reached a climax in November 2014: catalanist parties backtracked from upholding the referendum they had promised when it was forbidden by the Constitutional Court, and organized a so-called “participative process” instead. The Catalans blinked while the Spaniards stood firm, the last straw that broke any credibility Catalonia ever had in Spain and abroad.

When your bluff is called you need to up the stakes to avoid total defeat, so those parties have since applied a cynical political strategy to delay everything until a millenarist event brings independence as a gift bestowed by the international community, sparing themselves a full-blown confrontation with Spain. “We go slowly because we go far,” they say.

The event they promise will bring the far horizon close is conjured as provoking Spain to delegitimize itself in the eyes of the international community. They dignify their project with performances of symbolic defiances and cheesy rhetorical bravado; parading themselves as the paramount good guys whose moral worth other nations will rush to recognize by crowning a sovereign Catalonia, in spite of the ethically bankrupt, inferior Spain.

Catalans are led to see themselves as good, simple, faithful people, fed a brew of swaggering sanctimoniousness and outright contempt of thought, let alone criticism; a people truly convinced of its mission to offer the world the ultimate model of goodness and moral superiority – themselves.

Just one thing is needed: to blindly believe whatever their caring leaders say and discredit any dissenter as an enemy of the people, a mad, resentment-driven traitor. A suffocating communitarianism to keep people tightly held together, and a superiority complex to over-compensate the grim, bleak reality together prevent Catalans from taking any clear-eyed act to get anything done. Aesthetic pantomimes are all they’re endowed with.

A topsy-turvy slapstick indeed, that needs to be fueled by escalating disruptions of the constitutional order to provoke Spain out of its senses in its political and legal reactions.

These delegitimization moves have taken on an unmistakable Trumpian odor, a populist, illiberal stance upholding the people’s will as being paramount, above laws and judges, placing Catalan politicians as the embodiment of that alleged people’s will and therefore above so-called illegitimate laws and subservient judges.

An astonishing stand indeed that defies the very principles of rule of law and checks and balances, whose slippery slope has led to the negation of judicial review and the denouncement of judges as mere Spanish government stooges and minions.

Putting “the will of the people” above the law, attacking the judiciary, sowing scorn for experts and rational arguments and bullying dissidents – populism reigns unabated in Catalonia.

At last a toothless and clawless tiger, the independence movement has stalled, in an ineffectual quagmire because Catalans and their mainstream politicians wish independence to be a gift bestowed upon them by a warm-hearted international community that will force Spain to allow a legally binding referendum on Catalan independence – sheer nonsense.

Unwilling to grab power by themselves in a confrontation with Spaniards that, even if peaceful, would get Catalans out of their comfort zone of moral supremacy as the paramount good guys, they badly lack the will and devil-may-care attitude required to make wishes real.

Catalans prefer illusion to reality and get it, voting regularly for spineless, run-of-the-mill politicians that assuage their fears and praise their moral virtues, delivering nothing, politicians and the public warmly sharing wound-licking communitarian therapy sessions.

Reality is stubborn: nobody gives a damn on how naughty the Spanish government has been in denying Catalans their independence referendum – denied also by Germany’s and Italy’s Constitutional Court to Bavaria and Venice these past months.

Hence the likely outcome for decades to come: an extremely boring and acrimonious parade of cranky Catalans and annoyed Spaniards, the latter unwilling to let Catalans go, the former unwilling to leave, like a tale told by a deranged Blanche Dubois who depends on the kindness of strangers, full of sound and sully, signifying nothing.

The author is a former member of the Catalan parliament.

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