With the words that head this article, I started one of my recent conferences in Friul (about which I wrote in a previous article). These words were expressed by the former president of the Government of Catalonia, Jordi Pujol, during a conversation he had with whom would later be the first president of modern sovereign Slovenia, Milan Kucan. The latter reminded me after hearing a lecture about the Europe of Nations in the congress hall of the Slovenian city of Maribor. He told me that he was a friend and admirer of Pujol and that one day, talking to him, with a convinced person’s voice, he had affirmed to him that he followed with interest how Slovenia was moving to become independent from the Yugoslavian State. Pujol said that some advice he could give was as follows: “trains for independence only pass once in a lifetime. Now it’s the case of Slovenia. Do not waste time discussing whether or not the true time has come for independence. What is certain is that the independence train does not wait and is now coming. Get on! ” These words, as President Milan Kucan confessed to me, impressed him so much that … “we are now independent!”
A person who had heard my lecture took this anecdote to say the following before the gathered audience: “I hope that most Catalans do not back down now they have the referendum on independence ahead of them. Let them overcome the discussion begun by the Spanish government about whether this referendum is legal or non-legal. I hope that Catalans, and those who are watching them with attention and sympathy, have understood quite well that legalities, laws, are the legal and political reflection of what society wants. First is practice and then the laws come behind to provide a legal body. If the Catalans practice the referendum, then the appropriate laws will be made to adhere to it. Now, that the Catalans are about to make the referendum, they are in the phase of legitimacy, they are displaying a completely democratic form of behaviour. Then comes the phase of legality”. To push his point home, the speaker added: “When women could not vote, the law prohibitted them from doing so. Their vote was illegal. A group of women risked themselves to defend their democratic right to vote, as human beings, the same as men, being persecuted and ill-treated … but finally, a law protected them. Their demonstrations were legitimate, although prohibitted in the name of laws voted according to an established democratic system. ”
This follower of my conference ended his speech by proclaiming: “the Catalans shouldn’t be afraid because they know that European institutions, controlled by constituted States, are contrary to their Referendum on self-determination. The same institutions did not tire of repeating that they would never accept the independence of Slovenia, Estonia, Lithuania, etc. when they too depended on States already constituted. And now that they are independent, the very institutions that cold-shouldered them now accept them as fully fledged members of the EU”.
This person in the audience then added: “Let Catalans not lose their bravery and courage! The step they are about to take is a leap in the democratic sense, and is exemplary for all the peoples of Europe! ”
Finally, the listener declared himself to be so much in favour of the Catalan referendum that he admitted, paradoxally, that if it was prevented by the forces of the Spanish State, it should be converted into a declaration of independence made by the Parliament of Catalonia, the official democratic, legal and political representative of the Catalan people, with a majority of MPs who are in favour of independence. “Next, we will have to start a process towards a constituent referendum and the implementation of an international policy so that public organizations, beginning with the UN, recognize the practice of a right in a specific people that, at least theoretically, all the democratic institutions in the world recognize and defend for any people. ”
Emeritus Director of CIEMEN