Response to the Catalan question comes in all forms and sizes in the media. Papers that editorialize in one sense one day, and in another the next. In general a lot of sympathy for the Catalan cause seems to be present in press around the world, in contrast with rabid opposition in almost all Madrid media. In this article, however, I would like to address that increasingly common profile of liberal journalist and commentator who sees the Catalan question with sympathy, yet shies away from support for independence.
Let me start by showing gratitude for this sympathy for the Process. Looking around, I see authors who admire the movement’s energy, its intense civility, its unswerving pacifism and dogged determination. That’s all grand. It’s good to see all this has registered. Journalistic instinct, no doubt, and a nose for justice obviosuly take a hand in moulding this sympathy and frowning upon Madrid’s repressive urge. Yet all too often this sympathy, as yet, falls short of support for independence. I’m convinced it’s a question of time. I also feel persuaded that in the unlikely event that any of those journalists’ own countries were to be faced by half the agro and incompetence Catalans do from Spain, they’d be signing up for indy at the drop of a hat.
To start with, let me leave to one side that verdict when it is based on incredulity or disbelief in Catalans’ ability to pull off the challenge. They may be right. But a second verdict that insists that “all these conflicts always end up with sheep back in the fold” must be seen as more far-fetched.
I’d like to think that it is the lack of a wider vision and knowledge, on the part of fresher observers, that leads some to this second verdict. Over two million Catalans have just voted YES to a referendum that has been sought for years by the Catalan institutions and constantly refused by the Madrid government, making it “illegal”, as they say. It’s all a question of interpretation and policital will. Catalans did not choose to make it illegal. one may add.
One cannot forget, either, that nine hundred and sixty of the voters at dozens of ballot stations had to receive medical treatment for injuries incurred by violent Spanish police attacks. The Catalans had to protect their ballot stations over the weekend and smuggle in ballot boxes and voting papers which the Spanish police had been after for weeks. I’m very sorry, but this incredible situation, unimaginable in a normal democratic country, has left an indelible mark on the Catalan people’s psyche. And millions of Catalans have now crossed the Rubicon and will not be coming round to accepting token offers for reincorpration into the Spanish domain. Not after three hundred years of regular agro and down-staging.
“Oh yes, but these issues, however painful, can be overcome in weeks”, you may say. Maybe with a normal government and in a normal State they could. But this is not the case of Spain, a country where Franco left things “well tied up” and where the ruling class is riddled with Francoist DNA. Suffice it to say that the death (and other) sentences against anti-Francoists are still in force as it was decided, judicially, that if they were annulled “it might put constitutional Spain on the spot”, as socialist president Zapatero hair-raisingly put it. Incidentally, taking the decision no to annul were two gentlemen, one the grandson of a particulary blood-thirsty military attorney from Galicia and the other the son of the last Falangist Movement’s Ministry of the Franco regime. In what democràtic country in the world would a question of this nature and delicacy be put into the hands of people of this profile?
Spain is not going to change. Not an inch. Podemos leaders regularly demand Process leaders to put off independence in order to help Spain become a fully democratic State. This was the argument, too, in the 70s. But in all probability, remaining there now will simply lengthen an era of doubtful democratic leanings. An era in which Catalan-bashing was –and is- enormously fruitful as a vote-puller in Spain, where Catalanphobia is a big hobby. Indeed, Rajoy’s party are masters at this and the Socialists know that if they step out of line, millions of jingoistic votes are at stake. This control on public opinion is largely empowered by the Spanish media, where the slant against things Catalan is prominent and daily on most TV channels and newspapers. And this will simply not change.
The extent to which Catalans have comprehended and interiorized this reality is such (here the social media and digital press have been vital) that they re not going back to being Spaniards if they can in any way avoid it. Normal Catalans have absolutely no place in constitutional Spain, from which they were finally expelled in 2010 with a Constitutional Court sentence that blew to pieces what remained of the 1978 constitutional agreement. Many Catalans said “prou” (enough). They “disconnected” from Spain and they aren’t going to turn back. Not after so much hatred has been poured against them and after so many grievances were suffered*. Suffice it to say that the Catalan language is now in serious danger and in complete inferiority of conditions with regards to Spanish. Indeed, the decision of one parent may now change the whole linguistic protocol of a class. Worsening these conditions for Catalan is quite firmly on the cards if PP, Ciudadanos and PSOE are to remain in command. Which they will.
Catalans now know that the regression and recentralization process there has been in Spain in the last few years –largely desgined by ex-President Aznar– is a serious threat for her economy, her financial autonomy, her language and culture, her heritage, her laws. Almost all social measures passed in the last few years by the Catalan Parliament to better the conditions of the population have been annulled by the Spanish Constitutional Court. All this leads to a situation in which, for many Catalans, it is now absurd to talk about Catalan home-rule. There is no home-rule. The only exit Catalonia has, therefore, with a view to maintaining her status and dignity, is independence.
Columnists’ sympathy and comprehension for all this is great. But it’s not enough. For the Catalan cause -like that of a battered wife- talk of “reconciliation” and “recovering legality” is now science fiction. Solutions can only be envisaged in clean separation. The damage, the lies, the asphyxia, the intoxication, “Operation Catalonia”, the hate media’s daily prattle, the threats, all this is too much to forget, too much to overcome. Rajoy’s Spain has burnt the bridges to a cinder. And what if expulsion from the EU ensues? There is to be no smiling reconciliation with a State that feels no sympathy for it and has no intention of making up, no negotiation or mediation, as Rajoy states daily. What hope is there of reconcialtion when Spain has recently sent in 10,000 military police to smash into ballot staion queues, subsequently denying before the world that any injuries were inflicted. How can Catalans be possibly expected to form part of a State that offers you that? That is why sympathy is not enough when the only answer can be what the people majoritarily demand: a Catalan free State (90.1% of the vote in the 1.10.2017 Referendum).
*For more on this, perhaps you can look at the History section of this web.