The Crisis of Catalan
With interviews from those Spaniards affected by the recent referendum on independence, The Gryphon delves deep into the chaos in Catalan.
- Laura Clemente Garcia was born in Barcelona (Catalonia, Spain), she holds a senior position (Sales Area Manager for Machinery) and she doesn’t support independence for Catalonia.
- Jordi Borràs i Abelló was born in Barcelona (Catalonia), is a photojournalist and illustrator, he supports the independence for Catalonia.
- Both interviews took place on the 25th October.
Why do you think the support for independence has been growing significantly since 2006?
Clemente Garcia: In my opinion, support for independence has increased firstly as a result of the last economic crisis, which revealed the precarious situation that low and middle-class families have been facing in Catalonia in the last few years. Secondly, it has increased because of the inability of the conservative People’s Party (PP) government to solve our problems. Thirdly and even more concerning, support for independence has grown due to the central government’s lack of empathy with Catalan society and culture, most notably evidenced by the fact that it has systematically questioned the Catalan educational model, which has always been an example of coexistence, and repealed the laws passed in Catalan parliament. “The People’s Party is a factory of Independence supporters” is one of the most heard slogans.
Borràs i Abelló: Since 2006 there is a key factor: when the People’s Party (PP) reports to the Constitutional Court of Spain an appeal of unconstitutionality against the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia of 2006. From this point in time demonstrations in favour of independence gathered momentum in Catalonia, and in which people have been denouncing: the precariousness of the infrastructures we have, the management of the motorways, the lack of a Mediterranean Corridor for trade. In 2012, we asked for a Fiscal Covenant, which was also denied to us and on September 11th of that year one million people in Catalonia demonstrated. Since then, the government of Catalonia has tried to come to terms with the state of Spain but the attempts were rebuffed.
Was the use of violence justifiable, to warrant the compliance of Spanish Law and Constitution, against people who were trying to vote in the referendum and those who were demonstrating peacefully?
Clemente Garcia: Never! Laws are approved by politicians, but Human Rights stand above them. No one deserves violence for defending their ideas peacefully. Even if I am not for Independence, I have to accept that other people think differently, as long as they express themselves peacefully. This is what Democracy stands for.
Borràs i Abelló: I do not think it’s justifiable. Many people are now saying that if it’s legal, is legitimate, which is a fallacy. It was also legal for black people to sit in the back row of the bus and this changed thanks to Rosa Parks’ fight. In the same way that it was also legal: slavery, that women could not vote and executions during the dictatorship. That is, legality does not always correspond to legitimacy. On the 1st of October, 1066 people were assaulted in Catalonia by the Spanish police forces, just because they were trying to exercise their right to vote.
The big difference is that the United Kingdom is a real and mature Democracy, and in Spain there are still taboo subjects which cannot be openly discussed.
Taking into account the conditions in which the referendum on the 1st of October took place, with a 43% turnout in which 89,4% of the votes where cast in favour of independence, is it legitimate that the president of the Government of Catalonia makes the Unilateral Declaration of Independence?
Clemente Garcia: Absolutely not. The Declaration of Independence can only be the result of an open social debate where both YES and NO positions are represented and defended, and may never be declared unilaterally. And if our Constitution has to be modified to open such a process, then so be it. The fact that people massively demonstrate their support for an idea can never be “illegal”, although broad consensus must be reached.
Borràs i Abelló: First of all, it wouldn’t be proclaimed unilaterally; that would be the case if the referendum had not been held. There will be a declaration of independence following the result of this referendum. Then yes, it’s legitimate. Turnout was higher than when Catalans vote for the Statute of Catalonia and for the European Constitution. But it’s attempted to undermine the 43% turnout in the referendum, even with all the repression and violence that was carried out by the State.
The United Nations and Human Rights Watch have reported the violation of fundamental and human rights of the Catalan citizens. What is your opinion of the position of the European Union – siding with the Prime Minister of Spain– in relation to the current situation in Catalonia?
Clemente Garcia: The use of violence by National Police against Catalan citizens is unacceptable and has even been criticised by EU Authorities. It should be noted, however, that supporting such a process would encourage other European territories, such as Bavaria in Germany or Veneto and Lombardy in Italy, to seek Independence, and no government will want that for its country.
Borràs i Abelló: Bearing in mind what the EU is, a merger of economic interests, it’s a consistent position. There are cases in which they don’t take into account human rights. An example of this is the agreement that the EU signed with Turkey: people are still dying every day on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Nevertheless, within the humanitarian principles of the EU, allowing all mentioned is yet another sign that the EU is a falsehood. They will act when the economy feels the effects, but then it’s maybe too late to convince those who used to believe in it.
“they don’t take into account human rights. An example of this is the agreement that the EU signed with Turkey: people are still dying every day on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea.”
In the United Kingdom, after some months of talks, David Cameron and Alex Salmond agreed on the right to a referendum for the Scottish people. Why have Mariano Rajoy and Carles Puigdemont not been able to come to the same conclusion?
Clemente Garcia: They have not been able to agree on a referendum because they have dramatically failed to use politics, the only valid means in my opinion, to solve the problem. They are just not willing to reach an understanding. The big difference is that the United Kingdom is a real and mature Democracy, and in Spain there are still taboo subjects which cannot be openly discussed.
Borràs i Abelló: Carles Puigdemont has always had the good will to talk. The referendum has been claimed from the Catalan institutions up to eighteen times. The Spanish State neither wants nor has ever considered a referendum for the independence in Catalonia. Strategically, this is a mistake made by the State, because it’s likely that, if in 2012 they had allowed a referendum, it would have won “no” and pro-independence would have “lost”; but not now, because the current situation has been triggered by its own strategy. The Spanish government has a supremacist understanding of the culture and the Spanish language, atavistic Catalan phobia which is prominent in its institutions. And it’s thanks to this that supporters of the independence movement have grown, not because we have brilliant pro-independence political leaders.
The political and social atmosphere in Catalonia is coming to a boiling point and neither of the politic leaders look willing to compromise on how they believe the situation should be resolved. In your opinion, what will be the outcome?
Clemente Garcia: I believe that everybody will lose, as it is already happening. The conflict has triggered a period of political and economic instability, which may be worth it for some, but not for me. I am afraid that we have come to a deadlock in which two parallel realities coexist and where a unilateral decision by either party will only make the conflict worse. The situation is unsustainable. Force and imposition have never been a solution. Political negotiations must start immediately!
Borràs i Abelló: There’s something that is obvious: two people can’t talk if one of them does not want to. Carles Puigdemont, the government of Catalonia, has offered lots of times
for discussions to take place and negotiations begin. But the Government of Spain response was to say that negotiations and talks would not be possible, and a vote on the unity of Spain would not take place. And here, we need to be reminded that the army imposed this unity and not because of the will of the Catalan people. So, taking into account all said, talk is nothing more than a fallacy. What will happen? In my opinion, it’s very easy to predict: this next Friday 27th of October independence will be declared, the Spanish government will take control of Catalan institutions and this can lead to a reaction in the Catalans through an attempt to close up the country through an Indefinite General Strike, blockade of the economy… . And all this resistance of which we are talking about, would be obviously peaceful; only the Spanish government has the force.
However, everything is so volatile, it can change from one day to another. Especially if there is an international recognition or intervention to pressure the State to negotiate –which is what pro-independence support; because, after all, it’s what is all about.
Sílvia Blanco Tejerina
[Images: Sílvia Blanco Tejerina]