Spain Versus Catalonia, Catalonia Versus Spain – OpEd
By Alberto Andrés Aguirre*
On 12 October was celebrated the National Day of Spain. I have always thought that it was a wrong date for historical reasons: the American company, which serves as an excuse for the celebration of Hispanity, was a fundamentally Castilian adventure and symbolizes the beginning of a difficult process of colonization, with some lights but also with its deep shadows. Surely it would be more successful, respectful and effective to celebrate a more inclusive date. Perhaps the moment in which the feeling of belonging to the Spanish nation can be considered for the first time was during the anti-French uprising of the Two of May; but it would not be elegant with our French friends and allies and it is not a question of celebrating a massacre. A few years later on Cadiz, representatives of all Spain met for the first time in a single Cortes Generales until a constitution was established on March 19, 1812. Until then, there were only Cortes of the different territories governed under the same crown. That constitution has been an example for many constituent processes around the world and a continuous reference on our long road to democracy. And celebrate this it would have been, besides, an act of historical justice, a good symbol of harmony and unity in these times.
As a Spanish citizen, today I am witnessing, between pain, impotence and rage, a situation to which the spurious interests of the main actors of this drama have taken us. We walked towards a horizon of difficult coexistence in a country where it seemed that we had managed to channel the complex integration of strong identities, different but deeply interrelated. Our common history starts from 22 centuries ago, when the Catalan coastal strip was the first territory termed Hispania by the Romans.
I am not going to commit the anachronism of the Spanish nationalists who retract the origin of their nation up to those times or even earlier: for some the man from Atapuerca was already Spanish. The nation is a fairly modern concept. It is not even true that Spain is more than 500 years old as a state, since in any case it was a mere dynastic union, at least until 1714; nor is it that Catalonia was an independent entity rather than fleeting moments in history; although it did have millenarian institutions of its own and a legitimate identity as an undeniable people since the Middle Ages, which has been reflected in numerous attempts at emancipation.
With all those myths and many half-truths, two versions of history have been constructed that serve as a throwing weapon in this struggle for two situations of territorial political organization of very different sign. On the one hand, the existence of a completely independent Catalan State. On the other, an absolutely centralized Spanish State. In the 21st century, none of these options makes sense: the first because political independence, with integration processes in Europe, is highly devalued, and the second because it is unthinkable in a situation of de facto decentralization, which today is irreversible.
But the main parts of this conflict continue to look at these extremes that lead to the complete defeat of the other. If Catalonia were to achieve independence, Spain would be destroyed as such, and Catalonia would be badly wounded, since there are vital links between them. If Spain were to submit to Catalonia and did not recognize its identity and historical rights, it would cease to exist, but Spain would lose one of its most valuable assets, which is diversity. Between these competition dilemmas and the defeat of the other, we have witnessed in the last two centuries several compromise solutions, although not completely stable because they are not sufficiently accepted by important sectors of both societies.
The Statute of autonomy of the post-Franco transition has been, until now, a more than successful compromise solution. But societies evolve and the political climate of recent years in our country has led to breaking the social basis of the constitutional consensus that led to the transition to democracy and the autonomic solution of the 78. Attempts to adjust the political dress to the current situation have not now had protagonists of the same political mood or sense of responsibility that at that time. The situation in which we find ourselves at this moment is that we are all going to lose (and we have already lost a lot in terms of trust and coexistence), except the fishermen in troubled waters that have brought us here. As Professor Galtung says, sometimes it is necessary to touch the bottom, to lose all, in order to advance on the correct path of a solution: a path that is increasingly satisfactory for both parties, rather than for a single one, which is what happens if we move in the diagonal of the confrontation. Starting from “everyone loses” we can move towards the “win win” progressively seeking the achievement of the maximum legitimate objectives of each party.
But let us analyse what the real parts of this conflict and what their objectives are.
On the one hand, the Popular Party government, with strong Franco reminiscences that it has not yet been able to undo; one of them the mantra of the unity of Spain, understood as monolithic, built on false myths and sustained in a long repressive tradition. A minority government, with volatile parliamentary support and harassed by grave allegations of corruption, finds in the Catalan question the fuel necessary to activate the ultranationalist emotions, which it needs to maintain an electorate that was ceasing to support it by the social management of the crisis, but also in the evidence substantiated by the Courts of Justice of a corrupt management in many of the administrations that it has been occupying for years. The Catalan mess is therefore part of a double strategy: a distracting maneuver on the one hand so that serious and compromising issues go unnoticed, and on the other, a mobilizing element of its hardest bases (for them was the message of strength gone around the world on October 1).
The other main agent of this tragicomedy in which we are immersed is the PDCAT, the former Convergence of Catalonia, a government party in that community for decades, which has even had to change its name to cover also the widespread institutional corruption, as a result of so many years of monopoly of power. Drawing on its former political and class rivals, it has possibly the same motivations as those of the PP: to cover its own dirty laundry and to mobilize the unconditional ones from deep Catalonia.
Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya has managed to impose on its ally in the Junts pel sí coalition its maximum program, and can only hope to gain electoral support with the exacerbation of the conflict. The anti-capitalists of the CUP respond to a revolutionary logic that goes beyond secession and also gain nothing by de-escalating the conflict.
The so-called constitutionalist parties in Catalonia and Spain do not show a more encouraging picture. Among them, the best placed to try something, PSOE and PSC, are not completely in tune, which weakens their possibilities of intervention. And Ciudadanos, which is said to be more liberal than the government party, maintains a more strongly central and intransigent position, as it seeks to capitalize on Catalonia’s opposition to sovereignty and subtract electoral support to the PP in the rest of Spain.
In the case of Podemos and Izquierda Unida, which together with ERC and CUP question the constitutional system itself, they see here a unique opportunity to change the rules of the game, even if it is forced.
In this scenario of confrontation, which favours who has the responsibility to govern in both spaces, there is little room for maneuver. But if we analyse the true objectives, the legitimate aspirations of the Catalan people and the Spanish people, it is more than possible that we can find some point of satisfactory agreement, allowing a certain degree of integration that respects diversity, preserves the identity of Spain, and respects at the same time, not only the Catalan diversity and its own historical identity but also that of other areas of Spain.
We can not expect too much responsibility from the politicians who direct us because they have shown short-term interests; but with governments with minority support on both sides (which does not rule out the possibility of early elections), an open and sincere dialogue should be established in both parliamentary forums to initiate a process of finding agreements that respond to the legitimate aspirations of all the Catalans and all the Spaniards. A first task therefore is to discover all the legitimate objectives that each party should be able to express frankly and honestly.
In recent hours small windows have been opened to possible solutions: President Puigdemont’s offer of independence declaration suspended pending dialogue, which leaves him in a difficult position with his partners; the acceptance by President Rajoy of opening the debate of a reform of the Constitution, to which they were radically denied until this moment, delaying the taking of drastic measures against the Catalan self-government that its hardest bases demand. It seems that something has moved towards sanity and hope that they are more than imposed positions to cause the other to be burdened with the fault of the disaster that we are faced with if not. The great media repercussion of everything does not facilitate the serene dialogue that is now needed and puts great pressure on the political actors. There are enormous obstacles to be removed and bases to be reestablished: respect for the political institutions of Catalonia, half of whose Parliament is being denied by the independence majority; the acceptance to discuss without preconditions by any of the parties, in the debate on the reform of the Constitution; the neutrality of institutions that have recently been distorted from their role of arbitration and have been used on the one hand; a greater impartiality and informative rigor that puts in its place what happens, without distorting the facts in favour of any side beyond what the events themselves show.
For this delicate process to be undertaken, we should begin not only to try not to warm up the environment but to acknowledge the mistakes made by all, alleviating the traumas that have arisen: there is too much emotion and too many feelings hurt by both parties and torpedoes, irregularities and illegalities have been committed, also on both sides. Something we have heard these days: the apology of the delegate of the Central Government for the police excesses, the recognition by the spokesman of Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya in the Cortes de Madrid that in the Parlament of Barcelona the legislation and the parliamentary rules had been broken…
The Catalan society is too interrelated with the Spanish so that it can be seceded without involving collective trauma and thousands of family and personal traumas. Spanish society has too many foundational and referential elements to cheerfully dispense with the Catalan component: we have already said that the first land that received the ancient name of Spain was Catalonia, the first national currency was the peseta (a Catalan voice) The bicolor flag unambiguously proceeds from the senyera bars, the first president of the Spanish Cortes was the Catalan Lázaro de Dou, and nobody could understand Spanish art and culture without the strength of Catalan art and culture.
But truncating the legitimate democratic aspirations of an important, almost majority, sector of the Catalan people, which has built an exciting collective project, without offering equally attractive alternatives, or denying the evidence of a strong differentiated identity for centuries, is to weaken our democracy by encouraging confrontation and slowing down our social development.
If independence is an end in itself, little can be said already. If, on the other hand, historical rights of self-government are not recognized at the highest level, dialogue will not be possible either. But between the two extreme positions there is a wide margin of possibilities to reach a coexistence agreement, at least for the XXI century. It is worth a try, either directly or with experienced mediators who will drive you if you are not alone.
*Alberto Andrés Aguirre is a member of TRANSCEND International, Dr. in Philosophy and Letters (University of Alicante). Secondary teacher at the IES Catalina de Lancaster of Santa María la Real de Nieva (Segovia, Spain) and Coordinator of the International Center for Conflict Solution Alfadeltapi, Alfàs del Pi (Alicante, Spain). [email protected]
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 13 November 2017.