Photo credits: Law Blog for the Average Joe.
It didn’t come as a surprise to me when upon my arrival at Durham this year the taxi driver asked me: ‘Oh, so you are from Barcelona, things must be pretty f**ked up at home right now huh?’. It didn’t come as a surprise either when that wasn’t the only time I was asked about Catalonia that day. Funnily enough, in spite of the Catalan issue having been present for decades, people outside Spain seem to have just developed a really strong opinion on it this year. I do enjoy the occasional heated debate in tutorials, and yes, I am aware of the list of facts and numbers on it. Now let me tell you what the international newspapers are avoiding.
Firstly, the abuse you can receive at times when you point out your political beliefs. I will never forget summer 2015, when I went on a summer camp to France to perfect the language and to my surprise bumped into a group of teenagers that were Franco supporters. I will never forget a group of 10 of them following me around the site singing a song about cremating all Catalan people and how we shouldn’t even be considered people. I won’t forget either not being allowed into a taxi in Seville for speaking Catalan to my friend. Do not get me wrong, I would never argue the majority of Spanish people act like this, in fact, I’ve been very lucky to meet people with very different ideas to mine, with whom I can have a discussion without losing respect towards each other. What I am saying is that experiencing this, even if you were not a separatist, you become one.
You don’t know how passionate you are about your identity until someone tries to challenge it.
-yet this is, again, my personal experience.
Secondly, why we want to break from Spain. Franco’s dictatorship, ending in 1975, seriously affected all of Spain, economically, socially and internationally. However, it affected Catalonia differently to most of the Spanish regions (other regions also suffered great cultural strain so I will not claim Catalonia necessarily suffered more), it threatened its identity and culture. Banning Catalan in the streets, abolishing our Government (La Generalitat) and institutions only served to increase the Catalan feeling of separatism amongst its peoples. An honest Republic after Franco’s death could’ve limited this, but instead Franco’s shadow still exists in Catalonia. The now ex-king of Spain (Juan Carlos I) was the chosen successor by the dictator, whom pressured by the imminent rebellion in 1975 had no other escape but to introduce democracy again. Now, that’s a great image for Spain, having a monarchy directly chosen by a former fascist dictator. In addition to this, our current ruling party, the ‘Partido Popular’ (PP), has its origins in ‘Alianza Popular’, a coalition of conservative parties led by old Francoist leaders. Surprisingly, I’ve had several people point out how Catalonia benefitted from industrialisation during the dictatorship and it resulted in public income growth. I, personally, do not think this is applicable to this argument because no beneficial economic growth is comparable to prohibiting a language or freedom of speech or killing individuals for their beliefs. Furthermore we have no alternative to compare Franco’s regime to, so we will never know whether a Republic would’ve produced faster economic growth and Franco actually slowed industrialisation down.
It is important to add that the Constitution claiming the referendum is undemocratic hasn’t been amended since 1978. I am aware that the constitution was voted for by 92% of Catalans and that it was framed alongside two Catalan politicians (Miquel Roca and Jordi Sole). Still, this was almost 40 years ago, the fact that a population voted in such a large majority for a Constitution following a 35 year-long dictatorship should not surprise anyone. What this percentage demonstrates is rather the vast quantity of Catalans that were in favour of a democratic government. Furthermore, it is not representative of how many Catalans are still in agreement with it today. I do not claim the constitution is undemocratic, however, what 40 years ago stood for a completely democratic text is not what would stand for one today. The constitution needs, in my opinion, some amending, as any constitution would after 40 years in practise in the current ever-changing social and political sphere.
From the Catalan point of view, Spain is literally being governed by Franco’s ghost. We believe we deserve and could do better.
The corruption and lack of transparency of our government became undeniable when the Rajoy (President) was accused of diverting millions of euros from the public treasury to pay off his party’s debts (PP) and was later –wait for it- registered for a motion of ‘no confidence’ for trying to influence the judicial system in order to cover-up the corruption case. I am aware of the corruption of the Catalan government, e. g the deals between CIU and Aznar’s PP, they also made front page in Catalan newspapers. The Catalan government is also deeply flawed (for example, declaring unilateral independence). Nevertheless, the Spanish government is in no position of blaming the Catalan one of corruption because of a referendum, ignoring their own, past encounters with it. Talking about Spain’s abundance of democracy, I feel like I must mention the only reason why Rajoy is still in power. After a 10-month-long deadlock in the government because of the PP coming out of elections with a minority government, he somehow managed to convince most of the left-wing opposition (PSOE) in 2016 to abstain from voting for a President, so he could rule again. However, all of this wouldn’t have directly affected Catalonia, if it wasn’t for Rajoy’s passion for channelling his inner far right-wing self. Let’s analyse the evidence:
- In 2013 the Constitutional Court established that if in a Catalan-speaking lesson a single student demands it be changed to Spanish, all the lesson must therefore be taught in Spanish to all the students. Talk about language repression (there are specific lessons and schools taught exclusively in Spanish)
- Last year, the Constitutional Court decided to revoke the law accepted by the Catalan Parliament that forbid Bullfighting in Catalonia
- Lastly, who can ignore the fact our –democratically elected by the majority- Catalan government is currently either imprisoned or being persecuted by the National Government because they carried out an ‘illegal’ referendum in Catalonia.
Leading up from the last point, I do not believe any government has the right to send in National Police forces to beat up innocent citizens because they want to exercise their right to vote. 844 were reported injured by the Catalan news due to police brutality whilst they claimed they were only there to confiscate ballot boxes. As far as I’m aware ballot boxes aren’t attached to voters’ bodies. The best part was the Spanish government initially congratulating the Police for their job on TV, before later on issuing an apology. How ridiculous must it look that Catalan policemen and firefighters had to protect citizens from the National Police of a ‘democratic’ state. If Spain decides the referendum is illegitimate, just ignore its results, but don’t violate people’s rights by arresting citizens that were putting up signs in advertisement walls, by threatening to close local news (violation of freedom of speech and information) and beating up old people and families that wanted to –either- vote for or against independence. We hadn’t seen this since Francoist days. If you want to suppress the Catalan separatist feeling, taking away the autonomy they had to start with and the right to their language and voting, won’t help, I can guarantee. It’s pure logic. Had the National government been more open to discussion and respectful of our culture, some Catalans wouldn’t have even wanted independence in the first place. The Spanish Government dug their own grave.
Catalonia provides 20% of the GDP for Spain and yet has the highest level of federal asymmetry in Europe (at 8%).
In 2009, for example, Catalonia paid 16.41 billion euros to Spain for services and investments, which stands for 8.4% of Catalonia’s GDP. Out of every euro a Catalan person pays in tax, 43 cents is spent elsewhere. Even the Catalan branch of the PP argue Catalonia deserves a bigger portion of the tax total. The reason why this is significant is not due to our greediness when providing for poorer autonomous communities, like many media argue, but due to the fact that the money is badly administered. The Catalan government claims that the national government ripped them off by somewhere between 11 and 15 billion euros in 2011 (€2,000 per capita). The central government maintained this sum was actually 8.5 billion euros. Catalonia is in deficit to an extent that many of Spain’s other regions have more resources per person than Catalonia has to spend on its own services. Our money goes to building toll-free roads across the rest of Spain, yet most of our roads still have tolls, to the point that people are starting to refuse to pay them. Furthermore the Basque Country (one of Spain’s richest regions) and Navarra retain independence in aspects such as tax, fiscal or civil law, allowing them to keep almost all of their tax receipts instead of forwarding them to the national government. Catalonia has, however, been denied similar privileges. With the current perceived corruption rates of Spain, Catalan citizens have no idea what their money is being invested on (most of the data has been taken from The Guardian). The lack of transparency is one of the main economic reasons behind the separatist feeling.
Now, talking about identity politics; if a region does not identify with a National government, can that government claim to be sovereign over it? In paper, yes, in practice, no. For an individual to believe their government has the right to sovereignty over their person, they have to be certain, even if it is actually not true, that that government speaks for their best interests. Now, following that statement, most governments should not have sovereignty over a large proportion of their people. That is true, however governments and closed boarders give the rest of the world the insurance that anarchy will not take over, they create the illusion of a culturally organised world with clean-cut differences and boarders.
In reality, even if Catalan independence was deemed illegitimate, most pro- separatism people will still reply that they are Catalan when asked what their nationality is.
Laws can dictate what our official documents will say, but not what we feel. The Spanish government has only given us reason to fuel a sense of community amongst separatist Catalans, whom are now more united than ever.
I am aware that the rest of the world cannot recognise us as a nation right now, you don’t have to keep telling me that in tutorials. I know that Catalan recognition by some European countries would just create hostility, affect European trade and potentially even cause a war; reasons why the declaration of unilateral independence was pointless and wrong.
As Historicus puts it: ‘before you recognise a state you must know what it is’ (1862)
Who decides that? Who will ultimately have the right to recognise independence for us? What will they declare us independent from? For every state or person that could recognise our independence, there would be another to deny it. And so, recognition cannot happen, at least not now, at least not with how the EU is right now. We have enough with Brexit right now, and Catalonia is just happy they haven’t fucked it up as badly as the UK have.
So, in conclusion, what Catalonia has is not a feeling of hatred at all, but the need to break free from a backwards system that tries to suppress our identity. It’s not only economy, it’s also identity politics. We aren’t asking for your approval, we don’t need it, we just want your respect. So please do not come to me telling me I shouldn’t feel Catalan because I‘m Spanish, we all have the right to decide where we belong to and draw our imaginary lines, your words won’t change a thing.
By: Marina Mestres