If you spend any amount of time in Spain, particularly in its proud Catalan region , you will hear about the people’s fight for independence. But where did it start, should Catalan be independent and what does this mean for Spain?
Insider Kristjan has covered this subject in an in-depth series. In his final post, he covers his opinion on Catalan independence.
This series began by noting that Catalan independence was a complex issue. The question is singular but the reasoning is multifaceted, both for and against . Certainly, each of the issues addressed has its own merit. The world can and should take note of Catalonia’s peculiar history and culture, especially its language. The demise of the Kingdom of Aragon has left deep wounds in the collective conscious of many Catalan citizens. There is also some measure of fiscal imbalance between revenues raised from Catalan sources and those handed back via revenue sharing formulas. Notwithstanding the above, it is not the author’s opinion that any of these considerations, taken individually or collectively, warrant outright independence, and certainly not by unilateral means.
Spain’s remarkable transition from dictatorship to democracy in the late 1970’s rested on the foundation of a maxim laid down by Torcuato Fernandez-Miranda, chief counselor to King Juan Carlos. His dictum: ‘From the Law, to the Law, through the Law.’ In his own words:
“I fought in the War and chose one side. For that exact reason, I do not want to see a repetition of Spain’s tragic experience. Civilized society submits to the discipline of Law, wise laws as well as misguided laws, whose constitutional basis is the popular will, which only the People can modify through the adherence to the Laws themselves.”
Secessionist leaders are invited to recite that phrase and reflect on its wisdom. In politics, the ends do not justify the means. Form can be just as important as substance. The uncomfortable fact for secessionists is the Constitution, embraced by the Catalan and Spanish people just a few short decades ago, does not recognize any right to unilateral secession. Independence is a legitimate aspiration, but achieving it by illegitimate means is unacceptable and tarnishes Catalonia’s image as a beacon of democratic rule of law.
Meanwhile, it is delusionary to believe independence will be painless and carry no consequence of any sort. Were it to declare independence unilaterally, there is very little chance the Republic of Catalonia would be able to rejoin the EU on a timely basis, or enjoy international recognition by more than a handful of nations. Managing its own currency in world markets without access to the World Bank or IMF is unrealistic. Trade relations with the EU, and even the rest of Spain, would be unavoidably affected. Perhaps the long-term underlying economic viability of secession would eventually pay off, but the process could take multiple generations, all at a very high cost.
Along the road to independence, Catalan secessionists must face a second uncomfortable reality. Despite the loud rhetoric and staged public events, Catalan society itself is not united on the question of severing ties with Spain. As mentioned, support for secession has peaked around two million in an electorate of more than six million. As such, the greatest impediments to independence are not Madrid’s intransience, or a Bourbon Dynast on an ancient throne, the politics of language, or the formula for revenue sharing. The obstacle is the Catalan people themselves, who do not back the move with anywhere near a clear majority. So consequential a move should only be made with a clear-cut majority. Wherever that bar is set (55, 60, 66%), secessionists need a convincing majority to justify their actions. Currently, they are not even close. It is worth highlighting that the absence of a solid majority is all the more significant following decades of anti-Spain rhetoric, and aggressive campaigns designed to convey that all things bad emanate from Madrid while all things good emanate from Catalonia. For me personally, twenty-five years residing in Catalonia does not leave the impression that Catalan society harbors widespread hostility toward the rest of Spain or its institutions, including the Crown.
The phrase ‘the rest of Spain’ is used frequently in the independence debate and in this essay. The term implies that beyond Catalonia’s borders there is a homogeneous Spanish society that thinks and acts in harmony, and provides a uniform backdrop against which Catalonia can be compared. This notion is utter nonsense. Spain is a country defined by rich pluralism, expressed in language, architecture, culture, landscape, cuisine, history, and climate. Its vast diversity is what makes the country so attractive and interesting. Thus, secessionists’ motto ‘Catalonia is not Spain’ fails to ring true. Perhaps what they mean to say is ‘Catalonia is not Castille’, a point with which this author is in complete agreement. But then again, the Basque Country, Galicia, Andalusia, the Canary Islands, and Murcia are not Castille either. They are all different. Spain is a patchwork of different people and influences. Removing any one of the integral pieces severely impacts the greater whole. Not only is Catalonia part of Spain, it is an essential and vital component of the country, as it was Ferdinand of Aragon’s marriage to Isabel of Castille that created the nation. Spain simply would not be Spain without Catalonia.
For its part, the Madrid administration could certainly be more generous with Catalonia, by considering meaningful financial and social reforms. The language taught in the schools of Catalonia is a matter for Catalans to decide for themselves. It may well be a mistake to try to leverage a language spoken by relatively small percentage of the world’s population into the vehicle of instruction. But it is a mistake for Catalan society to make, not for Madrid to impose, no matter how well intentioned.
Watch the Spain blog for more from Insiders, including the past posts from Kristjan sharing his expertise on Spain. Also read his book “The Reign in Spain – Fall & Rise of the Spanish Monarchy” (https://www.amazon.com/Reign-Spain-Fall-Spanish...).