a cura di Francesco Cocozza-
When I first started to think about this article, I encountered many problems in choosing “how to face it”. In Catalonia’s recent events, there is plenty of room for interesting possibilities of analysis, but none of them really convinced me: speaking about the economic consequences, deepening Spanish law references which led to referendum and influenced its development, exploring reasons of independentists and Government and eventually trying to find a rational meeting point between their interests, etc.
Nevertheless, it seemed as though there was something wrong in handling these themes. After some days of reflection, I finally understood why. Speaking about these events means to speak about people, real people. People with ideas, feelings, and hopes. How could I leave humans outside the article and analyze only graphs, data, and research?
Then, it came the idea: “I’m in Erasmus and I have lots of interview possibilities with people from every part of Spain – Why shouldn’t I use this opportunity?”
So, we arrive at this article, composed of 4 interviews with 5 people, all of whom are economic students in their early twenties. We will speak with Agueda, a young adult from Galicia (an autonomous community in the North-West); Esther, Helena, and Marcos, from Catalonia itself and with different opinions; and finally with Javier, from Andalusia in the far south of Spain.
One last note: sources for the statements of the interviewed below (and not the opinions, which are free and personal) were reached after fact checking.
How is to live the Catalan situation from a foreign country?
Agueda: It’s wired, heavy. I’m worried and shamed from what is appending. Catalonia is a small part of the country, it is not comparable to the Brexit. So, it’s heavy to feel that people from your country doesn’t feel like there are part of your country. They don’t feel Spanish.
Esther & Helena:We are not quiet. We are constantly searching for news on twitter and on newspaper. We are sad, we want to be there. We are looking for our friends, to stay with them and our parents. It’s sad. We’re trying to support them from here sending messages.
What about the sources for the independence claims? Do you believe or agree with these reasons?
Javier: It is certainly true that they are the most florid economy in Spain and that they have to compensate the economic holes of other regions, like mine. About the cultural and historical reasons, it is for example a problem that they teach classes only in Catalan, but it is true that the central government cannot force the school and the universities to teach only in Spanish.
Catalonia and Andalusia have not a good relationship, because after the civil war lots of people from Andalusia came to Catalonia to find a work. Catalonia has reasons to blame Andalusia for their lack of economic strength, because it has to make additional efforts to compensate it. Catalonia has bad relationship even with Madrid, because the central Government has the tendency to make economic incentives in Madrid to steal companies from Catalonia. So, ultimately, they have reasons to claim the independence from the Spain and I cannot blame them for that.
Esther & Helena: Spain doesn’t understand our feeling, this isn’t only an economic issue, is about our culture and history. People in Catalonia are different from the rest of the Spain. We have a different culture, a different language. This different culture is ultimately the basic difference between Catalan and Spanish economics: people in Catalonia have a different work mentality, they care about the money and that push them to be more efficient and productive while in other regions they have different priorities and values. It is not wrong or right, but it is simply being so. Hence, we want that this situation will shape even the political configuration.
We tried in the past of years to ask referendum, it started 6 years ago, 2011, with a lot of pacific manifestations, asking for a vote, for a change. They took a lot of preparation, with millions of people. These manifestations weren’t perceived from the other parts of the Europe and Spain because they were manipulated by mass media and the government to stop the independence. They said like “1,000 people manifested for the independence” where there was actually over 2,500,000. Every year that it will pass without been listened, there would be more people that will vote for “yes”. The government represents us, and so if people massively ask for something, it has to listen.
Agueda: They have cultural and historical reasons; economic ones are only an excuse to start this process. They have a different language, a different history. Historically they are similar to Galicia from a certain point of view: both of them have always requested for autonomy, both of them were exceptionally repressed under Franco and they couldn’t be independent. Catalonia always wanted to be independent, from when the original two countries were united with a marriage between Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon.
Cultural and historical reasons are enough to give the right to them to be independent. If there was a republic in Spain the things could be better: law is chaotic and confusing, even at a constitutional level, and the government uses that for its benefit, in their own interest.
The thing is that every region of Spain has a different ideology, every region has its problem and its causes to claim more autonomy.
Navarra and Pais Bascos, they have a different law, “eyes forales”, which makes them more independent. Catalonia didn’t ask for that autonomy and just wants complete independence. They asked repeatedly but softly. This is the first time it has been this serious.
Marcos: There is an economic point of view. Catalonia gives more money than it receives. From a cultural point of view, we have a different, but somewhat similar, culture from the rest of Spain. These differences are present, for example with the language. We have our own language but more than 50% of the Catalan people speak more Spanish than Catalan, despite that all primary school classes (except for the Spanish class, which is taught similarly to English) are in Catalan. So, I agree with Spanish politicians who want to make classes in equilibrium between Spanish and Catalan. I don’t agree to use Catalan like a political gun, speaking about its exclusivity and different cultural sources.
From the cultural point of view, for me, it is good to be both Spanish and Catalan together. To combine simultaneously both of them isn’t a countersense but it’s the reason of richness and pride. They’re not necessarily in struggle. In terms of history, I think, as I read and confronted different sources, it is not true that there was a successive battle between Spanish and Catalans during the 18th century secession war. This battle was only about Monarchies; both of them had supports in Catalonia and both of them conquered Barcelona. We can relate this situation to now, because the population is divided between supporters for one side or for the other.
Economically speaking, they are certainly stronger together and separation would weaken both of them, damaging both Spain and Catalonia. Now a lot of companies are leaving Catalonia because of the independence risk, and this can be proven. Other data is that around 40% of the total Catalan exports are directed to Spain and another 40% is directed to EU. This is dangerous too, because if you leave Spain you also leave the EU.
From a political point of view, they continue to do what they did 15 years ago: all the Governments of Catalonia were, and still are, nationalists, even the majority of the Parliament. They are politicizing everything in public schools, television, and radio, for example. They always defend the point of view of the independents without reporting the point of view for unity. They’re constantly influencing the public opinion, the newer generations in particular, trying to progressively put the wrong thoughts inside the people, in order to grow the proportion of citizens who are for independence. Know we still are (maybe) for the unity of the regions, but in the future we won’t if we continue at this pace.
Which social atmosphere do you perceive in Spain?
J: The independent movement in my region, Andalusia, is non-existent, like 3 or 4 people, because we know that if we leave we would be one of the poorest countries in the world. So, in general, the feeling to be part of the Spain is particularly developed in Andalusia, and we are more inclined to support the unity of the country than the Catalonian independence.
A: All the rest of the country is hardly against Catalonia’s independence. In the south, and in Madrid too, they seriously don’t want unity but simply they want Catalonia’s efforts to fail. They hate Catalonia, because Catalans feel superior to the Spanish people, as an example they respond in Catalan to Spanish questions and they are a closed-off society. In Madrid this happens but less than in the south of the Spain.
M: In Catalonia there is a sort of intolerance against citizens who actively defend the unity of Spain. They say that you’re not truly a Catalan. It’s not true: I feel Catalan like the independents, but I feel Spanish too. It doesn’t make sense what they say, that if I’m not for independence than I’m a bad Catalan.
Many questioned the legality of the referendum. It’s a relevant issue in the independence process?
A: Democracy is a system with rules. You can fight for your rights but you have to do that between the limits of the rules. If you get out from these limits then you’re from the wrong side. A referendum could take place, but it has to follow the rules and to involve all the Spanish people because this decision would affect everyone, not only Catalan people.
J: This is a democracy, so people have the right to vote. Even if it’s illegal, then you simply cancel the result of the Referendum. You are not allowed to use violence against voting people to stop a democratic demonstration.
E&H: It’s not a problem at all. We have the right to vote, to express our ideas, to be listened by Spain and by the European Union. Issues about illegality of the Referendum simply want to take the attention away from the real problem.
M: They have destroyed rules and laws in Spain. Catalonia’s Parliament and Government made a law to justify and make the referendum possible, but this was against the Spanish Constitution and against the Statute of Catalonia. It was like they created a new Statute from nothing, which was declared illegal by the Constitutional Court of Spain, and in the process making the referendum illegal itself. Hence, Catalan people who are for unity want to vote, but in a legal way. I won’t vote in an illegal way.
People will mobilize if legal referendum takes place, but otherwise they won’t risk getting above the other half of the population: they don’t want to give importance to the referendum. This is why people who are for the unity didn’t vote.
Were there irregularities during the unwinding of the Referendum?
E&H: No, rules were clear and official. It’s not true that people could vote more than one time, that children were forced to vote, and that we did not have an official list of who can vote. It’s not true that we did not have a system that could separate the people that can vote from the people that cannot. Simply, if you are registered to live in a city (of Catalonia) which is allowed to vote and you are more than 16 years old, then you can vote.
A: It was totally crazy, unreal. There wasn’t a list of people would could vote. They did not have official voting papers because they did not have the money to do that. You had to print them from home. You could vote twice instead of once, without anyone noticing or checking. It was like they just put a box in schools and said: “Come and vote!”.
J: It is illegal to keep information about who the registers were and where they voted, so people couldn’t check if they had right to vote. Hence, people could vote in 5 difference places without problem. There were already voting papers before the start of the voting process inside the boxes. It’s legal, however, for 16 and 17 years olds in Spain to vote, if it’s for a referendum, so it’s not true that young boys and girls voted illegally.
What’s your opinion about what the police did during the Referendum of the 1st of October?
M: When I saw pictures and videos about the 1st of October I was for the independence, too. It is impossible to justify this way to act.
J: Using the police was a useless and counterproductive move for the Spanish Government because, after this, people of every part of Spain and Europe reinforced their support for Catalonia’s independence issue, criticizing the Government. So, it was a move for the separation, not against it. If police blocked one school, they simply went to another school to vote.
A: Of course, what the police did during the referendum day cannot be justified. At first, the government didn’t want to give the referendum any importance but then (purposely or not) sent cops from the South and from Madrid to stop the referendum. They were supposed to stop voting without using violence but because the hate between Catalonia and Madrid (and the South), they forced their hands and hurt people. Proportional principle was totally broken, they were voting for something illegal, so the vote wouldn’t be valid. The Government had the law on its side, so if you have the law on your side, why do you need the force them to stop? Only for a demonstration of strength. Nearly 840 people were injured, even old people were hurt by cops.
E&H: We knew that the government would take the police. But we still believed that it would be a pacific day. Police started to hurt people from the beginning of the day; they stroke people with different hardness, depending on which school/place you would have gone to vote. (E:) “My family went to the place where they supposed to go, but there were a lot of cops who started hitting people, pushing them away. They used plastic balls to shoot on people, even if it’s not allowed in Spain.” (H:) “My uncle had an anxiety attack, because he couldn’t believe the situations. He had to be taken to the hospital.” It cost 31 million Euros to bring all the police in Catalonia. Fortunately, Catalan police and firemen were defending us, without them there would be a lot of other damage, a lot of horrible things in addition to what had already happened.
It’s horrible that people were attacked when they did what they were told. The central government did wrong because they feared the situation and they wanted to stop it in any which way, no matter the tool. Rajoy said today that the acts of the police were exemplar. It’s disgusting that the King of the Spain is not saying anything about what happened.
The next and last part is focused on the Spanish political and social environment, both present and future, with a particular attention on the solution theme: Whether they see one or more answers to solve the situation, and if these are available in the current atmosphere.
Please note that, considering the fast pace of changes in the situation, answers could be a little aged, but I think these are interesting in any case. Moreover, specific questions here were modified depending on the flow of the interviews and on different personalities and ideas that emerged during the chat.
Which is now the political situation in Spain? Solutions are being discussed?
A: Rajoy and Puigdemont are seen as stubborn – they are on their way, without changing ideas and without proposing an optimal solution.
Catalans are not aware of future plans, they want only a blind independence which has not clear results on future perspectives. Just imagine the Spanish workers in Catalonia: Spain doesn’t have distinctions between regions, so after the independence it would be very difficult, if not possible at all, to find a common way to stabilize their condition.
At the same time, pretention about Central Government to simply restore the previous situation, like anything happened, is crazy and they should open to some autonomous shape.
In my opinion, if a real and legal referendum has to be, this would have to involve all the Spanish people, because the decision would affect both the Catalans and the Spanish.
What’s your solution in that situation?
M: The first one would be to rethink all the ideas of the Spanish State, driving the country to a federal form with more autonomy for their Regions-States. The second one would be to make an agreement for a legal referendum which would involve only Catalans, giving the right to vote legally for this issue.
These two solutions could be possible in theory, but now both political leaders are fixed in their unmovable positions. These two solutions would each require a compromise, an agreement between the parts. They’re going to declare independence and the Spanish Government will apply the Constitutional article 155 which gives to the central Government the rights to control/manage all the competences about the rebellious region. This will result in more conflict in the streets. My opinion is that Catalan Government wants more repression from Spanish State in order to further legitimize their independence claim, like what happened during the 1st of October. The injuries of this independent issue won’t heal for a long time but I hope we remain a united country at the end.
Are you aware about the consequences that the separation will bring?
E&H: We don’t know for sure about the consequences, because every part says what is better for themselves, but we feel like we would be better without Spain. Now everything is broken and I cannot imagine being part of Spain again with the police that behaved in that way, hurting and pushing away many of my people.
There were strikes in the country, which was paralyzed. In particular, there was a big, quiet, and peaceful manifestation for a peaceful vote for independence, even from Spanish people that live in Catalonia, because even if they are for independence, they cannot stay at home without doing nothing after what the police did to us.
What do you imagine will be the future of this situation?
E&H: In a few days, the Government of Catalonia will declare unilaterally the independence from Spain, because most (92.01%) of the people who voted at the referendum were for it. It doesn’t count if the participation at the vote was about 43.03%. It was a similar situation for European entrance vote in 2005.
700,000 people weren’t able to vote cause of the police. Some other people couldn’t vote because they were out of the country. So, like 1,000,000 of people didn’t even vote for the Referendum.
What do you think will happen in the next days?
J: It is probable that Catalonia’s government will declare unilateral independence from Spain, but I don’t think they have a plan after that, because they will leave even the EU so they have to create from zero their new institutions, coins, agreements, studies, pensions and insurances, VISA for European countries, etc. They would have a lot of political problems, but they are not focussing on the solutions because they always declared the willingness to be an independent Republic but without any specifications. I’m curious of what they are going to do. Spanish Government has nothing to lose, compared to the Catalan one, who would have really huge issues. So, they have to negotiate a better deal for the autonomy and not for the independence, because the consequences would be too great for Catalonia. So they simply want greater contractual power in the negotiations with the central Government, to achieve more economic autonomy, especially in taxation. But eventually, I don’t think they will separate from Spain and it will remain as a united country. This won’t aggrieve the current relationships between Spanish regions, because they are the breaking bad.
We saw one part which is for independence, one for unity, and the other two that are positioned in the middle, with different shades of grey.
I was really lucky in the choices and these interviews are actually like a puzzle, they give different points of view and information but at the end the result is incredibly homogeneous in my opinion.
This article is an invitation to reflect. I hope that their sum can contribute to reach something near to the utopian idea of objectivity, on which everyone could build their own reflections sensibly: I hope that you will accept this invitation.
With the precious help of Stephanie Zulauf
Constitutional article 155 and possible applications: https://www.ft.com/content/c9bf1ce0-f9b0-11e6-bd4e-68d53499ed71
Banks and firms are leaving Catalonia: http://www.repubblica.it/economia/2017/10/06/news/referendum_catalogna_madrid_banche-177531499/?ref=search
Data about the 1st October Referendum: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catalan_independence_referendum,_2017
On the possibility to remain in EU after the Referendum: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/spain/11892227/Catalans-warn-forced-EU-exit-would-be-blow-to-European-free-movement.html
Some data and researches on Catalan economy: http://nordic.businessinsider.com/catalonia-split-spain-economic-impact-ing-2017-9?r=US&IR=T;
History of Catalonia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Catalonia#War_of_the_Spanish_Succession