(By Liz Castro/Medium) Catalans came out en masse to demand the right to vote on independence on the 300th anniversary of the loss of their sovereignty · More than 1.8 million (20% of the entire population) forming a giant V for Vote, Victory, and Voluntat (Will).
Catalonia’s independence movement is ground up, it’s truly grassroots. On Thursday, 7000 volunteers will mobilize close to two million people to form a huge Catalan flag in the shape of a letter V on two major streets in Barcelona. V for Vote, for Victory, and for Voluntat (Will). Many of the volunteers have been working for independence since the first straw polls for independence took place in the tiny town of Arenys de Munt in the fall of 2009. I met a woman the other day who has been handing out flyers every single Sunday since early 2010 in front of Gaudí’s spectacular Sagrada Família because she is determined to take full advantage of this opportunity this time.
In 2013, thousands of Catalan National Assembly (ANC) volunteers, inspired by 1987’s Baltic Way got 1.6 million people to hold hands from one end of the country to the other — an expanse of 250 miles — a logistic miracle!
Catalans use Twitter, WhatsApp and Facebook to share information, coordinate hashtags ahead of time, set meeting times, and just to stay in touch. They want to do something truly revolutionary: redraw political borders peacefully, without war.
Because they eschew violence, they have to attract attention some other way. And they have tried everything. Besides the monumental 250-mile hand holding and Thursday’s massive V for Vote march, they have created lipdubs, innumerable mosaics, movies, books, candle lightings, lectures, meetings, they even constructed human towers — a Catalan specialty — in seven European capitals.
2. Catalonia is an economic powerhouse — a stable separation would help guarantee the stability of the euro and thus both Europe’s and the world’s economy
Catalonia makes up 16% of the population of the Spanish State but 20% of its economy and 25% of its exports. Catalonia annually sends an extra 16 billion euros (20 billion USD) to Spain as “solidarity” that never comes back, which amounts to about 8% of its GDP of 200 billion euros. This tremendous pressure depletes Catalonia of its resources and makes it necessary to go into debt to provide adequate services to its citizens.
Catalonia is also a net contributor to the EU (indeed it has the highest fiscal imbalance with the EU), and proportionally, contributes more to the EU than Germany.
Spain underinvests in Catalonia and mismanages its own finances, simultaneously killing the goose that lays the golden eggs and wasting the eggs themselves. For example, Spain has spent countless billions of euros to have the most high speed rail track in the world (second only to China, and first per capita), but still hasn’t bothered to link up its major Mediterranean ports (both Catalan speaking) with Europe. It built track that served 9 passengers daily between Toledo and Albacete but resists connecting Valencia and Barcelona.
It is in Europe and the world’s interest for Catalonia to manage its own resources, adequately finance infrastructure, invest in its strong manufacturing, tech and tourism industries, and be a contributing member of the EU.
Catalans political leaders — following the public’s lead — insist that the only way out is through a democratic referendum. By refusing to negotiate or even talk about the issue, Spain’s government not only denies representation to a good portion of its people, but it creates an unstable situation that could adversely affect the world economy.
Indeed Reuters was reporting Tuesday that Spanish bond yields were rising because investors worried that a successful Scottish independence bid would bolster the Catalan cause. Numerous economic analysts, including the Financial Times have said a negotiated solution (like Scotland’s) is the only way to avoid economic instability.
Catalonia is a special place, that goes way beyond Gaudí, FC Barcelona, and paella. It has a rich and varied history, that dates from the first Count of Barcelona in 897, Wilfred the Hairy, through a period of expansionism in which Catalonia controlled much of the Mediterranean in the 13th century, the loss of sovereignty to Spain in 1714 (exactly three hundred years ago this Thursday, September 11), the Renaissance of Catalan literature in the 19th century, the Mancomunitat, or self government of the early 1900’s, and the perseverance under Dictator Franco’s brutally oppressive rule from 1939 to 1975.
Catalonia has its own language — Catalan — spoken by more than 10 million people (more than several countries in Europe). Its strength is demonstrated by the fact that it is the 8th most active language in the blogosphere, the 19th most used on Twitter, the 17th version of Wikipedia with the most articles, and the 26th in webpages. Catalonia has a vibrant and sometimes world famous body of literature, music, art (Joan Miró, Salvador Dalí, Antoni Tàpies), cuisine (Ferran Adrià, Roca Brothers, Carme Ruscalleda), sports (FC Barcelona, Pep Guardiola, Pau Gasol, Gerard Piqué, Kilian Jornet) and more.
The best Catalan holiday is Sant Jordi Day on April 23, which is dedicated to giving books and roses to loved ones. It is the one day a year that the 12th century Catalan Government building — the Generalitat — is open to the public, and people wait in long lines to do so.
One of the key factors in the success of the independence movement in Catalonia is the “associationist” character of the people. There are endless clubs, organizations, and groups of all kinds and the infrastructure for social movement is already a well-woven fabric of the community. For example, on Thursday, there will be some 50 human tower teams building human castles along the Catalan Way, but there are many more groups that serve to connect all kinds of people in common cause.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like Spain really appreciates Catalonia very much. For example, the Spanish State awarded 245 million euros in grants to cultural institutions in 2014, but 42.5% went to institutions in Madrid, and 21.4% to State-wide organizations. Catalonia, which makes up 16% of the population got a paltry 6% of the cultural funding.
But it’s not just the money, it’s the attitude. They teach the Catalan language more in universities in each of Germany, France, Italy, the UK, and the US than they do in Spain outside of the Catalan-speaking areas. Catalans are often excoriated for speaking Catalan on international or Spanish TV. They are not allowed to speak Catalan in the Spanish Congress.
And Spain’s Education Minister, José Ignacio Wert, openly declared in the Spanish Congress that Spain had to work to hispanicize Catalan schoolchildren. Currently, Catalan kids are taught mostly in Catalan but also in Spanish, and thanks to the ample exposure to Spanish in the rest of their daily lives, they graduate knowing both languages, and get scores in Spanish class that sometimes are higher than monolingual Spaniards from other regions. Virtually everyone in Catalonia is bilingual Spanish and Catalan. Minister Wert’s 2014 Education “Reform” insisted that Catalan parents should be able to have their kids schooled only in Spanish, and even offered to pay them 6000€ for private tuition, but only 40 families (out of more than 1 million) took him up on the offer.
The most recent debacle was last week when the Instituto Cervantes — an organization funded by the Spanish Foreign Affairs Ministry canceled a book reading in the Netherlands just a few hours before it was supposed to take place. The book was Victus, written by Albert Sánchez Piñol, and it deals with the fall of Barcelona on September 11, 1714 which lead to Catalonia’s loss of sovereignty to Spain. It was written originally in Spanish and has sold more than 200,000 copies in Spain. The Dutch were horrified by the apparent censure and responded by printing a four page review in one of the Netherlands’ most important newspapers.
The Catalans originally had passed a new Statute of Autonomy in 2006. After a lot of give and take, it was passed by the Catalan Parliament and in a referendum by the Catalan people. Though the Spanish president has promised to support whatever was passed by the Catalan people, the Statute was “whittled down” as a Spanish government leader chortled. Catalans decided it was still better than what was pushed through right after Franco’s death with the military breathing down everyone’s throat, and agreed on the new revision in order to get it through the Spanish Congress and Senate. It was signed by the President. But then the Spanish PP party brought suit against the Statute, and 4 years later, a highly-politicized Constitutional Court annulled eight key provisions of the Statute, changed 27 others, and inserted eight times that Spain was indissolvably united.
One million people came out on the streets to protest. They had played by the rules and found that the goal posts had been moved. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Catalans have consistently moved toward independence ever since. On September 11, 2012, 1.5 million people demonstrated behind a placard that read “Catalonia: Next State in Europe” despite pleas from the not-yet-independentist Catalan government to limit demands to a new fiscal pact. After the march, the Catalan President went to Madrid anyway to demand the fiscal pact, but the Spanish Prime Minister made it clear that there would be none. President Mas gave a memorable speech in Madrid and the following Monday called snap elections for the Catalan Parliament: since a fiscal pact was impossible, and his party had not run with an pro independence platform, he decided it was necessary to consult the people before proceeding. Pro independence parties won almost two thirds of the seats. The President’s coalition CiU and the pro-independence ERC signed a pact of governability with the proviso that a referendum would be held during 2014.
The Catalan Parliament declared its sovereignty in January of 2013. The President named an National Transition Advisory Council in February, created a Tax Agency in April, and set a date and agreed on a referendum question — with the support of 6 of the 9 political parties (87 out of 135 MPs) in the Catalan Parliament.
Next, the Catalan Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favor — causing a rift in the Catalan Socialist party, who had earlier promised to support the right to decide, but now dithered — of asking the Spanish Congress to officially delegate the right to hold a referendum in Catalonia, which the Spanish Congress rejected 299 to 47. The flailing Socialist parties, both in Spain and in Catalonia, promise a vague federalist reform of the Spanish Constitution, but on the one hand can’t manage to put details on the table or get support from the majority PP, and on the other refuse to address Catalonia’s particular grievances.
Meanwhile Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy insists on playing a wild game of sovereignty chicken, by sticking to a script of, “the referendum will not be held; it is illegal” with his hands clenched tight to the wheel as he drives Spain off a cliff.
Unfortunately, Spain’s political bank account with Catalonia is woefully overdrawn. Years of unkept promises peppered with Franco-style threats have kept all but the most ardent supporters of the status quo from believing Spain can keep its word on any possible reforms.
Spain insists on compliance but doesn’t follow its own laws. For example, one of the stipulations in the Statute says that the State was supposed to compensate Catalonia for the absurdly low levels of infrastructure investment. The amounts were part of the approved Spanish budget, but even then the money was never delivered.
The Constitutional Court is headed by a judge who admitted to being a card-carrying member of the ruling PP party. Catalans believe there is no way for Catalonia to get a fair deal.
Another example, in 2012, Catalans signed a citizen’s initiative to ban bullfighting in Catalonia. The Catalan Parliament then voted in favor of the ban. The Canary Islands had banned bullfighting years before, with little reaction. Not so Catalonia. Leaders in Spain have moved to have bullfighting designated “Spanish Cultural Heritage” which benefits from a higher legal status in order to impose its reestablishment in Catalonia.
The people of Catalonia see independence as the only way to rationally manage their own expenses and resources and to make decisions for themselves. Spain has steadfastly refused to allow any kind of a vote. The Spanish President said just yesterday that they had “everything prepared to keep the people from voting”. Is it any wonder that Catalonia wants out?
The Catalan people believes it has the right and the power to choose its own political future and it is acting peacefully to gain that right. This is an inspiring message for us all. The power is not in the hands of the elites, Catalonia shows that it is in the power of hard working, motivated, globally networked, hopeful people.