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To come in peace

When Catalan president Artur Mas arrived at the Zarzuela palace for a meeting with Spanish King Felipe, he told the media that he had “come in peace”. Is peaceful secession a real possibility, then? We have a recent success story nearby: the split between the Czech Republic and Slovakia, both member states of the EU.

In my mind, “to come in peace” is akin to one of the most beautiful words in the Catalan language: “enraonar” (“to reason by talking”). I have come to reason by talking. In other words, to suggest, to listen, to understand and to share reasons. “Enraonar” requires a peculiar predisposition to open your spirit to your interlocutor’s views. This is precisely what Spain’s institutions and political parties have failed to do throughout this process. Any dialogue that deserves to be called so starts with mutual recognition. But the demands of Catalan independence supporters have never even been taken into consideration. Recall the time when the Catalan parliament formally requested permission from the Spanish legislature to hold the referendum. It was turned down on principle, without discussing the underlying issues. Why? Because, as far as Spain’s political culture is concerned, entertaining any demands of independence or self-determination belongs in the realm of the unthinkable. They cannot conceive any nation other than Spain or that a part of it might want to break away. And one cannot discuss what one cannot think: one simply bans it. This the reason why it is so difficult to conduct a process like this within the parameters of democratic cordiality. And that is why there always comes a moment of rupture.

When Mas announced that he had come in peace, I do not know whether it was because he saw his meeting with the King as a last chance. If you could persuade those in office to reason by talking, to put forward proposals for discussion and to discuss the other side’s proposals, perhaps we might still come to an understanding. Or perhaps Mas intended to suggest that, regardless of the outcome, we should avoid a major rift and be mature enough to sit down and talk before disaster strikes.

However, the way that Catalonia and Spain are entwined means that the realm of the unthinkable and the realm of hurt feelings are very decisive. Deep down, consciously or not, Spain is most disconcerted by the fact that Catalonia has its own living language. It is a constant reminder that Catalans live under the same roof, but are alien nonetheless. And they have found in their language a way to display their singularity. This alien language is an external factor that affects and influences their own condition as Spaniards. Michel Foucault used to see discourse and the silences of madness as an indispensable externality for the construction of our normality. The Catalan language operates within the Spanish conscience as a foreign word that elicits a reaction in patriotic sentimentality. An external discourse with an internal effect. It is like a madman’s discourse. The pompous announcement --made by Rajoy or Sánchez before they actually listened at all-- that independence would not be allowed under any circumstances should come as no surprise. And yet we must insist on a peaceful tone because, deep down, the inability to reason by talking would be a failure for all of us. And, at any rate, the only weapons that supporters of Catalan independence have are reasoning and voting.