Fracture in Catalonia? Not a whiff

The independence movement has not caused a social split

There is no fracture in Catalonia. The independence movement has not caused a social split. Catalan society is still convivial, plural and open-minded. At the turn of the 21st century, it has welcomed a million immigrants. And it has dispelled, on a daily basis, the myth of language conflict, a failed attempt at mass poisoning. When one does not want to quarrel, it is difficult for a fight to break out.

On the right and the left, the secession bid overcame the identity rhetoric long ago and, therefore, it does not fall for the childish provocations of Spain’s hate media. Catalan society is comfortably bilingual, particularly those whose first language is Spanish. The slogan “we are one people” remains strong, doesn’t it, Pablo Iglesias (1)? Diversity is an accepted trait of Catalan society. As historian Josep Fontana explained, Catalan identity is a work in progress where newcomers and their contributions have blended in, with the Catalan language and Catalonia’s own laws as the backbone, but incorporating many other traits, such as peculiar economic dynamics and demographic trends. Therefore, there is no fracture.

What we do have is a legitimate political struggle. Since the unionist camp has failed to ruffle any ethnic feathers and has not managed to present separatists as an intolerant bunch, now it attempts to drive them outside the boundaries of democracy. Unionists are not fighting secession with political alternatives; rather, they are trying to drive it away from politics. Justice taking matters into its hands is exactly that: the purpose is to show that secession is outside the law, that it has no place under the rule of law. A tribunal has the upper hand. But what came first, the ballots or the law? What is at stake, then, is a certain way of understanding democracy. And, at the same time, a clash of two sovereignties, of course. Are Catalans a sovereign people that can decide?

Most believe they are. And, at any rate, I am certain that Catalans are mature enough to live through this heated political debate without any drama, peacefully and with fair play. In the streets, life goes on. Needless to say, on September 28 (the day after Catalans voted in the first separatist parliament ever) people went about their business as usual. Nothing out of the ordinary happened that Monday. And I predict that the independence bid, with its ups and down, will forge ahead amid much media noise and with the financial elites clenching their teeth, but common sense will prevail among ordinary people. One side will be excited rather than scared. The other, skeptical rather than dismissive.

If there is any kind of fracture in Catalonia, it is to do with the economic crisis. Because of high unemployment, precarious work and cuts in social spending, many Catalans are hurting. But in this case the reaction has not been virulent, either. In the streets of Catalonia, recession has brought more solidarity than tension, more political and social mobilisation --the electoral body has shifted to the left-- than outbursts of disaffection. There have been no violent incidents. We have not had any banlieue-style drama. As a matter of fact, the independence project has given many people a way to channel their desperation, as the social element is an intrinsic component of the new country they ambition. Separatists have managed to do no harm and they have actually provided a cohesive response to the crisis. In fact, it is elements within the unionist camp who have played with social and ethnic fire, flirting with blatantly xenophobic rhetoric and appealing to the notion that “our people (2)” should “come first”, in an attempt to drive a wedge between communities. But the Catalan electorate did not fall for it, as proven by Garcia Albiol’s catastrophic results on September 27.

Aznar’s prophecy has not come true and it won’t (3). Catalonia will not break up, whether it remains in Spain or becomes an independent country. This is not about fractures. We will resolve this matter in a civilised manner. You can neither flatter nor frighten the Catalan people: you must respect them. You must respect their decision.


1 N.T. Spain’s Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias was recently criticised in Catalonia for appealing to the Spanish ethnicity of some Catalans in an attempt to win over their votes.

2 N.T. “Primer els de casa” (“First Our People”) was a political slogan coined by fringe, far-right unionist group Plataforma per Catalunya, which PP’s former Mayor of Badalona (Catalonia) Garcia Albiol picked up, ahead of the local polls in May 2015, and again before the recent Catalan parliamentary elections.

3 N.T. At the start of Catalonia’s independence bid, former Spanish president José María Aznar predicted that Catalans would split in two before Spain ever would.