The Catalan Crisis

by cedleonard on November 3, 2017 - 11:52pm

The Catalan people have a distinct identity, which dates far back even before Spain formed, from that of Spaniards. They are one of the most distinct peoples in Spain, which led them, after the Franco dictatorial regime where its autonomy was suspended, to be one of the most self-governing regions of Spain, alongside with the Basque Country. On October 1st of 2017, another referendum, this time binding, was held by the Catalans, again with Spanish constitutional court opposition because steps toward independence are unconstitutional to an “indissoluble unit” Spain. Since the Catalan police couldn’t peacefully prevent voting by 6pm, the Spanish government then proceeded to send the national police to raid polling stations to try to prevent people from voting, and there was police violence resulting in more than a thousand injured on both sides, and 92% favourable votes to independence at 43% turnout. After the independence declaration, suspended by Catalan president Carles Puigdemont to invite negotiations with Spain, an ultimatum to abandon the declaration under the consequence of Catalonia’s independence suspension from the latter followed, but dialogue requested by Puigdemont wasn’t called by the Spanish government and both parties followed their intentions: the Catalan government to declare Independence again, and the Spanish government to suspend Catalonia's independence through the Spanish constitution’s article 155, dissolving the government to take it over until new snap elections on December 21.

This brings us to more recently. Puigdemont intended to bring the international community into the crisis to mediate and pressure Spain for its excesses. He came over to Brussels to hold a press conference about the Catalan crisis with some of his government, seeking a political solution to the crisis. “We will respect the results of the elections called on 21st of December, as we’ve always done, no matter the result. I’ll ask a question to the Spanish government: will it do the same? Will the article 155 block respect the results of the ballots? I want a clear engagement from the Spanish government”, he continues. He also addresses himself to the international community especially for Europe to “react. You must understand that the Catalan cause is of values on which Europe was founded: democracy, freedom, free expression, welcoming, and non-violence. To permit the Spanish government to not dialog, to tolerate the extreme-right’s violence, to impose itself militarily and put us in jail for 30 years [for rebellion], it would be to end it with the idea of Europe, and would be an enormous mistake, for which not only us, but everyone, will pay.” He also says he will come back to Catalonia if Spain extends guarantees for a fair judicial process.


On the 1st of November, the Spanish came back on its intention of not suspending the autonomy of Catalonia under the condition of it agreeing on new elections on December and not declaring independence. It also imprisoned eight Catalan politicians on political charges.

Most of the EU argue that the Catalan crisis is Spain’s constitutional problem, but it may be Europe’s problem too. There’s many other peoples, such as the Basques, the Bavarians, the Bretons, who watch closely, and this could have great influence on their country’s politics in terms of more demand for autonomy and smaller power scales. The domino effect might set forth change on nationalist issues of these peoples. Old tensions might resurface in light of the current events, and since Europe relied on self-determination for stability, it would perhaps raise controversy about the EU, and now it will need to define self-determination for levels of autonomy for each new separatist state that may emerge.


If Catalonia was being a rogue state or Spain is being the Franco regime’s echo is up to debate, but I can’t steer away from the fact that unionist forces end up strengthening independence. The police violence sets a favourable moral position for the Catalans, barely-democratic suspension of Catalonia’s autonomy and imprisonment of political leaders doesn’t suggest a commitment to human rights for the Spanish government, whose only stance seems to be to uphold legality under its constitution, with a flaw: preventing a distinct people from going independent removes a lot of debate about it and it’s not entirely democratic if the whole of Spain, most of whom are not Catalans, opposes Catalans. Self-determination through democracy and peace because it’s the best way to negotiate and keep civility is preferable to an armed conflict which would end in a bloody war which isn’t tenable because we’re not in a primitive, barbaric world. To me, only with discussion and the democratic process does decisions turn out best. But if Spain tries to stifle Catalonia’s democracy and autonomy, it goes contrary to the European Union’s, which Spain is part of, principles of democracy and freedom. I believe people should be allowed to get together and unite under a fundamental human right non-violating common cause. Also, it’s not like independent groups can’t cooperate with other nations or groups. It makes me curious about what could come out of such a political world configuration. Do you think smaller decentralized states would be more prosperous and democratic?




I chose to respond to your article because I believe it is an interesting topic and I wanted to learn more about it. I, however, disagree with your opinion because I think Spain is right to want to keep Catalan as a part of their country. Having a different culture does not (or rather should not) equal the need for an independent state. I believe the strength of a country lays in multiculturalism. You explained the values on which Europe was founded were democracy, freedom, free expression, welcoming and non-violence. Allowing Catalans to express their unicity and take an active part in their country’s democracy lets them to flourish as a population while still being an integrating part of Spain. A parallel can be made between Catalans and Quebec’s independence. Those two states are really different from the rest of their country and are fighting to become separate territories, but they are what enriches their mother country. All the different beliefs, languages, and practices are what diversifies and strengthens the overall richness in the culture of the country. I think allowing all different culture to flourish and express themselves is really important and that it is what strengthens a country’s overall culture and history. Why do you think it would be so profitable to let Catalan become a separate federation?

Thanks for the input. I disagree with the belief that a country's strength is its multiculturalism, because multiculturalism for the sake of multiculturalism is in and of itself not useful. It's like whether we have any color of skin. It's initially irrelevant. When any diversity becomes useful is when constituents integrate the cultures together under a common framework where every person or culture uses its strengths to the best extent and mitigating the negative effects of its flaws by being in conjunction with other cultures. But that's not cultures being diverse, that's individuals contributing to society and cooperating by offering the best they can offer, which others take and enrich by adding their best, in a big mix of ideas which can be useful and improve people's lives. That multiculturalism is a strength to a country is not true if another country comes along and opposes it. If State A has 75% support for something the state holds dear, and State B of equal population, technology, economy, etc. has five 20% population groups, with 60%, 30%, 50%, 30%, 80% support respectively (total: 50% globally), can we or can we not agree that State B is less strong in that position and if its constituent groups are less in agreement on that position? What if this position is military involvement in a conflict opposing A and B? State A is stronger than State B, then, because it's more decided than State B. That's not to argue that unity at all costs is the best way to go, that's to say that people being undecided or arguing against one another are less strong on an issue than people who do not argue against one another. But I get your point, there also exists advantages to the coexistence of different ideas and cultures. And in my example, State B might be better at diplomacy, which would give an advantage to it and the other state. War mostly isn't good, so when there's alternatives it's better to go with them instead of going in a conflict. My example might not be best at proving this, but the point of considering the example is that almost nothing is fully binary and we need to analyze ideas in better depth to extract better conclusions, and the point of the debate is to exchange ideas, and improve on one another's ideas, and when some of the ideas anyone presents are good, people an adopt them and gain from it. We're always intellectually evolving.

Spain doesn't seem to accept Catalan identity much, instead it wants Catalans to assimilate under the central Spanish identity, or, at least, put Catalan identity below Spanish identity to be with the other Spaniards under Spanish unity. Therefore the cohabitation of the Spanish and Catalan cultures isn't working very well because they don't have the common respect that is required for coexistence and cooperation. The critical part is of not unwarrantedly oppressing another culture. As I understand, Québec is not being actively suppressed by Canada. We have la Loi 101 to better guarantee one of the most core parts of our culture, which is language. The latest referendum in 1995 was very close, at 50.5 / 49.5, with the stay view winning. The turnout was extreme, at 93% of the voters having participated. Besides the strong feelings which might have been back then (the closer the other side gets to winning, the stronger your own side is pushed to get. Separatists and unionists that night must've been at peak involvements), a 50/50 split is not what I call an urge to secede from most of the population. The true numbers don't suggest a burning passion for secession, and we can't split Québec culture into two, because there's more to Québec culture than the separatist sentiment of some, we also have poutine, the cabanes à sucre, the sacres, the other general quirks of the Québec French dialect, litterature and music, and far more. We don't know exactly the numbers for Catalan opinion since the turnout of the last referendum was low, at 43% (suspected that most unionists boycotted the vote), but the 90% leave from the 1st of October Catalan referendum suggests at least 37% (90% of 43%) total leave votes. It doesn't mean that 63% would vote stay. It's for any vote that we might say "but it's not that much people who do hold an opinion." For Québec, that would be 46% leave people, it doesn't mean that 64% of people are stay people. Calculating from turnout and result some proportion of the population holding an opinion is only rough mathematics, and it's wrong to assert that this number is the actual number, because first there's uncertainty from the missing data of people who haven't voted, and second not everyone is fully for or fully against something. What about the people who don't mind either way, those patient, careful watchers who see the world unfold before them without much worry, not feeling a need for involvement? That's right, spectrum-minded thinking comes back again! If most people don't care much about something, there's still advantages to act out on the results on the vote, even if the result is "nothing". Stopping to care about something leaves room for other important things to be invested in. For example, in our case Catalans against Spaniards, leave means Catalans are independent from undue Spanish influence, stay means Spain has more power over Catalonia, and neutrality means "Let's focus on more important things than anyone's identity. We have a mutual respect on both sides, that's as much as we need. But now, we have economic growth to do, a public debt to fix, other problems to solve. If we cooperate, we're better off because we're not hindering each other". But if the issue is more distinct, for example because Catalans care about their identity, culture and people, then yes, we can have more decisive polling options to actually decide if yes or no there's a new country, but the core issue remains the same: only through a true, high-turnout referendum does the true numbers show, and in a legal, high-turnout peaceful referendum there'll be no lost votes on any side because there'd be no police brutality, no lost stay votes because none of the suspected boycotting would be there. However, if with the hypothetical true referendum we still get a majority of leave votes, that's democracy at work, and then Catalonia needs to stop giving even more metaphorical second chances to those who don't show up, because low turnouts are not excused if the voting conditions are more than acceptable. How democracy works requires people to show up, because to see the whole picture, a society's citizens' opinion as a whole, we need the biggest percentage of participation that we can. If they don't show up, too bad. If I gave you an opportunity, it'd up to you to catch the opportunity.

It may be true that coexistence and cooperation does strengthen Québec and Canada mutually, but Canada doesn't actively try to suppress Québec identity the way Spain does to Catalonia. We both agree there, there needs mutual respect and letting different cultures blossom freely as long as they don't threaten anyone's safety or anything. The non-aggression principle is one of the foundational principles for libertarianism, where people, by doing their thing without unwarrantedly imposing their will on others, thrive individually or cooperate with others in a mutually beneficial manner. In that framework, both sides of any exchange must want an action. If one side doesn't initially want, the other side can convince it until an agreement, but if a person or culture violates that principle, they necessarily turn authoritarian and don't stay accepted within that framework, because libertarians don't like authoritarians. That detour is to prove the point that a culture in a society must operate with respect of the society which it lives in and its other cultures, which might be pluralistic rather than multicultural, but I demonstrate that, at least to me using that logic, multiculturalism by itself isn't complete. It needs a common framework that its constituents need to adopt, and I'd argue that imposing the instruction of non-aggression is not a bad imposition. it's like imposing mutual respect (don't steal from people, don't hurt people, listen to what people have to say if they have something useful to say, say useful things if you come up with useful things), that's the only way to have civilization without barbarism, because without common grounds on which to operate, some people's authoritarian streaks will lead to outcomes that are bad to most cultures. Some people want to have their way no matter what, and without common grounds principles of mutual respect and civility, these people will justify to themselves many behaviours dangerous to others. As for your final question, I don't think I advanced that claim, but rather I say that distinct peoples should have the right to secede from their higher group, especially if that higher group disfavourizes them, and if Spain wants Catalans united with them again, it'll need to renegotiate its offers on the table. Not that an independent Catalonia would stop trading with Spain altogether, that would be very counter-productive, and this also holds true the other way around. Independent states of any size can cooperate with other independent states, and trading is a big thing that is practiced literally everywhere. It's profitable for Catalans to live their life how they want, without undue interference from Spain, if and since they're a distinct people with the right to self-determination.

I hope you read through. I'll be looking forward for further discussion opportunities.