According to the latest official CEO (Center of Opinion Studies) poll taken in October 2011, 45.4% of Catalans would vote “yes” in a referendum on independence. Although it is not the case in the rest of the Catalan-speaking territories, support for independence has been rising in Catalonia. It is not yet a mainstream movement, yet these numbers do tell us that the mood is shifting, and the reason can be traced to two factors: the ruling on the Catalan Statute of Autonomy in 2010, and the fiscal deficit with Spain. In June 2010, Catalans were told that there would be even further limits placed on their self-government. And to many, this was a point of no return. Up until then, Catalonia had always been able to make small but steady gains in autonomy. Powers were transferred for everything from education to health care. As long as most Catalans saw there was some room to maneuver and felt their needs were being met and their culture and language respected, they did not seriously contemplate independence. The ruling in June 2010 (see InTransit Issue 1), coupled with a suffocating fiscal deficit that has been detrimental to Catalonia’s social services, infrastructure and social well-being, has changed all of this. In this context, we offer you the following article by Dr. Salvador Cardús.
“Independence is that one moment and the ultimate goal. Independence is identity and the freedom to do what we believe in. It’s also our own independent choices that let us view the world just as we want to. So let’s make a statement championing independence — with breathtaking perspectives and motifs full of passion.” Are these the words of Alex Salmond in the Scottish Parliament? No. Are they part of a secret speech that Artur Mas will use to incite the Catalans to rip the seams of the Spanish Constitution and the Catalan Statute that constrain their nation? No, not that either. It is the text from a new TV commercial, recently launched on YouTube, announcing the new models of Olympus PEN cameras.
But we could also cite Salmond’s words from last Wednesday’s speech in Holyrood when he announced the Scottish referendum on independence: “Independence, in essence, is based on a simple idea: the people who care most about Scotland, that is the people who live, work and bring up their families in Scotland, should be the ones taking the decisions about our nation’s future. […] It is the natural state for people and nations around the world. Not being independent is the exception. […] I want Scotland to be independent not because I think we are better than any other country but because I know we are just as good as any other country. Like these other nations, our future, our resources and our success should be in our own hands.”
I have placed these two texts one after the other, irony aside, to illustrate just how positive the idea of independence can sound if it is heard without prejudice. And it is no surprise: who would find a life forcibly subjected to the will of another to be dignified? And isn’t it true that all nations tend to celebrate their independence days with great pomp and circumstance, and no one reproaches them for that? This is why both texts have an indisputable logic to them. Of course, a person is not the same as a country, and Scotland is not Catalonia. But shouldn’t there be universal principles that apply to everyone? Where, then, do objections to independence come from?
Objections are always made by the wardens of those who are seeking emancipation. And if it weren’t for the historical, political and social contexts that add weight to these objections, they would all be laughable. Both in Scotland and in Catalonia, those who resist the idea of a possible independence cite dangers as absurd as isolation, a lack of solidarity, or an internal conflict of loyalties. So does that mean that independence for the British and the Spanish has condemned them to isolation and a lack of solidarity, or has required an absolute cohesion of internal loyalties? Why is it that what is good for them is not good for others?
Nonetheless, this is not a rhetorical discussion. We have entered a historic phase of dramatic Spanish pressure on the Catalan nation. We are being tested to see if we will lose the game once and for all. The latest episode, regarding the future of Barcelona’s Prat airport and the loss of Spanair, shows us that we are not just talking about battles of symbolism or identity. We are in a war of political and economic interests of an enormous magnitude. Emancipate ourselves, or disappear. The majority of Catalans are well aware that these are our options. And if something were to jeopardize the country’s social peace, it would not be the yearning for independence itself, but a lack of courage on behalf of the Catalan Government to lead this movement. The country is pushing. And if we are not careful, it could end up crashing into those who should be representing Catalonia’s yearnings, best interests and common sense.
Salvador Cardús is Full Professor of Sociology in the Autonomous University of Barcelona’s Sociology and Political Sciences Faculty. He works to spread the word about issues relating to education, nationalism and immigration. He is author of the book El desconcert de l’educació (Disorder in Education), an out-and-out positivist work and a manifest countering the clichés that have always been linked to educational issues.