Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Catalan separatism: anachronism or a modern proposal?

Citizens' Voice Series

Carles Noguera i Clofent
Catalan. Mathematician and philosopher, PhD on Logic. Scientific researcher at the Artificial Intelligence Research Institute IIIA-CSIC
http://blocs.mesvilaweb.cat/cnoguera
carlesnoguera.cat/
I have been blessed so far with a job that allows me to spend some weeks abroad every year, so I am quite used to the situation of having to introduce myself to people of various geographical and cultural origins. Leaving aside those situations (such as being identified by a police officer or providing personal data to some clerk that needs to fill a form) in which the only relevant information that counts as nationality is my Spanish legal citizenship, I always like to provide my colleagues and acquaintances with a more accurate introduction by saying instead “I am Catalan, from Barcelona”. Why do I say that?

Well, because I assume that these people may have a more genuine interest in knowing about me than the police officer or the clerk that are simply doing their job, and hence it is fair to give them as well a little account about my nationality in the second meaning of the word: the cultural meaning, which is much more explanatory and illuminating than a laconic “I am from Spain”. And, you know what?, to this day everybody I have come across has been able to exactly locate my origins in the map. This is probably due to the fact that Barcelona has become a world-renowned city, known for being a major tourist destination and home to one of the main soccer teams in the world. However, many of my knowledgeable acquaintances do know something about Catalonia as well. They have heard about a particular region of Spain which, besides football, has several distinctive features to offer such as its own language, a political history not always linked to Spain, a highly active economy, and a rich cultural production which has contributed to global culture with universal architects, painters, writers, musicians, philosophers, scientists, etc. Some have learned about some ongoing political conflict regarding its autonomy inside Spain and sometimes ask me how this is related to the well-known armed separatist organization ETA (then I have to speak about the Basque Country and its problem with terrorism which does not exist in Catalonia).
A few even tell me about the Catalan nationalist political parties and their struggle to gain more autonomy for their regional government and ask, probably motivated by my self-description as a Catalan, whether I am also a nationalist. A terrible question, for most languages associate this word to dreadful connotations related to imperialism, ethnocentric supremacy and national purity, instantiated by some of the worst episodes in human history.

At this point one may be tempted by the possibility of defending the existence of other, more democratic and reasonable, meanings of the word 'nationalist'. One may want to explain that there are also good kinds of nationalism that do not fight for the hegemony of any human group over another, but only want to defend the right of a community to self-determination and to preservation of their own cultural traits. One may even try to argue that this is what most sovereign countries do. Believe me, do not waste your time, this is a completely hopeless effort. 'Nationalism' is so heavily charged with bad connotations that it cannot possibly be ever rehabilitated. As a symptom of this, notice that whenever some government or a citizen of a sovereign country makes a stand to defend its national interests they are not labelled as 'nationalist' but with some better-sounding word like 'patriot'. So just forget it. My answer, loud and clear, is: I am not a nationalist, nor have I ever been, nor will I ever be. Nationalism is crap and I do not want to be involved in it in any way. “But still”, my colleagues like to reply, “you prefer to describe yourself as Catalan, rather than saying that you are Spanish. If you are not a nationalist, then perhaps you are a separatist”.

A separatist? Yes, that may be it. And here is where the interesting explanation starts. It concerns the struggle for political recognition of Catalonia, for preservation of its language and culture, and for its economic prosperity (seriously threatened by a huge fiscal deficit with Spain of over 10% of the region's GDP). I need not elaborate here on these topics that have been extensively explained in other articles in this blog. The cold fact, I tell them, is that after the binding ruling of the Spanish Constitutional Court in June 2010 that rewrote and reinterpreted several articles in the new Catalan statute (approved by the Catalan people in a referendum in 2006) and which in practice nullified its main advancements, there has been a huge growth in social support for the possibility of Catalonia becoming a sovereign state within the European Union. In fact, it is becoming a preferred option. According to the last official poll on the matter, 42.9% of the population would vote for independence in an official referendum, while only 28.2% would vote against.
“Does that mean that in Catalonia there is a majority of nationalists?” Again, the word is misleading and inappropriate (maybe even offensive) for there are no supremacist or imperialist claims whatsoever, just a demand for good old democratic self-determination as any other free country has, nothing more, nothing less. The real question here is whether there is a majority supporting the creation of a new sovereign country, and it seems there might be.
And now my friends might argue: “Wait a second! Isn't the creation of a new country a very old-fashioned project? Man, in the new cosmopolitan global world, countries should get closer, they should join efforts, there should be no internal fights and let alone a creation of new divisions! A citizen of the world should not advocate building up new borders, but bringing all of them down. Maybe you are not a nationalist, if you wish, but your whole point is an anachronism”. But if they say that, then they must have missed four magical words I just mentioned: a sovereign state within the European Union. Yes, inside the EU! This is a non-trivial caveat in the formulation.
Indeed, there is no measurable movement in Catalonia advocating the creation of an old-style independent country, self-sufficient, with closed borders, protectionist economic policies, and an army to defend its interest against foreign aggression. Nowadays that would just be a total nonsense, a real anachronism. There is no point in full sovereignty in modern Europe.

Anybody in Catalonia who knows anything knows that full independence does not make sense any more (if it ever did) and all European countries need to collaborate and need to share common economic and political institutions. We know that sovereignty must be shared and that is what ultimately shows that the project for a new Catalan state cannot be regarded as a nationalist one. If the old continent wants to remain a relevant prosperous part of the world, then it needs to strengthen the bonds between its constituent parts. For instance, the EU will need common economic policies to prevent disasters like the Greek financial crisis from happening again. We will need a joint diplomacy, embassies of the EU around the world, and a common voice speaking for us all internationally. We will need stronger common legislations (enforcing the same levels of rights, social justice and environmental respect everywhere in the Union) and a joint army. We will want to elect a European president and government. Summing up, my diagnosis is that sooner or later the EU will have to become a federation of its constituent countries, something like the United States of Europe. And such a federation can only be based on the mutual respect among its parts. Therefore, it will not be a centralized country but a federation of many, with no hegemonic culture or language but with a multiplicity of equally protected cultural expressions. In conclusion, this is, in my opinion, the context in which one can defend a reasonable, modern and timely Catalan project for emancipation from the old-fashioned centralized Spain. That is to say, Catalan independence should be regarded only as a first step, to gain international recognition, to put a stop to the current catastrophic fiscal deficit, to recover sovereign institutions defending its cultural heritage, and, most importantly, to get ready for the second step: the construction of a unified (though not uniform) Europe.

For there might be a history of countries walking together towards a bright future and we want to be part of it.

Carles Noguera i Clofent
Mathematician and philosopher, PhD on Logic. Scientific researcher at the Artificial Intelligence Research Institute IIIA-CSIC
http://blocs.mesvilaweb.cat/cnoguera
http://www.carlesnoguera.cat/

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