Saturday, April 19, 2014

Catalonia from Switzerland

When writing this speech in French before having it translated into English, a language I am not that fluent in, I asked myself two questions:

a)   Would it be right or fair of me to voice opinions here in person in this forum at Utrecht about the Catalonia issue?

b)   How might Switzerland be interested in understanding what the realities are in Catalonia today and could Switzerland’s past and neutrality have something to add to the debate?

It is self-evident that the Catalan origins have something to do with me being here before you today. Over ten years ago, initially through the history of the Barcelona soccer club, I became interested in Barcelona, the city, its history and the history of Catalonia. As for my wife, who cannot stand football, she understood even more clearly the importance of Catalonia’s history through the history of Barcelona’s famous soccer club. The history of Barça is written large in Catalonia’s past. Barça’s past has similarities with Switzerland’s past too. Indeed, Switzerland knows much more about Barça’s past than Catalonia’s. That’s simply because one of the founders of Barça was Swiss, a Swiss-German speaking the local dialect called Hans Gamper whose daughter still lives in the French-speaking region of Switzerland at Nyon. Hans Gamper, known as Joan Gamper in Catalonia, scored a goal in the first ever Barcelona-Real Madrid El Clásico match on 13th May 1902 which Barcelona won 3-1. This Swiss-German also campaigned for Catalonia’s independence, As a result, he was forced into exile. Despite his his enthusiasm for life, because of this exile, he had to suffer a huge depression. As condition for his return to Catalonia, he was obliged to promise not to get involved again with the club he had helped to found. He could not stand the unfairness of this and committed suicide in 1930. The La Vanguardia newspaper of 1st August 1930 reported on the huge crowd that attended Joan Gamper’s funeral. Coincidentally, that also happens to be Switzerland’s National Day. General Franco vehemently objected to the decision to name Barcelona’s stadium after him. Gamper was a foreign national and a Protestant who had committed suicide, and who was a liberal and pro-Catalonian independence. And to add insult to injury in Franco’s eyes, he had changed his Swiss-German first name from Hans to the Catalan Joan. For the Franco regime, Joan Gamper was taboo.

I fervently believe the issue of Catalonia itself must not be treated as a taboo subject neither for Europe nor for Switzerland. Judging by the reactions of Madrid, it is safe to say the Spanish authorities would prefer it if the Catalonia issue were taboo. However, the role of those who want democracy and citizens’ right of free speech to prevail is to do their utmost to ensure these democracy and individuals’ rights of free expression are not just voiced, but real action taken.

The Swiss Federal Charter is considered to have existed since 1291. For historians, unlike the politicians and the general public, it has been clear for some considerable time that the founding of the nation of Switzerland cannot be dated back to the Middle Ages. That is an invention born out of the need to wipe from the memories the troubles of the Sonderbund civil war in the mid-19th century which briefly saw catholic and conservative cantons, including my canton of birth, Valais, clashing with radical, protestant and progressive cantons. Nurturing this myth was vital for the birth of the Swiss nation-state.

The first Swiss Federal Constitution dates back to 1848, but, in effect, what really underpin Swiss constitutional law are the right of referendum, which did not come until 1874, and the right to the popular initiative, introduced in 1891. In 1891, the Swiss celebrated for the very first time, six hundred years on, the original charter dated 1st August 1291. It is easy to see that Switzerland, like Catalonia, is keen on marking those symbolic numbers and dates. It is also clear from this that the establishment of Switzerland as a nation-state does not go that far back in time.

Today, Switzerland’s population is just over 8 million. Under the Federal Constitution, 100,000 Swiss citizens can request complete or partial amendment to the Constitution by submitting a popular initiative. Moreover, Federal legislation and international treaties can be submitted for popular vote, through an optional referendum if 50,000 citizens ask for it. That is what is called direct or semi-direct democracy in Switzerland.

In recognition of Switzerland’s traditions and reputation for diplomacy and mediation, the Palais des Nations was built in Geneva from 1929 to 1936. It is decorated with superb frescoes by the Catalan artist José Maria Sert. These portray the idea of international brotherhood.

Switzerland’s domestic constitutional past and my country’s ability over time to act as an accomplished mediator on the international stage seem to provide, in my view, sound guarantees that Switzerland will not duck the whole debate about Catalonia. I was one of the first in Switzerland to declare that Switzerland should strive to understand what is really at stake in Catalonia and to be involved one day perhaps in its journey to independence. We all know this process of gaining independence will not be exclusively driven domestically, but will also have to be resolved beyond the borders of both Spain and Catalonia.

Switzerland itself had to cope with a process of independence inside its own country. The long path ended on 24 September 1978 when the 26th canton of the Confederation, Jura, was created. Obviously, the creation of a new canton inside a Federal state cannot be compared constitutionally with Catalonia’s desire for an opportunity to vote on becoming an independent state. Nevertheless, I think we can compare the wishes of the Jura inhabitants no longer to form a part of the canton of Berne with the desires of the Catalonians no longer to be part of Spain. It should be remembered that the canton of Berne in the end agreed to conduct a series of popular votes to ascertain what the people of the Jura region really wanted. Those popular votes ended up with the canton of Jura being set up.

The questions to be put to the Catalan people on 9 November 2014 must be equated to that of a popular vote or plebiscite. If we were to make a comparison with Swiss constitutional law, I would say that we are talking more about the rights and law associated with popular initiatives rather than the referendum. That comparison may be splitting hairs somewhat as, in formal terms, the Spanish constitution does not make provision for any right to have a popular vote based on a popular initiative.

When referring to a region in Eastern Europe, Switzerland’s President, Mr Didier Burkhalter recently commented very clearly that, if the people do have to be consulted on an issue about the status of autonomy, it is something that has to be managed carefully. He was specifically referring to the wish to extend the autonomy of a region. In his opinion, it was up to the region to decide on its future. If we paraphrase him, I would say it is up to Catalonia to decide on its future.

This right for Catalonia to follow the path of its independence is, in my view, clearly enshrined in the right to self-determination, the right of people to make decisions for themselves. This right is broadly stated in the United Nations Charter and in the two 1966 international covenants on human rights. The right to self-determination is regarded as a basic human right in international law.

Spain will object to this argument as its constitution prohibits any such split. I would simply remark that, to my knowledge, the introduction of the Statuts of Autonomy recognizes Catalonia as a nation. By virtue of the principle of the primacy of a higher-ranking right, the principle of self-determination of peoples as laid down in international law ranks above Spanish domestic law.

That said, when putting this argument forward, I am not overlooking the fact that laws are only instruments of power, rarely of justice. As a result, all the approaches made by Spain’s leaders to international authorities, neighboring countries, the European Union, its friends and allies, in far-flung corners of the world, will underpin the legal position and reinforce Catalonia’s right of self-determination and eventually persuade Spain, through the power of justice and the principle of self-determination, to negotiate financially Catalonia’s exit.

Failure to talk about the role of the language today would be a mistake, indeed a serious shortcoming. You are probably all aware that, on 9 February 2014, Switzerland voted against mass immigration. This choice made by Swiss voters, by a very slender majority of 50.3%, was widely interpreted throughout Europe as a vote against foreigners. However this is a simple view of the matter. Although the factor of an expanding non-Swiss population in the country obviously did play a part in the electoral decision made by the Swiss people, it should be remembered that the traditional stances of the conservative parties struck a chord with another phenomenon, the large number of Germans living in Switzerland. Germans make up the biggest proportion of foreigners in Switzerland. Moreover, in spring 2013, Germany figured on the list of countries on which the Federal Council had activated an exceptional clause for restricting the free movement of people. This German presence in reality raises a basic cultural issue, the question of language. There is a typically Swiss inferiority complex with regard to speakers of a language that is not really their own. The clash between the pure version of German, ‘Hochdeutsch’, and the dialect of German spoken in the Swiss-German regions, ‘Schwyzerdütsch’, is key. The vote registered in Swiss-German areas, as many commentators have pointed out, harks back to that pact of 1291 and fears about Swiss identity purely and simply disappearing.

I believe that, if there is one country that can understand the position of the German-speaking regions of Switzerland as regards the importance to be given to the language used, it is indeed Catalonia. Respect for the identity of a people is rooted essentially in respect for the language they speak and use.

When almost 80% of the population or of a nation want to vote to determine their futures, Europe and Switzerland, by their common past, their personal histories, their separate histories, cannot really refuse the Catalan people a vote to determine what they want. If they did, they would be denying them their fundamental values, their belief that citizens have the right to choose, that citizens have the right to design their own institutions, that citizens have the right to appoint their leaders and representatives, that citizens have the right to alter the course of their history.

These are the values, the values of freedom and solidarity, which give the right to any citizen of the world, be they Swiss and neutral, from Valais and socialist, to declare here in Utrecht that common sense and justice must direct us to allow Catalonia to relish, in peace, calm and harmony, that historical day to come on 9 November 2014.

Stéphane Riand
Socialist Party Member of the General Council (Sion, Switzerland)
Utrecht, April 8th, 2014

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Catalonia, Crimea and Scotland

The Spanish Parliament with the support of the EU has decided that Catalonia will not get a legal referendum on whether to stay in the Spanish state or become independent. The Crimea has just had a referendum which the EU condemns as illegal, and the Ukrainian state with the support of the EU failed to offer Crimea a legal one. The Crimea has left the Ukrainian union regardless, with the help of the Russian army. The EU is right that this was not done legally or by agreement, but maybe wrong to imply a majority of the Crimean population would have voted NO to the move in any legal referendum. Maybe Catalonia will now hold its own referendum, creating a clash between the Catalan and Spanish governments.

Scotland has been given a legal referendum on whether to stay in the UK or not. The EU does not seem to approve of that process very much, threatening Scotland if she dared to vote to be independent. All this implies the EU does not believe in the democratic self determination of people. They need to change their mind and be more accommodating, as do the European states who wrongly seek to block the free expression of opinion about identity within their current territories.

There is a paradox about the EU’s approach. In the earlier days of its long journey to superstatedom the EU seemed to encourage regional government and regional identities. It saw this movement as a way of weakening the member states from below, and claiming greater affinity to the people of the EU by identifying the EU more with the regional interests. As the EU has grown in power and taken more control over the member states, its enthusiasm for regional identity has waned where it looks like becoming a movement for new smaller independent states.

I believe in the democratic self determination of people. I am glad we are about to see what Scotland really wants. We should then accept the verdict and get on with implementing the consequences either way. Allowing a vote when there is a serious question to answer is an important part of democracy which the EU seeks to stifle. Continuous referenda on the same subject until one side gets its way, having lost in the past, is not such a good idea. Indeed, when the EU is forced into referenda that is their style: to keep on voting until they get the answer they want.

Member of UK Parliament for Wokingham
Chairman of the Conservative Economic Affairs Committee

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Monday, April 14, 2014

Francesc Macià, President of the Catalan Republic

Social and Democratic Commitment

On the 25th of December 1933, the President of Catalonia Francesc Macià died at the Palace of the Generalitat, the seat of the Catalan Government in the very heart of the city of Barcelona. Enormously popular, as proven by his landslide election victory of 1931, Macià was seen off by an enormous grieving crowd showing condolence at his funeral.

Mr. Macià –then known as the grandfather, a familiar, loving moniker– had had a haphazard life dedicated to his patriotic and social ideals –for an independent Catalonia and for a transformational left, though distanced from Marxism. However, neither his family origins nor his first vocation should have brought him there. Born in 1859 to a landowning family of wine and olive oil merchants, he began his career as an officer in the Corps of Engineers, reaching the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Spanish Army.

It was in fact the Spanish Army's liking for sabre-rattling and the ebullient social situation in Catalonia, with the reiterated discrimination by the Spanish State towards his country, Catalonia –affecting both the working class and the emerging middle class, as well as economic development in both rural and urban society– that gradually led Francesc Macià to become committed to the people and the land, with a growing interest in politics. He thence decided to resign his commission upon election to the Madrid Congress in 1907, even though he was offered promotion to the rank of Colonel.

A dedicated member of Congress in Madrid –more and more active in demanding democratic and social rights for Catalonia– in the midst of the organisation of new political movements, General Primo de Rivera's coup d'etat in 1923 led him to exile in France and Latin America. Now clearly siding with those fighting for the independence of Catalonia, Macià was tireless in coalescing the struggle of the exiled against the dictatorship. In 1926, he prepares an attempt at armed invasion of Catalonia over the Pyrenees –known as the Prats-de-Molló affair. The attempt was a fiasco, and the members of the expedition –with Macià at the forefront– were arrested by the French authorities. However, the trial held in Paris was a huge success, not just because of the insignificant sentence –two months, which had already been served– but because of the international exposure achieved through the allegations made in their defence by their counsel –French First World War hero Henri Torres– and by Macià himself. The trial thus became a stand against the Spanish dictatorship and for the freedom of Catalonia widely broadcast by the press everywhere.

The tireless member of Congress, the former soldier who had opted for the people and their country, became an internationally recognized leader who, upon returning to Catalonia in February 1931, participated in the founding of a new party, Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (Republican Left of Catalonia) which brought together political parties, social movements and various regional organizations, with the defence of Catalonia and progressive humanism at its core. Those in favour of independence were in the majority to differing degrees, and Macià was their undisputed leader. A few months later, on April 12, 1931, Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya swept in with a landslide victory in the elections –as did other Republican groups in other parts of Spain. And on the 14th of April, Macià proclaimed the Catalan Republic –which was to be incorporated in a future Federation of Iberian Republics. Three days later, after protracted negotiations with ministers from the newborn Spanish Republic, Macià accepted that Catalonia should remain a Spanish territory, though now with political autonomy, its own devolved government within a single state, with a stated will to cooperate jointly in the progress of all its territories –a joint cooperation that has not always been forthcoming from the successive governments in Madrid.

Macià died as he led the process of national reconstruction, of social betterment and of democratic enhancement. He was succeeded –both in the party and as President of the Catalan autonomous government– by Lluís Companys, a labour lawyer with considerable experience in politics and in municipal management. Reared rather more towards social action, but with the same firmness in defence of the Catalan cause, Companys had to lead government of the country in very tough times, which became still harder with the Fascist insurrection led by General Franco in 1936. Exiled in Paris, Companys was arrested by the Gestapo and handed over to the Franco authorities. He was summarily executed in Barcelona in 1940 after trial before a military kangaroo court. Thus, no more than 75 years ago, in Europe a head of government elected democratically was executed, a crime that has since gone unanswered –all the Spanish governments since the restoration of democracy have refused to declare the trial null and void, which would be unheard of in any other member state of the European Union recently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. 

Catalonia has now dauntlessly staked its future setting course for national sovereignty. She did so in a mass demonstration on the 11th of September –one and a half million people demanding independence in the streets of Barcelona– and in the results of the elections to the Catalan Parliament on the 25th of November, in which the parties favouring a referendum, the right to self-determination without limitations, won 87 of the 135 seats. This is the stake which has, in its first stage, materialised as the Parliamentary concord between Convergència i Unió –the governing coalition– and Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya –now the main opposition party– which contemplates a referendum in 2014 on Catalonia becoming the next state in Europe.

It is hoped by many this process will lead to a Republic of Catalonia. That is why it should be remembered –to remind ourselves and the whole of Europe– that on the 25th of December 1933, the President of what was the Catalan Republic, Francesc Macià died. And with the hope of building a modern, fair, equitable state, open to the world and based on social roots. Free. Then as now.

About the author of this article for Help Catalonia

Josep Bargalló Valls
First Minister and Minister of the Presidency of Catalonia 2004-2006
Minister of Education of Catalonia 2003-2004
Councillor in Torredembarra Town Council (1995-2003)
President of the
Ramon Llull Institute (2006-2010)
From 2010 he is Professor of the University Rovira i Virgili
Other articles by this author:
Read other Special Colaborators articles here

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UN criticizes the Kingdom of Spain for not prosecuting the crimes perpetrated during Franco’s regime

The UN Rapporteur Mr. Pablo de Greiff has reproached the State for not investigating or prosecuting the serious crimes perpetrated during the Civil War and the Dictatorship and regretted the “huge gap” betweenthe Spanish authorities and the victims of Francoism

After a ten-day visit to Spain, the Rapporteur for the Promotion of Truth, Justice, Reparation and Guarantees of non-repetition, disclosed his preliminary conclusions with a series of recommendations to the Government, including invalidating the Law of Amnesty of 1977 and providing access to Justice to all the victims. 

In a press conference, De Greiff, endorsed the recommendations of the Committee against Torture and the Committee on Enforced Disappearances of the UN, specifically in terms of Justice, which is where the “biggest deficits” are observed. 

Therefore, he asked the Spanish State to suspend the Amnesty Law of 1977 and to make it possible for all the victims of Francoism to access the judiciary by bringing the Spanish laws in line with international standards. 

In Spain it has been argued that “this law is not a full stop act”, although at the end “it has accomplished the function of a full stop act because it has been used to close virtually all the cases brought before the magistrates” . 

De Greiff reminded that countries in which amnesty laws have not been suspended, the courts have found a way to interpret the rules “in such a way that the prosecution of alleged responsible parties has not been obstructed”. 

The United Nations Representative claimed that “it is particularly perplexing” that the State should have not done more for the rights of the victims because “it is not about partisan politics or about redeeming certain political agendas, but about rights that concern everyone”. 

In his opinion this explains the “huge gap” between the State institutions and the victims of Francoism, this being the biggest he has ever observed along his professional career. 

In his report, the Rapporteur urged the Spanish courts to cooperate with the open legal proceedings outside Spain with reference to the open lawsuit in Argentina by more than one hundred associations of victims from the Francoism. 

On this regard he criticized the proceedings by the “Audiencia Nacional” and the “Fiscalía del Estado” for being “apparently aimed” to prevent that the Constitutional Court rules on the Amnesty Law and the prescription of “human rights violations which are so serious” which –he added– “might constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity”.

Pablo de Greiff (EFE)

He mentioned that this is the case regarding the position taken by the “Fiscalía de la Audiencia Nacional” to dismiss the petition for extradition of the two alleged Francoists torturers José Antonio González Pacheco, nicknamed “Billy the kid”, and Jesús Muñecas Aguilar. 

The Rapporteur also expressed his “concern” over the draft law by the Popular Party regarding universal justice that “would significantly restrict” the application of that principle before the Spanish courts. 

On the other hand, the Rapporteur regretted that the authorities have not actually applied a real State policy to make the truth official, “thus more resources are needed to carry out the necessary inquiries on this regard, like updating the mass-graves map which, he stated, is a matter which has barely received any financing from the State”. 

In this sprit, he recommended the strengthening of the Historical Memory Act in order to “fill the gaps” that now exist within, including the exclusion of prisoners and people arrested during the Francoist regime that were sent to labor and concentration camps. 

Moreover he referred to “the ambiguity” displayed when teaching the Civil War and the Dictatorship in schools and he requested the remodelling of El Valle de los Caídos, which is "what the victims demand and deserve”. 

The Rapporteur concludes today his official visit at the Spanish State, where he has visited Madrid, Andalusia, Catalonia and Galicia to meet Foreign Office Minister, José Manuel García-Margallo, as well as several other representatives of the State, of the victims and of the civil society.

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Ruairidh MacIlleathain: "Many people in Scotland (or Alba) are fascinated by the vigour of the independence movement in Catalonia"

Many people in Scotland (or Alba as we call it in my language) are fascinated by the vigour of the independence movement in Catalunya and, if we were called upon to lay a bet on which country might achieve independence first, we would be hard-put to know where to place our money. Putting a million people on the streets of Barcelona last year was a phenomenal achievement, and certainly not one that could be copied (even at a smaller scale) in Scotland. If our country’s drive to independence seems to be lukewarm currently, there is more than just economic uncertainty to blame. Indeed, a lot of the political lethargy (with eighteen months to go until the referendum) can probably be linked to the fact that the United Kingdom authorities have actually been rather gentle with, and largely respectful to, the ‘errant’ Scots – so far, at least. Those who wish for independence would probably welcome a Madrid-style interference with our governmental priorities in order to raise the political temperature!

Scotland has been part of Great Britain since 1707, and part of the United Kingdom since 1801. It was in theory an equal partner with England (including Wales) in the 1707 union, but in practice there never was, and never would be, equality between the two countries. England had four times the population of Scotland in 1707; it now has ten times Scotland’s population. The only way that equality might have been achieved would have been for Scottish and English identity to disappear, and for everybody to view themselves as British, and only British. That has never happened. Scottish identity is undeniably stronger today than it was in my childhood, and it now has expression through the devolved parliament and government in Edinburgh. If only our football team were better…!

While it might be tempting to some to compare the roles of Francisco Franco and Margaret Thatcher in boosting the desire of Catalans and Scots to achieve independence, the comparison would be unfair. Thatcher was a democrat, and didn’t try to squash Scottish identity through banning the country’s minority languages. But there is little doubt that the Iron Lady’s policies, and her premiership, fuelled a sense that Scotland was being misgoverned. The English elected her, the Scots suffered her – or so the orthodoxy goes. The end result of that process of disengagement was the setting up of the Scottish Parliament in 1999. Since that time, there has been a new political dynamic in Scotland, and the Scottish National Party, which seeks independence, is now a majority government in a parliament whose electoral system was established with the aim of preventing such a scenario.

But many Catalans would be surprised to hear that language plays an insignificant role in the Scottish independence debate. ‘We want to govern ourselves; we want to have the economic levers to create a more prosperous society; we want to build a fairer society with less of a gap between rich and poor; we want our country to pledge itself to peaceful co-existence with its

neighbours and to reject militaristic adventurism’. You will hear all of these comments from advocates of Scottish independence. What you won’t hear is ‘we want to speak and use our language without interference from the authorities in London’. London doesn’t interfere in that way any more. It doesn’t need to – our languages are so weak that they provide no challenge to the hegemony of the English tongue. The contrast with the vigour of Catalan in Catalunya is stark.

There are two major indigenous languages in Scotland. One is Scots, a close relative of English, which grew out of the Anglian speech common to northern England and southern Scotland. It is traditionally associated with the eastern and southern parts of the country, although dialects are also spoken in the once-Norse island groups of Shetland and Orkney in the far north.

My own tongue, Gaelic, a sister language to Irish, is the only founding language of the kingdom of Alba still spoken today. It grew to be the majority language of Scotland between the eleventh and fifteenth centuries, reaching most corners of the country and establishing a Scottish identity that prevented the country being absorbed into an aggressive and expansive England, but it was gradually pushed into its later stronghold of the mountainous Highlands.

It is now only spoken by a little over one percent of the population, having been in retreat for a long time, although there are hopes for its regeneration, particularly through Gaelic Medium education which, like the Catalan system, produces fluently bilingual children with an above-average command of the national majority language (English in our case, Spanish in the Catalan situation). However, in contrast to the vast numbers in Catalunya, only some 3,500 children currently gain the benefit of a Gaelic Medium education.

Whether Gaelic would benefit from independence is not clear. It has certainly benefited from devolution, however. The Scottish Parliament passed the Gaelic Language Act in 2005 with all-party support, and the language’s new confidence and dynamic saw the creation of a (part-time) Gaelic TV channel, BBC ALBA, in 2008. On a small budget, it provides an excellent service.

I was in Catalunya some years ago and met some language activists in Girona. They were unhappy at what they saw as the oppressed state of their language and were convinced that only political independence from Spain would ensure its future. The continued suppression of the language in the Valencia community and other parts of Els Països Catalans, plus the current attempt by Madrid to demote the place of the Catalan language in education in Catalunya itself would certainly seem to support their contention.

But I also experienced a language spoken by many millions (not tens of thousands like my own), with a vigour that most lesser-used or minority languages around Europe can only dream about. Ironically, it is the success of Catalan that marks it as a powerful political symbol, both for its supporters and opponents. The Gaelic language can be largely ignored by the central powers, but

Catalan cannot. An act of suppression can be read, if one is a lateral thinker, as a compliment!

If Catalans are a little disappointed at the apparent lack of interest among Scottish politicians in the struggle for Catalunya’s independence, they can rest assured that there is a lot of interest both in political circles and within the general population. However, Madrid’s tentacles have clearly stretched as far as Edinburgh, stilling Scottish politicians’ tongues when it comes to voicing support for the Catalan cause. In the event of a ‘Yes’ vote for independence in September next year, an independent Scottish government would have to take part in negotiations over the country’s future in the European Union, NATO and other international organizations. The opportunity for Spain to play mischief-maker and block Scotland’s route into those organizations is clear.

However, the attempt by the Spanish authorites to fundamentally alter Catalunya’s education system would be impossible in Scotland. We are entirely autonomous when it comes to education and we have our own legal system, separate from that in England. Decisions to expand or restrict Gaelic Medium education are made in Scotland. Decisions to support the language in other ways are made in Scotland. The role of the UK in such matters is mainly as a signatory to pertinent international treaties such as the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.

In that respect we already have a lot of freedom and, even if the majority reject independence in next year’s plebiscite, it is likely that Scots will demand, and most likely receive, further powers from London, particularly concerning economic governance. And Scotland has a couple of big bargaining chips – its substantial subsea oil deposits and its hosting of the UK’s nuclear-armed submarine fleet. On the other hand, the Scottish government’s desire for an independent Scotland to be part of a Sterling currency zone, rather than joining the Euro, is seen by London as boosting their own bargaining position.

What neither Catalunya nor Scotland yet knows is how the independence movement and campaign in each of our countries will affect the argument in the other. We should speak to each other more. What each learns from the other can help to inform our political outlook and ambitions, and our understanding of the universal desire of humans, whatever our languages, to build prosperous, happy and peaceful societies.

by Ruairidh MacIlleathain

Scottish journalist Ruairidh MacIlleathain works primarily in the Gaelic language.

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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Laws do not exist to limit democracy


- We are a nation with all the characteristic features of a subject according to International Law. We are only missing political sovereignty.

- We have a clearly defined territory.

- We have a population – currently 7,500,000 (seven and a half million) inhabitants.

- We have a public administration with legislative, executive and judicial powers.

- We are a Mediterranean people - peaceful, democratic and open. Our country is a melting pot. These features are all part of the DNA of Catalonia and its people.


- We have our own language, Catalan. We also speak Spanish and many people can speak English, French or Italian.

- We have our own thousand-year-old culture.

- We have had our own system of laws ever since the Middle Ages, especially regarding maritime law. In 1714 we lost our public law system and public institutions such as our government, the GENERALITAT, as a consequence of the War of The Spanish Succession. This governing body was not reinstalled until 1979.

- We have the best football team in the world – Barça, Barcelona Football Club.

- But above all, we have an individual and collective desire to become a sovereign state through the ballot box - carrying out the democratic right to decide our own future and accepting the result, whatever it may be.

- Our only weapons are democratic legitimacy expressed freely and legally through the ballot box.


- We want respect for our language, our culture, our industry, our businesses, our economy, our government, and our capacity for financing and managing Catalan resources for our land and its people. To sum up, we want a status with Spain different to the one we have had since at least 2006.

- We believe that this new status, whether it be independence or a different relationship with Spain, will be good for us, good for the rest of Spain, and good for Europe – including EU and non-EU countries.

- Everybody will be a winner. We aim for “unity within diversity” as Jaques Delors once said. A free and agreed unity, not one imposed against our will.


- After Franco died in 1975 we all fought together to reinstall democracy, fundamental freedoms and political rights for everyone.

- In 1978 a Spanish Constitution was passed which recognized the historic nationalities in Spain, such as Catalonia, and set up a virtually federal state.

- The democratic system which had been lost in the Civil War was reinstalled; including the Catalan government – the Generalitat – , its exiled President, and other democratic bodies necessary under a rule of law.

- In 1979, in accordance with the Spanish Constitution, the sovereign nation of Catalonia drew up and passed the Statute of Catalonia. This paper provides the basic laws of Catalonia and is a kind of constitution for sub-states.

- But, ever since then, the central government of Spain has recentralized governance and limited “de iure” or ”de facto” Catalonia’s legal powers on matters such as education, language, justice, economy, taxation, and so on.


- The Spanish constitution included the “iter democratic” to modify the Statute of Catalonia. After a long process, a modification and updating of the Statute was finally passed in 2006.

- This process followed all the legal and legitimate proceedings which make up the essence of democracy. It was passed by the Catalan Parliament, the Spanish Parliament and in a referendum of the citizens of Catalonia - the only people who could vote constitutionally under what is known as the citizens’ “right to decide”. Finally the Statute was signed by the King of Spain as the current head of state. To sum up, 


- Other federal states, or autonomous communities, of Spain carried out the same process, even copying some of Catalonia’s new changes and no one challenged this.

- But, Mr Rajoy and the People’s Party which was in opposition at that time, campaigned collecting signatures all over Spain to request that the Constitutional Court revise Catalonia’s legitimately passed statute.

- Four years later the incomplete Constitutional Court with only ten of its twelve members, some already years past their maximum term of service, and with a politically biased nature, eventually declared that some of the Statute’s articles contravened the Spanish constitution. This happened in June 2010.

- However, the same articles which were declared illegal in Catalonia were accepted and came into effect in other autonomous communities! This is incredible, especially from a democratic point of view. The sovereignty of a people, its parliaments and the King himself were overruled by a politicized court.

- Besides this, from 2006 onwards there has been a re-centralization of certain powers held by Catalonia and a restrictive interpretation of other ones, as well as unfair fiscal balances between Spain and Catalonia.

- On the eleventh of September 2012 there was a huge peaceful demonstration in Barcelona – entire families came from all over Catalonia asking for a better set-up for Catalonia. The following day the Catalan President spoke to the Spanish President, Mr Rajoy. He requested an improved relationship and a new fiscal agreement for Catalonia. Rajoy’s answer then, and since then, was A CLEAR NO. Spanish legality does not allow this, he says.

- Early elections were called for November 2012. After these, the Catalan President – Mr Mas – requested permission to hold a referendum where Catalans could express themselves regarding their own future. The Spanish answer was yet another refusal. A REFERENDUM WOULDN’T BE CONSTITUTIONAL. SO, NO, AND NO AGAIN - FOREVER AND EVER! 

- In September 2013, Catalans organized a popular human chain. Peaceful and festive, this chain was made up of two million people and covered 400 km. A clear proof that the Catalan people, ALL CATALONIA, want to decide their own future.

- In December 2013, the majority of the Catalan parliament set November 9th 2014 as the date for the referendum.

- The Spanish government stated that this referendum is illegal and anti-constitutional, and that the Spanish constitution cannot be altered. They claim the constitution does not allow for any kind of referendum in Catalonia.

- Faced with Catalonia’s determination to continue, the Spanish government responds with economic threats, changes to the status of the Catalan language and culture, smears against Catalonia and Catalans, and threatens that Catalonia will have to leave Europe forever and never be allowed back in. A CATASTROPHIC FUTURE INDEED!

- Meanwhile, Europe and the world continue to invest in Catalonia. Barcelona is the third-ranking city in the world in terms of tourism. It is the capital of the mobile phone industry. It has the most important port in the Mediterranean and the busiest airport. Oh, and Xavi and Messi’s Barça are still winning...


No one knows what will happen on November 9th or afterwards. But what we do know is that the wish of a people, and their LEGITIMATE RIGHT TO DEMOCRATICALLY EXPRESS THEIR RIGHT TO DECIDE THEIR OWN FUTURE, cannot be systematically refused by an IMMOVEABLE LEGALITY. Voting and deciding is the peaceful and democratic way that a people express themselves. Preventing this vote is to show fear of the democratic result of the wishes of Catalonia’s citizens.

The principles and values on which the European Union is based, as seen in the EU Treaties and its Charter of Fundamental Rights, are obviously: democracy, freedom, and above all, respect for the importance of its citizens and their individual and collective dignities.

Laws must adapt to democratic and majority wishes. They do not exist to limit democracy.

Professor of International Law at the University of Barcelona
President of United Nations of Spain (ANUE)

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