Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Artur Mas: If you dont fight, you have already lost

Catalonia deserves to be respected but right now Spain just threatens us and insults us. My goal is to hold a referendum and to win it by a wide margin. I will retire from politics after that. Thats Artur Mas' answer to the question Would you like Catalonia to be a new state in the EU?.

Artur Mas i Gavarró (Barcelona, 1956), President of Catalonia, has set Catalan, Spanish, and European politics on fire, proposing, for the first time in history, that Catalans decide about their future and that Catalonia become a new member in the European Union. On this interview, the Catalan President explains how he is facing this challenge, guaranteeing that neither the crisis nor political and economic pressure forces him to renounce to his lifelong goal of achieving Catalonia's independence.

Mr. President, at this moment, what are your greatest worries and expectations?
The thing that worries me most is, without a doubt, the economic recession and unemployment. The events of the last two weeks do not take my focus away from what I think is the most important matter: to improve the economic situation and start creating employment. On the other hand, I hope to be witness of these momentous events.

Where are we? Where are we headed?
We are clearly going through a new era. Catalans are in a different state of mind, we have undergone a deep social change, which will be put to the test in the next few monthsalways according to the democratic rules.

What's going to happen next?
We are going to be exercising our right to decide. Thats huge, because we have never before been allowed to do so freely and democratically. The most important thing is that in the next four years we will ask the Catalan people about their future, not two ways about it.

Within or outside the law?
When I say not two ways about it, its always within the legal framework, but not an unchanging one. This legal framework can be the Spanish Constitution, the Catalan legislation, international legislation, or other venues that allow for a vote.

Can you be more specific?
In a few months well pass a Catalan law regarding referendums, which will be, in case the legal way fails, a new tool for holding a kind of self-determination referendum in Catalonia. When we get to that point, the political forces that are in favor of independence, which I hope will achieve a parliamentary majority, will have to decide how to word the question on the referendum.

If it were up to you, what would you ask?
At the very least I would ask would you like Catalonia to be a new independent state in the European Union? But I dont want to decide the question myself. All the parliamentary groups need to negotiate the actual question. I am obsessed about getting things done properly, not haphazardly, or in an improvised way.

What are you exactly talking about?
We have to guarantee a strong social majority around the referendum. We need to be in constant contact with the European Union and the international community, even though we know they wont give us a definite answer until the end of the process. And I will never refuse, during the process and until the referendum, any talks or negotiations with the Spanish government. In a mature democracy, thats how it should be. While the British negotiate, the Spanish threaten.

When you say you wont refuse to negotiate with the Spanish state, you mean that it is still possible to reach an agreement that puts off the referendum?
No. When I talk about negotiation, Im talking about deciding how to hold a referendum. This might seem nonsensical or naive, but if we follow our plan, there will be a day when Spain feels obliged to give back.

And, in this whole journey, what's your ultimate goal?
My lifelong political goal is setting up a referendum and winning it by a wide margin. This would be my ultimate goal. I have also said I will retire from politics after that.

Because we need a convincing majority. But I dont need it for Artur Masthe country needs it. In the next four years, our country needs to have a very strong president, and this will only be achieved by a vote.

Are you asking for a blank check?
Nope. I dont want anyone who votes for us thinking this is a blank check to help me in my political career, or for the consolidation of an individual or a party in power. As I understand it, this must be a vote to serve the needs of the country. I am just another tool.

Are you going ahead with this plan because there is no alternative?
There were various OK alternatives for me personally, all of them very convenient. Catalonia has also an alternative: to be content with what it has now. That's the alternative of not fighting; but when people stop fighting, they have already lost. You can fight and lose or fight and win, but if you dont fight, youve already lost. By the way, there is another alternative: keep deceiving ourselveskeep thinking that by behaving perfectly, the Spanish will listen to us and do something positive about Catalonia's situation. Thats what we have been doing for the last thirty years.

It seems like you're criticizing your ideas of yesteryear.
It is true, any way you look at it, this might seem self-deprecating. However, Catalonia did the logical thing, once democracy was in place, by relying on Spain, in theory benevolent and understanding with the Catalan reality, integrated in the European Union. It was necessary to rely on this because we've never tried this solution before, because Spain has never had this long a period of democracy. However, if its not been possible under these circumstances, when will it be? We had to try during those thirty years, but we've seen the results. Consequently, Catalans have changed their mind, as demonstrated by the September 11 rallyand this has been confirmed by the polls. This is one of the reasons why I called for an early election. Decisions must not be made in the street, but in an election.

The main objection to that would be that political instability can aggravate the crisis.
Everybody who criticizes us should also explain what the costs of doing nothing are. The time has come when Catalonia has the right to find a solution for itself, after thirty years of constant service to the cause of Spain, and under the most difficult circumstances. If we are so important to Spain, Catalonia deserves to be respected, recognized, and we must be given the means to prosper. Right now Spain just threatens us, provokes us, and insults us, but they dont offer any solution.

What do you think the best solution is?
The fact that they don't offer us any alternative makes me think that Spain has no long-term plan. Its survival depends on acknowledging the very existence of the nations that compose it, as it was defined in the Spanish Constitution.

Here is another objection. At a time when everyone talks about the European Union, separating is going against the tide.
However, we are not separating. This is the kind of language they want us to fall into. They want us to talk about breach, rupture, separation, but this is not true, because after we achieve independence, Catalonia will remain in the European Union together with Spain. What is the meaning of separation in a place where there is a single currency, no borders or customs tariffs, where people and money move around freely? When I hear that, I say this isnt a separation but an emancipation. Its all about wanting to live one's own life freely. An this will probably lead both parties involved to having a better relationship.

The Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the European commissary Almunia, also Spanish, have already said that an independent Catalonia would be out of the euro zone.
Look, they are already accepting the possibility of an independent Catalonia. We are on the right track. What they are doing is resorting to fear tactics. What's going to happen when when we have our own state? The reality is that there is no precedent for a state going through such a process. How can an old European nation be unable to find a solution for nation building, when we are already part of the European Union and are inside the euro zone?

Concerning that, have you already began any negotiations in Brussels?
No. In these last two years, all that we've done at the European level has been, first, to convey that Catalonia was taking austerity measures very seriously, as well as fiscal consolidation, budget balance, deficit control, and debt control; and second, to make it clear that there is a great tax imbalance in Spain (between autonomous communities), that needs to be addressed sooner or later.

Spain is about to be rescued. Would Spain's rescue change Catalonia's political scenario?
No. The process that Catalonia is going through will be the same because the current movement is not just about money. There is a whole set of factors having to do with feelings, hopes, plans for the future, interests, and needs. All of these are working together and pointing in the same direction. So, even if Spain weren't to be rescued, Catalonia's aspirations would be perfectly valid.

You say the economy must not be mixed with the political process. Why?
Why did we create the European Union? To protect the economy from political upheavals. Ten or twelve new states have been created in the past ten or fifteen years in Europe, Europe's map has changed, but the economy hasnt been affected because of this. On the contrary. The market has increased, there are more countries with a single currency, there are more countries to exchange goods, services, merchandise with. This fact is not damaging the economy. If the conclusion is that a process like ours forces Spain to damage Catalonia's economy, that would be all the justification we need to conclude that we don't have to put up with an unfair state. Furthermore, from Spain's point of view, this would be ridiculous, because there are lots of Catalan companies with investments all over Spain that generate lots of jobs. If they tried to damage the Catalan economy, it would affect Spain's negatively just because they would lose jobs, companies, warehouses, factories.

Months ago, no one could think that Artur Mas and his party could talk like that. I think Spain's president is more concerned about the votes your party can obtain than about those obtained by the left.
Its possible. Anyway, if you read my speeches of the last four or five years, youll see my plan is neither improvised nor illogical.

If all of this was planned, are you saying that you had the next step in mind when you met with the Spanish President? Did you go to the meeting to have your plan rejected?
I deceived no one. I had private meetings with him to prepare things out and, afterwards, during our meeting, I was given a definite NO for an answer.

Will the path to independence be long?
I dont know if it will be long, but it will be tough, very tough. Its been already tough because we are being threatened. They want to create an atmosphere of uncertainty, and get our people worried for no reason, casting doubts about retirement pensions, for instance.

Between Catalonia and Spain there is a fraternal relationship.
... that will always be there.

Yes, but its hard to think of the Spanish cousins as foreigners.
They wont be foreigners, we will all be Europeans.

What would you say, right now, to a Catalan citizen who speaks Spanish and has family living in Andalusia or Aragón?
That the process that Catalonia is going through is inclusive. That not one of the seven and a half million people in Catalonia has anything to fear, that they will be able to speak Spanish whenever they want. Spanish will still be an official language and will be taught in schools. Nothing will change, except for our political structuringso they, and the rest of the seven and a half million Catalans can have a better life.

Those Catalans who feel Spanish, will they still be Spanish?
Feelings cant be changed and have to be respected always. A citizen of Catalonia that feels they are Spanish, and there are lots of these, needs to be able to feel however they wish. In the likely eventuality of them acquiring the Catalan nationality, they'll be able to keep the Spanish nationality without a problem. In case they can't have it, the reason would be that Spain wouldnt let themnot that the Catalan government would prevent it. Catalonia will go through this process with complete respect and freedom for everybody. Without impositions. We are not suddenly going mad.

Do you think hope is the last thing we lose?
I am hopeful because I have faith. I believe in what we are doing and I have confidence in our country.

Source: La Vanguardia Oct, 12th, 2012, Jordi Barbeta

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