Sunday, September 3, 2017

There are other voices: the federalist alternative in Catalonia and Spain

As it has been happening since 2012, September is the month of nationalist demonstrations and political dramas in Catalonia. This year, another expected season of choreographed marches and a third so-called "referendum" (again, and for the third time since 2014, promoted as a decisive "vote of your life") between September 11th and October 1st will try to show to the world that the Catalan society is unanimously behind the idea of secession from Spain. A well funded and hypermobilized  strong minority of citizens mostly from the upper-middle classes, will also try to show support for the idea that only a unilateral self-determination referendum without a legal framework, where the question and the date are unilaterally decided, without a neutral authority, that only this mechanism can be chosen to change the status quo of Catalonia in Spain. However, the truth is that the Catalan society is very diverse and plural, and that there are many other voices. Among these voices, one of the best organized and the one with the most constructive proposal is the Federalist Movement, represented by Federalistes d'Esquerres, a platform that was born in 2013 to reivindicate the rich federalist tradition of the Catalan and Spanish left. It has organized many debates and events in Catalonia since then, and it has participated in federalist marches and public meetings in several Spanish regions, as well as in Brussels and in Rome. Among its more tan 3000 members and sympathisers, there are citizens from several political parties and trade unions. Its first president was the current member of the Spanish Parliament, the philosopher Manuel Cruz, and its current president is the Dean of the School of Political Science at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, Joan Botella. Their members include the former Anti-Corruption public prosecutor of Spain, Carlos Jiménez Villarejo, and the prestigious writer and professor of Ethics Victoria Camps. This group has been gathering strength since its birth despite the lack of institutional and public support, and it has a very active agenda of events. It is also promoting a crowd-funding campaign for the production of the documentary "Federal", directed by award-winning film director Albert Solé. This documentary is now in the last stages of production, and will be the focus of a strong campaign in 2018.
This movement defends the following ideas and positions:
1. Strong nationalisms reinforce each other: the Catalan question is now the excuse of Spanish and Catalan elites to avoid introducing in-depth reforms in our democracy that make it more transparent and egalitarian. In particular, it is an excuse that obfuscates and creates the division that prevents tackling the very serious corruption scandals that have affected the Popular Party in Spain and the party of the Catalan President (formerly CDC and now PdECat).
2. The nation-state is obsolete. In the XXIst century none of our greatest problems can be solved with the old tool of the nation-state. Climate change, fiscal fraud, migrations and refugee waves, terrorism, financial instability... all of our greatest problems require transfers of sovereignty and coordination at a large scale, which can only be achieved through a European and global process of federalization.
3.Spain and Europe need reforms. Although Spain is a very decentralized country that belongs to the EU and the Euro-zone, there are legitimate demands of cultural recognition and about financial arrangements from Catalonia and there are serious shared institutional problems. A federalist reform is not only supported by a large part of Catalan citizens, but it also has strong allies in the rest of Spain and would have the obvious sympathy of European political leaders and governments of member states. Instead, Catalan secessionists have dramatically failed in their quest for international, and specially European, support. The federalist reform should include Constitutional reforms in Spain to transform the Senate into a territorial chamber (similar to Germany), to introduce a multi-lingual system at all levels (similar to Canada and Switzerland), to establish a more transparent system of territorial transfers and investments, and to clarify the responsibilities of each level of administration following the subsidiarity principle. Instead of fighting for the obsolete concept of territorial sovereignty, we should all accept that we live naturally in a multi-level democracy where the identification of one state with one nation, one flag, one currency, one language and one army has disappeared.
4. Behind the façade of a peaceful movement, Catalonia has seen disturbing episodes of intolerance, such as virtual mob attacks in the social networks (sometimes supported by Catalan government's press conferences) addressed to journalists, intellectuals, artists and others who have dared to raise their voice or even to express doubts about the secessionist process. The legal plans of the pro-independence leader and the majority in the Catalan Parliament (a narrow majority that does not represent a majority of votes, because of an electoral system that privileges rural areas) include attacks to the division of powers and checks and balances. In particular, in a transitional period, they expect the judicial power to be subject to the executive branch, in a mechanism that has been compared by experts to the one for which Poland has received a serious warning by the EU institutions. The narrow parliamentarian majority of the pro-secession groups is achieved because of the support of an extremist euro-phobic group, the CUP, whose youth wing has promoted violent attacks to tourists and also acts of bullying against political dissenters.
5. Self-determination referendums are not allowed in the immense majority of democratic constitutions in the world. The international consensus is that they should only take place in exceptional circumstances, and if they take place, they should be subject to very strict conditions, established by the Commission of Democracy through Law (the Venice Commission) of the Council of Europe. The unilateral referendum promoted by the Catalan government fulfils none of these conditions.
6. The Independence delusion in Catalonia is similar to the Brexit delusion in the UK. It is accompanied by exagerations and lies that are sold as facts, especially relative to the economic and financial gains, the attribution of all problems to an external enemy and the illusion that Independence is easy, inexpensive and requires no agreement with anyone. The rhetoric is also similar, and similar to other national-populist movements that have attracted voters recently in ther parts of the world: "the will of the people, freedom, democracy, sovereignty..."
7. The pro-secession movement and its political use by the Catalan government has created a deep social division in Catalonia, in what had been an example of a diverse and tolerant society. The last example of the attempts to dig deeper into this internal division, and the sometimes artificial division between a falsely homogeneous Catalonia and the rest of the Spanish society was the manipulation of the social reaction to the terrorist attacks of August 17th in Barcelona and Cambrils, as explained by Roberto Toscano in La Repubblica. Instead, the federalist movement emphasizes the many links of Catalans with Spaniards: we share families, history, problems, businesses, sports idols and competitions. And most of us thank the immense solidarity of many Spaniards after the terrorist attacks and want to share our links more broadly now in a united and more democratic Europe.

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