Monday, September 14, 2009

Does The Road To Catalan Independence Pass Through Arenys?

There are potentially a number of ways of encouraging public support for independence in Cataluña, but in the case of the vote held this weekend in the municipality of Arenys de Munt it seems that they found the perfect combination. 96% of those voting supported the idea, and whilst the turnout was not huge it still exceeded that for other more official popular consultations. True opinion on the issue in Cataluña as a whole is hard to measure because it always depends how the question is presented, but the most recent figure I saw put it at 19%.

Part of the credit for the pro-independence vote has to go to the Spanish state prosecution service who decided to take the issue to court because the municipality was proposing to provide facilities for the vote; even though it wasn't organising it. The courts duly ruled that such an issue went beyond the powers of the local ayuntamiento, which may be true but it's hard to avoid the suspicion that they may not have been so quick to act had the question put to the vote been "Shall we all club together and buy a new yacht for the King to use on his holidays next summer?"

If the action of the abogados del estado wasn't enough to mobilise the voters, how about the prospect of having the fascist Falange marching through the middle of your town? Apparently one of the reasons why Espanyol football club requested Real Madrid not to hand out tickets for Saturday's game to their Ultras was so that Arenys would not be graced with their presence on the following day. That might have pushed the pro-independence vote up a couple of points more. In the end a meagre 50 fascists made it to the town, only to be heavily outnumbered by journalists, police and pro-independence demonstrators.

A vote in a small municipality of 8000 people has attracted huge media attention and looks like sparking a competitive battle between Catalan nationalist parties keen to ride the wave as long as it goes in their preferred direction. Esquerra Republicana clearly sense an opportunity to reverse their electoral decline in recent years, although there are also signs of a new pro-independence alternative emerging in the shape of a breakaway grouping from that party. All it needs now for the movement to take off is for the Spanish Constitutional Court to strike down a couple of key clauses in the Catalan autonomy statute. The rumours that they will do this have been strong in recent weeks, and the delay in their verdict is becoming almost unsustainable.


Lavengro said...

The fascist nationalism of the Falange is one thing and the fascist nationalism of ERC is another (just).

Have a look at this:
(hat-tip to Kalebeul (

On about 1'47" (apparently changed since Kalebeul says 1'52") an excited speaker says 'The Spaniards want to be as good as you and me -- and that the Spaniards never will be.' But you don't need Catalan to recognise the fascist tone of voice or the swivel-eyed presentation.

Of course, if those words were said about blacks, Muslims, or Jews (perhaps), ERC would be in the forefront of progressive opposition.

Rab said...


You show your ignorance, or worse, about Catalan politics when you describe ERC as “fascist nationalism”. You have been reading the Spanish press too much.
Let me explain this to you: thanks to ERC, there is a President of Catalonia born in Andalucia and with a shaky command of Catalan language. ERC has made an unionist immigrant President of Catalonia.And you know why? Because ERC is a party made up of peoples from all backgrounds.
Would the PSOE be in an coalition with a party like the one you describe? Of course not.

Therefore, your describing of ERC is a pathetic insult that bears no resemblance with reality and devalues whatever is your argument. Spain, on the other hand, will never have a Catalan Prime Minister, since Catalonophobia is part of its DNA –so much so that even foreign immigrants like you adopt its discourse without effort.

For your information, and to correct your shockingly incorrect translation, (you have screwed it up I am afraid) this is what Jordi Fabregas actually says:
“..There is no other path left except independence. There's no federalism nonsense to be had (‘Ni federalisme ni punyetes’). Because for federalism, it is required that the Spanish accept that we are all equal and engage accordingly (‘hablar de tu a tu’), and this the Spanish will never want.”.
That's the correct translation, not your twisted manipulation and biased inferences.

So what the guy is saying is that federalism requires a mutual respect that it is not there, in which the right of self-determination of Catalonia is accepted by Spain. Since this will never happen, (in the past they sent the Army) federalism is a dead route and thus the only way left for Catalonia independence.

If you knew anything about Catalan/Spanish politics, you would know that for about 150 years Catalan parties have been trying the federalist route in one way or another and this has always resulted in failure since we are having the same debates as they had 100 years ago. This guy is stating the bleeding obvious: Catalan parties have tried to engage with Spain and the result has always been a breakdown, therefore we need to go our way.

History seems to be on his side.

Rab said...

Having replied to the previous ill-informed poster, back to the original post.

Sadly from my point of view, I don’t think Arenys will become a trigger or a catalyst for anything inside Catalonia. Catalan politicians are too meek and cowardly to take a principled stand on this issue. Sitting of the fence, ambivalence and make do (“peix al cove”) is always described as a virtue. I suspect this episode will be another example where the substance of the debate is overshadowed by its aesthetics –this is typical of Catalonia as Unamuno wrote a long time ago. It will fade away soon as the crisis, and in particular the Spanish banking crisis worsens.

What is obvious however is that the development and “improvement” of Spanish democracy does not pass through Arenys. Trying to ban a privately organised popular vote in a small town of 8000 people by first employing a Falangist prosecutor to represent the State and then allowing a demo by Falange on the same day has shown how vulnerable the Spanish state feels, when confronted by the most ridiculous, symbolic of “threats”.

If anything, the repercussions of this and other popular votes already being planned will be in the Spanish political class and its media. Only Spain’s over-reaction can be the catalyst for Catalan parties to raise the political stakes, as it has been proven so successfully in Arenys.

For those of us already convinced of the merits of independence, and the impossibility of Spain to meaningfully accommodate Catalonia on a cultural, economic and political level, the situation on Sunday was a godsend.

On the one side, a ballot box organised by a community association; on the other side the Spanish state trying to prohibit the thing, and sending Falange as its ambassadors. It should worry many a Spanish democrat (I know a few) that Falange are now staunch supporters of the 1978 Spanish Constitution.

What is worrying (predictable if you ask me) is the ideological convergence of Spanish mainstream parties like PP and PSOE and fascists outfits like Falange & co in this episode. This is evidence of deeper problems and symptomatic of the sui generis nature of Spanish democracy. As Pla said, there is nothing more similar to a right-wing Spaniard than a left-wing Spaniard.

John (new name still pending) said...

Well replied Rab. It is hardly surprising that Lavengro holds such reactionary positions when he so fundamentally misunderstands what is being said. The ERC is no more fascist than the Scottish Nationalist Party, the German SDP, or any social democratic party in Europe. While there is much to criticse in the UK, it is to the credit of the British that the Scottish people, the SNP, and Scottish culture are not treated or regarded in the same way as Spain treats and regards its Catalan counterparts. It is certainly true that Spain could not have a Catalan president; even Josep Piqué turned out to be just too, well, Catalan to continue in the PP. Even in the highly unlikely event of there being one, he/she would be obliged to be even more centralist in order to try to stop the shrill hysteria becoming deafening.

On the upcoming ruling on the Estatut by the Constitutional Court, the apparently likely negative ruling seems to me to be Spanish nationalism's version of Little Britain's "Computer says no", as if the court were a dispassionate, disinterested and neutral arbiter of what is right from a position of fundamental first principles, rather than a party-appointed Spanish nationalist institution set up with the explicit purpose of defending the unity of the Spanish State (the presence of some marginally more progressive members notwithstanding). That this Spanish institution might follow a pre-determined Spanish nationalist routemap is no more surprising than Little Britain's computer finding everything to be impossible due to the computer user's predispositions.

Graeme, you have in the past stated that you are not too keen on separatism, but given that you are so aware and informed of the nature of Spanish nationalism, is it not something that makes increasing sense to you? While not everyone votes PP, it seems to me that the Catalan-bating parts of their proposals and declarations are those that appeal most widely across Spain. Which leads us to the Pla quote mentioned by Rab...

Graeme said...


Let me try and explain why I don't agree with you that separatism is the only option. It's impossible to do in a short comment so bear with me. I guess the main difference is that I don't buy what I consider to be a caricature of modern Spain, that the Falange, the PP and the PSOE are all lined up in a single bloc attempting to stifle the aspirations of Catalan nationalism. Also, despite my known dislike of Spanish nationalism I think you have to put things into perspective. The turnout by the Falange the other day in Arenys was simply pathetic, obviously not pathetic enough to make me feel sorry for them but still as clear a sign as you need that this is not the golden age of Spanish fascism. We are not in 1975 and we shouldn't pretend that nothing has really changed since then. The problem with the "history is on our side" argument is that it leads to a future that is only viewed through a prism borrowed from the past.

Whether you regard it as sufficient or not, the reality is that Zapatero's administration tried to move things into a post-transition phase with the Estatut, and barring an unexpected turn of events it's still expected that virtually all of that measure will survive the sentence of the Tribunal Constitucional. We should'nt exaggerate the effect of these things in the rest of Spain either, Zapatero's government suffered from the onslaught over the Estatut but when push came to shove voters all over Spain were more concerned about the PP returning to power. It's important not to magnify too much these things and to recognise that the political reality of modern Spain is much more complex than just being about a post-Francoist state.

So Spain will never have a Catalan presidente? We'll see, Josep Borrell wasn't deposed as PSOE candidate a few years ago because he was Catalan, and he was elected as candidate by PSOE members from all around Spain. Much of the smart money on Zapatero's preferred successor when he stands down is focused on the Minister of Defence. Carme Chacon has been marching with the troops for a couple of years now and nobody has called the tanks onto the streets yet.

Nationalism on both sides always seeks to exaggerate the differences on national lines and minimise any possible community of interest that crosses frontiers. That's what makes it so easy for evident opportunists like Joan Laporta to jump on the bandwagon, but then nationalism is so often the first port of call for a prospective politician on the make - it's easy to do. Funnily enough, it's on the right of the nationalist spectrum where that community of interests is often clearer, as we might well find out after the next election if the PP wins but without a majority - the first door they will knock on to seek that majority will be the "enemy" of CiU. The rollback of social protection that may well occur under such a coalition of interests will be felt just as painfully in Cataluña as in the rest of Spain. In those circumstances the argument that these things only happen because Cataluña forms part of Spain just won't wash, but nationalism won't have much else to say on the issue.

I have it clear that if Catalans or Basques decide that they want to have an independent state then they should be allowed to do so - but from my own personal political perspective I don't think its a good thing. I continue to think we can all have longer and happier lives with fewer frontiers, flags and national anthems, rather than more. I think history has something to say about that too. My Scottish half still doesn't care for the flag of St Andrew and my English half doesn't even look at the cross of St George. Nationalism has nothing to say to me.

Lavengro said...

I have it clear that if Catalans or Basques decide that they want to have an independent state then they should be allowed to do so - but from my own personal political perspective I don't think its a good thing. I continue to think we can all have longer and happier lives with fewer frontiers, flags and national anthems, rather than more. I think history has something to say about that too. My Scottish half still doesn't care for the flag of St Andrew and my English half doesn't even look at the cross of St George. Nationalism has nothing to say to me.

Absolutely excellent. I couldn't agree more. I would just add that it is my clear view that the number of flags to be seen on any occasion is in inverse proportion to the amount of sense to be found there.

Last month I spent a few days in the Basque Country. The souvenir shops had variations on the design of combining the Basque and Catalan flags. Except that not one that I saw had the real Catalan flag, the senyera with plain red and yellow stripes. Every single representation of the Catalan flag that I saw was the estelada, the separatist flag with a white star in a blue triangle at the hoist.

moscow said...

Christ! That was very good Graeme. I couldn't have expressed it any better.

As a Spaniard living abroad - now in Russia - I meet more Catalans and Basques here than I ever did when I lived in Asturias and Madrid (none, actually). If it weren't for the accent and a couple of mannerisms, and the content of their comments on Spain in general (including much which I take to be mere prejudices about the rest of Spain) I can't tell the difference between them and other Spaniards - for good or bad.

Rab said...

Graeme, I appreciate your thoughtful reply but I'm going to pick on some of your points I'm afraid…

The problem with the "history is on our side" argument is that it leads to a future that is only viewed through a prism borrowed from the past.

Well, the problem is that the present is the same as the past: Spain can't accommodate Catalonia now as it could not do so in the past. This is the key argument amongst those that pursue strategies that are openly pro-independence as opposed to what CiU has done for decades (or before the war it was ERC and Lliga Regionalista). The electoral collapse that awaits ERC is because they have adopted in practice CiU’s discourse of “pragmatism” and “we need to educate Spain”.
By contrast, Reagrupament and the “sobiranista” civic platforms advocate a path of “going beyond” the limitations of the Spanish state.
The former is a tried, tested and failed method.
The latter is an untested proposition –ERC were given a mandate to push the boundaries but have chosen the gravy train instead, and they will pay at the next elections accordingly.
At present we are stuck because we are repeating the mistakes of the past.
To move forward, we need to break with the past and independence is the best way to do that.

The problem with the Estatut is that it has already been watered-down -twice.
The Catalan Parliament approved a Estatut on the 30 September 2005 with the four parties voting in favour. The work and effort that went into the original Estatut was a historical event in Catalan politics. Not since 1981 the four main parties (PP does not really count in these matters) had agreed on something so fundamental. People were happy, something everybody (90%) could agree on.
But the Spanish parties and media reacted with a campaign of Catalanophobia (boycotts, Army threats, etc) that scared meek Catalan politicians. This campaign of vitriol against anything Catalan stills lasts –and is the best recruiting tool for the civic platforms.

More and more people, regardless of the language they speak at home, are coming to the conclusion that nothing can be done by trying to change Spain against its will.

I am afraid that you need to catch up with your sources in the PSOE-FSM.
Pepe Borrell, (he was never Josep in Spain) was deposed in a behind-the-scenes coup because their internal polls revealed that he put voters off. And he puts voters off because he was in the previous Gonzalez governments, because his high IQ comes across as patronising, and mostly because he is Catalan=Borrell. It does not matter he is the most unionist of Catalans. Chacón has no chance whatsoever. I bet you a dinner next time you come to Scotland or I go to Madrid or a charity donation.

PP will once again pact with CiU
I am afraid that too many bridges have been burnt. The damage is too big, even for self-serving politicians.
For this pact to occur, one very important development needs to happen:
+ PP needs to accept the language policy, particularly in schools, agreed by the Catalan parliament and stop attacking it via its media.

This, in my view, would be something impossible to swallow for the PP and its nationalist core. It is more likely that CiU will finally split up and UDC will have to either stand on its own feet (and fail) or get itself together with the Catalan PP as they have done in Navarra until recently PP-UPN. The CiU split is more likely than PP and CiU joining forces again in a stable pact.

But even more likely than a CiU split and a PP-CiU coalition is a grand coalition between PSOE and PP –as it has happened in the Basque Country. Because when push comes to shove, when “Spanish unity” is at stake, PP and PSOE get together without any problems. Even in Barcelona Council.

And when/if this happens, the “rollback” on the devolution agenda and the scaling up of Spanish nationalism will be so overwhelming and powerful that it will push more and more normally “centrist” people in Catalonia towards the pro-independence camp.

Rab said...

Sorry I forgot… I don’t particularly disagree with your paragraph on nationalism. And I agree with Lavengro’s comment that there is usually an inverse relationship between number of flags and common sense.

But the problem is that many people in Catalonia are tired of trying to make Spain a federal state. I would bet my pension that if Spain was a federal state blending the best of the UK, Canada, Germany, Belgium and Switzerland, the pro-independence parties would not poll more than 5%. But Spain is not and does not want to become a federal state and thus the same debate of the last 200 years goes on and on and on….

Graeme said...


I always had the impression that the main reason why Borrell was brought down was because there was never any expectation of anyone running against Almunia, never mind winning. The party machine simply didn't want him. As for Chacon we'll have to wait and see - her prospects may depend on the manner of Zapatero's parting.

As for the grand PP-PSOE coalition I don't see it - which is not to say it wouldn't be possible in a German type of situation. The PSOE, Bono and company apart, isn't looking to rollback the autonomias. Nor should you underestimate the concessions the PP will be prepared to make to regain power, especially if it helps them to keep more of their members out of prison! As for CiU the only thing that really interests them is the Generalitat and a trophy to show for donating their support to whoever is prepared to buy it in the national parliament. On the economy they share much common ground with the PP. Still, we'll wait and see - as things stand at the moment it's quite possible that our differing opinions will be tested on this one.

John no name said...

Thank you Graeme, for a characteristically thoughtful and well argued defence of your position. I do disagree with you, although I agree on the key point of debate: For me, what you describe is not in fact a caricature of modern Spain. The Falange may not themselves be a major force, but the forces of "españolismo" are indeed lined up together quite effectively, in particular as seen currently in Euskadi. Indeed, I would argue that the Falange is weak and small for that very reason, much in the way that Margaret Thatcher took the wind from the sails of the National Front in the UK in the 70s and 80s.

While the PP may only (only!) have a 40% share of the vote, it seems that their policies and attitudes on Catalonia are supported and shared almost universally throughout Spain, whatever other political opinions and positions they may hold, whether they are from the left, right or the centre. From my own experience, I can count on one hand the number of Spanish people I have met who truly cherish the linguistic and national diversity of their state and who, for example, support Catalonia's language policies and the teaching of children in Catalan, something which is simply not controversial within Catalonia (of course nothing is ever supported by 100% of the population, I would be scared if that were the case, but it is just not an issue). For the record, I do not make a point of asking everyone I meet for their views on the subject, I am not that boring, honest, but politics does often come up, especially when people know I live in Catalonia..

The very existence and public use of other languages within the state is considered at best as disrespectful and a waste of time and effort, and at worst as treason. The prejudice and ignorance which your excellent blog reveals time and time again are not the representation of some small extreme fringe, but the mainstream attitude within Spain, as I have said, however enlighted the views may be on other topics.

This is more or less manageable in the short term, with a significant level of discomfort all round, but it would surely be better to have a separation that is as amicable as possible, with the rights of those who feel loyalty to Spain being fully respected, creating a new secular republic of Catalonia within the EU?

As for the more general point on flags, yes, I think we can all agree that the fetishisation of any national or other symbol is a thoroughly undesirable thing, but I don't see anybody looking to move to world without flags as simple symbols of entities. There is surely a difference between rallying behind a symbol of a country that does not currently exist, as compared to rallying behind a symbol of, say, an imperial power. Waving a Tibetan flag, for example, should surely not be criticised as brainless reactionary nationalism?

I am not sure why you consider Joan Laporta as having jumped on any bandwagon, I am aware of no evidence that that his views on the independence of Catalonia are not sincerely held, or that they are recently acquired?

Graeme said...


For reasons that will soon be evident this reply is going to be fairly short. Laporta - maybe he has a distinguished political history but he doesn't strike me as being a very principled person and his emergence into the political scene smacks of "now that I'm not going to be president of Barça I need something else".

On the rest I still think the pro-independence point of view overplays the importance of the "national question" to most Spaniards. If all that you say was true then the whole Estatut process could never have happened, because the political price of even a moderate advance in autonomy would have been too great for any Spanish government to assume. As we know, that has not been the case. Spanish politics is not just about nationalism, nor for that matter is Catalan politics - which is also why I think we might still see that PP-Convergencia alliance. To be continued...I've got to go to the airport ;)