On the Catalan Referendum & Independent States


With an independence referendum scheduled in Catalonia for October 1, Europe might be seeing the emergence of a new state in the immediate future, and a major redrawing of its political map, if indeed the Catalonian precedent causes a chain reaction in other states. Or it could all boil down to yet another attempt to wrangle more power from Madrid. Whatever happens in Catalonia, the expert consensus is that it will have far-reaching consequences. GEORGIA TODAY and Panorama TV Show asked Israel Peralta, a Catalan journalist living in Tbilisi, to elaborate on current proceedings in his homeland.

What is Catalonia’s claim for independence built on?

It’s the result of many years of struggle and misunderstanding between the central Spanish and Catalan governments. In Catalonia, there is a desire for more autonomy and to have more competences, more powers. And this plea has not been heard by the central government.

Western press reporting on this calls your government a separatist one. What’s the line between separatism and self-determination?

That’s always a tricky question. I believe that a State should be based on an agreement between different parties and different groups and these agreements need constant renovation. As for the line between them... Well, self-determination might be something that could be agreed on between the community and the ruling power. And separatism might be more like a unilateral move.

How good is the Catalan claim to being a nation with a statehood?

If you’d asked a few years ago, I’d probably have said it was not viable, that it was probably not necessary. But recent years really shaped a new reality between the Spanish state and people in Catalonia, around 47% of whom are now pro-independent. They believe in this, otherwise they would not support the cause.

Is this a revival of historical justice? Is Catalonia really a different nation?

Well, that depends on who you ask. There are different narratives. The Spanish narrative, at least part of it, is very much focused on the idea of one single nation and does not seem to be willing to acknowledge that there are many diverse nationalities within the country. For the Catalans, it is partly enacting justice: there’s a feeling among Catalans that it would be a good opportunity for revival, to get back what was taken historically.

Can the Catalan government reach an agreement with Spain? The Constitutional Court banned the referendum, Mariano Rajoy’s government and the royal family stand against it…

Good question. We witnessed a lot of escalation this month. Police forces have been sent all round Spain just to stop the referendum. Rajoy’s central government is a right-wing, conservative, nationalist party with a very low level of sensitivity towards the different regions and different claims. I’d say with this government, at this moment, it would be really very difficult to achieve anything.

It’s a painful topic in Georgia, considering that we have our own breakaway regions. Considering where you come from and your views, what’s your take on Georgia’s conflicts?

Unfortunately, I haven’t lived here long enough to learn much about it, but I have a lot of friends from [the occupied territories] struggling because they lost their homes. That’s the most relevant issue for me. For me, these movements and situations are very different and we cannot compare them because there is no will for violence at all in Catalonia.

Yet Abkhazians and South Ossetians did want the same as Catalans now want, their “independence”

I’d still separate the topics because the main desire in Catalonia is to have a referendum. We want to agree with the central government on a democratic procedure asking the Catalan people what they want, using a democratic tool in agreement with the central government. I understand that at the first glance it might seem similar, but it isn’t.

What would the consequences be of Catalan statehood? Redrawing the map of Europe?

I think that a modern State should have democratic mechanisms to fulfill the needs of all its citizens. And we, Catalans, are Spanish citizens and there is the need in Catalan society to express ourselves. States should learn to appreciate and integrate different sensitivities and find mechanisms, not necessarily separation, but mechanisms where each group can feel comfortable.

Would it be good for Europe to have on its map an independent Catalan state?

We can’t say now as there is no concrete outcome foreseen. If it was agreed to create a new State, following the rules, I don’t see why it would be a problem.

Other regions also seek independence…Who might be next? The Basques? Scottish? Bavarians? Belgium, perhaps?

At the moment, this is just fantasy: no other movement in Europe has mobilized more than 1 million people at a rally.

Are Catalans setting a precedent for that?

It hasn’t happened yet. I think this is a narrative based on fear and I don’t see it as a threat for most states. If the states do their jobs well and include the various needs and realities of the country, such won’t happen. It wasn’t like this in Spain 10 years ago: there’s a reason it flared up now.

Could Catalonia function as an independent state economically and politically?

It’s quite clear that if independence is declared unilaterally, the EU would not accept that new State if it was not agreed with the central government. Therefore, it will stay out of the EU. Junker was very clear about this. Catalonia would have to go through procedures for joining the EU but the Spanish government can block it at every turn. Economically, there is also no answer. There are many different angles, depending on who you ask. So, that’s very uncertain as well. Also, I would like to highlight different sensitivities within both the Catalan and Spanish territories. There is a government in Madrid which says no to the referendum but there are political parties which say yes, that it’s the right of the people. And I’m talking about parties which represent millions of people.

Ultimately, do Catalans want more benefits and functions inside a unified Spain or just independence?

Again, there are different sensitivities you might find in Catalan society that come into play. In 2003, a mere 15 years ago, there was 16% support for independence and agreement with the Spanish central government to create a new constitution for Catalonia. Autonomies in Spain have the right to create their own constitutions. In 2010, the Court decided to cancel the creation of a Catalan constitution which had been approved in referendum as well as by the Spanish parliament. So there was an agreement but it was broken by the Spanish court. That’s the trigger that made many people change their minds and start supporting the independence movement. This is very crucial to understand: an agreement was broken.

If Catalans say yes to independence and Madrid says no, will there be any violence or will the parties go to the negotiation table?

I hope there can be negotiation. I don’t know in which form or with which terms. There are a lot of people in Spanish and Catalan society that are for understanding. I’d say in Catalonia, that part of society is in majority and in Spain at least half.

How far are Catalans willing to go to defend their independence if the referendum says yes?

No idea. I hope, like many Catalans, that we can find an agreement which is not a submission but is something constructive for both sides. But I’m sure that the Catalan people who have proven to be non-violent and peaceful will remain so.

You’ll be in Catalonia on October 1. Will you be voting in the referendum?

I haven’t decided yet.

Vazha Tavberidze

28 September 2017 17:26