Mossos d’Esquadra officers (Catalan Regional Police) stand guard as Spanish Unionist protesters rally in front of Civil Guard headquarters in Barcelona, Spain [Albert Gea/Reuters]
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Catalonia is experiencing tense and uncertain times. In the last month, the regional government – made up of a coalition of nationalist parties called Junts pel Si (Together for yes) and supported in the regional parliament by an anti-establishment and Eurosceptic party (the Popular Unity Candidacy, CUP) – has decided to press ahead with its separatist project at all costs. Its ambition is not only in violation of the Spanish constitution and the Catalan autonomy statute, but does not even have the support of the majority of Catalans.
The nationalists’ razor-thin parliamentary majority in the Catalan Parliament does not mean that separatists have won the popular vote in the region. Rather, their majority is the result of an electoral law based on corrected proportional representation that benefits the least populated provinces (the vote of a citizen of the province of Lleida or Girona, for example, is worth double that of one in the province of Barcelona, by far the most populated province).
However, the Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, is prepared to secede on the basis of the most recent regional elections in 2015, in which separatist parties only won 47.8 percent of the vote, and an attempted referendum held on October 1, despite being suspended by the Constitutional Court, with no democratic guarantees, no existing law and no electoral authority to validate the results. It goes without saying that this pseudo-referendum also did not meet any of the main requirements set by the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe (pdf), which sets the standards for referendums taking place in Europe.
With 37.8 percent of the electorate voting “yes” (only 42 percent of registered voters participated in the referendum and 90 percent of those voted “yes”, according to the questionable results provided by the regional government itself) on October 10, Puigdemont appeared before the Catalan Parliament and made an illusory proclamation of independence. However, he immediately suspended its effects, demanding that the Spanish government accept international mediation to find a solution to the “conflict” as though, instead of an internal matter that should be addressed within the framework of the Spanish constitution, it were a dispute between two sovereign states or a struggle as bitter as Colombia’s with the FARC guerrillas.
The mere suggestion of international mediation is offensive because Catalonia is not a colony, but one of the most affluent regions of Spain, which enjoys the highest quality of life in the country and in Europe. It is also one of the regions that enjoys the greatest level of self-government in the world. The former prime minister of France, Manuel Valls, who is of Catalan descent, pointed this out recently. “Catalonia has regional powers unthinkable in France,” Valls said. “There is genuine autonomy that is respected by Spain.”
For example, the only medium of instruction in schools in Catalonia is Catalan, whereas Spanish is taught for only two hours a week. As a result, Catalonia has the dubious honour of being the only place in the Western world where the majority of the population do not even have the option of enrolling their children in schools that teach in their native language, Spanish. This high level of self-government was apparent when the Catalan regional police (Mossos d’Esquadra) took charge of the investigation into the terrorist attack that took place in Barcelona on August 17.
Valls adds that “the Spanish Constitution of 1978 is one of the most democratic in the world” and that “Catalans are not an oppressed people.” His words may seem obvious to anyone somewhat familiar with the reality in Catalonia and Spain, but the Puigdemont government has launched a global campaign to discredit Spanish democracy and to convince the international community that Catalans are oppressed by an authoritarian state that systematically violates human rights. It makes no difference that according to The Economist’s global Democracy Index, Spain is once again among the “full democracies“, above countries such as the United States, Italy, Japan, Belgium and France, among others.
Constitutional order must be restored in Catalonia as soon as possible.
This international operation runs parallel to another long-standing agitation and propaganda campaign carried out by the regional government for years on Catalan public radio and television, where it systematically stirs up confrontation with the rest of Spain and tries to convey the perverse idea that Spain is not a full democracy.
The image of a presenter on public television (which all Catalans pay for with taxes) burning a copy the Spanish constitution live on air is the quintessence of the hate speech peddled with impunity by the Catalan public media. It is not that they have a pro-government bias, but that they make up news stories and hide the truth of the consequences of secession from the citizens of Catalonia. Some of them are now starting to see through Puigdemont’s obfuscation, who intends to go all the way in his defiance of our democratic state and the rule of law.
More than 1000 companies (including the two biggest financial institutions in Catalonia, Sabadell and CaixaBank) have in the last month moved their headquarters from Catalonia to other regions of Spain, despite the former Catalan President Artur Mas saying in 2015 that this would “never happen”.
They also insist that secession would not result in Catalonia leaving the European Union, even though the European Commission and the main heads of state and government of the EU have made this crystal clear. Despite the obvious rifts in their separatist project, the Catalan public media, like the orchestra on the Titanic, continue to play the music given to them by the populist regional government which, realising that it could not achieve a united Catalonia, has chosen to divide it rather than give up on its objective. Catalans do not deserve this irresponsibility.
Constitutional order must be restored in Catalonia as soon as possible. To this end, the Spanish government, faced with Puigdemont’s repeated refusal to return to the path of democratic legality, has decided to invoke Article 155 of the 1978 Constitution. This is a provision (present in the constitutions of other countries such as Germany, Austria and Italy) by which the government orders an autonomous community to comply with the Constitution and the law, and allows it to take the “necessary measures” to this end.
Yet, it needs to be noted that with the application of the Article 155, Catalonia’s autonomy is not suspended, as some people say. On the contrary, those who are putting at risk Catalonia’s autonomy are the separatists placing themselves outside the law. With the invocation of the Article 155, precisely, this autonomy the separatists have damaged with their decisions and actions against the Constitution and the statue of autonomy of Catalonia is being recovered.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.