Of late, sophistry has taken hold: Catalan separatists are everywhere lauded, with Spain characterised as a repressive state that has yet to abandon its Francoist past. A nation that could be counted amongst Europe’s oldest is derided by internal traitors and external agitators; these figures see no value in it, instead pushing for its dismantlement under the familiar slogans of self-determination and the dret a decidir.
In pursuit of their long-awaited separation from l’Estat espanyol, the nationalist movement has sought to usurp la Diada (11 September), turning the commemoration of a royalist, pro-Habsburg capitulation into the baptismal date of an oppressive and ever-centralising Spanish state inherently hostile to Catalan culture, language, and interests.
These allegations are, for the most part, unfounded: Madrid’s suppression of the Catalan language is grossly exaggerated, with the Gallophilic abolishment of foral (fueros-derived) institutions being the most unpalatable. Separatism in the Principality relies on a regional particularism that has been fomented since the Spanish Transition, which produced the 1978 Constitution and the current system of taifa-like autonomous communities; this particularism, in turn, subsists off mythological events of ‘repression’. Since a farcical historiography is not, to their dismay, sufficient to justify Spain’s dissolution, a legal justification, however tenuous, has had to be sought in the form of the right to self-determination established in the UN Charter.
Junqueras, Puigdemont, and Mas have continuously accused Spain of being undemocratic for denying their ‘right’ to a referendum ― for denying, indeed, Catalans’ right to decide their future. But whence does the erroneous concept of an unqualified right to self-determination (and, therefore, secession) come? It’s sophistry, an impertinent falsehood upheld domestically by no state. The view is clear from the European paragons of liberal democracy: Estonia (Article 2), France (Article 89), and Norway (Article 1) all declare their countries indivisible in their respective constitutions; Germany, in Article 21 of its Basic Law, further declares unconstitutional those political parties that ‘endanger the existence of the Federal Republic’.
Even in the Alpine Athens of Switzerland, Article 53 of the Federal Constitution, whilst permitting the division of cantons, requires the consent of all ‘cantons concerned’, as well as that of the federal legislature in Bern. Were we to respect democratic principles, which we don’t, the entirety of Spain would have to vote on Catalonia’s independence, as the Swiss did on the occasion of Jura’s separation from the Canton of Bern.
It is not unusual for states to accept further limitations on the right to self-determination. Spain, as has been established, is not alone in providing for these. Further examples are to be found in the United Kingdom and Canada, which, incidentally, have both allowed independence referendums in the past. London, for example, accepts that Gibraltar’s rights are not absolute; since Spain, by virtue of the Treaty of Utrecht, retains the right of first refusal, the disputed territory cannot be incorporated into the UK or be declared independent without Spain having first refused the opportunity to re-acquire the land. Canada’s Supreme Court, in its Reference re Secession of Quebec (1998), says: ‘A state whose government represents the whole of the people or peoples resident within its territory, on a basis of equality and without discrimination, and respects the principles of self-determination in its own internal arrangements, is entitled to the protection under international law of its territorial integrity.’ So much for an unconditional right.
Why, then, is Spain regarded as a tyrannical, barely European state? Why is France not treated in the same manner, when the Revolution decimated Occitan and Breton, whilst minority languages remain vibrant to the south of Pyrenees? Spain declares its indivisibility, yet it permits thoroughly anti-Spanish demands for independence in the newspapers and television stations, in the streets and public places, in academe and legislative assemblies.
These examples from Europe and North America serve to prove one thing: the right to self-determination, as established in the UN Charter, amounts to little more than an amorphous, unenforceable concept of ill-defined duties to which states assign the expected hollow words, especially when speaking of crises abroad in which they have no skin in the game. Global organisms have long since been of the opinion that ‘international law, as it currently stands, does not spell out all the implications of the right to self-determination’. Indeed, jurists Daniel Thürer and Thomas Burri warn us against the undue attachment of particulars to the text of the Charter, saying that
[i]n trying to assess the legal significance of these provisions, it should not be assumed that the concept of self-determination became a legally binding principle of conventional international law by the mere fact of its incorporation into the UN Charter. Although the provisions concerning non-self-governing and trust territories entail binding international obligations, the general principles of self-determination and of equal rights of peoples, which in the formula used by the UN Charter appear to be two component elements of the same concept, seem to be too vague and also too complex to entail specific rights and obligations.
The Generalitat’s legal arguments having been dismissed as laughable, it is now appropriate to speak of the other arguments employed ― namely, that (a) the Constitutional Court’s 2010 ruling on the Estatutbroke the ‘constitutional pact’ of 1978; (b) Catalonia is a historical nation with a sovereign tradition that was suppressed only militarily; and (c) Spain acts not as a protector and guarantor of Catalan interests, but as an economic and fiscal weight.
Let us listen to Òmnium Cultural’s president, Jordi Cuixart, who says: ‘The one who has broken the constitutional pact is the [Spanish] state.’ But the Constitution, if one is to be forced to defend it, is no juridical pact to be broken on a whim; it proclaims, in its Preliminary Part, the ‘indissoluble unity of the Spanish Nation, the common and indivisible homeland of all Spaniards’, which neither the British nor Canadian ‘constitutions’ do for their respective countries. Spain was not established by treaty or accord, and it has never been a confederation.
The next, and perhaps more prominent, claim is that of a historical statehood annihilated by Castile, conceived as the perennial enemy of the Catalan people. Let us be clear: Catalonia, throughout history, has been independent only for a week. This was ‘achieved’ in 1641, under the cleric Pau Claris. Barcelona was on several occasions the capital of the Visigothic Kingdom, the first Spanish state: Ataulf died in the Ciutat Comtal, and it was here that Gesalec established his capital and met his defeat at the Ostrogoths’ hands. Even in this mediæval state, the Catalan territories were conceived as entirely Hispanic: Catalan bishops were present at the councils of Toledo, which would spur Spain’s religious unification following the legal one conducted under Liuvigild. Indeed, St Isidore of Seville, in his Historia de regibus Gothorum, Vandalorum et Suevorum, speaks of the Visigothic kings thinking of Hispania (or, as they preferred, Spania) as a unit, with Suintila being monarch of totius Spaniæ.
The existence of the Spanish March has been identified as responsible for a Catalan ethnogenesis more Carolingian than Iberian in outlook, but this is a difficult hypothesis to defend. The much-valued Visigothic Code, for example, was kept in the March, too ― and often with more zeal than in Castile. Ultimately, Hugh Capet’s failure to march south against Almanzor would lead the eschewing of the counties’ trans-Pyrenean links, with Ramon Berenguer IV securing the union with Aragon, although this he did not do before recognising the Castilian Alfonso VII as Imperator totius Hispaniæ. It is thus obvious that the counts recognised Peninsular authorities above them and sought to forge unions within Iberia.
The union with Aragon, in definite, delivered Catalonia from the extraneous Capetian (French) hold. It was left a principality under one of Spain’s sister-kingdoms. The historian Vicens i Vives, in this sense, speaks of a Spanish ‘pluralism that never excluded the consciousness of a unity of conduct in Hispanic affairs’, which stands markedly opposed to the modern nationalist sophistry of a Catalonia eternally against Spain; later on, in his Notícia de Catalunya, he would also speak of a Catalonia that did not deny Castile ‘its laurels’. Only an intensification in this Hispanic consciousness could be observed after the Compromise of Caspe, leading Menéndez Pidal to speak of a people ‘penetrated by their unified Hispanic destiny’. This, of course, would culminate in the union of 1469 ― not the first Spanish state, as Sánchez Albornoz would have to to remind Castro.
The week-long state would come with the Catalan Revolt. It arose, in essence, due to the animosity between the viceroy and the Catalan élite, along with the levies and commercial difficulties imposed by the Franco-Spanish War (1635–59). It would end catastrophically: Catalonia lost Roussillon and Higher Cerdanya. Separatist historiography has sought to mythologise the so-called ‘Bloody Corpus’, when, as Henry Kamen writes, it was nought but a lawless week of both Catalan and Castilian casualties. We will not be reminded of this when listening to the modern Els segadors, but the original spoke of el Rei, nostre senyor.
The next mythologised event is the War of Spanish Succession ― a dynastic conflict more than a national one. Rafael Casanova is one of the mythologised anti-Spanish titans, but he was the one who, on 11 September 1714 (today’s Diada), issued a proclamation reading: ‘Given the deplorable unhappiness of this city, where the freedom of the whole Principality and of all Spain now resides, all [men] shall, as true children of the Fatherland, lovers of freedom, go to the places indicated, in order to gloriously spill their blood and life for their King, for their honour, for the Fatherland, and for the freedom of all Spain.’ The Nova Planta decrees thus came from a king deemed illegitimate; they were Bourbon punishment for siding with the House of Austria, and they do not excuse an anachronistic longing for independence where there was no such thing. This sentiment of profoundly Spanish, not separatist, legitimism would remain in Catalonia, which was quick to embrace the Carlist cause lauded in traditionalist circles.
The supposed repression of the Catalan language is undoubtedly the most well-known and most cited of the nationalists’ dubious claims. It is undeniable that an air of hostility to the Catalan language existed immediately after the Civil War; this is understandable in view of the profoundly injurious anti-national propaganda of certain Catalan political factions. But it the sentiment was quickly reined in: preaching in Catalan was soon allowed, and in 1944, university Romance philology courses were made to teach Catalan philology. In 1946, Vicente García de Diego published the Spanish Dialectology Manual; in 1950, Catalan, Hispanic Tongue. Co-official status, not private or cultural use, was denied; Catalan remained in literature, in the home, and in popular music. The era even saw the establishment of numerous literary prizes, with the Sant Jordi de novel·la (1947), Lletra d’Or(1956), and Prudenci Bertrana (1968) prizes being amongst the most prominent. Remarkably, on 30 March 1969, one finds the Supreme Court confirming Destino editor Néstor Luján Fernández’s eight-month sentence and 10,000-peseta fine for allowing the publication of a letter to the editor deemed ‘offensive’ to the Catalan language, ‘whose private and social use is respected and guaranteed’. Why is Catalonia, and not Brittany, the most recent cause célèbre?
Note: Destino, Luján’s magazine, was established by Catalan falangists, showing that Catalonia’s position during the Civil War needn’t be simplified; it was not exclusively republican. Readers may find enjoyment in the history of the Catalan Terç de Requetès de Montserrat.
There is evidently more substance to the claim of a Catalan cultural identity: Catalonia has a language of its own, customs of its own ― hell, a cuisine of its own. But, as the separatist culture conseller Santi Vila has confessed, la cultura catalana serà sempre espanyolíssima. Treating the subject, even if only very briefly, one finds this to be true: Catalonia’s particularities do not negate its Hispanicity, much in the same way Lleida remains Catalan despite the particularities of its dialect. Spanish culture draws from Ausiàs March, Joanot Martorell, and Ramon Llull. Relatively recently, the Renaixença was imbued with a virulent Hispanism that was subsidiarily Catalanist; Verdaguer, known for L’Atlàntida, immediately comes to mind with his ode to the Atlantic and the Americas, but an oft-neglected example is to be found in the deluge of Catalan-language patriotic literature on the eve of the African War. Catalan volunteers (immortalised by Gerónimo Giménez in his ‘March of the Volunteers’) were made into Almogovars; Prim, into Roger de Flor. Writers like Pla, d’Ors, and Martí de Riquer prove the sentiment remained even afterwards and did not merely disappear with the Disaster of 1898.
The final argument ― and one that has convinced otherwise ambivalent Catalans, since la pela és la pela ― is found in the regional fiscal deficit, described in some separatist circles, although admittedly criticised by others, in three words: Espanya ens roba. Upon close analysis, however, one will soon realise that Catalonia, in terms of per capita financing, is treated like the average non-foral autonomous community; it receives, in any case, more funding than Valencia, Andalusia, Murcia, and the Balearic Islands. José Luis Feito, head of the CEOE’s Economics Commission and of the Instituto de Estudios Económicos, also mentions the Regional Liquidity Fund (FLA) established to deal with the Great Recession. Under it, Catalonia was accorded 40.05 per cent of the €16.41 billion made available in 2012, and it took home 43.7 per cent, or €23.37 billion, in 2013. Both numbers are far higher than Catalonia’s entitlement by GDP share.
Madrid has also allowed Barcelona certain exceptions and exemptions. When autonomous communities make use of the FLA, they are typically required to make administrative adjustments, with a deficit cut being amongst the standard requirements; but in 2012, Catalonia registered a deficit of over 2 per cent, when 1.5 per cent was the target, and in 2013, it registered one of 1.58 per cent, when most regions were required to set under 1.3 per cent.
Oft-neglected is the subject of Catalan trade with the rest of Spain, but needless to say, the region’s business sector would suffer immensely. More Catalan goods are sold to the Cantabria, in the country’s northeast, than are exported to America; more Catalan goods are sold in neighbouring Aragon than are exported to neighbouring France; and more Catalan goods are sold to Community of Madrid than are exported to Great Britain. Catalonia has an internal trade surplus of €18 billion, coupled with an external deficit of €12.68 billion. Trade barriers are evidently not the reason for this, since European integration has done away with this; Southern France, devoid of any commercial barriers, is geographically closer than Madrid, but this does not seem to matter. Unity is essential to the Catalan economy. This serves to combat the narrative of a the ‘day after [independence]’ representing the start of a economic golden age; a considerable contraction would occur, followed by a period of necessary adaptation ― or reconsideration.
There is but one claim: the cretinous, impertinent particularism engendered in the past 30 years by a regional government with full control over the realms of education, media, and culture. Nether history nor taxes, and neither national nor international law, would serve to legitimise the awaited Catalan state. The Catalan Republic would be born of caprice and illegitimacy.
Let us not chant a visca Catalunya lliure, for the traitors have no knowledge of the order inherent to liberty; let us instead hope for a profoundly Hispanic Catalunya tradicionalista, catòlica i foral ― a Catalonia that stands as a baluard de catalanitat i, per tant, de hispanitat.