Commentary. Independence, whether it is desired or not, is a purely political issue, since it means removing one structure to establish another. It cannot be regulated by the legislation it intends to distance itself from.

Europe and the paradox of independence

The Catalan crisis has set in motion several thorny paradoxes. The government in Madrid now plays the low turnout at the “illegal” polls for the referendum for independence as a political statistic, where it had done all it could to make it a military one. If the consultation had not been carried out among the violence deployed by an occupation force (inevitably perceived by all as such), then the political thermometer could have indicated the actual temperature of Catalonia (probably no secessionist fever).

Now, it cannot be denied that the attitude of the Spanish state toward the Catalans (both for and against independence) has proved to be deaf and repressive. The Bourbon king confirmed it in his speech that actually reconfirms the traditional Catalan Republicanism.

The background of the Catalan issue is the management of police activities, a widespread evil of our time: the abandonment of the political ground in favor of the courts, of the processes and social contradictions in favor of “legality.” The issue is not whether something is right, but only if it is “legal.” It is the triumph of legal formalism, but it was not so hypocritical to fill its mouth with “values” and ethical principles like those that have made the rule of law the rule of state law.

In Spain, the interruption of the process for strengthening provincial autonomy was a political choice of right-wing governments. That has political consequences. Not taking this into consideration means to consider (as the government of Madrid and the monarch do) the referendum as a matter of public order and the institutions that have promoted it or have not made an effort to stop it (the Mossos) a band of thugs. Independence, whether it is desired or not, is a purely political issue, since it means removing one structure to establish another. It cannot be regulated by the legislation it intends to distance itself from.

But if legality is not able to break the knot, the general principle of “self-determination of peoples” does not offer any solution either. It would be difficult to base on this principle a declaration of independence legitimized by the referendum carried out on Oct. 1. The numbers and circumstances would not allow it. Moreover, this is a mischievous and slippery principle, even when it does not represent (as has often happened in history) a shameless fiction manipulated by elites. This is because the subject, the people, is a substantial artifice.

The existence of a “Spanish people” or of a “Catalan people” as unitary entities do not escape the equivocation or the traps of representation. In any case, even those who retain the ultimate faith in the transcendence of the concept of people could never lock it in an electoral majority.

The story, therefore, is the social, cultural and political processes that determine the climate of a territorial community, its memory, common interests, and conflicting dynamics that drive evolution. Republican Catalonia was marked by a fierce repression by Franco and by the overwhelming will of Catalan autonomy over monarchical centralism. Some say that 40 years of democracy is a long enough period to leave something to the past, but others may also think the exact opposite.

And the widespread sentiment circulating in Catalonia these days seems to testify for the latter.

Independence movements are often accused of finding their main motive in economic selfishness, in the desire not to share their resources with the country’s least-favored areas. One cannot deny it, but the weight of this factor is not exactly decisive, because economic recovery after political independence is more uncertain. Some lose, some win. Moreover, there’s a strong call for solidarity in Europe these days; it’s pushed migrants into Libyan prison camps.

Europe then. This, in spite of the bureaucratic formalism behind it, is the context in which the issue of independence and autonomy stands today.

It is no coincidence that in Catalonia, Scotland and Northern Ireland, supporters of independence self-identify as passionately Europeans. If Europe were in fact the federal political entity inspired by the original project, it could well replace national states as a unifying principle and rebalance them, leaving open, broad spaces of territorial self-government. As we all know, the facts are exactly the opposite — that is, a European Union held hostage by states extremely jealous of their own political prerogatives and integrated mostly by the common interests of the economic oligarchies.

Those frustrated with the nation-states certainly won’t rejoice in their multiplication, but this is a further paradox the issue of independence creates, not even to make national unity a fetish to be defended at any cost, even at the price of fierce military repression. But in the face of this necessity to defend Catalonia, any Catalonia would become an inescapable choice.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Your weekly briefing of progressive news.

You have Successfully Subscribed!