Honest constructive dialogue between Barcelona and Madrid needed to resolve Catalan crisis
9 October 2017. PenzaNews. International politicians, experts and observers continue to monitor the situation in Spain, where on October 1, the regional authorities of the autonomous community of Catalonia held a referendum on independence, in which more than 90% of voters supported secession from the kingdom.
Photo: Adolfo Lujan, Flickr.com
According to official data, the turnout was 43.03 percent, but the referendum itself is not recognized by the Spanish authorities and was frozen by the Constitutional Court of the country before it was held.
Nevertheless, on Tuesday, October 10, Catalan parliament meeting is going to be held, where Catalonia's President Carles Puigdemont will speak about the political situation in the autonomous region.
According to some analysts, at this meeting, the parliament may discuss the issue of independence and adopt a corresponding declaration, since the parties favoring independence of Catalonia – the Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) and a coalition called Together for Yes – have a majority.
Commenting on the difficult situation in the country, Bill Durodie, Chair of International Relations, Department of Politics, Languages and International Studies, the University of Bath, suggested that, despite numerous media reports about the unrest, most people in Spain are going about their everyday lives as normal.
“In my opinion the impetus behind the secessionist drive in Catalonia is not a positive one. It is primarily a call to protect the region's economic strengths and privileges from the rest of Spain. It also undermines a democratic constitution supported in 1978 by 90 percent of Catalans as well as the majority of people across the whole of Spain that affirmed ‘the indissolubility of the Spanish people’,” he told PenzaNews.
At the same time he stressed that a new generation of citizens has the right to change their views on the situation and the authorities should be ready for dialogue.
“Of course, people are allowed to change their minds and a generation or more after that founding moment it may be time for discussion and dialogue to debate this. That is where the Spanish authorities have been found the most wanting. Rather than engage their detractors they have preferred to evade them by force when necessary, thereby showing themselves to be anti-democratic,” Bill Durodie explained.
“In that sense they have replicated – if somewhat more violently – the aversion to the Brexit vote displayed by elements of the British elite, as well as the bureaucrats in Brussels. In Spain the state has sought to preclude the expression of popular opinion before it is expressed – in Britain and the EU this has had to take the form of a rear-guard action. But fundamentally, these elements are the same – a shared disregard for the views of their own citizens and an unwillingness, or inability, to debate these,” the expert added.
In his opinion, the solution of this serious issue will only come with debate and dialogue.
“Any continued application of force by the Spanish authorities is likely to drive more of the undecided – who may represent a significant percentage in Catalonia – into the arms of the separatists,” he stressed.
According to him, current events further expose the leaders today as fragile and defensive while willing to use brute force against their own people.
In turn, Matt Qvortrup, Professor of Applied Political Science and International Relations at Coventry University, expert on referendums, author of Referendums on Ethnic Conflict, called the atmosphere in the country calm and quiet.
“People are waiting for what will happen this week. Most people do not support independence. At least not the ones I've spoken to. […] Violence is perhaps exaggerated. No one has died and the Catalan government perhaps exaggerated the figures,” the analyst said.
From his point of view, the main participants in the crisis do not think about the future of Spain.
“Both Madrid and the Catalan government are seeking to please their extremely supporters and are not thinking about the country, let alone a long-term solution. Internationally Rahoy made an own goal but it will have little consequence,” Matt Qvortrup said.
In his opinion, the President of Catalonia might be arrested soon.
“I suspect that the Catalans will not turn out and support him. They do not want to end up like Somaliland or Ngorno-Karabakh,” the expert explained.
Meanwhile, Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, British historian, author of Civilizations and other international bestsellers, Professor of History at Notre Dame University, also said that the results of the last public consultation exercise and recent opinion show that most residents of Catalonia want to remain in Spain.
“The failure of the central government’s strategy for maintaining the rule of law will have shifted opinion against the administration. On the other hand, the gravity of the crisis seems to have made a lot of people intransigent and more inclined to cling to their existing opinions. I also detect despair that the independence faction has scored a propaganda victory to which they have no moral title, as the referendum was a wicked deception, designed to exclude Catalan opponents of the Catalan government from having a voice. The legitimacy of the Catalan government to undertake any radical reforms is weak, as they hold power by virtue of an electoral anomaly, having won fewer votes in the last elections than anti-independence parties,” the analyst said.
The referendum wasn’t even conducted, on the part of its supporters, in line with the conditions of legality they themselves specified – let alone those specified in the Constitution and enunciated by the Constitutional Court, he said.
“The outbreak of violence was mainly the result of two circumstances: in part of a deliberate strategy by members of the two revolutionary parties – CUP and Esquerra – on whom the Catalan government depends, and whose interest is in fomenting violence; and in part of the central government’s foolish strategy in introducing from outside Catalonia police units with an impossible task. If you confront violent mobs with uncomprehending, frustrated police forces the result is predictable,” Felipe Fernandez-Armesto added.
Meanwhile, according to him, the central government and the independence faction do not take any initiative that could help resolve the conflict.
“The former is committed to its own unsuccessful strategies. The latter dare not give up power in Catalonia for fear of persecution for long and cynical corruption, to say nothing of law-breaking in connection with the referendum,” the expert explained.
From his point of view, the current authorities “are evidently unable to deal with the Catalan crisis – the biggest threat to Spanish democracy since [Francisco] Franco.”
“We need new governments in both Barcelona and Madrid, with a mutual commitment to the only principles that can do justice both to the majority of the people and to significant minorities. Firstly, this is the acknowledgement that there is widespread disaffection in Catalonia with the present Spanish constitution and that some modification should be made in acknowledgement of that disaffection; secondly, that any such change needs to debated fairly and to reflect consensus both within Catalonia and in Spain as a whole; thirdly, that it must occur within the law and within the procedures the present constitution allows. Moreover, there is no good reason why a genuine, fair consultation exercise should not be held to establish the true state of opinion in Catalonia and those proposing constitutional changes should not be restrained from expressing their views peacefully,” Felipe Fernandez-Armesto explained.
In turn, Javi Lopez, MEP from Spain, member of the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC), expressed the hope that in the coming days the levels of tension in Spain will de-escalate.
“People in Catalonia are feeling tired, angry, sad and frustrated because of a political conflict that lasts for too long. However, as European citizens, and as public servants, we have to send them a message of hope: dialogue is possible, and it is our responsibility to provide a positive outcome of this process,” the MEP said.
He also sharply condemned the brutal actions of the Spanish police.
“The images of the police charging against peaceful protesters last Sunday are horrifying. It was a mistake, and a bad way of handling the events by the Government of Rajoy,” the politician stressed.
In his opinion, probable declaration of independence at a meeting of the Parliament of Catalonia will be a short-sighted move.
“The intentions of the Government of the Generalitat of pursuing an illegal path through a referendum that violates the Constitution, and perhaps a unilateral declaration of independence that would locate the Catalan institutions in a total disaster, is a political irresponsibility,” Javi Lopez said.
According to him, such high levels of tensions and confrontation between two deaf governments make the situation unsustainable.
“The authorities need to take a step back, rethink about their intentions, and sit to talk in an honest dialogue. Only through a sincere and honest dialogue, we can achieve a solution to this political problem and move forward to a better relationship between Catalonia and the rest of Spain. Whatever happens in the future must not be outside the rule of law and the Constitution, and we need to seek a new agreement that reinforces our undeniable ties. In my opinion, the best solution would be a constitutional reform that reflects Spain’s multinational character and in which Spain crystallizes in a full federal state,” member of the Catalan Socialist Party concluded.