Originally published in VilaWeb on December 19, 2013
By Bel Zaballa
Interview of the sociologist and member of the National Transition Advisory Council, who explained the surge of pro-independence feeling this way "Becoming conscious of our humiliation uncovered our support for independence"
Not that long ago, independentism was a ridiculed, minority movement. It was impossible to imagine hundreds of city governments defying legality and holding a referendum, hundreds of thousands of citizens demanding independence in the center of Barcelona, or more than a million and a half people holding hands over 250 miles, with the same objective. The growing strength of independentism has pressured the principal political parties to commit to making a referendum possible so that the citizenry can have its say, and according to the latest polls, a large majority would vote in favor of independence. What triggered this popular movement? The sociologist Salvador Cardús, member of the National Transition Advisory Council [a group chosen by Catalan President Mas to advise the government on such matters] has developed a theory and it is his contention that the humiliation that Spain has subjected the Catalans to with respect to the defeat of efforts to improve the Statute of Autonomy was a catalyst of the pro-independence movement. We'll talk about this in detail in this interview, in which we'll also evaluate the chosen question for the referendum as well as what might happen in the coming months.
Cardús reflected on his humiliation theory: "In order for such a significant change to have transcurred in our country like there's been, there must be some new factor that precipitates such a change of direction. And the new element is that on top of the defeat represented by the failure to reform the Statute of Autonomy, there was an extra antagonism demonstrated by certain Spanish leaders, that afterwards, began to spread in the media and in more generalized attitudes. They wanted to add humiliation to the defeat that the reform of the Statute represented."
Can you give us an example of the humiliation that you're referring to?
One famous and visible example was in April, 2006, when Alfonso Guerra [prominent Spanish Socialist party leader] sneered about whittling down the Statute and destroying the Ibarretxe Plan [Basque initiative to hold a referendum]. It not only underscored the fact that the Statute had suffered significant cuts, but, in addition, demonstrated antagonism and scorn about the defeat. That was one of the first in a string of statements, along with the campaign carried out by the PP [People's Party]. Finally, and surely more harshly given its power over the matter, there was the attitude of the Constitutional Court and its final ruling in 2006. Above all, it was the way everything came about. There was this overbearing attitude that provoked a different reaction than that which they expected: This time, instead of achieving compliance, without meaning to, they brought about just the opposite.
Hasn't this demeaning attitude always been present?
There have been aggressive and scornful statements in the past, but I think they crossed the line from scorn to humiliation. It wasn't just scorn but the desire to take advantage of a very significant defeat. Because we can't forget that reforming the Statute was an effort shared by a wide majority of the political parties, and thus, by the Catalan people. There were very high hopes which made the defeat even more painful. There were huge tensions in Catalonia itself, you just have to remember the campaign for reforming the Statute that was extremely difficult even among pro-sovereigntists: some believed they had to vote in favor because otherwise the country would enter a profound depression and others said no because the Statute, in the end, was unacceptable. And think for a minute about the way the principal protagonists ended up: Pasqual Maragall [Socialist President of the Catalan Government] didn't even finish his legislature and ended up out of the party, deligitimized and betrayed by his own partners in Madrid; Artur Mas had his secret meeting with Zapatero [Spanish PM at the time] which was humiliating both in the way it occurred and for its consequences which he paid for politically for a long time; and Josep-Lluís Carod-Rivera [Republican Left] who also ended up outside the party and practically out of politics altogether. That is, there was humiliation at all levels: among the leaders who undertook the reform and in the community who had made a commitment to its support.
According to your hypothesis, people became conscious of this humiliation through the popularization of the right to decide.
Faced with other episodes of more or less intensity of acts of humiliation or scorn, in Catalonia, we were used to reacting as victims. We accepted the defeat, and in general we blamed ourselves for not doing things properly, and we accepted the situation with resignation. What is new is that this time the reaction was different: the decision was to turn the page. The idea of the right to decide was probably very helpful, and helped us realize that we didn't have to accept the humiliation. It was present in all of the public events, in which all of a sudden independentism stopped manifesting as crabbiness—that which Enric Juliana [journalist for La Vanguardia] had termed the 'angry Catalan'—and you started finding, from about 2007-2008 on, new kinds of participants. People who had the feeling of having a weight lifted off their shoulders and who had turned the page. I always say that one of the things that really made me realize that something was going on was when more older people and younger people, and especially women, started appearing at those events. That had not happened before.
Why was it different this time?
It was the realization that people had come to. It's a bit of a simplification, but to make an analogy, it's the same thing that happens in a personal relationship, where one of the people is grinning and bearing it or putting up with a humiliating situation, and can even end up internalizing the idea that they deserve it, until one fine day when they realize that they don't have to take it any longer. And the principle of the right to decide, believing that we have the right to make our own decisions, is what leads to this realization. There has been humiliation, but that on its own doesn't explain the reaction. The reaction comes from the realization that we have a right to get out of this situation. I always remember Joan Solà's article—that in my opinion was decisive—"Holding our ground", published on December 28, 2006 in the daily Avui, and which was the reply to the decision of the Spanish government to require an additional hour of Spanish language instruction in the schools, after all of the debate that there had been about the Statute and jurisdiction. That "hold our ground" was like saying 'this is it, it's over, this is the straw that breaks the camel's back, we're not going to take it any longer'. The idea of the right to decide took a strong hold, even though legally it might have been a weak principle, because from the point of view of coming to terms with our situation it has amazing, revolutionizing consequences.
If the humiliation surrounding the failure of statute reform was the straw that broke the camel's back in Catalonia, might the attacks on language and the scorn for the local culture be the tipping point in Valencia and the Balearics?
There is a certain parallel, but we'll have to see how the process evolves. The reaction is produced when there's a spark that galvanizes public mobilization. In the Balearics that spark has been the attacks on language, and it might be the beginning of a reaction that lasts longer. In Valencia, the closing of RTVV [public TV and radio] is another of those behaviors that we mentioned, going overboard with a component of humiliation, of a feeling of failure and their taking advantage of that failure, and it might generate far reaching reactions. We'll have to see. Here nobody thought that those first demonstrations that manifested growing discontent with the trains, electric cutoffs, or the debate about the Statute would end up as they have. And it's there where you find the origin, the seed of everything that came later. Everything will depend on the point in which the Balearics and Valencia know how to generate a movement similar to that which took place here, especially around the local referendums for independence [2009-2011] which from a symbolic perspective were the public manifestation of this realization. The ability to say "And what happens if we vote for independence? Oh, it'll be fine."
We've had popular referendums, the National Day demonstration of 2012, the Catalan Way... A snow ball in favor of independence that is growing at the speed of light, and now we have a date and a question. It's not what the Advisory Council had proposed, however.
The Advisory Council (CATN) said there was a question—the clearest one—that was less apt to be misinterpreted, both by those who had to answer it as well as for the consequences that it might have, although the report also suggested other alternatives, like for example multiple-branched questions. But the CATN is a group of experts who work in a laboratory. And it is the politicians who put on their mechanic's overalls and get dirty, because they have to get into the fray. They have to make agreements, do politics. In that sense, I don't think the CATN thought that the politicians had to pay attention to us in the literal sense. The advice that we give serves as an orientation but afterwards, it all has to be hashed out in Parliament. That's where the interests and balances are, and that's what leads to reaching agreements that are not expert, but rather, political. It's not the question I might have liked but I understand that it is a good one because it succeeds in being representative of a very important majority of the Parliament, almost two-thirds. Maybe in the end, it will be a full two-thirds. In that sense, personally, I think it's a very good question. Now we have to work out the rules of the game so that there isn't this chaotic cloud of interpretations about how the results will be calculated and interpreted. I understand that it wasn't convenient to add that debate to the first agreement, but now it is necessary to consider all of the concrete difficulties. I am confident that, if it's true that a majority of Catalans want independence, this question is perfectly capable of reflecting that. And if that majority doesn't exist, since we are democrats, we will accept the result sportingly that the majority wasn't there or that we were unable to garner a majority.
Now that we have this agreement, what scenarios open before us?
What's easy to see is that in a strictly political terrain, the tension will rise and stay very high. The fact is that the State and its institutions are ever more openly defiant, trying to respond by provoking fear and threats to that which is happening here. On the one hand, Catalonia will have to demonstrate its capacity to make good decisions and not commit mistakes that from an international point of view would disqualify us. And on the other hand, the pro-independence world as a whole will have to adopt an attitude of resistance to avoid being demoralized or turned back. We have to be able not only to resist in the sense of holding on, but also of maintaining our belief that we will win. A battle is beginning that will not lead to a head on collision but which is a battle of resistance. The one who holds on better without committing any errors, or who makes the fewest errors, is who will win this conflict.
Do you think the Spanish government will end up giving in or that it's disposed to negotiate?
For that to happen, they will probably first have to make a mistake, which will cause the international community to force it to open negotiations.
What kind of mistake?
For example, suspending elections. Or by using force to stop the referendum—like if the Guardia Civil took away the ballot boxes. They may make an error of this kind that shakes up the democratic conscience of our political surroundings. There are difficult lines to cross without creating or provoking a negative reaction from an international point of view.
Will the referendum take place?
I hope so. The commitment to hold it is solid. There is a very important factor, which is the date chosen to hold the referendum, a date that allows enough time to have an adequate electoral campaign, that does not take place in August. The decision was taken with the understanding that the referendum will be held. At the speed at which political changes are happening, eleven months allow for a lot. There is time for a lot to happen. There is room for mistakes, corrections, dialogue, tolerance for holding the referendum. There is time for anything to happen. if in the end the referendum is not held, it will have to be not because we didn't want to hold it, but because there has been some major obstacle. But the doubt about whether we hold the referendum almost has the power to sabotage the possibility of holding it. For me, unless it is prohibited or blocked, we must have a referendum.
Even if the Spanish Government doesn't allow it? In that case, we'll base it on Catalan law?
It must be held according to democratic law, which can come from the Parliament of Catalonia. And what would be good for Spain to do, is that, even if it doesn't want to give its blessing, at the very least, just let it be held, ignore it and let it happen.
One way of not allowing it would be to bring the referendum law before the Constitutional Court. What should be the reaction to that scenario?
In situations like this, you can't know what the next step to take should be before you know what the opponent will do. A political war is not decided by you, it takes place on the ground, and here there has to be political astuteness capable of reacting and controlling the timing, and maintaining flexibility. You can set an ultimate objective, but the way you'll get there depends on the decisions you'll have to make on the ground, according to the positions taken by your adversary, and your own strengths. Because this doesn't depend only on the opponents but also on what we Catalans do. If we blink too soon, there won't be a referendum. But it won't be because of the opponent but because we haven't had the ability to hold on to the finish line. I don't dare say at this point what will be necessary to do in two months because I don't even know what the sitution will be like in January.
At any rate, there's already the idea of holding elections if the Spanish government blocks the referendum.
It's a possible solution, but it's too early to count on a Plan B before having exhausted all the possibilities of holding a referendum. Speculation on not having a referendum is legitimate; from a critical and analytical point of view, it has to be done and those who govern must think about it, but from the point of view of the political conflict before us, it's an alternative that for now should not be considered. I have my sights set only on the referendum. Now that we have a date and a quesion, we must put all our energy into achieving this goal. It's too early to begin to speculate about what we'll do if we don't hold a referendum because that weakens the conviction that we need to bring to the battle to hold one.