The Parliament of Catalunya passed legislation on November 9th, 2015, declaring its intention to start a process that will lead this Spanish Autonomous Community to political independence from Spain. The close vote (72 in favor, 63 against) follows the elections on September 27th, in which the independent vote won the majority of seats in the Parliament. The document states that the decisions of the Spanish Supreme Court (the Tribunal Constitutional) cease to be legal in Catalan territory, and urges the creation of alternative legislation (a Catalan constitution) within thirty days. The Catalan government has now sent official letters to both the EU and the UN, informing these international players of the developments. The Spanish government, in turn, has requested an urgent extraordinary meeting of the Supreme Court in order to declare the Catalan legislation unconstitutional, and proceed with the necessary measures to stop the process of Catalan independence (including the intervention of the Catalan government and the firing and possible arrest of some of the involved politicians). Undeterred, Catalans are presently engaged in the constitution of what could well be the first independent government in over 300 years, since Catalunya was annexed to Spain in 1714. The two main independentist forces, Junts pel Sí (an ad-hoc alliance of both political parties and civil groups with little more in common than an independentist agenda, politically ranging from the center-right to the center-left), and the CUP (a far-left grassroot group linked to anarchist traditions), have not reached an agreement about who to name as President, since the former has based its electoral campaign around the candidacy of Artur Mas, the former President and by far most skilled and experienced politician, and the latter has defended the central electoral claim that it would not support Mas under any circumstances for Presidency. With incompatible democratic mandates to follow, and irreconcilable political agendas, agreement between these formations looks unlikely. Nevertheless, both groups need to unite their votes if government is to be formed and the independence agenda is to be brought forward. The Catalan Parliament meets again on Thursday the 12th, in a last opportunity to form government over the September electoral result. If it does not manage to do it, there will be new elections in March (after the general Spanish elections in December, by the way, which are likely to change the Spanish government).
The Catalan situation presents a really interesting case for all of us studying minorities. Let’s leave aside the issue of whether Catalunya, with its 7,5 million inhabitants and a language with 10 million speakers, should be considered what has been called a ‘medium size community’ instead of a true minority, and should more accurately be described as having a ‘minoritized’ language and culture –not really a minority in its own territory, but still standing in a disadvantageous condition due to its being at the mercy of a third agent (Spain, in this case). Personally, I think that there are many arguments to still consider Catalans a minority, at least until they achieve full control over their own destiny –some of them belonging to the historical past, some of them still playing a role today; the same arguments perhaps to still considering women to be in a minority situation, despite of the fact that they might not be numerically so. In any case, the present Catalan situation is interesting for a number of factors. First, because it shows the complexity of sensibilities, identities and political agendas within a healthy community; just because it is a minority, a community cannot be asked to be more united or show fewer nuances than any other group of people. It is true that beggars cannot be choosers, and when the gigantic step of declaring one’s own State has been started, and given the proportionally much more powerful forces of the opponents, it might be prudent to show unity among the supporters of independence: build the country first, work on making sure that your diversity is represented later. After all, as the saying goes, divide, and you’ll win –there is nothing the unionist want more than to divide the independent vote. However, Catalans must be feeling quite strong, since they think they have the luxury of maintaining their internal diversity as they go. The lesson to be learned is therefore perhaps that a group, regardless of its size or whom it is confronted with, does not have to fear internal diversity, even dissonance or contradiction, or even consider it a weakness. Second, because it gives hope to other minorities in their constant struggles for holding their ground. Catalans were not always as strong and self-assured as they appear today; it’s been a process of empowerment and resignification, where attitudes toward the minority language and culture went from the familiar assignation to the rural, uneducated and backward-minded slot, to the socially and economically relevant, particularized, and even progressist category: Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, thinks of itself as one of the cosmopolitan cities in Europe, and Catalans present themselves to the world (in person and in the web) as a modern, equal partner –and they do so without the interposition of Spanish culture and language. Independence from the umbrella State might not be in the agenda of all minorities, of course, but the appreciation of the richness of one’s cultural heritage that the Catalans have mastered is certainly a model for all groups. Without the self-esteem fueled by more than forty years of tireless policies and governmental campaigns, the citizens of Catalonia would not had urged their government to step up as an equal player in the European (and international) club. And third, it shows that political goals of unimaginable magnitude can be achieved in a peaceful, patient but unrelenting manner, where political skill and sensibility prevail over prepotency and lack of imagination –after all, perhaps one of the most valuable advantages of being put in a minority situation is the development of ways to solve life’s problems with the ingenuity that comes from constantly negotiating the different insights gained from the multicultural, multilingual context that invariably accompany it.