I have always thought that you don’t truly know a person until you see how he or she acts in situations of personal crisis. For example, a husband’s reaction when his wife asks him for a divorce shows what he is like as a person. Some men recognize that they’ve done things badly and correct their mistakes. Sometimes this honest reaction ends up resolving the crisis. Other husbands react in irate and violent ways. Their anger often makes them mock their wife and insult and even threaten her. In showing a true despotic and abusive personality, her image of her husband deteriorates and her urge to leave nothing but grows.
I have to confess that I often find the analogy of a divorce useful when I think about the process of separation that Catalonia is going through. I thought about it, for example, while reading the reaction of some Spanish self-proclaimed experts to the gargantuan exhibition of the strength of the pro-independence movement on 11 September in Barcelona. The majority of them are lost and don’t understand exactly what has happened in Catalonia.
Some of them still believed that the Catalan desire for independence was the result of a passing outburst caused by the economic crisis, and thought that now that Spain is emerging from the recession, the “soufflé” (as Enric Millo called it) would deflate. These analysts, however, haven’t noticed that this is not the first crisis in Spain, and none of the previous ones caused the desire for independence to grow. In and of itself, then, the crisis can’t be an explanation.
Other gurus are convinced that the independence movement is the result of years of indoctrination by Catalan TV3 and public schooling. This explanation doesn’t take into account that most Catalans don’t watch TV3 (its share has never reached 30 per cent). Neither does it consider that support for independence is found in all age groups; thus if schools are to blame, why is it that people of my generation have also become supporters of independence, despite never having attended an “evil” and “indoctrinating” school? The theory of indoctrination, then, falls apart under its own weight.
A third group claims that the fault lies with an Artur Mas who has gone crazy, and that his lunacy has infected the rest of the citizens. The problem with this explanation is that when Artur Mas grabbed his surfboard to ride the wave, in September 2012, the tsunami had already been raging for two years. Mas’ new position was a consequence, not the cause, of a widespread boom in the population’s desire for independence. The theory of the crazed leader doesn’t hold water either.
If the explanation for the booming support for independence isn’t the crisis, nor indoctrination, nor Mas’ sudden madness, what is it? I suspect that it has something to do with the response of the husband when his wife asks him for a divorce: Spain’s reaction to the possibility that we might leave has revealed its true nature. And we don’t like what we’ve seen at all!
The 2005 Catalan Statute was a small warning by Catalonia that the relationship wasn’t going very well. At that time nobody, not even Esquerra (ERC - the Catalan Republican Left), was asking for a divorce. We asked that they recognize us as a nation, that the State invest more in Catalonia, and that the solidarity between regions be lessened (but not eliminated)-- little more than that. The reaction of Spain’s main political parties and institutions showed the true face of our life-long partner: the president of the Spanish government (José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero) broke his promise to sanction the Statute passed by the Catalan parliament, the PP appealed against it in the Constitutional court, and this devalued and politicized tribunal snipped away at it until it was unrecognizable. That humiliation made thousands of Catalans see that there was nothing more to be done with Spain and they veered towards independence.
Spain’s reaction to this change of course was even more violent and threatening: they told us that they would use their veto powers to exclude us from Europe “for three generations”, that we would be ruined without their market, that we wouldn’t be able to pay any pensions, that they would boycott us, and that “we would wander in space for ever more”. And the more radical the threats, the more clearly everyone saw the true nature of those who had been our partners all these years ... and we liked what we saw even less.
The situation has deteriorated to the point that during the past few months we have witnessed a Dantean spectacle: we’ve seen how the Spanish state has used its intelligence services --that we all pay for-- to spy on its own citizens, and how it has used this intelligence for political ends against the independence process. We’ve seen how the Interior Ministry --that we all pay for -- has used the police to leak false documents with the objective of influencing an election. We’ve seen how the Finance Ministry --that we all pay for-- has used the instruments of the State (such as the Financial and Tax Fraud Unit) to persecute and punish those who, like Pujol, are no longer useful to Spain and “can no longer find arguments against independence”. We’ve seen how the State has used the embassies --that we all pay for-- to spread propaganda for a particular sectarian view of the process, and we’ve also seen how they have used consuls and ambassadors --that we all pay for-- to act as political watchdogs and, on occasion, as censors of Catalan citizens who wanted to give conferences and present books abroad.
The grotesquerie reached its zenith when Minister Montoro justified these actions by saying that the State had a right to defend itself ... and everybody saw that as normal! Well I don’t see that as normal and I refuse to accept it! Democracy does not consist solely of holding elections every four years and saying that you must respect the Constitution. Democracy is also about protecting citizens against abuse by the State. And when the Spanish state perverts its own institutions to partisan ends, it not only abuses us, the citizens, but it clearly reveals its own true nature: authoritarian and anti-democratic.
The trouble for Spain is that all the Catalans see this ... and so does the rest of the world. And that includes our European partners.
N.T. Enric Millo is a unionist Catalan politician.