Since I started living in Barcelona, I have always felt great compassion with the political ideas of the Catalan people. I think Catalonia is one of the few places left in Europe where right-wing-populism has not wriggled itself into politics, and where progressive ideas are, thankfully, not slowly fading away. Moreover, the Catalans have actively demonstrated to accept more refugees, they have successfully fought to ban the horrific ‘sport’ of bullfighting and most active political parties in the Catalan parliament are in favor of liberalism, socialism and the European Union. As a middle-Lefty myself, this gives me hope that there are still political and civic associations left to fight for the themes on which Europe was built.
Apart from their progressive thoughts, many political parties and many Catalans are strong supporters of the Catalan Independence. I will not say that at this point my political thoughts are immediately divided from the Catalans, as I as well am not a great fan of Spanish prime minister Rajoy, the leftovers of Franco’s government in the conservative Popular Party and the corruption scandals that have affected the Spanish parliament and royal family. More specifically, I was bystander when the Guardia Civil brutally strook down peaceful protesting during the Catalan independence referendum in 2017, I heard how the Spanish parliament defended this fruitless violence right after it occurred and I am quite appalled how the Spanish institutions currently uses ‘Hate Crimes’ to prosecute Catalan people for harmless acts of protest. And I can only vaguely imagine how painful it must be to see (small groups) of people salute to Franco on the 41st anniversary of his death.
However, even though my goal here is not to choose a side within the independence-debate, I do think there are some thoughts by a part of the Independencia movement that are morally questionable. I am aware of the complex history of Catalonia and the sensitivity of some of the independence topics, but I still believe that the following points should be carefully considered if the pro-independence movement does not want to disqualify itself.
The first point I want to address is the often used ‘dictatorship-claim’; aimed at the Spanish government and used to display the resemblance between Rajoy and Franco. Especially after the violence during the referendum, there has been a rise of comparisations between their approaches. As I mentioned earlier, I acknowledge the significant mistakes made by the current Spanish government, but to say that Spain is not a democracy and rather a dictatorship is one step too far from me. I think it is even morally wrong to make such comparison, and rather offends the Spanish and Catalan people who have suffered from the cruelties of Franco. Rajoy and his party may be very conservative, but they have not imprisoned, tortured and killed hundred thousands of people, leaving behind millions of victims from years of war and horrific dictatorship. Furthermore, I also find it objectionable to talk about extreme supression when one is living in one of the most affluent parts of the world, while other people, nations and countries are at this moment true victims of regimes that do not take equality, freedom of speech, the right to liberty and other important human rights into consideration (think of large parts of the African continent for example).
The second point I want to discuss is the ‘right-to-vote’ for Catalan independence. Even though I agree that such large numbers of people wanting to vote should grant them a right to at least vote, I think this claim has been flawed when the Catalan parliament declared independence on the 27th of October. I still do not understand how Puigdemont and his party have made a sort of decision that normally, according to general opinion here about Madrid, would easielier fit to the other side, i.e. Rajoy. Yes, there were hundred thousands of people on the streets that supported the decision, but without going into specific numbers, the desire for complete independence was not shared by all Catalans, or at least not more than 55/60%. With such an impactful decision, you leave a huge part of your population in despair and doubt, and I do not think this can be justified in any way.
The last point relates to my doubts about the underlying ideas for the independence. Not so much because I do not understand where the idea comes from – I already mentioned that I agree with many of Catalan political thoughts -, but rather because to me, some reasons sound somehow egocentric. I believe there are two arguments for this statement.
The first one is that some Catalan people tend to create some sort of ‘victim-monopoly’ by the crimes of Franco, while not only Catalonia has suffered from his cruelties. Yes, there are differences in the way Franco handled the different provinces, but in the end, all Spanish and Catalan people have suffered tremendously from Franco. The Francoist concentration camps were spread all throughout Spain and imprisoned all sorts of civilians, from republican ex-combatants of the Spanish army to political dissidents, homosexuals, and regular convicts. To me, arguing about ‘who suffered the most’ should be irrelevant and does not add any importance to the discussion of independence. The Catalan people are not alone in their resistance against Francoist leftovers, as a large part of the Spanish population also feels disgusted about Franco’s crimes, characterized by their massive resentment against the Franco foundation, their shame about the long-lasting Franco monument and their contempt about the much too late recognition of Franco as a dictator.
The second argument is that the Catalan independence cannot be separated from the financial aspect, and therefore creates some sort of Catalan version of ‘America First’. I already mentioned the corruption scandals that keep occuring in the Spanish institutions, which relates to the widespread feeling and strong independence motivator that ‘our money’ is being unfairly shared with the rest of Spain. I completely agree that a fair distribution of resources in every nation should have high priority, although it should be kept into account that a 100% equal distribution is not possible and also not desirable. There will always be regions that suffer economically due to a wide variety of reasons and they should not be left to fend for themselves. To me, and I think many Catalan people would agree, this is also an important reasons for the existence of the European Union. On the other hand, when money does not go to the places where it should go, but rather ends up in the pockets of the wrong people, change is of high necessity. However, turning your back away (by demanding separation from the poorer parts) is not a rightful solution, especially not in the context of the wealthiness of Catalonia and the progressive goals of popular Catalan parties. Think of global aid; would a progressive person argue to end it if it does not work well, or should she or he fight for improvement to change people’s lives? Looking at recent Spanish elections, a large part of Spain also wants a change, considering the incredible quick rise and victory of Podemos, a progressive and left party that fights for democracy and stands strongly against the Franco leftovers. Yes, Catalonia probably gives away too much money to Spain, and yes, the money should maybe be spent better (I lack the true economic knowledge to go into details), but striving for independence and thereby leaving behind a split and partly deprived population is a morally wrong thing to do.
I consider Catalonia to be one of the most beautiful regions I have ever lived, with incredible friendly people, a magnificent culture and, of course, a capital city that has more to offer than any other city that I am aware off. Yes, in one year and approximately four months I started to love Catalonia, and I feel incredibly privileged that I can live here. With what I have written here, I do not want to offend any Catalan people, but I rather hope to have added some arguments to consider when discussing the topic of independence. If done so, I think this can lead to a much brighter future for both Spain and Catalonia.