Insult to Catalonia?

The rhetoric around the new estatut of Catalonia has become so heated that you might get the impression that something momentous was underway. And really, something is, but not what you might think from the blizzard of verbiage.

For those who haven't been tuned in: In 2006 Catalonia (Catalunya, in their language, català), one of Spain's 17 "autonomous communities", submitted a proposed reform of its 1979 governing charter (estatut) for approval by the Spanish parliament (las Cortes) and courts, with great fanfare and mobilization of Catalan public opinion. Now, after four years of confused and heated debate, Spain's Constitutional Court has voted to accept most of the clauses but not all of them, and has re-interpreted the most controversial statements in a way that at least some Catalans find deeply offensive.

This wordy and detailed document (several times longer than the U.S. Constitution, for example) included several provisions and rhetorical flourishes which excited opponents to paroxysm, resulting in a major anti-estatut and anti-Catalan campaign orchestrated mainly by the Partido Popular. What they objected to mostly were the declaration that Catalonia is a "nation" (nació), the priority of català over castellano (the main language of Spain) in government dealings and public education, and the arrogation of exclusive rights over certain waterways that also serve neighboring autonomous communities. The Partido Popular's campaign involved a demand for an all-Spanish plebiscite on Catalonia's estatut (something that hadn't be required of any of the other autonomous regions which were also reforming their charters), the collection of signatures against it, and even an attempted boycott by other Spaniards of Catalonian products, especially the bubbly wine known here as cava (essential for New Year's Eve and other celebrations).

This anti-estatut campaign stimulated the Generalitat—the Catalan government, currently a tripartite coalition headed by the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC)—to intensify its opinion-mobilization campaign in favor of the new charter, which was also supported by the main opposition parties in Catalonia. This near-unanimity within the autonomous community can be explained by some of those rhetorical flourishes, inserted to appeal to Catalan nationalists. Some Catalans celebrated their own non-binding plebiscites, a political stunt which drew few voters, almost all of them pro-estatut, proving nothing. More impressively, supporters mobilized virtually the entire press of Catalonia, including "progressive" and "conservative" newspapers, whether printed in castellano or català, to demand "respect" for Catalonia from other Spaniards, namely by approving the estatut. Meanwhile, as the Constitutional Court dithered and debated, the president of the Generalitat challenged the legitimacy of the Court to pronounce on this issue at all—since several judges whose terms had long expired were still sitting on the court (due to a stalemate between the Partido Socialista and Partido Popular, which had to agree on the replacements).

Nobody's happy with the court's final decision, but probably not much will happen. The Generalitat got most of what it wanted, except that they cannot demand that all their citizens speak català in order to get services, and instead of describing themselves as a "nation" they have to settle for being a "nationality". What will happen with the dispute over who controls the waterways is still to be resolved. The present government of the Generalitat may fall in the next elections (the economic crisis is even more important to voters than the handling of the estatut), but even if the right-wing Catalan nationalists return to power, Catalonia is not about to secede. Spain needs its 7 million+ people (almost one-sixth of the total Spanish population) and its industry and commerce, and Catalonia needs Spain, which is its principal market. 

This whole brouhaha has been just one more of the symptoms of the difficult and continuing transition from the centralist and authoritarian government of Francisco Franco to the decentralized and democratic Spain that is still emerging. The original, 1979 charters of autonomy left many issues ambiguous and (of course) failed to anticipate new social and political needs of 30 years later. The revisions of most of those charters have gone fairly smoothly, but the particular histories of Catalonia, the Basque Country, and to some extent Galicia, each with its own language and national aspirations, make negotiations more delicate.

The Spanish system of "autonomous communities" is unique, neither completely centralist nor completely federalist. Areas that will continue to be subject to intense and sometimes acrimonious negotiation include (not just for Catalonia but for all 17 communities): control over rivers that flow through more than one "community"; the content and language of public education; distribution of tax revenue both internally (to provinces and municipalities) and externally (to the central government); access to and regulation of public health facilities (for example, until very recently the community of Navarra refused to accept the legalization of abortion, though this had been made Spanish law by the Cortes), and telecommunications, immigration policy, and so on. But Spain is not "breaking apart" (as the alarmists in the Partido Popular like to claim). It is evolving.

Comunidad autónoma - Wikipedia, la enciclopedia libre
Catalonia - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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