SEP 14 2019 – 00:00 CEST
The Catalan territorial conflict stems from the incompatibility between the federal route and that of self-determination
The psychological foundation of reformism is the ability to put oneself in the place of the other. While that of nationalism is the denial of that other and hence the difficult compatibility between reformism and nationalism. According to Elías Canetti, internationalism is unfeasible in practice because there are many languages. That is why he proposed in his day the concept of multi-nationalism. But it is no less impossible to be at the same time in favor of all nationalisms: of the Armenian against the USSR, of the Azeri against the Armenians of Nagorno Karabak, and so on. The experience of that last territory illustrates the inability of nationalism to offer an exit door to ethnic conflicts. There will always be a minority locally majority whose nationalism will drive it to oppress its minority. Something Unamuno could verify on the ground in the Balkans in 1918, at the end of the First World War.
Putting oneself in the place of the other means accepting that the reasons of others can be as legitimate as ours. Karl Popper advised caution when making forecasts about a future subject to too many uncontrollable variables. He also advised to stop making plans on a Europe of nationalities and ethnicities and focus on the only possible Europe now: a federation of multinational states.
Federalism and reformism are the two experiences crystallizing in the autonomist formula as the most balanced to give way to the territorial conflicts of today’s Europe. The democratic system has allowed the free expression of political pluralism, including the national. With the outcome of self-governing institutions genuinely representative of the majority sentiment at each step and respectful of minorities.
The pact is the recognition of the other, respect for their views, dialogue about them and agreement as a result of that dialogue. The pact as the supreme expression of the political pluralism of contemporary society. And as a guide to political action in the face of a crisis like the Catalan one. What the Catalans have to vote is a political agreement. It is not about voting between confronted proposals, but about that agreement negotiated between the Catalan and Spanish institutons.
The Basque essayist Daniel Innerarity defends a similar point of view on self-determination in an article published in EL PAÍS on August 7, 2019: “Supporters of the referendum claim in their defense that the result can be very diverse (yes, no or something in between)”. “I believe”, says Innerarity, “that the dialogue must be even more open and that it does not start from the fact that the referendum must be about a decision of yes or no to independence, but can also be a ratification or rejection of the negotiated agreement reached”.
Whatever the result of an eventual referendum, the defeated would be half of the population. And the winners, the other half
Ciudadanos could have been the hinge party allowing the main formations to complete majorities without having to agree with nationalist parties. A non-nationalist party that could play that role was the CDS of Adolfo Suárez. But there were reasons to think that Albert Rivera’s could be too. However, he was overcome by the mirage of sorpasso and the immoderate desire for prominence. For the mechanism to work, it was necessary that the would-be operative hinge agreed to occupy a subordinate position with respect to the majority party with which he proposes to associate. Instead, Citizens has promised not to agree anything with the Socialists, which has baffled their potential partners and the general public.
The Catalan territorial conflict stems from the incompatibility between the federal route and that of self-determination. The path of self-determination is very imperfect: it produces too many losers. Because whatever the result of an eventual referendum of self-determination, the defeated would be half of the population. And the winners, the other half, which is also a structural weakness derived from the binary nature of every referendum.
The recent Catalan sovereignty cohort argues that to raise any new initiative from its field it will be necessary to expand its social base. And it puts as a condition for any agreement with constitutional parties the acceptance of the right of self-determination. But it is contradictory to demand an extension of the social base and condition any initiative according to the previous acceptance of self-determination. For this extension would only be possible on the shared basis of a self-government respectful of the law.
Making distinctions between sovereignty and self-determination does not make much sense. For both roads lead to separation. Self-determination is not independence but a path that only leads to it (a yes would be definitive and a no, always provisional).